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The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham NEW

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The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham NEW

The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham - New Book

Paperback

Triffids are fictional plants capable of animal-like behaviour: they feed on rotting meat, are able to uproot themselves and move about on their three "legs", possess a deadly whip-like poisonous sting, and appear to communicate with each other. The narrator and protagonist is Bill Masen, who has made his living working with Triffids. Being an expert on the subject, he speculates that they were deliberately bioengineered in the Soviet Union, and that Triffid seeds were spread worldwide when an attempt was made to smuggle them out of Russia; the escaping plane is presumed to have been shot down, literally scattering the seeds to the winds. Whatever their origin, Triffids began sprouting all over the world, and their extracts have proved to be radically superior to existing vegetable and animal oils. The result has been a worldwide slew of Triffid farms, where the penned plants' stings were left intact as docking impaired the quality of their oil.

The narrative begins with Masen in hospital, his eyes bandaged after having been stung by a Triffid at one of the farms. He discovers that while he has been recovering, the light from an unusual meteor shower has rendered most people on Earth blind (Bill later muses that the shower may have been the misfiring of a space-based weapon system, though, as with the Triffids' origins, the truth is never revealed). After wandering aimlessly through London, watching civilization collapsing around him, Masen rescues a sighted woman who is being used as an unwilling pair of eyes by a blinded man. She is novelist Josella Playton, whose work has earned her a notorious and mostly undeserved reputation. She and Masen quickly fall in love.

A signal draws them to a larger group of sighted survivors led by a man named Michael Beadley, who are planning to flee London before it becomes a disease-ridden death-trap, and establish a colony in the countryside. Beadley wishes to take only sighted men who will take several wives, both blind and sighted, to rapidly rebuild a sighted human population. The polygamous principles of this scheme appal the religious Miss Durrant.

However, these distinctions become irrelevant after a man called Wilfred Coker takes it upon himself to save as many of the blind as possible; he stages a disturbance and kidnaps a number of sighted including Bill and Josella. Both are forcibly put to work leading squads of blind people around the rapidly-decaying city, attempting to collect food and supplies. Bill finds himself sandwiched between roving packs of Triffids and a rival gang of scavengers led by a sighted (and ruthless) red-haired man.

Masen nevertheless sticks with his group out of a sense of responsibility, until the people in his charge begin dying of some unknown disease (possibly yet another military experiment gone awry). He leaves and attempts to find Josella, but his only immediate lead is an address left behind by the uncaptured and now-departed members of Beadley's group. Thrown together with a repentant Coker, he sets out for the address in Wiltshire. They find the place, a country estate named Tynsham, but the group has splintered and neither Beadley nor Josella are there; Durrant has taken charge and organised the community along monogamous "Christian" lines. Assuming that Josella went with the Beadley party, Masen and Coker search fruitlessly for several days, rounding up some more sighted survivors. Then, remembering a chance comment Josella made earlier about a certain country home in Sussex, Bill sets off in search of it, while Coker takes their new companions back to Tynsham.

The Triffids quickly take full advantage of the edge over humanity that events have given them. Specimens in captivity break free, and growing numbers of them become bolder and more aggressive every day. Bill is joined by a young sighted girl named Susan, who had become a near-prisoner in her home due to the plants. They succeed in locating Josella, who is sheltering at the Sussex house with the blinded owners. Bill and Josella consider themselves to be married, and see Susan as their daughter. Learning that Tynsham has been abandoned, the group attempts to create a self-sufficient colony on the Sussex farm, but with only marginal success. The Triffids grow ever more numerous, crowding in and surrounding their small island of civilization. Years pass, during which it becomes steadily harder to keep out the encroaching plants and more difficult to scavenge food.

One day a helicopter-pilot representative of Beadley's faction lands at the farm and tells his hosts that the group has largely cleared the Isle of Wight of Triffids, and established a successful colony there (and that Coker survived to join them). Despite their on-going struggles, the Masens are reluctant to leave their home, but their hand is forced by the arrival the next day of a large armoured vehicle, operated by a squad of soldiers who represent a despotic new government which is setting up feudal enclaves across the country. Masen recognizes the leader, Torrence, as the redheaded man from London. When Torrence announces his intention to place many more blind survivors under the Masens' care, they are appalled. To ensure compliance with his scheme, Torrence suggests Susan will be moved to another enclave. After feigning general agreement, the Masens and their group disable the soldiers' vehicle and flee during the night. They join the Isle of Wight colony, and settle down to the long grim struggle ahead, determined to find a way to destroy the Triffids and reclaim Earth for humanity.

 

About Author John Wyndham

John Wyndham was the pen name used by the often post-apocalyptic British science fiction writer John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris (10 July 1903 – 11 March 1969). Early in his career, Wyndham used various other combinations of his names, such as "John Beynon" or "Lucas Parkes".

