Fiction Reviews


Chocky

(1968/2009) John Wyndham, Penguin, pbk, 8.99/ Can$16.00, 153pp, ISBN 978-0-141-04218-3

 

To the seasoned SF aficionado, John Wyndham needs no introduction. However these days newcomers to the genre in their teens and twenties are less likely to know of an author who died over half a century ago and whose most famous works were written getting on for the best part of two-thirds of a century ago. John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Benyon Harris to give him his full name (and his earlier output was written under pseudonym combinations of this name) is probably best know for The Day of the Triffids (1951), The Kraken Wakes (1953) and The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) (filmed twice as The Village of the Damned), but my favourite is The Chrysalids (1955). If (and I accept it is a big 'if') Olaf Stapledon was the British SF grandmaster following H. G. Wells, then John Wyndham was arguably Olaf's successor before we had the explosion of British writers starting with Eric Frank Russell and Arthur C. Clarke from the middle of the 20th century. That Wyndham's work was recognised by mainstream (mundane) readers meant that he was a genuinely big name writer of his time. And so we come to Chocky.

Chocky was his penultimate novel written in 1968 but, such is Wyndham's standing, has been regularly re-printed ever since with this 2009 Penguin edition being the latest to date. Unlike the previously-mentioned works, Chocky is juvenile SF written for youngsters whose ages have entered double digits. And so it is little surprise that its protagonist is an eleven year old boy called Matthew.

The thing about Matthew is that he is a perfectly normal young boy in a middle class British family. He even has, as many young boys sometimes have, an imaginary friend. Of course his parents (again as many do) are a little worried about this but assume it is a phase out of which he will eventually grow. No problem then.

However Matthew talks quite a bit about his 'imaginary' friend with whom he has detailed conversations and so his parents' mild concerns transform to forthright anxiousness. You see it is not just that Matthew has an imaginary friend as some youngster have, but that his imaginary friend tells Matthew things that no youngster should know and asks questions that no youngster would. As the novel is told through the perspective of Matthew's father, we see the parental concern grow and how they explore what becomes a mystery.

Matthew's friend is called Chocky (hence obviously the book's title Chocky) and it soon becomes very apparent through Chocky's knowledge of things like mathematics that he is not some figment of the imagination. But who or what is Chocky?

Chocky is an early juvenile SF classic; and, yes, it is SF (not fantasy). Penguin are not known for publishing good new SF these days but does have the rights to some of the early classics. As such we owe thanks to them for keeping this tile in print. Having said that, they do irritatingly include a big spoiler on the back cover blurb. Why do some editors do that? Do they really have so little faith in their own product, or are insecure, that they have to give away the premise on which the book turns? Argghhh.

Those who have decided to explore in earnest the SF genre do need to be aware of Wyndham's works and as Chocky, at 150 or so pages, is short for a novel this is one easy to include. Of course the ideal readership is youngsters. So if you want to give someone who is 10 to 13 years old a taste of classic SF then Wyndham's Chocky would be perfect. Indeed that is why I just bought this edition and why I am annoyed at Penguin's back blurb spoiler. But don't let the publishers ineptitude put you off this remarkable example of early juvenile SF.

Jonathan Cowie


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