I’ve been a sucker for stories about survival dating all the way back to My Side of the Mountain and Slake’s Limbo in elementary school. I mean, what kid—and possibly what adult—wouldn’t want to eek out a modest but endlessly innovative life in a hollowed out tree or the crevice of an unfinished New York City subway tunnel? Especially in the year of 2020, both of these options feel like viable ways to escape the present onslaught of disasters.
More than simply running away, however, what I appreciate most in these kinds of stories is how character(s) survive in the midst of the terrors as Bill Masen does in John Wyndham’s classic pulp novel The Day of the Triffids. When most of the world goes blind after watching a cosmic light show, the semi-sentient Triffid plant life steps (they can walk) to center stage to assert its dominion. Bill Masen is one of the few to escape with his sight and he, any others that can see, and so many scores who can’t are forced to plot, plan, and engineer the survival of the human race in the age of the triffid.
Did anyone except me ever see that campy horror movie Bats? The premise was largely the same: bloodthirsty and genetically-mutated-way-smarter-than-your-average bats decide to go on a rampage and it’s up some bat expert and local authorities to quell the uprising. It was not good. I don’t even like horror movies and yet my adolescent-self loved this movie. In the penultimate scene, the cast bunkers down in a school to await the bat-battalion. To prevent the bats from smashing through the pane glass and devouring every human within, the cast wraps chain-link fences over the windows, clips on jumper cables, and plugs them into the generator. Voila! Time to electrocute bats. Let me say, my excitement was not about abusing winged mammals, but about the innovation requisite for survival: I think about this scene, from twenty years ago, regularly.
To that end, I predict I would be one of the first people dead in any of these situations because I’m not that clever. And maybe that’s another reason I enjoy books like this—there’s a vicarious relationship. I could also say, in the case of Triffids, Wyndham is pointing a subtler finger at humanities’ propensity to revert back to primitive and barbaric modes reminiscent of Darwin (survival of the fittest, kill or be killed, only the strong survive) and alluding to the uncaring, compassionless animal nature imbedded in us which, unleashed at a moment’s notice will gladly dispense with the life of a fellow human if only it means I can eat for one more day.
But… I still like the survival angle. I’ve also had occasion to think the 1930s-50s pulp mag content was fun but poorly written, but not true here. Fun and well-written. So when you need someone else’s life to be worse off than your own for a little perspective on how good—in spite of all the circumstances we find ourselves currently enduring—you might still have it, definitely check out Triffids. 4/5 stars.