A novel by John Wyndham
Until a few short hours ago–before the sky exploded into a shower of flaming green hell–triffids had bee regarded as merely a curious and profitable form of plant life. Now these shadowy vegetable creatures became a crawling killing nightmare of pain and horror.
Madness hung in the air, fear lurked in every side street, death hovered in every doorway. Stripped of civilized veneer by terror and desperation, the handful of surviving humans began to turn on each other.
And all the while the triffids watched and waited.
First sentence: “When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.”
A story about walking killer plants? Really? Such phrases tend to appear in reviews around the internet. It seems this is the disbelief that many have to suspend. And yet, when you are reading the book, this is easy to do. The triffids, whose origins are never fully explained, may have originated in the genetic laboratories of Soviet Russia. They could be man-made. Wyndham never explains this, however. And as frustrating as this can be at times, it is oddly satisfying. It completely fits with this sci-fi horror tale of humanity fighting to survive.
The novel follows Bill Masen, a man who has worked with triffids most of his life. As mentioned above, no one knows for sure where the triffids originated, but they soon prove useful to humanity due to the oil which can be extracted from them. The problem is that triffids have a sting that is poisonous enough to kill humans. They also seem to have a rudimentary intelligence, one that allows them to learn and even hunt. Regardless, triffids are subdued and exploited by humanity until a world-wide light show appears in the Earth’s sky. Speculation suggests this is due to comet debris. The next day, everyone who watched the lights is blind. Bill Masen escapes this fate as he was recovering in the hospital from a triffid sting; he never saw the lights.
And here begins the narrative which will feel familiar to anyone who has seen a zombie film: eerie silence and deserted streets. Civilization has fallen. The majority of the novel deals, not with the triffids, but with Bill’s attempt to survive in this new world. He encounters various groups with their own solution to survival: rebuild a new, better society with one group; build a society based on rigid religious structures and dogma with another; or maintain military discipline to ensure Britain will one day come out on top. None of these groups seems assured of any particular success. All the while the triffids must be dealt with as they continually seek out humans and kill them. They become a constant background threat.
This is a brilliant novel. I love how Wyndham fully thought out what would happen in the breakdown of civilization. What responsibilities do those who can see have to those who cannot? Which is better: city or country living? How would different groups seek power? Something that constantly surprised me was how many people in the novel chose to just “wait it out”, convinced that eventually the Americans would come and sort everything out. It is startling to me just how influential my country has been throughout the decades. And there is every reason to expect that America is dealing with the same problem of triffids and blindness. This is Rome falling and the dark ages beginning. One group actually adopts a feudal system for survival. I cannot recommend this one highly enough.
The Americans: (in which Masen describes various groups he finds scattered around the countryside)
“As a rule they showed little wish to join up with other parties and were inclined rather to lay hands on what they could, building themselves into refuges as comfortably as possible while they waited for the arrival of the Americans, who were bound to find a way. There seemed to be a widespread and fixed idea about this. Our suggestions that any surviving Americans would be likely to have their hands more than full at home was received as so much wet-blanketry. The Americans, they assured us, would never have allowed such a thing to happen in their country.”
Final Verdict: This was the most fun I have had reading a book since either A Game of Thrones or The City and The City. I would recommend it to anyone who likes thought-provoking fiction. Again, this was a brilliant story and I would love to have had another hundred pages.