Attempting to ignite a new story drawn from the embers of a previous classic is a risky business. David Owen tries this in his re-imagining of John Wyndham’s unforgettable futuristic nightmare The Midwich Cuckoos. In his new version, spooky babies are born once again, this time to four different young mothers all living on a miserable inner-city estate. Starting with a multiple rape and going on to often sickly descriptions of subsequent pregnancy and early infancy; this is not a story for the squeamish. To make matters worse, all the other occupants of the estate are uniformly horrible while the new children themselves, when they arrive in record time, are anything but loveable.
Owen writes in a punchy style, and the point he strives to make is a good one, suggesting that if the children had been shown any kindness and understanding instead of initial hostility things might eventually have worked out better. But his narrative is altogether too glum, with minor characters competing in general nastiness and all the affected parents of the teenagers concerned totally unable to cope from the start. As the plot develops so too does the level of violence, ending up in general mayhem. A sort of positive ending comes too late, since by that time sustaining any sort of belief in what is happening has become virtually impossible. Owen’s previous debut novel, Panther, also dealt with dark issues but more successfully. The best that can be said for this present ambitious but flawed story is that it might lead readers back to Wyndham’s own writing, where moments of horror are shared with at least a few characters offering a more hopeful view of humanity as it might exist in an otherwise scary sci-fi future.