I’m a huge fan of Science Fiction, particularly post-apocalyptic fiction, and think I’ve read the best the genre has to offer. That said, I always bypassed one book on assumptions that were to be proved wrong, and I guess others have made the same mistake.
I knew about The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham long before I eventually picked it up to read. A clunky television adaptation sticks in my mind from childhood and a couple of recommendations from friends who I flatly ignored. I told myself, “Plants taking over the world is silly. How can it be anything other than a glorified B-movie?” I even checked the cover on Amazon to confirm my unfounded suspicions. Of course, this cosy catastrophe is far beyond the short pulpy description I had in my mind and after a few pages I was hooked.
The first person narrator, Bill Masen, is a triffidologist who works with the carnivorous plants. The story begins with him in hospital after his eyes were splashed by triffid poison. He misses a beautiful green meteor shower due to his bandages, and avoided suffering blindness like the majority of the population. From here, with humans at a disadvantage, the triffids take advantage of the upended natural balance and attack. The opening scene in the hospital is definitive and has echoed through subsequent apocalyptic fiction, notably the film 28 Days Later and the TV show The Walking Dead.
The book was originally published in 1951 and its old charm and quaint language immediately grabbed me. Masen sees a doctor dive head first out of a window and his immediate reaction is to light a cigarette. When he eventually makes it out of the hospital, his first port of is to a local pub for a stiff drink. He’s also unsure about the origin of triffids but suspects they were engineered by the Soviet Union.
There’s a wonderful section where Masen wanders through central London and witnesses the full impact as society unravels into chaos, particularly a part where he meets a blind man who is happy at the turn of events. The man suffered from the disability before the shower and now feels his parity in the world restored.
Masen saves a woman who also retained her sight, a successful novelist called Josella Playton, from a man who is forcing her to be his guide. Playton missed the meteor shower while at a wild party and they immediately strike up a friendship that is central to the story. They discover a group of survivors planning on heading for the countryside to build a stronghold and decide to join them. This isn’t an A to B bullet-fest where our hero has smart quips or rescues damsels in distress. The story takes a sober look at how a group tackles the problems of surviving in a world that is increasingly not their own, and some of the village scenes outside London are a tremendous throwback to a quieter era.
As Wyndham leads Masen through the events, he gives an interesting insight into human behaviour, how different people reacted under extreme circumstances, some good, some bad, and some misguided. The lifecycle of events is logical and well treated as triffids slowly take over the nation and hunt for survivors, increasing in number and surrounding any safe haven. I also enjoyed the philosophising around the future of humanity by various characters, particularly Coker at Tynsham on the changing role of people and the roles that both sexes needed to adapt in order to survive.
Without giving away spoilers, the book has a satisfying conclusion and gives the remaining characters hope for the future. I highly recommend it anyone who loves post-apocalyptic fiction and hasn’t read it yet, happily admit that I got this one wrong for years, and nearly missed out on a genre-defining classic.
Darren Wearmouth spent six years in the army before pursuing a career in corporate technology. After fifteen years working for large telecommunications firm and a start-up, he decided to follow his passion for writing. His first novel was the best-selling First Activation that he later sold to Amazon‘s publishing imprint, 47North in a two-book deal. Darren is a member of the International Thriller Writers Group and the British Science Fiction Association, and currently lives in Manchester, England.