Friday, July 30, 2010

Year of 25 Books: #12 - The Day of the Triffids

I picked up this book entirely because of Brendan - a guy whose blog I read and book reviews I enjoy on GoodReads. He reads at about 100 times the rate I do. I haven't counted, but I'm pretty sure he's already read at least 50 books in the time its taken me to get to twelve. But anyway, he read and reviewed John Wyndham's sci-fi classic The Day of the Triffids and I'll be damned but I didn't even know it was a book. I figured it was just a bad 60's monster movie that probably ran on late night TV a hundred times a year when I was a kid - back in the days before late night TV was sold to the highest bidder.

The Day of the Triffids is, as Brendan said, a good post-apocalyptic thriller. The book opens with the protagonist, Bill Masen, in the hospital with his eyes bandaged. He tells the story of how triffids - 8 foot mobile plants that display semi-sentience and also carry a dangerously poisonous sting - came to be. While the origin of triffids is deliberately vague, the theory that Masen (who happens to be a biologist who specializes in triffid behavior) puts forth is that they were genetically engineered by the Soviets, with their seeds inadvertently released into the world. Eventually through the pruning of the triffids' stings and the creation of triffid nurseries, mankind and triffids learn to occupy the same space, but it always seems an uneasy peace. In fact, the reason for Masen's hospitalization is a triffid sting to the eyes.

He also explains how the night before, a brilliant green meteor shower lit up the night sky, which has now led to the blinding of anyone who witnessed it. Fortunately for Masen, he is left unaffected due to the fact that his eyes were bandaged. The hospital is eerily quiet, as are the London streets surrounding the hospital. He eventually removes his bandages himself and heads out. While the vast majority of the population has been blinded by the meteor shower, there remain a handful of sighted people left to pick up the pieces of civilization.

Brendan points out several commonalities between this novel and the zombie/infected movie 28 Days Later (which I am due to rewatch at some point - my favorite part being the scrawl on the side of the church wall THE END IS INCREDIBLY FUCKING NIGH.) Nowhere is this more evident than in his initial venture into the all-but deserted London streets, save the blinded people trying to make their way around. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the similarities between the two were intentional.

Those expecting a traditional sci-fi yarn with the evil plant-monsters deliberately bent on world domination will be sorely disappointed. Triffids, rather than intentionally bringing about the end of human civilization, appear to just be taking advantage of the tragic blindness to befall the human population of the planet. Without the human caretakers to cut out the stings and tether the mobile triffids in place, they simply fill in the gaps that are naturally left for them. While they are malevolent, they are, as I said, not deliberately so. Because of this, they seemed a little bit neutered to me and not as effective as sci-fi monsters as they otherwise might have been.

Instead, what we get is what amounts to a character study in how people would respond to an apocalyptic event and how civilization would persist. Much of the human interaction proves that even in the face of a world-changing event with deadly moving plants on the loose, our worst enemy is still us. I found this an interesting take in what would otherwise have been a by-the-numbers monster novel, but I also found myself longing for a little bit of nasty monster vs. human action. I didn't feel like the book ever truly gave me that - rather, as I said, it just showed the triffids naturally taking advantage of our disadvantage, turning violent only when they had to.

I realized while I was reading this book that the 1981 BBC miniseries of The Day of the Triffids is streamable on Netflix. From everything I've read, it's a faithful adaptation of the book. I'll be streaming this very soon and may even report back on how it compares to the book. From everything I've read, the 1963 film adaptation that I was familiar with is apparently a bastardization of the book and one best avoided.

As an aside, this was the first book that I purchased as a Kindle edition from Amazon. I don't have a Kindle, but read this book about 50% on the iPad and 50% on my Droid phone, both of which have free Kindle apps. I enjoyed the Kindle eBook reading experience. However, publishers and Amazon need to get their shit together and not charge MORE for the Kindle version than the print version. The Day of the Triffids was something like 4 bucks, but I noticed that MANY Kindle versions are at least 2-3 dollars more expensive than their print counterparts. Amazing.

1 comment:

digital_sextant said...

Thanks for the nod. Good review. I've since learned that the scriptwriter for 28 Days Later had Triffids in mind as he wrote the film, so the similarities are intentional. I'm glad you liked the book. It's definitely one of my favorites this year.

RE: reading speed -- my Father-in-law plows through books at roughly double the rate I do, so I'm always playing catch-up with him. :D