The Chrysalids & Survival

Starring: Stephen Garlick, Susan Sheridan and Nicholas Courtney
BBC Audio
RRP: 12.99
ISBN: 978 1 4056 7706 6
Available 08 January 2007

This double bill CD collection contains two John Wyndham stories which were adapted for BBC radio in the '80s - The Chrysalids and Survival.

Ten-year-old David is a happy, ordinary boy, untroubled except for occasional strange dreams about a mysterious city - until he befriends Sophie, who is unlike anybody he has met before: she has six toes. But in the ultra-religious village of Waknut, all abnormality is abhorred as an offence against God, and he must keep her secret to himself. When he learns that he, too, is 'deviant', he realises that differences can be very dangerous indeed...

The Chrysalids was first broadcast in 1981 and examines the inhabitants of a religious village where the residents believe that in order to follow God's word they need to preserve absolute normality among their people, plants and animals living in their surrounding area. Anything with even minor mutations are considered "blasphemies" and the handiwork of the Devil. Individuals not conforming to a strict physical norm are either killed or sterilised and banished to the Fringes, a forbidden area still rife with animal and plant mutations.

The main story follows the experiences of a ten-year-old boy, called David, who befriends a young girl called Sophie with six toes. For fear of what the villagers will do to her, David keeps her secret hidden but he can't do so for long. It soon becomes apparent that David, and others of his village have a hidden mutation of their own - they have telepathic abilities.

David begins to question why all who are different must be banished or killed. As they mature, David and his fellow telepaths realise that their unusual mutation would be considered a "blasphemy" and they carefully conceal their abilities. That their mutation cannot be directly detected allows their unusual abilities to remain undiscovered for a time. Eventually the group is exposed and David, his cousin Rosalind and younger sister Petra flee to the Fringes.

This story starts off as though it is set in our civilisations past, but it soon becomes apparent that it's set in the future - and that the mutations are the cause of a nuclear war that has long since past.

On a technical point, some of the scenes are almost impossible to listen too without clapping your hands over your ears. The problems? Well, sobbing and screaming children really aren't the thing to listen to through headphones at full blast.

While the story is interesting enough, I couldn't help thinking that it would have been much more powerful if it had been half the length - scenes to have a tendency to drag on here and there.

Set in the future the human race witnesses the first auto-piloted space flight. When the ship meets with an accident, one of the passengers is killed and the others are cast adrift in space. They have enough supplies to last for three months - but the only woman on board, Alice Morgan, is pregnant, and needs extra rations. Then food starts to go missing from the larder. What lengths will the passengers go to in order to survive...?

Survival was originally broadcast in 1989 and is a shorter, but much sweeter tale than The Chrysalids. As a radio drama this works much better - it's certainly easier to relax and enjoy than the earlier story.

When the spacecraft malfunctions and food starts to run out the passengers have to make the decision whether to die together or slowly kill one person at a time in order to feed the rest of the starving people.

As a production there's little to fault it. The vocal talents of the cast are first rate and the music and sound effects make it sound as though it were recorded much more recently than it was.

The two stories are split over two CDs, with The Chrysalids spread over disc one, and half of disc two. To be honest I found Survival a more palatable tale. The Chrysalids just seemed to go on and on and some of the voice acting was pretty annoying - there's something about the way adults pretending to be children always seem to over do it.

John Wyndham fans will love this collection, as will all lovers of classic sci-fi tales.

Pete Boomer

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