Tag Archives: franz kafka

The Sensational ‘Day of the Triffids’

The Day of the TriffidsThe Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As with The Metamorphosis (the last book I reviewed here) which was also a recommendation from my brother Michael, I came to The Day of the Triffids expecting something a bit more sensationalist. All I knew was that there were these plants called triffids, and they killed people and possibly tried to take over the world.

But, like Kafka, Wyndham isn’t here for the sensationalist, although what he produces is sensational.

Good speculative fiction, whether sci-fi, fantasy, or this sort of mild, near-future SF, takes a new and unique concept and moves beyond horror and shock and action and asks — But what would life be like? How would people survive? What are the practicalities of existence in such a situation? Thus the storyteller takes the story beyond entertainment to art. If you will.

The premiss of the story is that one night, there was some sort of comet that came near to the earth, casting a meteor shower in brilliant green colours in its wake. The next day, everyone who watched that meteor shower has gone blind.

Much of the story is the simple, practical survival realities of what to do in a society filled with the blind. What sort of culture do you develop? What skills are most necessary? What would marriage look like? More immediately — what about food, water, protection from the elements? The entire system has broken down with no one there to care for it, after all. Humans are still the greatest asset on Earth.

This is the world into which our sighted hero is cast, having spent some weeks with his eyes bandaged due to a run-in with a triffid. We follow him as he navigates London and southern England in his quest for survival, hope, and preservation of whatever good remains.

The triffids are the great complication in everything. They are a genetically-engineered species of plant that produces really great vegetable oil. Unfortunately, they also come with a stinger in their tops, which are like those of a pitcher plant, that can reach quite far. And they can walk. And grow to over 2 m tall.

In a world of the blind, there is no defence against such a silent predator. And so they must not only seek out food, water, and shelter, but protection against the triffids whose day has finally come.

So many questions of the human condition are raised in this book, so many issues surrounding society and culture, that it is worth reading. This is not sensationalist sci-fi, although it does have its share of action. This is literature even the literati would like.

View all my reviews

Kafka’s alluring simplicity

The MetamorphosisThe Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read the translation by Ian Johnston; this was the first book the entirety of which I read on my NOOK eReader, and it went well.

I came to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis expecting it to be more obviously philosophical or moody or existential or something. Thankfully, it’s not. In Johnston’s translation, at least, it is one of the most amazingly straightforward and matter-of-fact works of speculative fantasy I’ve met.

Kafka does not dwell upon how Gregor got into the plight of being a giant insect. It is simply the defining fact of the novella — and the great complication to be overcome. Through the different events that transpire because of Gregor’s condition, there is no extensive analysis or description. It is simply stated plainly.

And young Gregor Samsa’s psychology is also very matter-of-fact. The questions are simply what to do in order to survive. No seeking a solution, no speculation about the fate of the world. How to eat, how to sleep, how to keep from creeping out his family. A certain amount of guilt over no longer being able to provide for his family, I suppose.

There is a practicality to this story’s approach to the fantastic.

This straightforwardness of the novella is its appeal. It draws the reader in and leaves so much of the analysis and thinking up to him or her. It strikes me as stereotypically German (yes, I know that Kafka was a citizen of the Autro-Hungarian Empire from what is now the Czech Republic — but he is a great author in the German language which shows you how new and narrow our nation-states perhaps are) to be so practical, plain, and matter of fact.

Since it’s a novella, it’s quite short. I recommend it.

Now I plan to read China MiĆ©ville’s Embassytown, an implicit sequel to an alternate vision of Kafka.

View all my reviews