The Day of The Triffids by John Wyndham

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When the carnivorous bio-engineered plants that can walk and communicate to each other, known as Triffids, are accidentally released into the wild they quickly begin breeding and spreading around the world, their spores born in the wind. They are farmed and harvested en masse for their valuable extracts, but when a mysterious meteor shower renders those who witness it blind, the Triffids are free to escape and breed more prolifically.

Bill Marsden is a biologist who specializes in Triffids. He is attacked by a Triffid while working and gets venom in his eyes. Exposure to immature venom in his youth have given him a resistance to the venom’s usual fatality and he is rushed to hospital. This is where the story begins. Bill wakes up in hospital, bandages over his eyes, and notices that the world is silent. He wanders through a crippled and chaotic London and learns that most of the world is blind; people are huddled in terror or crawling everywhere, calling out for their families. He quickly learns that it is dangerous to let people know he can see as the blind swarm him like drowning men scrabbling on a life-raft. He also quickly learns the harsh reality that he is unable to help anyone and that to survive he must leave everyone else to their fate. Bill befriends and becomes infatuated with a young woman, Josella, who can also see, and the two follow a beacon light on a hill and discover a small group of survivors who intend on setting up a colony in the countryside.

Like most apocalyptic fiction, this book is pretty standard fare – groups of gangs and raiders, slavers and militant types. Modern post apocalyptic fiction is considered to have first been published in 1826 by Mary Shelly in her novel The Last Man, in which a group of people struggle to survive in a plague-infected world. H. G. Wells re-invigorated the concept in the late 1800’s, but the genre rose to prominence after World War II, with the focus being on nuclear or bio-engineered cataclysms. Where Wyndham stands out is in the constant ominous overtones and the almost biblical images of the blind crawling, and eventually, rotting in the streets. The book does not take place after the apocalypse, it watches it painfully unfold and literally decay. Thematically, the major focus is in man’s meddling with nature and how ultimately nature will reclaim from humans. Gardens and countryside grow wild, streets are ruptured with weeds and shrubs and buildings crumble as plants rip through them.

And then, there are the Triffids. They almost come as a surprise – the book focuses so heavily on the destruction of civilization and on the journey of the protagonist, that you forget about these amazing creations. Until Bill sees Triffids Stalking him in the bushes. Attacking people in the streets. Eating their flesh. As their numbers increase the Triffids become a more and more significant threat. Similar to how in The Walking Dead the zombies are attracted to other groups of zombies, Triffids communicate and attract more Triffids. Soon the protagonists find themselves trapped in their countryside retreat, fighting at the walls and fences in a futile battle against a threat that is constantly and literally growing.

The Day of The Triffids is a complex apocalypse story set in an uncertain era of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, the dawn of The Space Age, the beginnings of a truly global market and burgeoning genetic sciences. All of these things have influences in the book, and most have a direct impact upon the story itself. Though aesthetically it is a science fiction survival story, at it’s heart it is a snapshot of post-war Britain; a social commentary of the concerns and fears of a generation that had just survived the greatest and most horrific war in the history of mankind. The war had shaken people’s faith in the world and the notion of peace and security, and these fears play out in the book on a global, tribal and personal level.

A thrilling and suspenseful survival story garnished with some truly creepy and terrifying moments. A classic novel that I highly recommend, and that truly deserves the title given it by Arthur C. Clarke of “an immortal story.”

Survivors by Terry Nation

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A daunting vision of the apocalypse and a compelling journey of survival and struggle.

In a matter of a few weeks a virus has spread across the entire planet, killing off almost all of the human population. The remaining survivors are in a silent world with no electricity or society or infrastructure. They form together communities and try to outlast the chaos as the world begins to fall into disrepair; scavenging, evading raiders and gangs and even surviving each other’s own madness and paranoia and panic. But foodstuffs are running low in the towns, and winter is coming. Now, those who once lived in luxury and convenience must return to the fundamentals and learn to farm and hunt and fish and build. The human race must struggle to survive against the weather, nature, and the human race itself.

Survivors is a novelization of the cult 70’s post-apocalyptic TV series of the same name. Penned by Terry Nation. Terry Nation was an accomplished British Screen Writer who wrote for over thirty television series; his biggest contributions being to Survivors (38 episodes,) Blake’s 7 (52 episodes,) and most notably, Dr Who (70 episodes,) where he is the accredited inventor of Daleks. This book is a unique experience as most novelizations are contracted to genre-authors to interpret a script: Survivors is novelized by the scriptwriter, and as such, offers some fantastic insights into the intentions of the TV series that any other author could not have achieved.

Lauded as a visual story teller when it comes to screenplays, his narrative becomes somewhat over-written in places which can be limiting to the imagination. This is important as the theme of survival should be one every reader can personally relate to: the fear of being cold and hungry and vulnerable; and unless a detail is especially important to the plot, most should be left somewhat vague to allow the reader to imagine themselves in the place of the antagonists and be more intimately immersed in the story.

But aside from this minor knit-pick, and despite being a TV serial novelization, this book is an excellent read. It is imaginative and daunting, and in a genre of over-the-top apocalyptic scenarios, it is a refreshingly restrained vision of humanity and it’s struggle to survive. Most characters are relatable and are sympathetic, while secondary characters can sometimes be two-dimensional and clearly written as a TV plot device. Their plight is intriguing and, unlike a lot of apocalyptic stories, there is no symbolic savior in the guise of army or fortified township or the like – there is only the slow decay of the world: time moves on and buildings, roads and even social conventions and moral boundaries begin to fall apart.

A fantastic read, as it is a great precursor to the popularization of post-apocalyptic stories that are so common today. Though some argue the genre is pessimistic, it is actually one of the more optimistic settings for a story. We live in a world filled with untruths and trivialities – in the end days we become equalized. Every person is important because every action they take has real and clear consequences; everything one does is for the greater good of ones self and for mankind. This comes through clear in Terry Nation’s book: the old way of life is left behind and the new way must be learned, and though it is a road filled with struggles, ultimately it is a journey of hope and inspiration. An apocalyptic drama highly recommended to anyone who enjoyed Z for Zachariah, No Blade of Grass, Day of The Triffids.