Let me start this blog post by saying I’m so obsessed with John Wyndham that I just ordered a second copy of The Day of the Triffids because it’s a pretty penguin clothbound edition. This review will not be unbiased in any way, I am not sorry.
This book was a drastic change from the Wyndham I’ve already read. Prior to this I had only read The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes which are both considered to be more Wyndham’s ‘cosy catastrophes’ as Brian Aldiss called them. The cosy catastrophe was a very typical post-apocalyptic 50s SF plot, that basically followed one group of people (The Walking Dead style) and the group manage to prosper and begin life anew (not The Walking Dead style). Trouble with Lichen is not a cosy catastrophe.
The narrative follows both Diana and her boss Francis, both biochemists who discover a lichen that can be used to slow the ageing process and essentially bring longer life. Whilst Francis is unsure what to do so hides the lichen, Diana has a very interesting use for the lichen (that I won’t spoil) but she definitely doesn’t want to hide it. This takes the book into a whole ethical conundrum of how scientific discoveries can have a knock on effect on the community.
This dynamic wasn’t nearly the most impressive part of the book. The book was so feminist. It blew my mind. One of my pet peeves with Wyndham (the only peeve really) was that he embodies all the typical casual sexiam and casual racism of his time. But this really redeemed a lot of those feelings, obviously due to the time he was writing the feminism is severely dated and massively problematic, but it was pretty mind blowing considering the time period it came out of! I absolutely loved it, it was so refreshing to see one of my favourite male authors address feminism in such a positive way.
The one thing I would say about this text was, because of the ethical subject matter, most of the books was just talking and conversation. There were a few brief flashes of action but nowhere near as much as his other books, a lot of this read like a political drama, but even if that’s not your thing it’s still such an excellent and thoughtful read. It only made me love John Wyndham more!