When I was quite small I would sometimes dream of a city — which was strange because it began before I even knew what a city was.
Set thousands of years after a devastating nuclear war in Labrador, Canada, The Chrysalids asks what it means to be human, and whether is not only possible, but also desirable to transcend humanity. The story takes place in a small, pre-industrial, farming community. The greatest concern of the community members is identifying and weeding out differences — in their crops, their livestock, and particularly their children. No mutation is tolerated in the effort to keep humanity “pure,” and any deviations, as they are called, are sterilized and banished to the Fringes, the land that borders the irradiated wasteland and is home to starving, desperate outcasts.
The narrator, David, is a young boy growing up in this community with a secret. Even though he has no physical mutations, he does possess a difference: He can communicate telepathically with several other children. He only gradually comes to realize what his deviance may cost him, as well as to question the stricture for purity.
For the first two-thirds, The Chrysalids is exciting and suspenseful, as we learn about David’s world and grow increasingly concerned for his fate, and for his telepathic lover, Rosalind, and sister, Petra. Toward the end of the novel, though, The Chrysalids takes a philosophical turn that dampens the net effect. An outside character, another telepath from a place that David misidentifies as Sealand, becomes a mouthpiece for the author’s ideas about humanity and post-humanity. The novel ends with a deus ex machina of sorts depositing David and his loved ones in an unabashed utopia. I think this outcome hurt an otherwise entertaining moral story. While not as memorable as Wyndham’s other post-apocalyptic novel, The Day of the Triffids, The Chrysalids is still an interesting entry in this sub-genre, one that is worth reading.