My last post got me thinking about some of the other SF I enjoyed as a kid. John Wyndham has always been a favourite - due in no small part to Day of the Triffids. However it is The Kraken Wakes that has my attention now - and its parallels with War of the Worlds.
The story is one of Alien invasion and attempted colonisation like War of the Worlds - this time our invaders make their landings in the deep ocean trenches of the world and literally fight to secure a beach head against humanity.
I don't know whether this a reference to Wells' story but the Alien craft are initially mistaken for Mars by our protagonists,
“Mars is looking pretty angry tonight, isn’t he? I hope it isn’t an omen,” she said.
I looked where she pointed at a red spot among myriads of white ones, and with some
surprise. Mars does look red, of course, though I had never seen him look quite as red
as that - but then, neither were the stars, as seen at home, quite as bright as they were
here. Being practically in the tropics might account for it.
“Certainly a little inflamed,” I agreed.
We regarded the red point for some moments. Then Phyllis said, “That’s funny. It’s
seems to be getting bigger.”
I explained that that was obviously an hallucination formed by staring at it. We went
on staring, and it became quite indisputably bigger. Moreover:
“There’s another one. There can’t be two Marses,” said Phyllis.
And sure enough there was. A smaller red point, a little up from, and to the right of,
the first. She added, “And another. To the left. See?”
She was right about that, too, and by this time the first one was glowing as the most
noticeable thing in the sky.
The objects get nearer and crash into the sea,
We watched all three of them slowly getting brighter and also sinking lower in the
sky until they were little above the horizon line, and reflecting in a pinkish pathway
across the water toward us.
“Five now,” said Phyllis.
We’ve both been asked many times since to describe them, but perhaps we are not
gifted with such a precise eye for detail as some others. What we said at the time, and
what we still say, is that on this occasion there was no real shape visible. The center
was solidly red, and a kind of fuzz round it was less so. The best suggestion I can
make is that you imagine a brilliantly red light as seen in a fairly thick fog so that
there is a strong halation, and you will have something of the effect.
Others besides ourselves were leaning over the rail, and in fairness I should perhaps
mention that between them they appear to have seen cigar-shapes, cylinders, discs,
ovoids, and, inevitably, saucers. We did not. What is more, we did not see eight, nine,
or a dozen. We saw five.
The halation may or may not have been due to some kind of jet drive, but it did not
indicate any great speed. The things grew in size quite slowly as they approached.
There was time for people to go back into the saloon and fetch their friends out to see,
so that presently a line of us leaned all along the rail, looking at them and guessing.
With no idea of scale we could have no judgment of their size or distance; all we
could be sure of was that they were descending in a long glide which looked as if it
would take them across our wake.
When the first one hit the water a great burst of steam shot up in a pink plume. Then,
swiftly, there was a lower, wider spread of steam which had lost the pink tinge, and
was simply a white cloud in the moonlight. It was beginning to thin out when the
sound of it reached us in a searing hiss. The water round the spot bubbled and seethed
and frothed. When the steam drew off, there was nothing to be seen there but a patch
of turbulence, gradually subsiding.
Then the second of them came in, in just the same way, on almost the same spot. One
after another all five of them touched down on the water with great whooshes and
hissings of steam. Then the vapor cleared, showing only a few contiguous patches of
As more and more of these fireballs descend a pattern becomes obvious - none land on any of the Earth's landmasses. Moreover, they appear to concentrate their landings in and around the deep water areas of the oceans. To cut a long story short the British and Americans send down Bathyspheres to investigate, only to have them destroyed by the aliens. After a nuclear device is exploded in the depths in retaliation, the aliens begin attacking the world's shipping lanes, throwing the world economy into turmoil.
There is worse yet - mysterious sea tanks roll up the beaches of most of the world's continents as the aliens begin harvesting people for some unexplained reason.
