Chocky by Wyndham, John, 1968

Chocky by Wyndham, John - Book cover from Amazon.co.uk

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One of my favorite authors in all of SF is a British author named John Wyndham. The best works he wrote are all end of the world stories, like The Midwich Cuckoos and Day of the Trifids, but he had a pretty long career and wrote a number of other novels during it. I like him mostly for three reasons. First, disaster stories and end of the world stories are my personal favorites. Second, Wyndham has such an easy style and creates such likable characters that the books, no matter what the topic, are comfortable reads. As a matter of fact Wyndham's works are referred to as "cozy-disasters" or "cozy catastrophes" frequently. Third, and certainly not least, Wyndham almost always gives a good healthy dose of mid-century British life in his books. That has always appealed to me, as I have always had a big interest in the post-war British welfare state and how it managed to give the world the economic juggernaut that we have today. In this week's book, Chocky, even though it was published in 1968, Wyndham gives us a well drawn picture of what seems to be mid-century British family life. Three out of five stars.

In Chocky a young seven year old boy named Matthew tells his adoptive parents that he has an imaginary friend named Chocky. At first Matthew's father worries that he is a little too old for a make-believe playmate, but Chocky and Matthew soon give Matthew's father and mother something bigger to worry about. Chocky seems to dominate Matthew's attention. The boy gets into yelling matches with Chocky over silly issues, such as the social benefits of internal combustion engines, and the utility of having two sexes. Matthew also falters in school because of Chocky. His teachers became concerned that someone was teaching Matthew alternative methods for mathematics and science, as he was asking odd questions and coming up with theories that were years beyond the normal child's grasp. The story got a little bit creepy when the boy spoke with his father about Chocky, and told him that Chocky could take over Matthew's body and do things, such as paint or write. Matthew's father became concerned about his son's psychological health, and sent him to a series of psychologists. One of them advised him that there may very well be two different individuals in Matthew's head. The other agreed that there was something to the boy's story, and arranged for the boy to be kidnapped for a week or so while government agents wrung every bit of information that they could from him.

Chocky was not as strong as I was expecting it to be. Wyndham's style is certainly not off at all. This book is every bit as "cozy" as all his other books from the mid-century forward. But the social commentary left a little to be desired. Chocky is an alien visitor; a teacher. She has altruistic motives in communicating with Matthew, but they are not revealed until the very last few pages of the book, and then all in a rush with very little build up at all. I found the story itself to be just fine, but I was asking myself "so what" through the entire book. The end was quite ham-handed, and was a club over the head. This is uncharacteristic for Wyndham, who typically likes to tap one on the shoulder, even in his classic alien invasion piece, Day of the Trifids. Wyndham also does manage to take on superstition and the unreasonable fear of the unknown:

Why do people always believe in evil spirits instead of good ones?

The value of experience in teaching the young:

If a teacher does not teach his students to overtake him, there can be no advance.

And the foolish approach that our species has towards energy use and development:

Your fuels, your capital, should certainly be used. Frozen power does no good to anyone. But used, not wasted. They should be invested, to produce greater power.

Mostly, however, it is a story about a really cool, neat and well adjusted kid, and his father who loves him very much. If you want an SF story, get this one only if you have not read all of Wyndham's works and want to. If you are looking for something that makes you feel warm and is full of heart, get this one next.

Copyright 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)

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