The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham is one of the great examples of future fiction. Written in the first person, we follow the hero as he wakes to find a world gone mad. An expert worker on a triffid farm, he suffered damage to his face that threatened his sight. In an ironic twist, he is cured, but he discovers that the vast majority of the population has been rendered blind by a peculiar meteor shower.
Society is collapsing rapidly, as the few fortunates who have retained their sight are faced with a choice: try to help the blind or abandon them. Even those who seem to want to help the blind prove to be malign, as the hero spends a period as captive, tethered to a blind man, and forced to help his group of afflicted people scavenge for essential supplies. Following the hero, we meet people who are broken and lost, desperate ones who can’t understand how their world has crumbled, and those who go on a wild adventure of satisfying all their desires. But there is a greater menace still: the triffids. These giant carnivorous plants are capable of movement and demonstrate a frightening intelligence as they break free from their captivity on the farms. They hunt for food, and the most abundant source of that is the human population. In groups or singly, they stalk their prey, or lie in wait, ready to strike.
Escaping his captivity, the hero becomes part of a small group of survivors. Fleeing London, they establish a refuge in the country. But the triffids are spreading quickly and soon the small band are under siege.
Even with the hero’s expertise with triffids, can the group survive?
Mr Wyndham tells his tale with great expertise. I have no great liking for first person narratives, but he succeeds in engaging the reader very quickly. It isn’t long before you find yourself needing to know what will happen next. We are shown how pathetic we can become when Society falls apart, leaving us with a se3nse of isolation. We see the worst and the best in the people the hero encounters. From the generous to the selfish, it’s all there. And throughout it all the eerie triffids march. Monsters capable of pushing humanity into extinction. Terrifying, they are a warning too. As far as the triffids are concerned, the message is surely : just because we can, it doesn’t mean we should.
Five stars seems an inadequate measure of the book. If I could, I would give the book, and Mr Wyndham, six stars.
I can highly recommend this book, even for those who have an aversion to ‘science fiction’.