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Group reads > The Midwich Cuckoos -June group read - spoilers

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message 1: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
I'm a huge H. G. Wells fan. However, this is my favorite science fiction. It owes much to Wells and is in fact a variation on The War of the Worlds only this time the invasion isn't a violent one and goes unnoticed for quite some time. I also have a soft spot for literature set in and around English villages [I adore Barbara Pym novels for instance - any Pym fans out there?]. So lets start the discussion.

message 2: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments I'll be picking it up fro library mid-week. Hope to get to it next weekend.

message 3: by Candiss (new)

Candiss (tantara) I've got a couple of other books queued first, but I will definitely crack this one by mid-month.

message 4: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
It's a fast and fascinating read that I think should spark a nice discussion.

message 5: by Ben (new)

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 85 comments I dont remember reading this although I might have done so when I was younger, I have seen several film/tv versions. Will probably pick my copy up in a few days

message 6: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod

This film is fun - a pretty faithful to the book. I'm a big fan of George Sanders.

message 7: by Randolph (new)

Randolph (us227381) | 7 comments Ivan wrote: "

This film is fun - a pretty faithful to the book. I'm a big fan of George Sanders."

Watch this trailer carefully. From 0:51 to 1:05 this guy shows up with two hunks of hair on the front-top of his head that look like horns. It's not a comb-over kind of thing. It almost looks like when guys get those hair plug implants. It's really creepy and distracting once you see it. One of those things that embarrass you in public when you see someone and you can't tear your eyes away from some quirky facial feature. Why wouldn't he shave these off?

message 8: by Ben (new)

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 85 comments my wife is a fan so I was amused to read the first line about the narrators wife being lucky to be married to someone with a birthday on 26th September as this is also my birthday. only about 45 pages in but enjoying it although it seems a bit dated given it was only published in the 50s

message 9: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
I love it when things like that spring up out of the pages. I was reading a sci-fi book last year and the main character mentioned the hospital where I used to work.

Is this dated? A bit.

message 10: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Haven't been able to get hold of the book, but here is a really strange coincidence that happened yesterday.

Monday morning a co-worker showed me her red ear (that didn't look too bad.) On her way home from the great up north on Sunday it was swollen and she squeezed out lots of pus and some kind of bug egg/maggot. Then about 10 pages into my reading of The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey in the evening I came upon this passage - "As big as a bumblebee, a botfly can snatch a mosquito out of the air as it is flying by and paste its eggs onto the mosquito's abdomen. The mosquito then rubs the botfly's eggs onto a human being as it extracts his blood. As soon as the eggs hatch on the warm, wet skin, the new maggots burrow into their host. A botfly maggot can be removed either by smearing petroleum jelly over its breathing tube, which discreetly protrudes from the surface of the skin, and then squeezing the maggot out after it dies, or by taping a piece of meat over the wound and waiting for it to wriggle out into its new home."

I had never heard about this before and it totally freaked me out to hear one thing and read the other on the same day.

message 11: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
I do hope you'll be able to find the book as I think you'll really like it - cold war science fiction. However, to me this didn't read like science fiction and I didn't totally look upon the children as evil.

Your story is really gross, but interesting. I saw a whole program last year on the botfly.

message 12: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Just ordered a copy of The Midwich Cuckoos from the library. So I hope to join the discussion soon with some, ahem, insightful, witty, and/or erudite comments.

By the by, most editions of this book seem to be around 220 pages. Isn't a novella usually a long short story that could be read in one sitting and is under 100 pages? Apologies if you've already discussed this - I was just curious about how we define novella.

message 13: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Ah, just seen the definition in the group's description...

While there is some disagreement as to what length defines a novella, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Awards for science fiction define the novella as having a word count between 17,500 and 40,000

I reckon The Midwich Cuckoos is c60,000 words.

Sorry to be such a pedant. :-)

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm new to the group and looking forward to reading novellas with y'all each month.

I'm waiting on my copy of Midwich Cuckoos to arrive in the mail. I'm looking forward to reading it even if it definitely is a short novel and not technically a novella!

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction identifies it as a novel and I'm pretty sure that Wyndham always thought of it as a novel.

Also, if anyone really loves this book, there is a lovely though very expensive edition available through the Folio Society:

message 15: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Ivan wrote: "I do hope you'll be able to find the book as I think you'll really like it - cold war science fiction. However, to me this didn't read like science fiction and I didn't totally look upon the childr..."

I'm going to keep trying. As to the botfly I think reading about it and seeing a couple photos online was enough.

message 16: by Nigeyb (last edited Jun 12, 2013 11:08AM) (new)

Nigeyb Mmars wrote: "Haven't been able to get hold of the book..."

It's available on Amazon in the UK and the USA in both book form and for the Kindle. Some second hand copies too. Where are you located?

