Book Review – The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
“When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.”
Without knowing anything about this book, someone might pick it up, read the back cover blurb and say, “Sudden, worldwide, life-changing event? The possible end of mankind? Meh. Been done before.”
They wouldn’t be completely wrong. It has been done before and John Wyndham is to be thanked (or cursed, depending on your viewpoint) for inspiring many of today’s zombie-filled, post-apocalyptic love fests. That’s not to say he was among the earliest pioneers. Mary Shelly had written The Last Man in 1826 and of course H. G. Wells brought us The Time Machine.
But written in 1951, The Day of the Triffids was one of the most significant post-apocalyptic novels to come out shortly after WWII. The Cold War was burning hot and nuclear weapons, large-scale chemical warfare, mustachioed Russian dictators; these were all things on the minds of citizens worldwide. Especially those like Wyndham, who resided in Britain and were only a short-range missile away from the Soviet Union.
The story begins with biologist Bill Masen waking up in a hospital, his eyes bandaged due to recent surgery. Because of his situation, he happened to miss one of the most beautiful, astronomical events ever to grace mankind. It’s assumed that nearly everyone in the world watched the lights in the sky the previous night, and as a result, nearly everyone in the world found themselves with permanent blindness. Only those folks who missed the light show managed to retain their vision and find themselves alone in a place where civilization comes to an immediate standstill, followed shortly by rapid regression. If that wasn’t enough of a problem, Triffids, plants with an evolved intelligence, begin to stake their claim in the new paradigm.
The book is relatively short compared to today’s writing within the same genre. There wasn’t endless character building, but enough to keep the reader interested. It just goes to show you how much can be said without needing 600+ page epics. The imaginative, yet unpretentious prose was a treat. As an American, I always find an odd enjoyment in British English. It’s familiar, yet always so…dignified. I suppose the originators of a language always do it best.
On the downside, the ending felt extremely rushed and by the end, some may wonder why the Triffids even need to exist in this book at all. But disappointing endings are not necessarily a deal breaker for me (read: I still love Stephen King). The rest of the book holds up to scrutiny and “the joy is in the journey,” blah blah blah, etc. etc.
Pick it up, I say! It’s short and it’s a nice glimpse into science-fiction history.