Day of the Triffids
Reviewed date: 2004 Feb 16
EVERYONE GOES BLIND IN A WORLD RAVAGED BY MAN EATING PLANTS!*
That's the basic gist of the story. Published in 1951, Day of the Triffids is among the earliest end-of-the-world novels. Despite being so old, the novel ages well. One might expect a novel about the dangers of genetic engineering to be more recent than the 50s, but Wyndham is ahead of his time in Triffids. Even the characters' attitudes and reactions are remarkably modern--I'm speaking particularly about the heroine's matter-of-fact acceptance that the sexual mores in a post-apocalyptic world are significantly different than those in the old, civilized world.
Some words about the plot: the triffids are introduced right away. Triffids suddenly started growing mysteriously all over the world at roughly the same time--their origin was eventually traced (by best guesses) to a Soviet genetic engineering experiment gone amok. Triffids are plants that grow to about 7 to 10 feet; when fully grown they uproot themselves and walk around on three "legs". The danger in triffids lies in their poison stingers, which can lash out and kill a man at 10 feet's distance. But they're generally harmless, and are a valuable source of oil, so they're farmed in great quantities.
Now comes the fun part: an unexpected meteor shower produces the greatest cosmic display in history, and nearly every man, woman, and child on the face of the earth watches. And less than a day later, all are struck blind.
Now a few lucky (or perhaps unlucky) survivors missed the display and remain sighted. Blind people can neither keep a city functional nor keep a civilization from falling to pieces. The survivors, too few in numbers to keep the world running, must decide how to rebuild civilization. Who of the blind shall be saved, and who shall be left to fend for themselves? Add to this the fact that triffids have become aggressive (a blind man is no match for a triffid) and plagues strike the city populations, and you've got yourself an intriguing story.
Day of the Triffids is a fun story. Often the characters act more rationally than one might expect, but not as often as is usually the case in a novel of the 50s. Women are portrayed fairly well, for the most part--certainly the book is ahead of its time, although perhaps not quite fully modern in its treatment of the sexes.
The only caveat is that the ending was a bit of a letdown. There is one sort of stunning revelation at the end, but it isn't really integral to the story, at least not plotwise. The plot just kind of stops in the middle. One might say it's left ambiguous, which is a good thing, but I thought another chapter or two would have made it a better book.
Still, it's a better book than most. I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.
* Credit where credit is due: I stole this line from a customer review at Amazon.com (review was posted on April 8, 2003).