Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


The Paper Chase.

I read John Wyndham's science fiction novels in 1972 across the long mild winter in the wooden building that housed Four Gold. The library had purchased new Penguin copies with newly designed covers combining clean negative images over 1970s-style fluoro backgrounds and now, decades later, I looked for them again for the boys, who are now the age I was then.

I ordered new copies from Pictures and Pages. The publisher is still Penguin, but the cover art is new, each book themed with effete-looking (SOED def. 3) youths with pale faces, doe eyes and sensitive lips. One has a bird sitting on his head (The Midwich Cuckoos), one lichen growing on his face (Trouble with Lichen) and one sits in a deck chair on the seabed (The Kraken Wakes). What on earth was the publisher's brief to the cover artist?

While I'm on the subject, the print and paper quality of these books is appalling. The type almost bleeds into the rough paper, on which you can see flecks of darker fibre, which is not good for someone who has PVD in his eyes. A hint to the poor paper quality can be found opposite the title page: Further:
'This book is made from Forest Stewardship Council™ certified paper'.
If you really want to save the planet, try to find the originals, second-hand. They'll be easier to read.

I ate the books alive in 1972, but I'd forgotten the plot details. When the new books arrived, I read the blurbs:

' ... a mysterious silver object appears (in a sleepy village) and all the inhabitants fall unconscious. ... A day later the object is gone and everyone awakes unharmed, except ... ';

'It started with fireballs raining down from the sky and crashing into the oceans' deeps. Then ships began sinking mysteriously and later "sea tanks" emerged from the deep to claim people ...';

' ... a scintillating story of the power wielded by science in our lives and asks: how much trust should we place in those we appoint to be its guardians?';

' ... everyone (in the world) ... (is) blinded by a meteor shower ... civilisation (is) in chaos, ... huge, venomous plants able to "walk", feeding on human flesh ... '.

It all came flooding back to me. The tiresome dreariness of 1972's Form Four Gold - epitomised by Brother Heslin's appalling biblical studies classes - had an antidote. I could escape via sport only on Wednesday afternoons when the thump and cry of football games echoed across Fairbairn Park beside the river but back in the classroom, hunched in the far left corner of the back row, I could read a John Wyndham novel any time, any day, hidden behind some vile textbook.


I gave the boys their books, and that night I dreamed a terrifying new virus had circled the world hidden inside mankind's most common symptom: the cough. Whether the slightest clearing of a throat to the heaviest smoker's hack, no-one knew who carried the virus. Borders were closed, panic followed and overnight, toilet paper disappeared from supermarket shelves, leading to a shortage of a vitally essential material:

Forest Stewardship Council™ certified paper made from responsible sources.


Dr. Alice said...

One of the joys of having nieces and nephews has been introducing them to books I enjoyed at their age. As for the virus, well, let's hope for the best.

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