Running, or at least hurrying, figures were still scattering over the Square in all
directions, but no more were emerging from the street. Those who had reached the far
side turned back to look, hovering close to doorways or alleys into which they could
jump swiftly if necessary. Half a dozen men with guns or rifles laid themselves down
on the cobbles, their weapons all aimed at the mouth of the street. Everything was
much quieter now. Except for a few sounds of sobbing, a tense, expectant silence held
the whole scene. And then, in the background, one became aware of a grinding,
scraping noise; not loud, but continuous.
The door of a small house close to the church opened. The priest, in a long black robe,
stepped out. A number of people nearby ran towards him, and then knelt around him.
He stretched out both arms as though to encompass and guard them all.
The noise from the narrow street sounded like the heavy dragging of metal upon
Three or four rifles fired suddenly, almost together. Our angle of view still stopped us
from seeing what they fired at, but they let go a number of rounds each. Then the men
jumped to their feet and ran further back, almost to the further side of the Square.
There they turned around, and reloaded.
From the street came a noise of cracking timbers and falling bricks and glass.
Then we had our first sight of a “sea-tank.” A curve of dull, gray metal sliding into
the Square, carrying away the lower corner of a housefront as it came.
Shots cracked at it from half a dozen different directions. The bullets splattered or
thudded against it without effect. Slowly, heavily, with an air of inexorability, it came
on, grinding and scraping across the cobbles. It was inclining slightly to its right,
away from us and toward the church, carrying away more of the corner house,
unaffected by the plaster, bricks and beams that fell on it and slithered down its sides.
The Sea Tanks themselves are rather enigmatic and part of why I like this book so much is the fact that what the aliens are, how they operate and what their intentions are are never discussed. There is simply no communication possible or desired between them and the humans.
Imagine an elongated egg which has been halved down its length and set flat side to
the ground, with the pointed end foremost. Consider this egg to the between thirty and
thirty-five feet long, of a drab, lusterless lead color, and you’ll have a fair picture of
the “sea-tank” as we saw it pushing into the Square.
There was no way to see how it was propelled; there may have been rollers beneath,
but it seemed, and sounded, simply to grate forward on its metal belly with plenty of
noise, but none of machinery. It did not jerk to turn, as a tank does, but neither did it
The attack on Escondida, the Caribbean town where Mike and Phyllis are staying, has to be the most exciting bit of the novel and the alien's method of attack is certainly a novel and slightly horrifying one!
“Look!” said Phyllis suddenly. “This one is bulging.”
She was pointing at the nearest. The previously smooth fore-and-aft sweep of its top
was now disfigured at the highest point by a small, domelike excrescence. It was
lighter colored than the metal beneath; a kind of off-white, semiopaque substance
which glittered under the floods. It grew as one watched it.
“They’re all doing it,” she added.
There was a single shot. The excrescence quivered, but went on swelling. It was
growing faster now. It was no longer dome-shaped, but spherical, attached to the
metal by a neck, inflating like a balloon, and swaying slightly as it distended.
“It’s going to pop, I’m sure it is,” Phyllis said, apprehensively.
“There’s another coming up further down its back,” I said. “ Two more, look.” The first excrescence did not pop. It was already some two foot six in diameter and
still swelling fast.
“It must pop soon,” she muttered.
But still it did not. It kept on expanding until it must have been all of five feet in
diameter. Then it stopped growing. It looked like a huge, repulsive bladder. A tremor
and a shake passed through it. It shuddered jellywise, became detached, and wobbled
into the air with the uncertainty of an overblown bubble.
In a lurching, amoebic way it ascended for ten feet or so. There it vacillated,
steadying into a more stable sphere. Then, suddenly, something happened to it. It did
not explode. Nor was there any sound. Rather, it seemed to slit open, as if it had been
burst into instantaneous bloom by a vast number of white cilia which rayed out in all
These cilia are incredibly sticky and begin to retract, dragging anything back that they have caught.
