The Day Of The Triffids (John Wyndham)

john-wyndham-book-coverThis is a sober book. I can imagine a dozen or so world leaders I’d hope would read it and discuss such in tandem over tea and crumpets. Or whatever Mr Trump feels like having today. Gauging our current run of apprehensions, one would be wise to explore this gem of the dystopian curve. Day of the Triffids is a meditation. There is no epic effort to capture the tooth and claw survival of the species. What occurs is both more subtle and sinister. The world as understood is over. JW was quite keen on destroying civilization in his novels.

This sci-fi classic has no literary pretensions, most characters are fairly one dimensional, and the triffids themselves (walking, thinking, carnivorous plants) I have always thought of as a rather annoying distraction. What gripped me, and grips me still, is the central premise — that one day, the vast majority of humanity goes blind (Jose Saramago, the Nobel prize winner, has the same premise in “Blindness,” but for my money Wyndham makes a better job of it). I’m impressed too with the ease with which civilization is destroyed by Wyndham.

Something enters the atmosphere looking like a green comet and puts on a breathtaking show — nearly everyone on earth rushes out to watch, and wakes up blind. This is about 99% of humanity. The few sighted people must decide whether to help the people around them, or to go off and set up their own society. In the middle of the book, there is a talky chapter in which various sighted people debate the options. The main character is a guy called Bill Masen, who was in a hospital outside London with his eyes bandaged on the day of the comet. Through him we see the fate of London and the British countryside.

The characterizations were wonderful. I really knew Bill, Coker, and Josella right off the bat in fewer words without the over-wrought character development that a lot of novels fall prey to. With just a few finely crafted words, I truly knew these people. This is obviously science fiction for the whole family. Which I’m OK with but its a little *too* obvious that he’s skirting around sex for the sake of the wholesome 1950s. This makes it dated but the story still has an effective impact.  If this book were written today, it would be 1000 pages (The Stand, anyone?). Wyndham brings it in at about 200. This is a fast read, and a brilliant conceit. It’s the apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic story that most modern ones wish they could be.

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