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Friday, 10 January 2020

The Age of the Triffids


Writing a sequel to The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham's 1951 science fiction classic, is something most authors couldn't even attempt. It's not enough to pastiche Wyndham's style; that would just leave you with a quaint literary curiosity. The sequel needs to match the inventiveness and blistering shock value of the original but in a modern idiom. Think the retooled Battlestar Galactica or the way J J Abrams created a new take on 1960s-era Star Trek.

Perhaps the only writer who could hope to do justice to such an undertaking is John Whitbourn, one of England's greatest living practitioners of fantasy and science fiction. In The Age of the Triffids, he leaps ahead to twenty-five years after the time of the first novel. Bill Masen's community on the Isle of Wight has grown and on the surface appears to be thriving, but with fields of triffids covering most of the mainland and spores ever drifting on the wind, there are threats from outside and perhaps an even greater danger posed by the concomitant social fault lines between the pre- and post-apocalyptic generations.
"Resist the temptation to hide. Otherwise you’re trapped and you'll never get out. Triffids have all the time in the world. Sooner or later, hunger or thirst drive you into the open. They will be waiting."
For copyright reasons The Age of the Triffids is only on sale in Canada and New Zealand. But if you can't wait two decades for the rest of the world to catch up, why not see if a Canadian friend (or bookshop) will send you a copy?

I'm strenuously opposed to book series that go on and on long after they've run out of steam, but what would be your choice for another classic standalone SF or fantasy novel that's crying out for just one good sequel?


75 comments:

  1. "Only on sale in Canada..." NOW we know why Harry & Meghan are leaving the royal family ; )

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    1. His dad is the one who's famous for talking to plants, but I can definitely see Harry as the better aim with a triffid slicer.

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    2. True ! As for the mainland being overgrown, I presume that doesn't include the famous village of Binscombe, whose inhabitants would doubtless have Triffids for breakfast ?

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  2. John Whitbourn does a Triffids novel? Somebody pinch me! My wife's got friends in New Zealand as well. Dear friend, I've not spoken to you in several years, so belated seasons greeting. p.s. Is there a Waterstones in NZ?

    I don't suppose you could twist Mr Whitbourn's arm to make another cameo appearance on the blog to give us his insight, could you?! Was it a labour of love or a two week pulp knock off to pay off the credit card bill, etc?

    There was actually a Triffids sequel circa 20 years ago, The Night of the Triffids. Not bad but long since consigned to the charity bag. One of a spate of Sci-Fi novel sequels around that time as I remember, included Blade Runner and 2001.

    I'm struggling on the sequel question, will have to give that some thought. Any that you'd care to throw into the ring?

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    1. It's a real labour of love, Andy. John has long been an aficionado of Wyndham's work and pays occasional visits with other writers to Triffid Alley in Hampstead. He took a year or two to write the new novel, with much careful editing, and in fact when he first came up with the idea it was with no thought of publication. It was just one of those projects that he had to buckle down to or the Muse wasn't going to leave him alone. Only when he was a good halfway through did I point out that John Wyndham would be in public domain in Canada and NZ in 2020 - and lo, here is the finished book.

      As for that sequel... Maybe Pavane, by Keith Roberts, though I don't think it really needs one.

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    2. Very interesting. Assuming it's as good as I imagine it to be, is there not a deal to be done with the copyright holder/s in other territories, or is that a no go area? I will endeavour to get hold of a copy in any case.

      I may have mentioned before, The Chrysalids is my favourite Wyndham book. I'm not sure it's ripe for a sequel though. It has a New Zealand reference within it I vaguely remember, as a completely useless bit of co-incidental trivia.

      I spent a minute just now searching fruitlessly for a book called Maybe Pavane. I've put it in the basket now I've found it, sans Maybe!

      I'll admit defeat on the sequel front. The best fantasy novels I've got/read are part of a series and I've not read enough Sci-Fi. I was going to suggest Time and Again or Desolation Road just because they're slightly obscure, but I've just read they have sequels anyway! I'd need to read it again to qualify the comment, but Roz's Lifeform Three perhaps?

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    3. Now that I've finally got around to The Kraken Wakes (a paperback copy without a cover that I remember on my parents' bookshelves when I was a toddler) I really ought to try The Chrysalids.

      "Maybe Pavane" could be the title of the sequel. It occurs to me that I originally got it on John Whitbourn's recommendation, so maybe that should be his next project. I have vivid memories of his roleplaying game Continuum, set in a Pavane-like world, where my character ended up running the Bat & Ball pub in Farnham.