Outside in the Square there was a pandemonium of shouting and screaming. I risked
putting my head round the side of the window. The thing that had burst was no longer
in the air. It was now a round body no more than a couple of feet in diameter
surrounded by a radiation of cilia. It was drawing these back into itself with whatever
they had caught, and the tension was keeping it a little off the ground. Some of the
people it was pulling in were shouting and struggling, others were like inert bundles
I saw poor Muriel Flynn among them. She was lying on her back, dragged across the
cobbles by a tentacle caught in her red hair. She had been badly hurt by the fall when
she was pulled out of her window, and was crying out with terror, too. Leslie dragged
almost alongside her, but it looked as if the fall had mercifully broken his neck.
Over on the far side I saw a man rush forward and try to pull a screaming woman
away, but when he touched the cilium that held her, his hand became fastened to it,
too, and they were dragged along together. As I watched I thanked God I had grabbed
Phyllis’s arm, and not the cilium itself in trying to free her.
As the circle contracted, the white cilia came closer to one another. The struggling
people inevitably touched more of them and became more helplessly enmeshed than
before. They struggled like flies on a flypaper. There was a relentless deliberation
about it which made it seem horribly as though one watched through the eye of a
Then I noticed that another of the misshapen bubbles had wobbled into the air, and
drew back hurriedly before it should burst.
Three more cilia whipped in through the window, lay for moment like white cords on
the floor, and then began to draw back. When they had vanished across the sill I
leaned over to look out of the window again. In several places about the Square there
were converging knots of people struggling helplessly. The first and nearest had
contracted until its victims were bound together in a tight ball out of which a few
arms and legs still flailed wildly. Then, as I watched, the whole compact mass tilted
over and began to roll away across the Square towards the street by which the seatanks had come.
The machines, or whatever the things were, still lay where they had stopped, looking
like huge gray slugs, each engaged in producing several of its disgusting bubbles at
It seems the Sea Tanks aren't too difficult to destroy and once word gets around the countries that coastline soon organise an effective defence. The mysterious aliens scale back their attacks as it becomes apparent they are no longer netting sufficient humans.
The next phase of the alien plan is the melting of the ice caps. Simple and effective and there's not a damn thing the people of Earth can do about it - apart of some ineffective bombing by the Americans when the mists around the Antarctic clear.
There's a few nice touches here - the UK Government decamp to Harrogate when London inevitably floods. Of course as the water rises, the rule of law breaks down and eventually the Government is overthrown by armed rebels. Mike and Phyllis are forced to escape a hostile London.
Eventually they receive news that the Japanese have devised a way of combating the "Bathies" as they are known. Using ultrasonics they have managed to clear some of the smaller deep sea trenches, throwing up a lot of organic jelly to the surface. And so we are we left with the Human race, reduced to a fifth of its pre-invasion population and facing an unalterably changed climate, but now with the means to strike back and vanquish the alien invaders.
So what has this got to do with Martians? Well not much on the face of it, apart from it being a story of alien invasion and colonisation. The Aliens appear to arrive in meteor like fireballs, which are somewhat similar to the arrival of the Martians at Horsell Common in their cylinder. As noted previously, the first fireball is mistaken for the planet Mars at first. According to Wikipedia the book was first published in the same year as the 1953 Movie version of War of the Worlds - did Wyndham present it as a deliberately alternative version of the Invasion story?
The aliens themselves are utterly mysterious. Apart from some theories bandied about by the scientists that they may be from some high pressure world like Jupiter or Neptune and the lumps of jelly that float to the surface after the Japanese use their ultrasonic weapon, we get no information about them at all. They use organic "machines" in the form of the Sea Tanks rather than mechanical tripods.
However, they do capture human prey, although for what purpose we do not know. They alter Earth's climate like the Masters of John Christopher's Tripod series plan to - although whether this is a way of exterminating a large part of the Human population or a means of expanding their habitable zones on Earth, or perhaps even both is again unknown.
My main attraction to the story and, apart from it being a great read, would be to harvest ideas to give the Martians in All Quiet a truly mysterious and alien logic in their grand plans for Earth. Along with John Christopher's Tripod series, which contains some great description of the alien cities and their attitudes to the conquered humans, I reckon there's plenty of material to flesh out my Martians come December!