Your Saturday Book Review: The Chrysalids or Rebirth (US title)

Title: Rebirth (US) or The Chrysalids (UK)
Format Availability: ALL
Genre: Science Fiction

Joy is rediscovering a book you read in childhood, and still loving it.

I first read Rebirth when I was a child and probably didn’t get most of the references. I understood the future post-apocalypse part, having already absorbed Twilight Zone reruns and the Outer Limits. Horror movies had made me aware that nuclear attacks could lead to mutations, long before I learned it any science class. I don’t know if I would have made any analogies between the fundamentalists in the story and real life fundies as I wasn’t exposed to a lot of ultra-religious types.

Because the protagonists are young, this is a tale that would probably today be considered “young adult” although it’s a story anyone can enjoy, and everyone should read. I wonder if teenagers today, reared on The Hunger Games would like it. They might. The young people in Rebirth are also being in endangered by their society. They aren’t wizards, but like Harry Potter and his friends, they aren’t exactly muggles either.

The setting is someplace in Labrador, which still retains a few familiar place names. (Newfoundland is Newf, for instance). It’s warmer than now, presumably not because of greenhouse gases but because of something to do with the “Tribulations” that destroyed the civilization of “the old people.” The technology is similar to the early 19th century. The horseless carriage hasn’t been reinvented yet, nor are there railroads,  and everyone is obsessed by “mutation.” Even slightly deviant plants are burnt, and animals slaughtered but not eaten. The government may make allowances when convenient, like considering giant horses “naturally bred.” Human babies born even with minor variations such as a port-wine stain, meet a mysterious fate.  It’s unclear what happens to infants when they don’t pass “inspection” although it seems likely it’s infanticide. If mutants are discovered when they’re older, they are sterilized and exiled to the “Fringes” an “uncivilized” area where life is they are unlikely to survive. Beyond the Fringes, we are told, lie lands blackened and ruined.

David Storm, our narrator and protagonist, grows up in a small community mostly of farms, in a household where his father is a fundamentalist preacher, and his mother is docile. There were other children born who didn’t make the cut, and finally a little sister who did. But David, his distant cousin Rosalyn, and a number of other children in the community are keeping a secret. They are telepaths, and understand early on that if discovered this would mean sterilization and exile. David’s sister Petra turns out to have powers way beyond the abilities of others that are clear from an even earlier age, which places the group in danger, as does young adulthood, when one of the group falls in love with a “norm” and shares their secret.

Their power seems to operate much like radio with a specific range. Petra’s range, however, is limitless and she eventually makes contacts with others in a distant land – a civilization far more advanced than the one they live in. In that place, telepathy is the norm, and those who don’t have it try to develop it, but no one so young has Petra’s powers. She’s important enough for the others to save and they attempt to do so by sending an airship (described as being blimp-like and slower than our planes). But will it come in time?

The edition I read was within a hardcover anthology, A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, Volume I, which I found once upon a time in our family room/basement. It’s also available in several other editions, and of course on Kindle.  If you are interested in purchasing, please click the bookcover in the widget above as that will get me a few pennies if you buy anything.