      I occasionally joke with Roz that she should write Lifeform Four. At least, I think it's a joke, but she just growls.

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    4. The Kraken Wakes isn't bad, albeit they're all of a reasonable standard (even The Midwich Cuckoos dare I say!). Chocky would be my other recommend alongside The Chrysalids and Triffids, albeit possibly aimed at kids (albeit arguably so is The Chrysalids). There's only Plan for Chaos, released posthumously, that I don't much care for.

      If it's a growl you've received, that's definitely a joke. It's when you get a laugh you need to sense check yourself!

      You've just reminded me of an old Lee & Herring sketch. Without trawling through a load of stuff to find it, it vaguely goes something like; "Stu, I've not seen One, Two, Three, Four, Five or Six, but I watched Seven the other day and it's a cracker! I couldn't find Eight or Nine, but I managed to find Ten. Despite a distinct change in tone, that wasn't bad either. I didn't bother with 11, 12, 13, 14... (fade out and back in again both now sporting Gandalf beards)… 1998, 1999 and 2000, but 2001 Stu, is brilliant, they've gone into space!" Or was it 1984 and I've made the last bit up? The memory may be playing tricks!

      p.s. They get better.

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    5. It's the tone shift in The Kraken Wakes that has me baffled. For three-quarters of the book it's a romp with Nick and Nora, then suddenly it turns into the end of the freakin' world. I imagine Wyndham's publisher voicing some concern about this, which might explain why there's the tacked-on "it'll all be all right, folks" bit at the end. I'd love to know what Wyndham had to say about all that. But still, lots of interesting ideas.

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    6. Maybe he was suffering from difficult second album syndrome (as Wyndham at least). I will get around to reading them again at some stage. I imagine quite a few of his and contemporaries suffer from that kind of ending. In fairness, probably not a lot has changed in the interim. As an aside (and forgive me I've probably mentioned this before as well), the 1981 BBC adaptation of Triffids is worth a look.

      Are you not tempted to have a stab at Do Androids/Blade Runner given your dislike of the film sequel?! The KW Jeter sequels weren't great as I remember.

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    7. If ever I saw a perfect ending it was the elevator doors closing in Blade Runner. In my headcanon that was all there was. But I have to admit that I don't know whether Androids would bear a sequel -- I haven't (gasp) read it.

      There's a very thorough analysis of the various endings of The Kraken wakes here:

      https://triffidalley.com/ta_research/un_cosy_krakens.pdf

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    8. Agreed. Blade Runner must have the best and worst endings committed to film, depending on which version you watch.

      The link was great, thanks. I can't say whether the alternative/original ending makes the book any better, but it certainly illustrates your original point.

      Anyway, my birthday is coming up and I've dropped the hint to my wife re John's book (assuming it has already been released or will be imminently). Judging by the snippet you provided, it will definitely be worth the postage stamp.

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    9. One interesting "sequel" to The Midwich Cuckoos was Warren Ellis's six book graphic novel series, Freakangels, which posits, "What if the Midwich Cuckoos grew to become disaffected 20-somethings?"

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    10. I think I did read Freakangels a few years back -- or maybe just one of the books. Another description might be (IIRC) "What if the X-Men didn't have Charles Xavier to talk them out of resenting the humans who persecute them?"

      I should really track down all of the books.

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    11. It looks like Amazon UK will give you the whole box set for 125 Euros: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Freakangels-Complete-Box-Warren-Ellis/dp/1592911722/ref=sr_1_13?keywords=Freakangels&qid=1579280272&s=books&sr=1-13

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  3. Unless there's some hiccup, I'll get my copy in maybe a couple of weeks. You can order it through Amazon.ca (Canadian Amazon).

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    1. That's interesting to hear. I assumed that Amazon.ca would not ship the book outside of Canada because it's marked as not for sale anywhere but Canada and New Zealand for copyright reasons. But I guess that, being Amazon, the laws that apply to the rest of us don't apply to them.

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    2. Well, I haven't received the book or gotten a "shipped" notice, so it's possible that I'll get refunded with an "Oops, sorry yank, you have to come here to buy that sucker." Or I'll get the Oops notice and they'll just keep my money. I'll let you all know when/if I get the book.

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    3. I expect they'll have to do that, otherwise somebody at Amazon.ca goofed. If Amazon do ship it outside Canada they'll be breaking international copyright law -- but as I said before, Amazon don't always seem to worry too much about the law.

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    4. There was no hint of a shipping date, so I'm pretty sure Canadian Amazon isn't going to ship it to, so I'm cancelling it.

