In a city that could well be New York, a series of identical women are found dead in suspicious circumstances. Magazine photographer Johnny Farthing, who is reporting on the suspected murders, is chilled to discover that his fiancée looks identical to the victims too – and then she disappears.
As his investigations spiral beyond his control, he finds himself at the heart of a sinister plot that uses cloning to revive the Nazi vision of a world-powerful master race.
Part detective noir, part dystopic thriller, Plan for Chaos reveals the legendary science fiction novelist grappling with some of his most urgent and personal themes.
My Review of Plan for Chaos
Plan for Chaos starts off like an American hardboiled detective story, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Speaking as an English person that has never been to America, the Americanisms don’t feel right and the language is confusing. I had to read some paragraphs a few times before I could make sense of them.
When it moves from America it settles down into a decent story, with some interesting sci-fi inventions, a lot of them that are actually around today. Though the idea of clones is so common these days that it was hard for me not to want to shout at Johnny Farthing for not realising straight away.
From there it slows down into a lot of philosophising about war and the base instincts of the human race. While this is interesting, and a lot of it is scarily relevant today, it is quite slow. I also felt a bit like I was missing something because I don’t know much about 1950’s politics, and the book doesn’t talk much about the world political atmosphere.
The ending is anticlimactic. There is more action towards the end, but Johnny always seems to be a bit out of it. He hears about things afterwards or watches other people doing things. It’s frustrating to read and makes what could be an interesting story into a dull one.
John Wyndham’s attitude towards women in this book is dated, yet progressive for its time. He shows over and again that women can be intelligent. Johnny Farthing spends most of the book not knowing what is going on, and with no idea of what he should do next. When he does attempt action, his efforts are misguided and cause more problems than they solve.
In contrast, Johnny’s fiancee Freda seems very intelligent, she understands their situation and spends a lot of her time explaining things to Johnny that he just can’t see. A lot of the other women in the book are also shown to be intelligent, and to be capable leaders.
This is nice to read, but at the same time, he also portrays women as all having the shared goal of settling down with a stable family and as many children as possible. This is one of the main themes in the book and is repeated all the way through. The men in the book have no interest in children or family at all. It’s irritating, but it was written in the 1950’s and it does better than most books from that time.
If you’re new to John Wyndham I wouldn’t recommend you start with this. It has a dodgy start and sketchy pacing and it’s not one of his best.
If you are already a fan it is worth reading as there are some interesting ideas in there that are still relevant today.