Published: 1951 Genres: Science Fiction
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The Day of the Triffids, originally published in 1951, is a science fiction classic about an apocalyptic world caused by carnivorous plants. The story opens as the narrator, Bill Masen, wakes up in his hospital bed. Most of humanity was outside the previous night and saw green meteors flashing across the sky. The next morning, anyone who had seen them awoke blind. Mass hysteria quickly begins to set in as people realize that civilization as we know it has ended and that the predators have now become the prey.
I bought this book because of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. One of the lines in the introductory song mentions fighting a triffid that spits poison and kills, and when seeing the show live, the call line is “What the fuck is a triffid?” This question had been in the back of my mind since college, and when I saw the book a few months ago as a Kindle Daily Deal, I knew I had finally found the answer.
Triffids are a freakish carnivorous plants that were most likely genetically engineered by the Soviet Union. The oil that they produce has profitable industrial applications. Lured by the promise of fame and fortune, humans begin to farm triffids before truly understanding their capabilities. The plants demonstrate unusual characteristics, including the ability to walk around, and their poisonous stings allow them to blind and kill their prey before digesting it. They are intelligent and are capable of adaptation and organization. People didn’t realize the danger until it was too late.
The criticism of the Cold War arms race mentality is blatant and profound. As industrialized nations compete to build bigger and better satellite chemical and biological weapons, a disaster becomes inevitable. It’s unclear whether the green flashing lights were a real meteor shower or a weapon being detonated, either deliberately or by accident. Either way, the triffids themselves were definitely man made, highlighting the dangers of what happens when weapons of mass destruction become ubiquitous and are allowed to proliferate unchecked.
After mankind is decimated, the survivors are left to pick up the pieces and try to create a new society. Wyndham explores the way that moral structures have to change to guarantee mankind’s survival. Groups that cling to dogma and tradition, like a Christian group that settles in the countryside, value ideals more than utility and are unable to innovate. In the cities, compassion toward the blind backfires. The cities are overrun by gangs as the sighted few lead the blind masses they protect to scavenge ever-dwindling supplies, and violence and disease become rampant. This examination of different social structures is one of the greatest strengths of the book, and sets it apart from similar stories.
The Day of the Triffids reminds me of a more thought-provoking version of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. The important difference is that in The Day of the Triffids, the characters come to realize throughout the course of the book that there’s not going to be any kind of magical salvation, and that the only chance of continuing the human race is by taking matters into their own hands.
Verdict: Highly Recommended.