      That said, I did find this:

      https://www.canadianaddress.ca/

      Apparently, these guys are a "remailing" service. So, you could buy the book on Canadian Amazon and ship it to a "virtual mailbox" with these guys. The for an extra fee plus postage, they'll ship it to you.

      I've pretty well decided that I don't care enough about Triffids to do that, but figure it's the best chance for anyone else to get this thing without making a trip to Canada.

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    5. That's useful to know, thanks. John Whitbourn hasn't been able to order any copies of his own, so he'll be glad to hear about these guys.

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    6. I will say that I didn't look into them to far, so it's possible that there will be something to trip it up. Maybe Amazon.ca won't mail to a re-mailing service or something like that.

      Honestly, I don't get why international copyright laws are even affecting this thing. People order books from other nations all the time. I completed my set of the Lone Wolf series with the expanded British editions by ordering them from Great Britain (I'd had the American versions, but quite a lot of stuff had been removed for some reason). What is it about this specific book that makes it different?

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    7. The problem is the different terms of copyright around the world. In Canada and New Zealand it's 50 years after the author's death (too long) and in the US and Europe it's 70 years (*much* too long). And now that we can easily order stuff from anywhere in the world, it makes copyright laws seem especially outdated -- just like region codes on DVDs. The thing about Lone Wolf (etc) is that all those editions are legal, so you can take your pick of UK, US or even Swahili editions. But Triffids remain out of bounds in most Western countries so the sequel is unauthorized here and we can't order it. You think it sounds crazy? No argument from me on that score.

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  4. As it happens, one of our English teachers at school had us all write short-story sequels to Day of the Triffids. She was a pretty awesome English teacher.

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    1. Don't leave it there, Andy. Do you remember what you had happen?

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    2. I remember having people who were blind before the meteor shower teach the newly-blind how to cope and learn basic skills to help run the community. I also remember designing some Triffid traps and an early-warning system. There was some (probably clumsy) romance between two of the characters. Fields of Triffids roaming the mainland and spores drifting in the wind also made an appearance.

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  5. the bit that i could never quite square in day of the triffids was why they didn't don their protective gear (from the book this seems to be effective) and just go at the triffids surrounding their compound with machete's, scythes etc. It would only take a couple of days -a week at most - and once done they'd only have to spend a few minutes each morning dealing with any that had wandered up in the night. Given that the triffids were a constant threat and Bill and family they had to expend so much effort to maintain the fence it seems like a no-brainer. Still, perhaps wouldn't have done much for the plot.

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    1. I think you're right. The plot depends on the humans being stupid, and on the triffids generating far more calories than weak English sunlight would ever give them. If being a plant was that effective, the dinosaurs would never have got going, still less the mammals.

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    2. In the short story I wrote they did exactly that. It's fair to say that the basic plot of the novel doesn't hold up any serious scrutiny.

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    3. I feel the outward urge to defend the story for some reason! A lot of humans are stupid, Dave, so I can allow that. It's also not quite The Walking Dead, lazy writing type stupidity, to introduce a sense of jeopardy (leave the door open, shout a lot, didn't hear it coming etc). Weak English sunlight? Perhaps it's set in an alternative reality where Skegness isn't bracing? It'll be interesting to see how John deals with the weaknesses anyhow, if he even attempts to.

      There was a BBC adaptation about 10 years ago with Eddie Izzard in it which had the triffids as far bigger, faster moving and dangerous, presumably to try and negate the plot weaknesses mentioned. So it turned into more of a creature feature. Needless to say, it was crap!

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    4. Well, I have to say I like Eddie Izzard but I never pictured him fighting triffids. Whatever next -- Johnny Vegas vs the Chrysalids?

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    5. I'd watch that. The Mcintyre Cuckoos? A real horror show!

      I've not seen them for a long time so my tastes may have changed, but Eddie Izzard's early stand up shows are worth a look if you've not seem them (I went to one well over 20 years ago). Unrepeatable and Definite Article were the best as I remember. The later ones, not so good.

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    6. I was watching some of his old shows the other week, in fact, and still laughing out loud. Not a lot of comedy wears so well.

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    7. We perhaps need to petition him to release his first show Live at the Ambassadors on DVD, if only for his Steve and Kev the Daleks routine. I chucked my VHS copy ages ago thinking it would come out on DVD, but it never did. Someone once told me they'd got it from the horses mouth that he'd never allow it to be released because he had a crap haircut.

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  6. So, I've ordered the thing again. Figure this book is going to cost me north of $60 by the time this is over.

    The book itself with initial shipping costs $24.81. Registering for Canadian Address was $20.00 by itself. Once they get the pack, it'll cost another $10.00 plus shipping and handling for them to ship the thing to me.

