Plan for Chaos was written around the same time as Wyndham’s signature novel The Day of the Triffids (1950-51), but that’s where the resemblance ends. Triffids went on to be adapted for film and TV and by the time the author died it was firmly established as a national treasure. Plan for Chaos ended up languishing unread and unpublished in Wyndham’s papers, in what is now the John Wyndham Archive, which has been held by the University of Liverpool since 1998.
Johnny Farthing is a photographer in post-WW2 New York. He’s engaged to his cousin Freda. Their family is originally Swedish. Johnny’s parents made their way to America via England. Their mutual Aunt Marta sounds like something out of Wagner—blonde and Nordic—so it was no surprise to anyone when she became an enthusiastic supporter of Hitler. Johnny and Freda are understandably keen to put that all behind them and concentrate on bringing Freda’s father around to the idea of their marrying.
Johnny is unnerved by multiple stories of violent deaths of young women. As a photographer on Choice magazine, he’s plenty used to snapping crime scenes and corpses, but this is different. Not only are there so many of them but all of them bear a striking resemblance to his fiancée. Even worse, he discovers Freda in her apartment with her head inside the gas oven. Then she disappears completely after she’s been stretchered out of the building:
“The police at home were stalled. They’d found the ambulance. It had been hired. The stretcher with Freda on it had been off-loaded at Grand Central, and the men paid. After that nothing—except one recap seemed to remember a stretcher being loaded into a black van.”
Johnny tracks down one of Freda’s doubles who is still alive. If it’s unnerving enough to encounter a clone of your future wife, double that when she’s nothing like her in personality:
“It was then that I began to notice more of the things about her that were not Freda. She was with an older man who looked like a Senator would like to look, and knew it: Leonine-orator type. The technique she was using on him—well, of course, to judge these things with a properly evaluating eye you have to be in the racket of being a woman yourself.”
Johnny then discovers that not only are there multiple Fredas but worse still also multiple Johnnys running around. Posing as one of his doubles, he’s able to infiltrate the shadowy organisation who have facilitated the cloning process. Everyone speaks German and they are determined to ship him off to deep in the South American jungle:
“The first weirdness of looking from one similar face to another, and another, did begin to blunt a little in time. And as it did, I began to perceive a new quality about the place: an oppressive something in the atmosphere.”
I loved this book. The publication of a fresh John Wyndham novel forty years after his death was an unexpected treat and it didn’t disappoint.
Plan for Chaos is available from Amazon.
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