“And we danced, on the brink of an unknown future, to an echo from a vanished past.”
Title: The Day of the Triffids
Author: John Wyndham
Publication details: London: Penguin Essentials, 2014. (First published 1951)
Got this book as the premise seemed very interesting to me: a bright green flash leaves the whole world blind, except for the few who were fortunate enough to have avoided seeing it. Bill Masen was one of the lucky few, having undergone an eye surgery and unable to open his eyes during that period. He then sets of into a sightless world where death and despair lurks at every corner.
“I don’t think it had ever occurred to me that man’s supremacy is not primarily due to his brain, as most of the books would have one think. It is due to the brain’s capacity to make use of the information conveyed to it by a narrow band of visible light rays. His civilization, all that he had achieved or might achieve, hung upon his ability to perceive that range of vibrations from red to violet. Without that, he was lost.”
Oh and let’s not forget the triffids – carnivorous plants which can walk, communicate to one another and sting people with a lethal poison. As if the day couldn’t get any worse.
My initial speculation was that the plants were aliens from another planet, and the green flash was caused by their mothership, so that they could carry out their plans of wiping out the humans and taking over the earth.
Well, I was wrong.
It turns out that plants were mainly genetically modified by humans, and later on in the story Bill speculates that even the green flash was caused by humans. So I guess one of the lessons of the story is that humans should really stop meddling around so much. Goddamn it humans.
As per most post-apocalyptic scenarios, society starts to crumble when everyone wakes up blind, panicked and clueless. Bill struggles with his morality, as he decides when to save people and when to ditch them. He of course, saves a pretty lady who he eventually falls in love with, because every good protagonist has a love interest. It’s just novel-writing 101.
Bill is alright I suppose, rather lackluster but all in all a good man. He did annoy me with how he’d keep pointing out the prettiness or lack thereof of every lady he came across. Like Jesus Bill, the world is being overrun by carnivorous plants, we can observe how pretty a lady is another day! I guess it makes sense from an animal nature point of view – now that mating prospects just dropped to an all time low, it’s time to keep an eye out for the most eligible mates. Still, how is he calm enough to notice how good-looking a lady is when the world is in shreds? I’m sure I wouldn’t be, whether it’s a girl or guy.
He even notes how pretty a little girl is for god’s sake. Well ok, not in an inappropriate manner, he even later goes on to adopt the girl as his daughter, but he still points it out. Oh what I would give for a protagonist who’s not obsessed with noticing how attractive the opposite gender is.
In Bill’s defense, at least he doesn’t linger on it like most YA teenage girl protagonists tend to do.
I can’t remember much about his love interest except that she was his love interest, so let’s skip over that.
Then there was Coker, a man who was part hooligan, part gentleman. Apparently it’s an art he practiced to get equivocal saying in both circles. One would think that I’d remember him as the ‘bad-guy-turned-good-guy’ character, but I actually remember him more as the guy who’d go on these long political rants.
After he repaired an engine which got the lights running again, Coker gets annoyed at a lady who didn’t even try to fix the engine due to her lack of knowledge in it. I get it, and I’m on his side – at times like these, everyone has to pitch in to try to help, never mind how little they know about a certain field. You’d think he’d just tell her off and be done with it, or get angry and yell at her, but no. He starts spouting out a long self-righteous spiel:
“Hitherto we have been able to afford to muse ourselves with that kind of mental laziness and parasitism. In spite of generations of talk about the equality of the sexes there has been much too great a vested interest in dependence for women to dream of dropping it. They have made a minimum of necessary modifications to changing conditions, but they have always been minimum – and grudged, at that. You doubt that? Well, consider the fact that both the pert chit and the intellectual woman worked the higher-sensibility gag in their different ways – but then a war came and brought with it a social obligation and sanction both could be trained into competent engineers.”
His points are valid, but he goes on for paragraphs like these! I count at LEAST five paragraphs of around this length during his conversation with this lady alone. He has other conversations in this book too and they usually go on in a similar way. I started to imagine Coker as an embodiment of the author, because it sure felt like he had an agenda better voiced in a thesis.
Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather do the life-preservation thing first and save the long-winded lectures for later. If I was busy trying to survive, I’d worry less about the poor political condition of society and more about what my next food source will be.
Oh, and there was one part in the book where a group of survivors kidnapped a bunch of blind girls in order to be used as mates. They made sure to kidnap girls who were already blind and not blinded by the flash, so that they would be less clumsy and more practiced in their movements. This got me thinking: Is blindness not hereditary??
A quick google search revealed that it can be hereditary, which makes me wonder at their logic of choosing blind girls! What if those girls passed on their blind genes to their child? The whole point was to have children who could see! Oh my gosh…
Now that my criticisms are done with, I will point out the parts of the book I enjoyed. The premise and the plot is definitely interesting, and one can’t help but root for Bill as he scavenges through the land. He is an admirably principled man, and faces a lot of conflict and self-doubt in this sightless world – a feeling I think most of us can relate to.
“I knew I ought to make my mind up once and for all on the right course, and stick to it. But I could not. I see-sawed. Some hours later when I fell asleep I was still see-sawing.”
There was a girl who asked him for help (and yes, he did notice how pretty she was), and he paused to admire her selflessness in asking him to help the group, instead of teaming up with him to escape.
“I looked down at her lying there. There was a thing that made it still more futile – I wondered how many would have said, “Take me with you,” where she had said, “Stay with us.”
And of course, when they’re trying to gain some control over their resources again, he points out the futility of possessing knowledge from books without actually having any practical experience. Something our younger generation is oft accused as being guilty of.
“Nor is book-instilled knowledge of horse-management, dairy-work, or slaughterhouse procedure by any mean an adequate groundwork for these arts. There are so many points where one cannot break off to consult the relative chapter. Moreover, the realities persistently present baffling dissimilarities from the simplicities of print.”
I always feared being too academic without actually possessing the practical know-how. Even if all our archived knowledge survived to the post-apocalyptic world, it really doesn’t mean we’d be able to replicate it. It helps, but it’s definitely only an infinitesimal piece of the puzzle. To quote Einstein:
“In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.”
I would say that Day of the Triffids held a whole lot more potential for such an interesting premise. Would recommend reading as the idea is indeed very interesting, but it does fall into the snare which most “old-timey” sci-fi books fall into: good premise, but lacking in other areas.