Love this cover by the way...

message 17: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments I'm in the states and urban. Usually use the library. Just slacked off this month in getting the book. Haven't gotten to shopping for it anywhere. Do wnat to read it though.

message 18: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
It's a short novel. The edition I selected probably has teeny tiny print. But, what the heck, it's the book we're reading so...let's discuss it.

message 19: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Nigeyb - I do love that cover!

Although I haven't read the book, and I don't read much science fiction (sadly, it's been too long) I have noticed that the theme of reproduction is everywhere in SF. Guess it's just the nature of alien/creatures needing to procreate their race.

message 20: by Ben (new)

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 85 comments Finished it now. Although I had seen film versions these were some time ago and my memory was a bit hazy of them. I did enjoy it and was glad to have read it but at the same time I did feel a little underwhelmed.

The set up was pretty interesting but I did feel that it might have worked better if it had played more into horror rather than SF territory. It did feel a little dated in writing style - only a little further on then Arthur Conon Doyles sf works and it terms of language used it felt more dated than works written before this.

I did find it read very well and the pages kept turning. In reality, even in the time period in which it is set I think that it is very likely that more women would have tried to abort the babies (less interesting from a story perspective though). The story was interesting to look at from a perspective of gender and it feels this is something that was not only narrated by a man but written by a man. It would be interesting for this to be rewritten from the perspective of some of the mothers and we would see a quite different story in many ways.

message 21: by Candiss (new)

Candiss (tantara) I've just started this. I'm avoiding reading the above posts until I'm farther in, but I'm really enjoying the book so far.

message 22: by Ivan (last edited Jun 15, 2013 04:45PM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Ben wrote: "Finished it now. Although I had seen film versions these were some time ago and my memory was a bit hazy of them. I did enjoy it and was glad to have read it but at the same time I did feel a lit..."

Interesting comments Ben. Though clearly a product of its time (the cold war ear), I didn't find it all that dated, and I rather enjoy Wyndham's matter of fact style. Some of the science fiction I've read (which isn't much, save for H. G. Wells and a few by Doyle - I love them too) just sails right over my head. I don't want to have to read with an encyclopedia on the nightstand. Having said that, I don't want the writer to dumb things down for simple minded me either.

Telling the story from the female perspective would be very interesting.

message 23: by Julia (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) I was just looking at the wikipedia entry and noted this about the book; I'd had no idea this was the story upon which the film(s) "Village of the Damned" was based.

"The Military Intelligence department learn that the same thing has taken place in four other parts of the world, including an Inuit settlement in the Canadian Arctic, a small township in Australia's Northern Territory, a Mongolian village, and the town of Gizhinsk in eastern Russia, northeast of Okhotsk. The Inuit killed the newborn Children, sensing they were not their own, and the Mongolians killed both the Children and their mothers. The Australian babies had all died within a few weeks, suggesting that something may have gone wrong with the xenogenesis process. The Russian town was recently destroyed by the Soviet government, using an "atomic cannon" from a range of 50–60 miles."

Ivan mentioned the story from a female perspective--and I'm thinking about those other women. It's sort of the "Rosemary's Baby"/"Bad Seed" quandry--do I kill my child? myself and the child?

I was too afraid to watch the films, since anything where children are the "villains" is something I avoid. I may have to skip this one or end up with nightmares!

message 24: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
I love both the books you mentioned - Rosemary's Baby and The Bad Seed.

The book and the original film are not overly violent, they are more creepy and suspenseful - however, the kids are alien and mentally superior.

message 25: by Julia (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) Thanks, Ivan--I'll give it a try. I get very creeped out when children are not what they seem. Even though "The Astronaut's Wife" wasn't a great film, that ending kept me from sleeping!

message 26: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Julia wrote: "Thanks, Ivan--I'll give it a try. I get very creeped out when children are not what they seem. Even though "The Astronaut's Wife" wasn't a great film, that ending kept me from sleeping!"

Usually films creep me out more that books, or, at least the visual images stick with me longer and are therefore more disturbing. I think I'll avoid the above mentioned films and stick with the books!

message 27: by Nigeyb (last edited Jun 18, 2013 02:06AM) (new)

Nigeyb Twenty five pages in, and I am enjoying the description of Midwich as, quite possibly, the most boring and uneventful place in the UK.

By the way, here in the UK, Channel 4 are showing a French series called "The Returned" (Les Revenants)...


...which, so far, is absolutely brilliant, but very creepy. My wife strongly recommended me not to read The Midwich Cuckoos at the same time as the creep factor would simply get too high.

Should I be scared?

message 28: by Julia (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) "Be afraid--be very afraid!"

