sweet read book review: The Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham

an easy-to-read post-apocalyptic road trip, love story, and reverie on political organization (and biological engineering): excellent!

One night a spectacular meteor shower fills the sky, and everyone who has seen it awakes blind the next morning. For the most part, this science fiction classic follows Bill Masen (who was in bandages during the shower) as he finds his way in this post-apocalyptic world. Add to this a special plant, the triffid, which can walk and attack. But the triffids are no more a concern than the rival governments being established by Bill’s few sighted peers and the blind forced to rely on them.

I read this on my last work trip and could barely put down. According to the critical introductory essay by Edmund Morris,* in the British Commonwealth “it has the reputation of being the one science fiction book you must read, even if you don’t read science fiction.” I agree.

1. This is a great read. It takes no time at all to get moving, with this excellent opening line: “When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.”

2. The book is an interesting mix of post-apocalyptic (think The Road but less dark despite the carnivorous plants) and dystopian (as we observe the new orders being established).

3. Many of these British survivors are obsessed with Americans. I remember seeing this in the film Independence Day (with Will Smith), when the Americans develop a plan and the British say, “It’s about time” or some such. As Bill and his friends seek other survivors, they found that most other small groups “waited for the arrival of the Americans, who were bound to find a way. … The Americans, they assured us, would never have allowed such a thing to happen in their country” (163). This appears several times.

4. Wyndham captures the oppressive loneliness of wandering through this post-apocalyptic world: “Until then I had always thought of loneliness as something negative – an absence of company, and, of course, something temporary. … That day I had learned that it was much more. It was something which could press and oppress, could distort the ordinary and play tricks with the mind. Something which lurked inimically all around, stretching the nerves and twanging them with alarms, never letting one forget that there was no one to help, no one to care.” (169-170)

I highly recommend this book. I intend to seek out more Wyndham.

* This essay is included in the Modern Library: 20th Century Rediscovery edition. I recommend reading the essay after reading the novel.

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