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Probably his best-known work and also possibly his best, The Day of the Triffids has been made into films and TV series, but nothing can beat the book. As with other of Wyndham's works, it is classic sci-fi with more accessibility to people who are not fans of / unfamiliar with the genre because it focuses on how people respond to the scientific crisis / event rather than going into unwieldy detail about the event itself. In fact in The Day of the Triffids, much is left to guesswork - even at the end of the book we are left with a good estimate of what happened, but are unsure if it's totally accurate.
The book is told in first-person narration by biologist Bill Mason, who's had a very frustrating time recently - he's in hospital unable to see. It is only a temporary condition - he hopes - as the doctors were able to treat him quickly after the event. He works farming triffids and harvesting their oil, which is of superior value and highly valuable. No-one quite knew where they sprung from, but they seemed to be an entirely new species, suggesting the possibility of genetic manipulation. Collecting oil from the triffids could be a tricky business though, as they have poisonous stings - and even wearing protective clothing, some of the poison from such a swipe had managed to get through the protective shielding to reach Bill's eyes, thus his blindness. When he awakens one morning to find that he is one of the lucky few who will ever see again, however, he is caught up in a battle for survival - not just for London, nor even England, but perhaps for the whole human race… Triffids (a kind of large flower sometimes seem to have a collective consciousness) seem more suited to survival under these conditions than the human race, for one of their unusual traits is that they can "walk" after a fashion…
Along the way he meets several interesting characters, all of whom are reacting to the situation in different ways. With the vast majority of people blind and nearly helpless, some of the sighted are taking advantage of them, some are trying to help them, some are trying to get away from them… Each person / group of people's reaction is told realistically and believably, and are not divided into "Good" and "Bad" camps… as the narrator grimly observes at one stage in the book, "it seems that nothing is so dangerous as good intentions".
There are a couple of things that could be levelled against the book, I suppose - some of the viewpoints (particularly about the Russians!) seem very out of date and the book ends rather abruptly, but these are extremely small quibbles compared to what makes this book great. Some of the characters do, in true Wyndham fashion, get a bit preachy with their dialogue, but that's in keeping with their character. The humanity of it all really draws you in, and the way Bill and other characters are left battling their own insecurities and inhibitions is utterly absorbing. A gentle humour that creeps up on you unawares breaks up the tension enough so that it doesn't become ineffective. The atmosphere of terror and uncertainty is quite chilling, and on top of this Wyndham's prose is frequently quite beautiful, often bordering on the poetic.
Here are a couple of my favourite examples of this:
"And we danced, on the brink of an unknown future, to an echo from a vanished past."
"To deprive a gregarious creature of companionship is to maim it, to outrage its nature. The prisoner and the cenobite are aware that the herd exists beyond their exile; they are an aspect of it. But when the herd no longer exists there is, for the herd creature, no longer unity. He is part of no whole; a freak without a place. If he cannot hold on to his reason, then he is lost indeed; most utterly, most fearfully lost, so that he becomes no more than the twitch in the limb of a corpse."
Somehow, though many of the ideas in the book stem from post-WWII cold war & space race paranoia, the overall impression of the dangers of the human race dabbling in things it ought not / knows not the consequence of is even more relevant nowadays than back when it was first published. (Especially in light of genetic research.) It is another example of how science fiction writers often made an extremely good guess at what was coming, though at least we don't have giant sunflowers lurching around the place! :-D
Sci-fi fans will lap this up, but it will also appeal to those who aren't fans of the genre. Quite simply this is one of the best works of fiction ever written.
Amazon.co.uk have the Penguin paperback edition for £6.39 (RRP £7.99), and a "Fast Track Classics" paperback edition for £3.99. (I'm reviewing the Penguin edition, which is very nice quality cover, very readable print - I can't vouch for the other edition!) Thsi is about the only Wyndham book you should be able to find in a small-medium sized bookshop, for his other works you'll often need to go to a larger bookshop.