NIGHT OF THE TRIFFIDS is a book I avoided reading for a very long time. As many of you might know, whenever I’m asked to cite my favourite book or the book that’s had the biggest influence on me, I always talk about John Wyndham’s seminal DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, and the idea of a non-Wyndham sequel never appealed to me in the slightest. But then I got to know the author, Simon Clark. I’d heard a lot about Simon when HATER was first released, with people mentioning my book alongside his BLOOD CRAZY (a great read which I must feature here in the near future). Simon and I both had stories appear in the MAMMOTH BOOK OF BODY HORROR and we met at an event to launch the book a few years back. I caught up with him again at a convention a while later, and was able to talk to him about all things triffid-related. It was immediately clear that this was no cash-in: he wrote a sequel because of his love of Wyndham’s original.
First published in 1991 and given a long-overdue re-release this month, the book takes place some twenty-five years after the events of DAY. Here’s the synopsis. Click the link below for my thoughts.
“In John Wyndham’s classic bestseller The Day of the Triffids, the world has been overwhelmed by killer plants that have blinded almost the entire population. As the novel ends, Wyndham’s narrator scientist Bill Masen is escaping, with his wife and four-year-old son, to the Isle of Wight where a small colony of survivors is holding out. Simon Clark’s sequel picks up the story twenty-five years on.
The survivors are safe, for the time being at least, on their island, where they have continued efforts to combat the triffids, while also striving in various ways to build a new civilization – in a Mother House, for example, women spend their lives endlessly giving birth. Elsewhere in the world, similar colonies cling to survival, while the triffids persist in their attempts to destroy humanity.
One morning Bill Masen’s son, David, now grown up, wakes to a world plunged into darkness. Now, the triffids have an advantage over even sighted humanity.”
It’s fair to say NIGHT OF THE TRIFFIDS wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I doubt any book could match Wyndham’s ground-breaking original, and all credit to Simon for taking on the challenge of trying to continue the story. He sensibly puts more than two decade’s space between DAY and NIGHT, and that works in his favour because it makes the book feel less like a direct continuation of the first novel, more an exploration of the vividly imagined post-apocalyptic world Wyndham created. As well as providing a fascinating look at how the Isle of Wight community has developed over the ensuing years, Simon also introduces another community of people who’ve adopted a wholly different approach to survival. After crash-landing a plane whilst investigating the reason for the sudden darkness which has overtaken the planet, David Masen is picked up by the crew of a steam ship from America. The bulk of the rest of the novel takes place in New York and surrounding areas, and the story takes on a wholly unexpected steampunk feel.
I very much enjoyed NIGHT OF THE TRIFFIDS. As I’ve already said, it wasn’t at all the kind of book I was expecting. It moves at a relentless speed and manages to maintain a respectful distance from the original whilst remaining indelibly connected. There are some great images to be found here: steam-driven New York is a particular highlight, and if the thought of sixty feet tall triffids rampaging through Times Square doesn’t get you, I don’t know what will.
Perhaps the only real part of NIGHT which didn’t sit well with me was the triffids themselves, and I think that’s purely because of the differences between mine and Simon’s interpretation of the killer plants. I’ve always envisaged them as relatively unintelligent organisms, instinctively hunting and killing to survive. For me, one of the most chilling aspects of Wyndham’s original was the way the human race was undone by the combination of the unemotional triffid menace and the blinding of the vast majority of the population. It seemed particularly frightening to see mankind overcome by a relatively unassuming enemy. In NIGHT, Simon has his triffids evolving, mutating and communicating to become an altogether different kind of threat; more mankind’s equal, they’re seemingly vying for control of the planet. Although that jarred somewhat with me and my interpretation of the original novel, it makes for some incredibly exciting scenes.
After my initial (unwarranted) reservations, I’d recommend NIGHT OF THE TRIFFIDS to anyone with an interest in the Wyndham original. Simon’s story is very entertaining and respectfully written. In some ways the book feels shackled by the reputation of the classic which precedes it and I can’t help thinking that had it not had triffids in the title, NIGHT might have been even more successful. It is, after all, a damn fine and very exciting post-apocalyptic novel.