John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris was born in the village of Knowle in Warwickshire, England, the son of George Beynon Harris, a barrister, and Gertrude Parkes, the daughter of a Birmingham ironmaster. His early childhood was spent in Edgbaston in Birmingham, but when he was 8 years old his parents separated and he and his brother, the writer Vivian Beynon Harris, spent the rest of their childhood at a number of English preparatory and boarding schools, including Blundell's School in Devon during the First World War. His longest and final stay was at Bedales School in Hampshire (1918–1921) which he left at the age of 18, where he blossomed and was happy. After leaving school, Wyndham tried several careers including farming, law, commercial art and advertising, but mostly relied on an allowance from his family. He eventually turned to writing for money in 1925, and by 1931 was selling short stories and serial fiction to American science fiction pulp magazines, most under the pen names of 'John Beynon' or 'John Beynon Harris', though he also wrote some detective stories.

During the Second World War Wyndham first served as a censor in the Ministry of Information, then joined the army, serving as a Corporal cipher operator in the Royal Corps of Signals. He participated in the Normandy landings, although was not involved in the first days of the landings. After the war Wyndham returned to writing, inspired by the success of his brother who had had four novels published. He altered his writing style and by 1951, using the John Wyndham pen name for the first time, wrote the novel The Day of the Triffids. His prewar writing career was not mentioned in the book's publicity, and people were allowed to assume that it was a first novel from a previously unknown writer.

The book proved to be an enormous success and established Wyndham as an important exponent of science fiction. He went on to write and publish six more novels under the name John Wyndham, all of which appeared in his lifetime. In 1963 he married Grace Wilson, whom he had known for more than 20 years; the couple remained married until he died. He moved out of the Penn Club in London, and lived near Petersfield, Hampshire, just outside the grounds of Bedales School. He died aged 65 at his home in Petersfield, Hampshire. Much of his unsold work later appeared. At the same time, a lot of his early material was also reprinted. He was survived by his wife and brother.

* The Day of the Triffids
* The Kraken Wakes was published in the United States as Out of the Deeps.
* The Chrysalids was published in the United States as Re-Birth, and was adapted as a BBC Radio 4 play in the early 1980s.
* The Midwich Cuckoos has been filmed twice as Village of the Damned.
* Trouble with Lichen
* Chocky has been adapted as a Thames Television serial.
* Web is a short novel that, although less well known, includes all his major themes.

The first four novels, written over a fairly short period in the 1950s, are widely regarded as the peak of his achievement. The Day of the Triffids remains his best-known work, but some of his readers consider that The Chrysalids was really his best. He also wrote several short stories of variable content and quality, ranging from hard science fiction to whimsical fantasy. Of particular note are Consider Her Ways, The Wheel, Pillar to Post and Random Quest.

Most of Wyndham's novels have a contemporary 1950s English setting. Brian Aldiss, another British science fiction writer, has disparagingly labelled some of them as "cosy catastrophes", especially his novel The Day of the Triffids. The critic L. J. Hurst dismissed Aldiss's accusations, pointing out that in Triffids the main character witnesses several murders, suicides, and misadventures, and is frequently in mortal danger himself. This approach by Wyndham (itself more than a little reminiscent of that taken by H. G. Wells in The War of the Worlds) was a reaction against what he described as the "galactic gangsters in space opera" style of much science fiction up to then. In his longer tales he is more concerned with character development than many science fiction writers. Wyndham's science fiction may be considered trendsetting in its insistence that interplanetary catastrophes do not just happen to "other people" (e.g. those best-equipped to face them) and would in fact be extremely difficult for our delicate and highly interconnected civilisation to deal with. Similarly ahead of its time is the emphasis that Wyndham put on disruptions to the biosphere as a whole, as when the aliens in The Kraken Wakes begin to engineer our planet for their own purposes without asking us first. He consistently views man as part of the biosphere, and nature as "red in tooth and claw" (as Tennyson put it).

Perhaps a reflection of his ideas are the similar characters he uses throughout his main novels. For example, in Midwich Cuckoos, Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes, the main characters are a sensible man and woman. The similarities of these characters between the novels are great; a self-made educated man, a successful woman who is headstrong yet quite dependent on the man at times. These are a reflection of Wyndham's self-described style - that of "logical science fiction". In Triffids, Kraken, and Midwich Cuckoos, the characters and settings are all very reasonable, sensible, and in some sense, properly English. This is the theme at the heart of these works: take the "sensible" and rational society we have now, and introduce one (or in the case of Triffids, two) extraordinary factors. The works then take a very analytical approach to our reactions to these situations. The results are always grim, as we rational beings, most notably in Kraken, at every step attempt to rationalize extraordinary situations into our present day view of our planet. In this sense Wyndham exposes our rationality as purely protective, and, in the end, detrimental. Only when no hope is left can we actually face facts - this is just when hope presents itself as one last flicker of the human potential. When one considers the era in which John Wyndham was writing, he is remarkably pro-feminist, with much discussion within Trouble with Lichen of the effect of a prolonged lifespan on the gender roles. In most of his books women play a key intellectual and problem solving role, often being more practically minded than the men.

 

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