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Reviews of Day of the Triffids, the (1951)

Review by johnafair (2010-02-18)
Pushing on for sixty now, this is one of the classics of the SF catastrophe novels and, as is typical of a number of books written in that period, is part of that sub genre known by the rather misleading title of 'cosy catastrophes' - there's nothing particularly cosy about the catastrophe itself - the vast majority of the planet's population is rendered blind by 'cometary debris' and while it's coming to terms with this the triffids, carnivorous and ambulatory plants that kill their prey with a huge sting rapidly take advantage...

The story is narrated by Bill Marsden, one of the very few who retained their sight. In his case because a triffid had caught him across the eyes with its sting. Fortunately, quick action by a colleague saves his life and his sight.

There are elements that date the story - *everyone* smokes (while they have cigarettes anyway :-)) and females are presented as being somewhat less effective than their male colleagues but not too much so and if you object to them being relegated to being the child bearers, I'm afraid basic biology makes them the sole source of replenishing the human race. I feel that the technology failed a bit too quickly as well - the electricity grid collapsed almost as soon as the people lost their sight, but even a coal fired plant should take a few days to run down.

(This review refers to the 1951 version titled “The Day of the Triffids”)

Review by archren (2006-02-17)
The British know how to handle apocalypses. They go about their business quite sensibly, all told, and that is one of the reasons that I enjoyed “Day of the Triffids” quite a bit. One day the world wakes up, and almost everyone who was up the night before has gone blind. Only those lucky few who happened to be shut away somewhere come out sighted. Civilization of course, promptly collapses. Our hero and heroine meet each other wandering around London, learning how to escape from the clutches of blind people hoping for salvation. There are more threats, of course, than simply our own demons. The formerly castrated triffids, ambulatory plants with a nasty sting, have never needed sight to be effective…

Over the course of the book, several different coping methods for the post-apocalypse are proposed, and most of them are disposed with. Wyndham come down firmly in the stiff-upper lip, adjust to present realities, no need for antiquated moralism or hysterics, thank-you-very-much. It all captures the spirit of post-WWII Britain amazingly well.

The books does contain many of the scenes that allowed it to be adapted as a silly horror movies decades ago, but they are sensibly spread out over years, not days. Generally speaking, Wyndham’s extrapolation of his basic plot elements is solid and sensible. The science may not hold up perfectly, and of course the most advanced technology he describes is the helicopter, it’s not fundamentally different from what one might write today from the same premise. My only fundamental doubt is if a civilization in which 99.99% of everyone went blind would really collapse quite that quickly. But a lot of things go wrong all at once for the poor human race, and so we follow the few survivors with a sense of real accomplishment for having overcome so many tribulations.

It’s a quick read and an enjoyable one, hitting many of the highlights of the post-apocalypse sub-genre. I’d especially recommend it for younger readers in the same way one points them at Wells, Verne & Asimov. The characterization is purely secondary, but that’s not really important. It’s a good classic story, well told.

Review by clong (2005-09-02)
Reading this story if like watching a three hour long superb Twilight Zone episode. This is memorably effective storytelling: the first person narrative works well, the ebb and flow of tension is handled well, the urban scenes are very effective, the tantalizing hints of danger from the Triffids builds towards later large scale confrontations.

On the other hand, it is also clearly dated in important ways, with the role of the women characters, especially Josella, being exhibit A. Coker in some ways is the most interesting character in the book, and it would have been nice to follow a bit more of his story.

Day of the Triffids reminded me of a very focused version of Lucifer's Hammer (i.e., in focusing primarily on how individuals, small groups, and large groups will respond post disaster). Seeing headlines about groups of thugs in New Orleans fighting, looting, and raping right before reading this book really brought home the reality of how thin is our hold on "civilization" in times of crisis.

One thing I really didn't find credible was that, within a couple days after the disaster, the Beadley party was focusing their attention on rewriting marriage covenants (so that the women could concentrate on their "natural function"--having babies). Even if some of them were already thinking about this, I just cannot believe that this would be the central tenant of their "This is how we're going to do things, if you're coming with us, you're signing on for this program" message.

Despite my reservations the effectiveness of the storytelling outweighs the weaknesses, and this memorable book is well worth your time.

Review by ropie (2005-08-14)
I must admit I was expecting 'Day of the Triffids' to be a fairly dull and worthy book from a forgotten time (the story is over fifty years old) and one that I probably wouldn't really enjoy.

Well, I was completely wrong. From a first glance I carried on reading it for three hours as it quickly became clear that this was a story of incredible power, told by someone who really knew how to tell a tale from a convincingly human point of view. What was intersting was that even though I thought I knew the story from accounts I had heard of it, as I read it became clear that it is not really just a story about big man-eating plants. In fact they are just a small part of a much bigger catastrophe and their importance doesn't really become clear until near the end of the book. Typically, they are not the lumbering, vicious giants of the movies; Wyndham relates them with a sinister and understated horror, much like the birds in the Alfred Hitchcock film.

The first person narrative of Bill Masen is very effective and helps to bring the story down to the level of the isolated survivor; the reader never knows more than Bill does and sees everything from his, often quite narrow, point of view. Of course, it is all slightly dated in terms of the language and attitudes expressed, but this is not really a problem as the story is set when it was written and does not pretend to be anything it is not.

I imagine that in the hands of a less capable writer the story could quickly have become boring. But Wyndham is such a skillfully focused story teller and in the absence of any extraneous material, we are left with a thrilling and satisfying piece of work.




©Steven Jeffery / IBList.com, 2012
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