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Book Report: The Day of the Triffids

Your Humble Blogger had never read The Day of the Triffids before, nor seen the movie. I know, I know. Ambulatory plants that spit poison and kill. Why hadn’t I read it when I was fourteen? Why wasn’t it at Shlock some year? Now that I think about it, it very well might have been at Shlock some year, and I just didn’t go.

Anyway, the book is wonderful. Yes, there are bits where the plots stops while the characters discuss theories of community, but those bits are fairly short. Much shorter than in Heinlein, for example. In fact, the book read a lot like a Heinlein, only better and less annoying.

The opening is particularly magnificent. Our Hero, Bill Mason, is in hospital with his eyes bandaged. We don’t yet know that an ambulatory plant spit poison at him, but we know that today is when he gets the bandage off and finds out if he can see. Only there’s something wrong. Nobody came to wake him up and give him breakfast. Everything outside is eerily quiet, too. He wants the doctor to come and take his bandages off. Just the night before, there was a startling meteor shower, and everybody was watching, oohing and aahing, rubbing his nose in his possibly-permanent blindness, which just increased his anxiety. Now, what does he do?

That’s a fantastic beginning. The next bit—can this be a spoiler for anybody else? I hadn’t known it. But then, Gentle Readers are warned in general that I will throw spoilers in these notes if I feel like it. And, of course, the book is fifty years old, and likely you have all seen the movie—is that Bill takes off his bandages, and he can see, but everybody else has been blinded by the green meteor light. OK, they’ve been blinded by the magic plot stick, fine? Feel better? The polarity of their neutron flow has been reversed, and their dilithium crystals are cracked, their Necklin rods are bent and they have lost mitochondrions. Anyway, they’re all blind. Pretty nifty start, eh? And if it’s downhill from there, at least it’s starting a good way up, and coasts at a pretty good speed.

I’ll mention one other thing that struck me, which is that Mr. Wyndham uses as a plot device a thing that seems to have been a pretty common feeling in the fifties, that the Soviets were Up to Something, and we had no idea what. The Iron Curtain was going to stay down for decades, and nobody would ever be able to get information out. Now, of course, in these post-Soviet days, that bit is just quaint, but I think even when I was growing up, there was lots of cultural and scientific exchange. The Soviets were the Evil Empire, sure, but the Iron Curtain was more of a decorative grillwork (sadly, electrified). So that idea of secret scientific advances had pretty much died twenty years or so after this book. I always think it’s a bit humbling to read old science fiction, to be reminded that the obvious future is not what actually occurred, and that the future that’s obvious to us probably won’t occur, either. If we’re lucky.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,


This is almost entirely off topic, but for some reason, your comments about the Soviets reminds me of family stories about

1. Soviet meteorologists coming to visit my-grandfather-the-respected-meteorologist-and-mathematician and attempting to ply my 16-year-old mother with alcohol.

2. How the Soviets translated my grandfather's book without permission and he had to travel to Russia to get his royalties, which he couldn't exchange for dollars, so he came back with fur hats and amber.

Also, I have yet to read Day of the Triffids. Perhaps this will motivate me to do so!

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