The Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham

This book often makes it onto “best of” lists – sci-fi/post-apocalyptic, etc. I think it’s even in at least one edition of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, if not all of them.

If you don’t know (I didn’t, really), it’s the story of the very  beginnings of a post-apocalyptic society. There are two distinct parts to the apocalypse. The actual event is a green comet/meteor shower, and anyone who sees it goes blind by the next morning. The second, continual threat, is the triffids – aggressively carnivorous plants with apparent intelligence and communication skills.

Where this story excels is its depiction of the various forms of survivalist community that become established. Pretty much every iteration is explored in both “moral” and practical ways. There’s the fend-for-yourself time, the small groups of sighted and unsighted trying to forage with or without leadership, the free-love/rebuild the world society, the cling-as-hard-as-we-can-to-our-old-lives groups, the new feudalist groups, and ultimately the not-hippie commune. I put moral in quotation marks up there because it rapidly becomes clear that this book understands relative morality rather than absolute morality, and certainly doesn’t recognize any previous moral authority (church, government). It’s a very Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest world, both physically (who can survive) and mentally/morally (who can let go of their old roles/strictures/ideas, and who should be helped to survive).

Where this story really doesn’t excel is in its treatment of women. If it weren’t for Josella, the love interest, and Susan, a child who doesn’t even appear until about two-thirds of the way through, there would be no positively portrayed females. There’s even a rant about how women are lazy and too accustomed to leisure to be at all useful – except, one presumes, as breeders. One woman is completely stupid (and in shock) and simply repeats that “the Americans will come” to save them all. Even Josella, as capable as she is, is ultimately nothing more than mother and (monogamous) wife.

But the rest of the book explores such interesting scenarios that I’m able to mostly overlook the fact that the only woman-as-leader is obviously a narrow-minded failure, doomed to death as soon as the men leave. Or at least, I can put it down to time period and inadvertent, not deliberate, misogyny. I’ll also overlook the classism – the fate of the “aristocracy” is never mentioned (not even the Royal Family, in London), and theh working classes are translated into one man who switches accents based on his companions, and a brief mention of some Welsh miners who have isolated themselves. Everyone else is firmly upper-middle-class.

Oh, look, I couldn’t completely ignore it….

Despite those flaws, it’s got some fascinating stuff, and I’ll certainly be giving Wyndham another try.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Classics, Fantasy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s