As a big fan of John Wyndham, I was very excited to find ‘Plan for Chaos’ in my local bookshop. It was written at the same time as ‘Day of the Triffids’ (about 1951), but has never previously been published.
To be brutally honest, I can see why. Although the story does immerse the reader after a while, and it is hard to put it down, there are also some major flaws.
Firstly, and most difficult to overcome, is the voice of the narrator, as it rightly points out in the introduction. Prior to publication of ‘Day of the Triffids’, Wyndham had been writing largely for the American audience, and ‘Plan for Chaos’ seems to still be aimed at these readers. However, the voice of Johnny Farthing is about as believable as a plastic daffodil. The later attempt at an Australian accent, is, stone the crows, cobber, blessedly brief.
It was actually a very powerful message for me, that even great writers like Wyndham can also struggle with achieving the right ‘voice’. It is evident that he comes into his own comfort zone much more in a British voice in later books, and I have always admired him for the simplicity of language in which he manages to convey such complex ideas.
The other issue I had with this book was the unquestioned assumption that all women, given the choice, would have as many babies as possible, and that no matter how devoted to their work and ideals, they are fundamentally unhappy and unsatisfied if they cannot have a nice stable husband and brace of babies. Now, I know that this book was written in the early 50’s, and perhaps in another writer I would just put this down to the attitude of the times, but I had come to expect more forward thinking from Wyndham.
Anyway, with plenty of confusing cloning, stealth technology, and Nazis zooming around in flying saucers, this is still worth a read as a bit of a romp, and also as an interesting historical document. It conveys rather well the paranoia of the post-war world, and the fear developing around the start of the cold war.
Rating: Three and a half stars.