The Day of the Triffids (1951)
You know, if I could reach back into time and slap the pen out of Wyndham’s hand, I don’t think the resulting time paradox would even amount to much. Surely there were plenty of other hack sci-fi writers with similar opinions and poor narrative skills who would’ve stepped into the 4th dimensional void without a hitch in space-time. It’d be one of those things where Marty McFly returns to the present, fully prepared for some fucked up dystopian future, only to find that everything is totally normal. Years would pass and he’d settle into a normal life of working at Radio Shack and eating Denny’s on Sundays, the time-travel machine collecting dust in Doc Brown’s attic, until he encounters a widely regarded mid-century English sci-fi novel in his local independent bookstore. A fan of the genre, he takes it home and reads it that night and the next. At the end, he shuts the book and leans back in his reading chair, looking at the ceiling. A moment of silence before a he says “god damnit” and picks up the phone. “Doc? We gotta go back.” Smash cut to credits music, sequel to come next summer.
Boy. Should’ve been called The Day Men Were Finally Morally Justified In Telling Women To Shut The Fuck Up and Spread.
Our hero Bill, an expy of the author if there ever was one, is the survivor of a freak malady that strikes most of the world blind. Society crumbles, John née Bill tells us about his history with the fictional sentient plants in the book’s title, and then saves a woman that some blind freak has turned into his seeing-eye-woman/soon-to-be-rapee. Her clothes in tatters, she inexplicably feels comfortable adjourning to a bar with her masculine savior and proceeds to tell him her life story and present predicament over some drinks. She abruptly (and again, inexplicably) says she isn’t usually that kind of woman; you know, the kind that gets abducted by a man and is then brutally beaten down with a lead pipe while screaming shrilly.
Women, am I right?
What follows is a picaresque survival tale wherein John spends the bulk of the book mansplaining his survival strategies and social theories to the reader, while sometimes encountering men who are evil so as to show us that in a world of evil men, John being an obnoxious prick isn’t so bad. He and Josella eventually (and I stress, again, inexplicably) fall in love after four days. He’s her principled realist knight in shining armor, she’s his Mary Sue honey badger.
More women show up, all of which are shrill or fainting or failing to grasp the gravity of The End of the World. Bill eventually encounters some men who aren’t evil and they proceed to mansplain things to each other, as well as to the assorted shrews they find themselves in the midst of. They even come up with a new order for society: since everyone just died (both because blind people are useless, and there is also a plague going on), women are now super valuable because they can bear children and men are only valuable if they can still see. Blind men get the fuck out, women who don’t want to be impregnated by a stranger get the fuck out. New world order, bitches.
Things don’t quite work out, and a lot of the rest of the book is spent following John around as he tries to find Josella and/or another group of survivors to hang out with.
But wait! Maybe you’ve read this far and are thinking, ‘Hey, I thought this book was called “The Day of the Triffids,” not “The Day I Was Finally Able to Tell Women They Were Dumb Cunts.” What about the Triffids!?’
Well, my ereader says that at about 70% of the way through the book, the Triffids start having a major stake in the plot. For 70% of the book’s timeline, that title was just biding its time while the Triffids slowly amassed power that is then unleashed via them threatening to overtake the world as only plants can: very slowly. Their big strategy is to just kind of mass around any barrier until the total pressure is enough break through, and then they walk in and whap people with their poison sacs.
Not to say there isn’t narrative tension to be milled from nature’s slow and steady persistence dominating humanity, but the opportunity certainly escaped Wyndham. Just as he’s painting a picture of untold generations of survivors being penned-in by this green mass, they’re saved by a guy in a helicopter who is a representative of the original group that John had hooked up with. Here’s more or less how the novel ends.
HELICOPTER MAN: What do you say? Are you man enough to repopulate society?
JOHN: I–I don’t know! I’m a good man, I never asked for this. But say, these sentient plants sure are becoming a menace that threaten us literally and existentially. What do you think, Loving Wife?
LOVING WIFE: I think that this man is on the ball, because I myself am a masculine realist. And while I would never condescend to saying I know more than you or that you are wrong, I am perfectly comfortable in reaffirming your darkest desires, particularly those which you hide in meandering sci-fi novels with misleading titles and plots that seem to only function when they justify those desires. I also inexplicably talk just like you, except with less force, because I am a woman.
*both HELICOPTER MAN and JOHN look on in shock*
LOVING WIFE: Oops, must’ve slipped into my womanly sarcasm. How womanish of me; I’m usually not like this. What I mean to say is: you damn well know that the fate of humanity lies, quite literally, deep in the labyrinthine complexity of your bulging testicles.
JOHN: Well if the choice is between living a life-and-death struggle against existence and plants every day, or impregnating a bunch of blind hooers and having a cushy anti-Triffid research job, I suppose the answer is quite clear. Thank god for those sentient plants, which have given me a loving wife and a sense of masculine purpose. Truly, the end of the world has been worth it. I can only hope that my masculine principle does not develop rot from all of the dampness it is about to encounter. Maybe if I reserve its excursions to just the tip.