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Killer Weeds, Pt. 2

I finished The Day of the Triffids on the flight to Krakow on Sunday, and I have to say that Wyndham managed to keep up the quality right until the end. The twist involving Josella should have been pretty obvious, in hindsight, but surprised me anyway given Bill’s fixation with finding the group from the university – it was a wholly effective bit of misdirection.

The ending was a bit of a let-down, in the sense that it just…ends. There’s no big set piece or climax to the story, the characters just ride off into the sunset. I was hoping to find that they’d developed a method of destroying the triffids, or that they’d discovered the truth about the plants’ ability to communicate and (apparently) reason, or the resolution of some of the many mysteries left unresolved. However, given that the story is presented as Bill’s in medias res memoir of the events of the disaster and it’s immediate aftermath, I suppose final answers weren’t to be expected in the time period covered by the story.

Some miscellaneous thoughts:

  • I found the response of the victims of the “meteor shower” to be both disgusting and interesting — most people just gave up and gave in, but as Bill himself sort-of observes at one point, this is a curiously British failing. They kept expecting “in Micawberesque fashion” that Americans would come and save the day again (remember this was written when WWII was still fresh in every adult’s mind), which encouraged in many of the blinded a mindset of dependence-bred passivity strongly reminiscent of people who ignored evacuation orders during Katrina on the assumption that “the government” would take care of them.
  • One glaring omission from his disaster scenario involved radio. Unless the “meteor shower” (in scare-quotes because there was substantial doubt as to the true nature of that event) somehow disrupted the ionosphere for 7-8 years or fried communications systems altogether (while leaving other electrical systems intact), there’s no reason why the protagonists shouldn’t have been in radio communications with others or have had some news of outside areas via those able to use radio communications (such as perhaps the university group in London). The story presumably takes place in the late 1950s or early 1960s, so radio communications would have been both pervasive and accessible even to laymen, and it was shown in the story that electrical power was available to the protagonists even 6 years into the disaster (in the form of electrified fences to keep the triffids out of their compounds). Bill mentions early on (within a day or two of the “meteor shower”) that radio and television frequencies are silent, but it’s hard to believe that that would have continued indefinitely in real life.
  • Wyndham handles the descent of London pretty well, I think. The decay is somewhat accelerated, given what we’ve seen with (say) areas like Detroit undergoing “re-wilding” through a couple decades (rather than years) of neglect, but one can pass that off as artistic license. The initial aftermath, with the confusion, chaos turning to tyranny, and finally epidemics of lethal sanitation-related disease, seems all too plausible (again, look at New Orleans after Katrina, and imagine how that situation would have played out without any outside assistance riding to the rescue, however belatedly).
  • He also handles Bill’s sense of isolation and loneliness well. It’s one thing to be off doing your own thing under normal conditions, but quite another when you don’t know whether you’ll ever see another living human being again. His relief at rescuing Susan is well done in this context.
  • Susan herself is rather amusingly handled. Given what Britain has become since the book was written, the image of a nine-year-old girl deftly handling a firearm and wreaking ruthless vengeance on the killer plants that wiped out her family is delightful.

All together, the book is a bit dated (given that it’s 50-odd years old, that’s to be expected), but is still a wholly worthwhile read as a post-apocalypse novel. No zombies, no preachy anti-human moralizing, no cliched premise – the book focuses more on the protagonists’ response to the events than the gee-whizzery of the disaster or the ensuing threats themselves.

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