John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes: A Sci-Fi Classic for Modern Times

Sea levels are rising. Political tensions in Europe are escalating. All over the world, something deadly is spreading, threatening the very existence of life on Earth as we know it…

Sound familiar? It’s meant to. But this is the story of John Wyndham’s classic sci-fi novel, The Kraken Wakes. If the word “prescient” is applied a tad liberally to twentieth-century science fiction these days, it nevertheless seems justified in the case of Wyndham’s Kraken. Published in the early 1950s, Wyndham’s novel charts a mysterious series of events that herald an extraterrestrial invasion of Earth, not from flying saucers in the skies, but – far more terrifyingly – from the darkest depths of our oceans.

In the 1950s, science fiction developed not so much to envision futuristic technology as to explore humanity’s reaction to it, and Wyndham was a master at this. His Day of the Triffids concerns the disastrous consequences of genetic modification gone wrong, while his Chrysalids imagines a post-apocalyptic future in which extreme societal prejudices have taken hold. Wyndham’s incredible topicality has been demonstrated most recently by Sky’s adaptation of The Midwich Cuckoos, a story that raises questions about female autonomy and the terrifying power of groupthink.

The Kraken Wakes original book cover

The Kraken Wakes original book cover

Of all Wyndham’s books, though, The Kraken Wakes has always stood out to me. The idea of advanced and monstrous lifeforms emerging from the mysterious depths of our oceans always felt so spookily probable, and the collapse of society that follows, even more so. The Kraken Wakes explores issues of fake news and media sensationalism, of dangerously militarised governments, and of humankind’s knee-jerk aggression towards anything unknown or unfamiliar. “Can you imagine us tolerating any form of rival intelligence on earth?”, asks one character: “Why, we can’t even tolerate anything but the narrowest differences of views within our own race…”.

Reading about these kinds of apocalyptic, eerily plausible scenarios in a book, it’s easy to feel a little helpless. That’s why, as a young reader in the 1980s, I dreamed of somehow becoming part of the stories, to influence their outcomes and help their characters save the world.

Five years ago, that dream moved a step closer to becoming a reality when Charisma signed an agreement with John Wyndham’s estate for the exclusive rights to develop the immersive adaptation of The Kraken Wakes. Using our AI-powered conversation engine, we envisioned an adaptation of the novel in which players could talk to Wyndham’s characters, immerse themselves in his world, and even influence the progression of his story. Since signing the rights agreement back in 2017, that’s exactly what we’ve created – and I’m thrilled to announce that Charisma’s official game adaptation of The Kraken Wakes will be ready for release later this year.

There is a rich history of game versions of book titles. From the earliest days of ZX Spectrums, Commodore 64s and BBC Micros, there were adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland, Fighting Fantasy and Tom Clancy novels. The ability to explore narratives, worlds and characters in depth is a strength that books and games share. Indeed, it’s surprising that so little emphasis is placed on game rights sales, compared with rights for films and television series. With video game revenues now exceeding those generated by film, television and radio combined, we’ll hopefully soon see authors, agents and publishers recognising the games industry as the best creative and financial match for fiction and nonfiction titles alike.

Our aim with The Kraken Wakes is to introduce a new genre of conversation-driven narrative game, with powerful characters who leap out at you through the screen, inviting you to form strong, believable relationships with them. As a company, this is what we specialise in: creating realistic characters to immerse audiences in new levels of storytelling and engagement. Our experiences of bringing Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock to life in the official app, developing an interactive version of WarnerBros Justice League, and working on an interactive drama for SkyTV, have shown us that audiences are eager for these new forms of storytelling. They are keen to immerse themselves, and to play in the story.

The process of adapting Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes has been both ground-breakingly challenging and immensely fun. Over the next few months, different members of the Charisma team will be telling their own part of the development story in this blog, beginning, next week, with a post from our lead writer Rianna Dearden, on how she went about transforming the plot of a novel into the story for an interactive video game.

With the launch now in sight, we’re hugely excited to be able to share our version of The Kraken Wakes with players soon. Our vision is that this will be the first of many game adaptations of epic novels – by ourselves and others – that truly reimagine the reader as an active participant in the story.