Web by John Wyndham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’ve become a bit of a John Wyndham enthusiast ever since I became a bonafide book collector with the addition of a first edition of Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes to my library. So now, I’m on the lookout for affordable first editions of his work, and while I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to afford a copy of The Day of the Triffids or The Midwich Cuckoos, there are others out there I can get…Web being one of them – one which I happened to find on sale in the first edition. Since I’m also trying to read or re-read all of the collectible books I get, just to keep them fresh in my mind, this one came up in rotation and so I was able to enjoy it.
Web was published posthumously in 1979, ten years after Wyndham’s death and it does feel like it had been withheld from publication for a reason. The plot follows Arnold Delgrange, who just prior to the opening of the book lost his wife and daughter in an accident and is spiraling down into depression and lethargy. He is approached to become part of a project designed to create a free-thinking utopia on the south seas island of Tanakuatua.
In the chapter which covers the history of the small island (about 40 sq. mi.), Wyndham gives us a generalized look at how imperialism, missionaries and conquest destroyed the native cultures of these islanders. By the end of that section, Tanakuatua has been evacuated due to atomic testing and the island has been sold for the utopian project. That evacuation, though, is the last straw for the Shaman of the latest tribe to inhabit the island and he places a curse on the land and the people.
By the time our story really gets started, which is rather late in the short book, the project members arrive and are almost immediately beset upon by problems both man-made and ecological and then… well, and then it’s over.
It ends as several of Wyndham’s books end, with a note of possible world-wide devastation just over the horizon, but it also feels like he was setting us up for a piece about the dangers of atomic war (even by ’69 this had run its course and by ’79, the dangers of nuclear fallout were trite and passé) or maybe a larger treatise on colonialism and belief systems (handled brilliantly in “A Way of Thinking” by Theodore Sturgeon).
In the end, though, what we get is a thriller without many thrills. It’s an adventure story (and a fun one for what it is) but there’s nothing deeper than that because we really don’t have the time in 188 pages to develop something to really ensnare us and keep us wrapped up.
Ah well… so the book goes on the shelf and I continue my quest for other affordable Wyndham books. I still think he’s well worth reading, even if this book isn’t him at his finest.