Monday, March 3, 2014

Review: Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

The Day of the TriffidsThe Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those classics that has inspired numerous movies and other stories, none of which capture the spirit of the original story. This is a post-apocalyptic tale that really digs into life after civilization collapses. It asks a lot of interesting questions, along the way.

The story begins on the day after a spectacular meteor shower seen around the world. The narrator, saved by nearly having lost his sight a week before, wakes to an unsettling stillness. Further exploration shows that everyone who watched the meteor shower was struck blind. By itself, the helplessness this engenders in the populace might have led to mass deaths. But on top of that, there's a viral epidemic, and, of course, triffids. Triffids are genetically engineered plants that have some mobility, and venemous whip-like appendages. But they produce oil that can be used for fuel, so they're farmed in great quantities. But when humanity is rendered helpless against them, they close in to take their rightful place at the top of the food chain.

Different factions spring up immediately. Some want to loot as much as they can as quickly as they can. Others want to preserve as many people as they can, even if it means enslaving those who can still see. Still others want to repopulate the world and make their own society, far away from the chaos. Each perspective is considered by our hero, Bill Masen. What drives him is a need to find Josella, who he saved from a man who tried to enslave her for her sight. To that end, he encounters many approaches to the end of the world.

The story takes place over a period of years. With most books, that would be a negative, but this manages to maintain tension. It takes that long to answer the question of whether they'll survive, because there's always a new barrier. The timeline might have been truncated, but it would've taken away from the feeling of the world changing forever because of paranoia and one-upmanship.

The most poignant part of this book, for me, is the fact that all of the problems in the book are human-made. The meteor shower, the triffids, even the plague, were all planted by people. The scarcity that follows these crises is also due to people's shortsightedness.

Though humanity is rendered helpless through mass blindness, the book does take pains to show blindness, itself, is not the problem. It's the switch from a reliance on sight to not being able to see. People who started out blind are in far better shape than those who were fully sighted the day before the meteor shower. Those who adapt ways to live this new way are in the best position for survival.

This book was a lot better than I expected. While it's not as fast-paced as today's SF thrillers, it addresses a lot of philosophical quandaries, and has some things to say about human nature. Despite its dated technology, I think it's aged well.

I listened to this book on audio, narrated by the very British Graeme Malcolm. His voice was pleasant to listen to, and he had a good range of accents at his disposal. It was a pleasant listening experience.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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