The Day of the Triffids

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UK first edition.

The Day of the Triffids is a post-apocalyptic novel written by John Wyndham and published in December 1951. In the story, something causes the majority of the Earth's population to go blind while, at the same time, a semi-intelligent carnivorous plant species begins killing off everyone.

The book was made into a film, two TV serials, a radio program, a comic book, and served as inspiration for several other works of fiction.

Personal

The title song of the Rocky Horror Picture Show references the film based on this book, which was the first I heard of it in my 20s. I later learned that it was a classic science fiction book which piqued my interest in reading it. I finished it on 2021-11-26.

Status

I don't own this book, but I've listened to the audio book read by Samuel West.

Review

Good

  • The beginning, where Bill Masen awakens in a hospital that has ceased functioning, is a great opening and really plays on the base fear of being reliant on someone else to keep you alive. Unfortunately, the tension is lost pretty quickly.
  • The various scenes of blinded people becoming miserable and slowly dying or killing themselves are well-written and very tragic.
  • As a whole, the book is a pretty good reminder that society can only really progress once a certain level of security has been obtained. Even if you have plenty of resources, if you fail to teach the next generation how to progress further than you, society will stagnant, and, probably backslide. Likewise, as technology becomes more and more specialized, we are more and more vulnerable to collapse if those trained in that specialization die off or are not replaced.
  • The scene near the end, where the red-haired man shows up at his family's isolated home, is pretty tense and a little scary.

Bad

  • By writing more in the style of a memoir, the Wyndham kills a lot of the book's tension. We know the human race won't go extinct in the course of the book because we're reading his account. This similar tension-killer occurred in the earlier, The War of the Worlds which inspired Wyndham to write this book. In fact, a lot of the book describes meetings, planning, and acquiring supplies which slows down the story and hurts the tension.
  • The triffids start out as being more of a nuisance than a real threat. It's only near the end of the book, when they develop the qualities of a zombie horde, when it becomes clear that they might end humanity, but, even then, it's more description than action.
  • If the book is meant to be a cautionary tale, I wish the origin of the "comet trail" would have been described a bit more. We only have Bill's guess that it was a war satellite which went off by mistake. Adding a character from a military bunker who could have given a more detailed explanation would have helped. Also, a beam that would destroy the optic nerve, but no other part of the body, really needs better explanation. It could be argued that the "plague" that was affecting people was actually radiation poisoning, but, it's described as contagious, so that doesn't work either.
  • Josella Playton starts out as a pretty helpless damsel in distress. She quickly toughens up, even more so than Bill, only to quickly become a damsel in distress for the rest of the rest of the book.
  • Although the tragic scenes are well written, they're also quite depressing. Several people commit suicide or kill their own children to end their misery quickly, elderly and disabled people are left to die, even little children are killed by triffids, etc. I typically read fiction for pleasure, but I found many of these scenes to be quite disturbing.
  • Triffids are described as having no central nervous system, which makes sense as the book alludes to them being an artificially evolved Terran species. So, while it's fine that they're attracted to sensory input, they shouldn't have memory. To account for this, Wyndham could have described them with a mysterious organ, but, since he doesn't, the explanation is more magical. Also, since they're blind, they shouldn't be able to aim for people's heads when they attack.

Ugly

  • The book is definitely targeted toward male readers. Bill doesn't think too highly of women in general, he has a young attractive woman throw herself at him for security, and, shortly after the blindness, he thinks women will go along with being raped by strange men to get food. The only other prominent male, Corker, goes off on women for not knowing enough about engineering despite being raised in a culture that discouraged it.

Media

Covers

Quotes

  • It must be, I thought, one of the race's most persistent and comforting hallucinations to trust that "it can't happen here" -- that one's own time and place is beyond cataclysm.
  • Anybody who has had a great treasure has always led a precarious existence.
  • Nobody is going to be muddle-headed enough to confuse ignorance with innocence now - it's too important. Nor is ignorance going to be cute or funny anymore. It is going to be dangerous, very dangerous.

Links

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