Trouble with Lichen


Trouble with Lichen

"Trouble with Lichen" (published 1960) is a science fiction novel by John Wyndham. It is intended as a social satire; opinion varies as to its quality. It is not generally regarded as one of Wyndham's best novels, but some consider it an interesting and entertaining piece nevertheless.

Plot summary

The plot concerns a young woman biochemist who discovers that a chemical extracted from an unusual strain of lichen (hence the title) can be used to retard the aging process, enabling people to live to around 200-300 years. Wyndham speculates how society would deal with this prospect.

The two central characters are Diana Brackley and Francis Saxover, two biochemists who run parallel investigations into the properties of a specific type of lichen. When Diana accidentally drops a speck of the specimen into a bowl of milk, she sees that the milk does not turn sour around the speck.

She and Francis separately develop a drug, named Antigerone, from the lichen which slows down the body's aging process. While Francis uses it only on himself and his immediate family (without their knowledge), Diana founds a cosmetic spa and builds up a clientèle of some of the most powerful women in England, giving them low doses of Antigerone, preserving their beauty and youth. When Saxover finds out about the spas, he erroneously assumes that Diana's motive is profit. However, Diana's aim is actually female empowerment, intending to gain the support of these influential women, believing that if Antigerone became publicly known, it would be reserved only for the men in power.

After a customer suffers an allergic reaction to one of Diana's products, the secret of the drug begins to emerge. Diana tries to cover up the real source of the drug, since the lichen is very rare and hard to grow, but when it is finally discovered, she fakes her own death in order to unite the women of Britain to fight for the rights she tried to secure for them.

Francis realizes that she may not really be dead and tracks her down to a remote farm, where she has succeeded in growing a small amount of the lichen by herself. Diana plans to rejoin the world under the guise of being her own sister and continue the work she left off.

Quote

“This is not the age of reason, this is the age of flummery, and the day of the devious approach. Reason’s gone into the backrooms where it works to devise means by which people can be induced to emote in the desired direction.”John Wyndham, J. (1960), The Trouble With Lichen. Penguin Books. pg. 91. Note: Minor adaptations added.


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