An even better read than The Midwich Cuckoos, Wyndham’s best-known novel gets off to a great start even if the ending leaves you hoping for a climax which never comes.
The appearance of a mysterious meteor shower heralds an apocalypse for humanity as the world is struck by blindness. We awake with Bill Mason, one of those who have for various reasons, been unable to see the sights of the night before. From then on, we attempt to make sense of what we encounter as he makes his way from hospital into a world where new rules have to be invented to survive.
Bill’s experience with triffids comes in handy when they seek to take advantage of the handicapped population. The novel runs along a knife edge the whole way through and you’re never quite sure which way things will turn. For the most part, the story is captivating as Wyndham creates a very real world and characters who you are genuinely interested in, but there are a few places where things aren’t quite as polished as I’d have liked.
The obligatory love interest didn’t really work for me. Wyndham’s writing never really stretched far enough to make that come to life. He’s better with the weird and inhuman than the wonder of human love. And the novel kind of peters out with us wondering how humanity will recover from what seems a fatal blow.
But Wyndham does what sci-fi should do: he creates an alternate world and populates it with the bizarre. The triffids are a truly original creation and the idea of a world where 99% of the population is blind is described even more chillingly than you can imagine it yourself. It allows basic questions of what human society is and how it functions to be asked.
What Wyndham doesn’t do is answer any questions very well. For one thing, let me address the elephant in the triffid’s room: why is this happening at all? The triffids have been on the earth for decades before the meteor shower. Are the plants simply taking advantage of another sci-fi plot device or are the two events somehow linked. We never find out and Wyndham writes as if no one will ever question this. That seemed strange to me.
The book is very enjoyable though and classic sci-fi nonetheless. It also taught me to be more circumspect when people next encourage me to go out and watch a meteor shower.