Tag Archives: horror

Say it with Triffids

The Day of the TriffidsPhil: Back in August I mentioned that I’d never read John Wyndham’s book “The Day of the Triffids”. It was in a list of classic novels I felt I should read one day.

Browsing the shelves of a second-hand bookshop a few weeks later, I bought a copy for the princely sum of £2. Only 5 months later, I’ve managed to read it.

Short version: It’s excellent.

Long version: Even if you’ve not read the book, most people are aware of the basic story. A meteor shower (or is it?) blinds most of the population. Our hero isn’t affected thanks to a spell in hospital and has to escape London and try to survive.

Compounding the problems are the Triffids – mobile, carnivorous plants. Blind people are easy prey for their deadly stings.

The key to the book is a good, solid concept. The idea of a world full of blind people is bad enough but when they are being hunted by killer plants then you’ve really stoked up the terror. Stoked it up enough that we don’t bother to question the absurdity of walking, thinking, plants.

Of course the horror doesn’t end there. With the reader imagining themselves in the position of the hero, they then have to understand some terrible decisions that have to be taken. You can’t save a city full of blind people. One character tries – he captures some of the sighted and attaches them to groups of ten sightless people with the idea that they will act as the eyes for the group to help them scavenge for supplies.

The awful thing is that even he has to realise that this isn’t a practical option. You really do have to switch off your compassion and abandon people to their fate. Perhaps this was too shocking even for Wyndham as a mysterious plague appears to kill off the population rather than contemplate leaving them to a slow death from starvation or to be killed and eaten by the triffids.

What we have is a fight to survive. A fight that involves a great deal of practical work. Sad as it sounds, I like to think I’d be good in this sort of situation. When society has collapsed then you want someone who can make a shelter. Not that I have any desire to find out, but it’s impossible to read a book like this and not wonder how you would cope.

At 272 pages, this isn’t a long book but it doesn’t need to be. There are twists and turns along the way. The action takes place over a long enough period that the world gradually changes too. Towards the end we begin to wonder just how long the survivors can hold out.

Written in 1951, it hasn’t dated too badly either. Maybe the female characters are of their time – one is admonished for claiming that starting up a generator is something women could never do. That’s quite an achievement on its own, although perhaps life was simpler then, and the temptation to introduce elements that would seem old-fashioned today wasn’t so great.

An excellent read. You might need something funny to cheer you up afterwards though. Perhaps some comedy romance?

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Scared of the night sky

Phil: Last week, the BBC was exhorting us all to go outside at night and watch the Perseid meteor shower. Every bulleton banged on about it. Even the weather presenters were basing their forecasts on the chances of cloud cover that might block our view of the spectacular event.

I’m always interested in this sort of thing. The Northern Lights are on my list of sights to be seen, somewhat lower on the list than “my book on the shelves at Waterstones with the word bestseller above it” but still on the list.

However, I’m scared of the Perseids and it’s all John Wyndham’s fault.

His novel, The Day of the Triffids, starts with an amazing night time display, resulting in most of the population going blind. Then they are killed by Triffids.

Day of the Triffids is a story I only really know from the 1981 BBC TV serial with it’s terrfying theme tune. Watching this as a kid, I was well spooked and having recently seen a couple of episodes re-run, despite the aged production values, it more than stands the test of time.

The book is on another list marked “Classic books I really should read one day”. If I’m honest, the list is driven by film and television rather than great literary quality. Logan’s Run is there as were the James Bond novels. Gulliver’s Travels and War and Peace aren’t any more as I have tried to read them and bored myself stupid.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I bet everyone has books they want to read one day. It’s just that others get in the way.

As for the meteors – I gathered my courage and stared at the night sky. I saw nothing. Despite a lack of cloud and little light pollution, there were no shooting stars.

I did wonder if the rhubarb was rustling ominously though.

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Richard Bachman writes

KingbookPhil: All the recent fuss over the outing of JK Rowling included a quote from a Waterstones spokesman, “This is the best act of literary deception since Stephen King was outed as Richard Bachman back in the 1980s.”

Which interested me as the day before this earthquake in the world of books, I’d just finished the final story in The Bachman Books, the collected series of stories penned by King under the name “Richard Bachman”. You might remember that when I first tried reading King, I wasn’t hugely impressed but several people pointed me at other examples, including Ms Nolan who spent her teenage years reading him. Her suggestion was to seek out the Bachman novels so when I tripped over a second-hand copy, I snapped it up and dived in.

Like Rowling, King wrote the books under a pen name as a test. Could his books sell just on the strength of the writing, or was he really able to put anything on paper and sell to an adoring fan base. The parallels are interesting – both authors sold but not brilliantly and both were outed by diligent research by readers.

Anyway, there are 4 books, are then any good?

The common theme is that of a journey, either a personal one or physical.

Rage – Nutty school kid takes his class hostage.

This one made me do something I never do, read the first few chapters and then turn straight to the end to find out what happened to decide if I was going to read the rest. I didn’t. Maybe I’m too old for teenage angst or maybe I’m just not sensitive enough but I didn’t care.

The Long Walk – In the future a sporting event is help where competitors have to walk continuously until only one survives. Those who don’t keep up the pace, stop or try to escape “get their ticket”, in other words are shot by the accompanying soldier.

The first one I picked. It’s good but I wanted so much more. While we live the event through the eyes of one character, I didn’t find enough background information in there. What sort of world is it that enjoys this sort of spectacle? How did it start? How desperate does your life have to be to apply to take part in a competition with a 100:1 chance of winning and a 99:1 change of ending up dead?

I didn’t want less story, I wanted a couple more chapters worth of background woven in to the narrative. The world of the Walk didn’t appear that much different to ours but yet something had obviously happened to make the concept palatable.

Roadwork – Man obsesses about a road that will destroy his house.

A personal journey story where you either identify with the main character or you don’t. I did. Not perhaps the way he went about things but you were gently introduced to his pain. The backs-try built up with his wife and children. The tipping-points in his life were there and the conclusion logical if fairly well-signposted. It didn’t matter, I was keen to know how we got there.

The Running Man – Not much like the Schwarzenegger film. Man enters competition where all he has to do is survive for 30 days anywhere in the world with hunters sent out to catch him.

The best of the book. You understand the characters motivations, the world is realistic and the end satisfying. The scary thing is that everything that happens can be extrapolated from where we are now. The pollution. The hopelessness of great swathes of the public. The separation of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. The people who despite being stuck in the underclass, manage to live and survive on their wits. I couldn’t help thinking tha this is more prophetic than I’m comfortable with.

If there is one anomaly, it’s that the contestant has to record a video diary type tape twice a day and post it back to the studio. Back in 1982 when the book was written, this probably seemed logical but now it’s a great example of how technology changes can mess up your predictions.

Oddly, I also like the film despite it being a different beast. I think the novel still has an excellent film in it although perhaps the final scenes (spoiler time) of the contestant crashing a plane into the skyscraper that houses the TV company in charge of the games still won’t play well in the US.

Overall, an interesting read. I’m still not convinced by horror novels but I’m going to dip my toe in again in the future. What I do get is how the youthful Nolan lapped these up in the same way that kids nowadays drink in vampire novels. All the books speak of angst and personal change which are a perfect match for teenagers struggling to work themselves out or adults who miss that wild emotion.

I still don’t think any of these are horrific. Yes the plots and the worlds they are set in are horrible, the thoughts of the characters not nice at all, but there isn’t the splatter, gore or even the violence I was expecting.

It’s all in the mind. Maybe that’s the scariest place.

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