RESURRECTED from the archives of Liverpool University, Plan for Chaos is a story that was almost published in the late 1940s, but has only recently been made public. Editor David Ketterer highlights the link to triffids. Though Plan for Chaos (which also goes by the alternative title of
Forget about the triffids, Plan for Chaos, should be read as a stand-alone book. Despite a clunky start, an entertaining story soon unfolds. Unsurprisingly it is an original plot (written two decades before Ira Levin’s similar story The Boys from Brazil was released) featuring cloned Nazis. At times the storyline verges on the harebrained with Bond-style secret bases housing armies of clones preparing for World domination, and Flying Saucers that don’t actually leave the atmosphere, and are therefore partly responsible for UFO sightings.
One of the weaker elements of Plan for Chaos is the main characters’ mid-Atlantic accent. Johnny Farthing is of Germanic/Nordic descent, brought up mainly in England, but carrying a US passport. Of course it is perfectly believable that somebody should have such a cosmopolitan upbringing, it just doesn’t quite work in this case. Publishers at the time, on both sides of the Atlantic, were similarly uncomfortable with the approach, and it is one of the reasons why the work was shelved for so long.
The other explanation for the original failure of Plan for Chaos is the controversial subject matter. The two central characters are lovers and cousins (in early adulthood John is said to have been enamoured by his cousin Dorothy Joan Parkes). If the marriage of cousins was a bit rich for the 1940s readership, then the idea of an army of cloned Nazis, so soon after the Second World War was undoubtedly a hurdle to publication.
It’s still definitely worth a read. Professor Ketterer’s introduction to the hardback edition does contain several interesting facts about Wyndham’s life, though, as I mention in Cosy Clichés, he labours certain dubious points.
Excerpt from Plan for Chaos
I turned to walk north, wondering what line I would take now. It might be that I had covered a block or thereabouts when a big black car came sliding past me along the kerb. It stopped a few yards ahead, and the rear door opened. I heard a quickened footstep behind me. Something was jabbed unexpectedly and painfully against my side. A voice said quietly:
'Inside there, pal. And no tricks.'
* * *
When, later on, I came round with a steady beat like a ship's engines inside my head, I wished I'd taken that last piece of advice.
I'd no desire to do anything but lie where I was for ever - except, maybe to stop my pulse working. Some place, beyond the thumping, there was a sound of voices, but it was quite a while before I took any interest in them. Dimly, I did get around to realising that they were speaking partly in German: I left it at that, until one emerged from the general background, saying, in English now:
'Waste of time, waste of transport, waste of everything. Why don't we bump him, and write the whole thing off? That's what he'll get in the end, anyway.'
Another, very similar voice replied:
'That's universally true - but it's what happens before the end that matters. He may be crazy, though I guess he's not. Anyway, something took him to the Office of Security - it'd be better to have him talk about that before he's bumped.'
A third voice said slowly, and doubtfully:
'I've no doubt that he can be made to talk . But is it worth the trouble? Those Headquarters boys are so efficient over confessions - a trifle disgusting, perhaps, but they get results, and that is the trouble. If I were to be the subject of their attentions, I haven't the least doubt that I should confess to any and eveything they cared to suggest. As a system, it doesn't really bring one very much nearer the truth for certain, and drives the subject of the treatment into complete unreliability. In fact, that kind of information seems to me as dangerous as any from an uncheckable source.'
'In other words,' said the first voice, 'you suggest that for all the use he's likely to be, we might as well dispose of him right now.'
'Certainly I don't - and don't quote me as saying so. However, the instructions are that he must not be allowed to escape alive. It might save everyone trouble if he - er - didn't.'
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