"This phrase originated in the 1986 horror film The Fly, written by the Canadian David Cronenberg and starring Jeff Goldblum (as Seth Brundle) and Geena Davis (as Veronica Quaife)."

Yep, the "creep factor" can indeed get too high, and everyone has a different "red alert" level.

~ cue Twilight Zone music ~

message 29: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Julia wrote: ""Yep, the "creep factor" can indeed get too high


*runs screaming from the computer*

message 30: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Back to the book, 50 pages in and things have settled down in Midwich. Doubtless the calm before the storm.

Years ago I read The Day of the Triffids and really liked it. I am enjoying this one too. My first book by John Wyndham since reading "Triffids" back in the 1970s as a boy.

He's a very fine writer and, once he'd hit upon, what my edition refers to as "logical fantasy" (a modified form of Science Fiction), he'd found a great vehicle for his skills.

I'm also enjoying the 1950s English middle-class setting.

~ cue more Twilight Zone music ~

message 31: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb The Midwich Special Emergency Meeting for the pregnant women was very well handled and well written. I was wondering how John Wyndham would deal with the issue of multiple, simultaneous pregnancies. The meeting was a deft and credible solution. I am really enjoying this book.

message 32: by Ivan (last edited Jun 18, 2013 11:26AM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
The midwife made enough to retire to Brighton.

The day of the Triffids is the only other Wyndham book I've read as well.

message 33: by Julia (last edited Jun 18, 2013 12:55PM) (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) OK, only on p. 14, and I love Mr. Zellaby! "The true fruit of this century has little interest in coming to living-terms with innovations; it just wants to grab them all as they come along." Talk about a timely comment!

Plus I just found a new word, and me an English teacher for 31 years! "distraitness". The formal diction sets the mood perfectly--and setting up the mystery in the first paragraph allows us to know we're into an unraveling that is inexorable (hmm, his style is catching).

~ changes from Twilight Zone music to Bach, in honor of Mr. Zellaby ~

message 34: by Candiss (new)

Candiss (tantara) I got such a kick out of this sentence, early in the book:

"The dawn of the 27th was an affair of slatternly rags soaking in a dishwater sky..."

I love it! Wyndham was having fun writing this, wasn't he?

message 35: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb That sentence grabbed me by the lapels too - and shook me about a bit. A wonderful piece of descriptive writing.

message 36: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb "I wonder if a sillier and more ignorant catachresis than "Mother Nature" was ever perpetrated? It is because nature is ruthless, hideous, and cruel beyond belief that it was necessary to invent civilisation." Zellaby

He gets all the best lines doesn't he?

message 37: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb I had to look it up....

Catachresis (from Greek κατάχρησις, "abuse") is the name of many different types of figure of speech who all have in common that they are using words "wrongly".

message 38: by Julia (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) Wonderful, Nigeyb--and I definitely never heard of "catachresis". Treasure trove of new words--Zellaby is a gem.

message 39: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb I'm into the last 50 pages now. Really enjoying it and, despite having seeing the 60s film adaptation as a kid, I have no idea how it's going to end. I fear for Zellaby but hope he comes through. I hope to finish it tonight.

message 40: by Nigeyb (last edited Jun 20, 2013 05:17AM) (new)

Nigeyb Finished. Here's my review...

An intelligent and thought provoking slice of 1950s Cold War-influenced British science fiction. I enjoyed the bourgeoise village life evoked by John Wyndham. That said the book does also show its age: the female characters all underdeveloped, they are generally too distracted, and/or besotted by the Children (the Cuckoos of the book's title), to contribute anything meaningful to the more weighty discussions of the male characters.

It is actually the discussions, and there are plenty of them (perhaps too many?), that are what make the book interesting. The village's resident philosopher, Zallaby, spends pages pontificating about the moral implications of the Children. These discourses embrace evolution, politics, anthropology, power and authority, and philosophy. Some of these discussions are a bit overcooked and I felt the story could probably have been told in about half the total word count.

The ending, which is signposted a good few pages before the last page, is too neat, and I would have preferred a more ambiguous conclusion. One where the reader is left to consider the implications of the Children reaching maturity and what that might mean for the human race. Instead we end the book very much as we start it with Midwich being, quite possibly, the most boring and uneventful place in the UK. Still, there is much to enjoy, and plenty of food for thought in this sci fi classic.


message 41: by Julia (last edited Jun 20, 2013 07:03PM) (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) In the ways mentioned by Nigeyb, the book can seem dated, but then I was 17 in 1957, so the depiction of women is "spot on" in terms of their roles back then. In fact, for me, it's precisely this time period which serves the "cuckoo" theme best. Back then, it might have been possible to keep the press out of the picture for so long--imagine the insanity these days. Wyndham already sees the potential for journalistic exploitation when he cites what the press did to the Dionne quintuplets, born in 1934.

