Saturday, 1 February 2014
The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham
We all know Day of the Triffids, right? It's a classic, adapted for film and TV on a regular basis. I certainly thought I knew it - man-eating plants invade Planet Earth, send everyone blind, etc. How wrong was I. In fairness, Wyndham was also wrong in that it's not about triffids at all and, whilst they keep cropping up to string the occasional passer-by, they don't really become a threat to the survival of humankind until the very end of the novel. What this actually is is a post-apocalyptic survivor story. A spectacular meteor shower brings everyone out into the streets to watch, then blinds them with its brilliance. Our hero, Bill Masen, wakes up in hospital to find everyone gone. He has not been blinded because he was already blind - stung by a triffid, an occupational hazard in that he is a researcher into triffids which have been bred for years (genetically modified) for their various useful by-products. Triffids have developed idiosyncrasies like walking, and they always wear poisonous, though it's GM which has made them gigantic and thus potentially lethal, but it is only when humankind can no longer maintain their paddocks and cages that they go on the rampage.
Bill, his eyesight recovered, joins up with other survivors and traverses the south of England in search of a bolt-hole. Meanwhile the triffids multiply, organise and attack. In many ways it was the evolution of the triffids which held my attention through all the quest sludge; that and the way Wyndham evokes the paranoia of the immediate postwar era - the nuclear threat, the disinclination of the authorities to abandon control of the population and, fascinatingly, satellite technology which provides a surprising twist at the end.
We call Wyndham a sci-fi writer but I like his description of what he does - 'logical fantasy'. That's what The Day of the Triffids is precisely. It remains a classic and we should all know it better.