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Ambulatory Weeds that Spit Poison and Kill

Returning from a meeting in Cleveland on Thursday, I started reading John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids (yes, the source material for the movie).

I’m about halfway through it, and it is so far a pretty decent post-apocalypse novel – one with a very different premise from your usual nuclear holocausts or zombie free-for-alls. The premise of the book differs slightly from that of the film (such as I remember, having seen it almost thirty years ago now – yikes), in that the titular vegetation apparently originated from a Soviet biological engineering experiment gone awry and not from seeds which fell to Earth. The meteor shower which blinded most of humanity left people at the mercy of the triffids, and didn’t in fact (at least as has been revealed thus far) “activate” or “awaken” the plants and send them on a mindless genocidal feeding frenzy.

While some of the events and characters’ actions are a bit twee, a lot of what they do makes sense in the context of a sudden, universal calamity of unknown origin. Wyndham spends a bit of time reflecting (through narration or dialogue) about the fragility of civilization, the tendency of civilizations to collapse, and the wryness of it collapsing in the wholly unexpected way it does rather than through nuclear holocaust or one of the other methods people had been fretting about up until the meteor shower. It’s the kind of intelligence one typically doesn’t find in books like (say) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

It’s also vastly superior in writing style to the other Wyndham work I read recently, The Midwich Cuckoos (the source material for Village of the Damned). That book was truly awful, filled with tedious asides and pointlessly overwrought descriptions of the bucolic scenery, as much a tour guidebook and ethnographic study of a small English country town as it was a science fiction/horror story. In the end, Wyndham’s treatment of the idea fell short of whatever potential it had — the movies are actually much creepier and better realized (even the Kirstie Alley/Christopher Reeve version). In contrast, Triffids is much more tightly written, shows a little more grittiness, and is far, far less twee, approaching at times a similar feel to Heinlein’s Puppet Masters.

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