I love Zellaby--both for his philosophical digressions and his willingness to take responsibility for what has to be done. He is the only character who sees the "bigger picture"--Dr. Willers desperately wants to cling to his "hysteria" theory, Mrs. Leebody goes over the deep end with her hysterical fire and brimstone sermons--even Bernard tries to maintain a "logical" POV in terms of Military Intelligence.

Nigeyb has cited Zellaby's strong quote: "It is because nature is ruthless, hideous, and cruel beyond belief that it was necessary to invent civilisation." Here is Tennyson's "Nature, red in tooth and claw". This idea is most forcefully brought out in the boy and girl's discussion with Bernard on p. 175. The boy says, "We are all, you see, toys of the life-force...A cruel sport, perhaps, from both our points of view, but cruelty is as old as life itself."

I found this critique, which reiterates this idea of survival as a powerful, amoral force:

Review © 2004 by Thomas M. Wagner

"It is as a thriller, and a thought-provoker on the matter of humanity's place in the grand scheme of things, that keeps "The Midwich Cuckoos" a relevant and worthwhile novel today. ...Ultimately this is a tale that is both about survival — how, when all is said and done, survival is the number one agenda for any species."

That survival is the game which the "life-force" is playing with BOTH humans and the Children. Zellaby understands his role in the game is both to teach the Children and to destroy them--at least in Midwich.

But I am left with the information Bernard has shared--the babies in Australia, those born to the Eskimos, and the ones "behind the Iron Curtain" may have been exterminated, but he mentions that probably South America and Africa would have had Dayouts as well.

As Zellaby points out on p. 164, this struggle is a "fight that goes on perpetually, bitterly, lawlessly, without trace of mercy or compassion." I'm not sure if Wyndham intended his last scene to seem open-ended, but it certainly felt that way to me. If the REAL "enemy" is the amoral life-force, this story will never really be over.

message 42: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Some excellent points Julia. Thanks.

I think I could and should have placed more emphasis on the evolutionary aspect of Zellaby's arguments. In many ways it's the crux of the book.

Zellaby states that humans have been the dominant species and have not had that dominance threatened. Once a species is threatened it will fight for survival - with complete ruthlessness. Zellaby remarks that on any given day we can observe this in a garden.

Both species, the humans and the Children, are in a fight for survival, as both are under threat.

message 43: by Julia (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) Ivan, I forgot to mention how I chuckled to see that you'd changed your picture to match the Cuckoos! Can't wait to see you as the Little Prince :-)

message 44: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
That'll be the chubby little middle-aged prince I'm afraid.

message 45: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
My friend Austin posted a picture of the two of us standing outside The Stonewall Inn in NYC - and I look like a Hobbit standing next to him.

message 46: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Julia wrote: "In the ways mentioned by Nigeyb, the book can seem dated, but then I was 17 in 1957, so the depiction of women is "spot on" in terms of their roles back then. In fact, for me, it's precisely this t..."

Oh, I think he left this open-ended on purpose.

It would be interesting to see what kind of world it would be if the children had survived and thrived.

Did anyone feel that having the children all look the same was the author's comment on communism and conformity? Making all people equal, destroy the class system. This was the era of Clement Attlee and nationalization. Am I off base?

message 47: by Julia (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) Good point, Ivan--and certainly appropriate for the time period. Now that I've been away from the book for awhile, I'm thinking of how different I'd feel if the children had shown love and kindness--the coldness of their "hive mind" showed them as creatures of horror. But I look at our world today and see what we've done to it in the name of "individual freedom", and that equally horrific to me.

But then that would be another book :-)

message 48: by Craig (new)

Craig | 30 comments Thanks to Julia and Ivan for recommending The Bad Seed it was very dark but enjoyable. Just started The Other which is good so far and has a similar theme.

message 49: by Patrick (new)

Patrick (Patn76) | 6 comments Late to the party. I absolutely loved this book. I just felt Zellaby's relationship with the kids was a bit contrived. However, how else could one suitably end this tale? I thought perhaps something less obvious would do them in like in War of the Worlds (only seen the movie). Also thought the separate minds of the boys and girls would be more of a factor. But I guess those were failed predictions.

message 50: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb Patrick wrote: "Late to the party."

I love the way these threads live on and on and on.

Patrick wrote: "I just felt Zellaby's relationship with the kids was a bit contrived."

Perhaps, however if anyone could catch their interest and command a bit of respect it was Zellaby.

Patrick wrote: "Also thought the separate minds of the boys and girls would be more of a factor."

Not sure what you mean here Patrick. Were you expecting them to each have individual and separate personalities? And less of what Julia so succinctly describes as their "hive mind"? I recall their need to be together and their telepathy was apparent quite early on, for example when some of the Mothers were compelled to return to Midwich.

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