    And this all assumes I haven't messed up somewhere and wasted this money for nothing. So, I guess this is me being the "proof of concept" guinea pig. Wish me luck.

    Figure this article will be gone from the front page by the time I get this book (if I get it), so I'll email Dave and he can maybe post a mini-update if it worked.

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    1. I hope enjoy it after all that, John. I guess if not you will at least have a (nearly) unique collector's item. John Whitbourn I'm sure will thank you for blazing the trail -- and he'd probably want to order several copies, so the set-up cost wouldn't be such a hit.

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    2. I seriously doubt the collector's item thing. Figure in a year or two (sooner if somebody announces a big Triffid movie or TV show) the copyrights will unscrew themselves and this thing will be available worldwide.

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    3. Just nobody tell Mikael Louys about this loophole or he'll grab it, scan it and be selling bootleg .pdfs of it before you say say "si vous plait." Copyrights are for not-smart people in his book. Yeah, he's a French Donald Trump, calling it now.

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    4. Good point! And the worst crime of all (judging by his bootleg edition of Les Terres de Légende) would be the cover he'd put on it.

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  7. I just received a notice from Amazon.ca that Age of the Triffids has been shipped and is on its way to my Canadian address. Until I physically get the thing, I'm not willing to call it "proof of concept" but that's at least progress.

    Figure it's supposed to arrive some time tomorrow and then CA mailbox people will e-mail me asking what they want me to do with it.

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    1. When they email, it might be worth asking what most of their business consists of. Is it mostly books that can't be bought elsewhere for copyright reasons, or something else? (Top-quality maple syrup? Authentic lumberjack shirts? Signed hockey sticks? Alpha Flight caps?)

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    2. I might do that later (or you can). Right now I just want to give them simple, accurate information and do the "fun" stuff after I get the book.

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  8. TRIFFID TRIUMPH!!!

    The book arrived today, so full proof-of-concept has been achieved.

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    1. Hi John, I'm in the UK and have tried everything to get a copy shipped to me, I don't suppose you would sell it?

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  9. I got in touch with my friend from New Zealand, Dave. The book is only coming up on the Canadian Amazon site there. Is it being released in NZ do you know, or is it John mail only?!

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    1. I don't think there's a separate Amazon NZ, Andy, so it'll be difficult for John to set the book up for sale there. Although it's perfectly legal for a New Zealand resident to order a copy from Amazon Canada...

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    2. Thanks, Dave. If I can overcome my guilt of the multi-trip carbon footprint and fear of the library police, I'll give her the nod.

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  10. I just bought it off the Canadian Amazon site and had it shipped straight to the uk - arrived in a week.

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    1. Gosh. Technically that puts Amazon in contravention of copyright law. (But, as mentioned above, they probably don't take too much notice of international laws.) Anyway, hope you like it, Helen.

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    2. Mellon! So all he had to do was say friend and enter, thanks Helen. Not that I'd consider being in contravention of copyright law, Dave. THUD. Oooh, what was that? Bigger than I thought!

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    3. If you think Triffids is a whopper, Andy, you should take a look at John's fantasy-biog of King Farouk. That weighs it at around 1000 pages -- almost as hefty as old Farouk himself.

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    4. I'll get that on my next order for when I need to self-isolate, Dave. Assuming the roads are still open.

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    5. I've started already, Andy. As it is I'd have to self-isolate for the next twenty years to get through all the books.

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  11. Those who have had the kindness to purchase ‘The Age of The Triffids’ might care to know that in consequence my poor, starving, children have blessed and commended you to the Almighty, sending up fervent prayers with all their heart and all their soul and all their (hitherto weakened but now fortified) strength. Once, that is, they finished the meal which your generosity enabled me to buy them.
    It is - I think correctly - said that the petitions of the afflicted innocent have a ‘speed dial’ facility to the Ineffable, and so you may well soon notice Y*hweh’s beneficent and perpetual light start to warm the days of your life. If so that is nothing but your just desserts for your work of charity.

    Heaven forfend that I be thought so mammon-minded as to incite further purchases, but it bears mention that the process is less complex than feared - a matter of a few clicks on:
    https://www.amazon.ca/dp/171274982X
    and the postage way more modest than anticipated. Also, intelligence now reaches me that the ‘British Insomnia Society' has already nominated my humble Triffidian effort as their ‘Book of the Year’. High praise or what?

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  12. You must be very proud of that nomination, John!

    For my part, as a sequel, Triffids stands alongside Mad Max 2. I cannot, cannot, give higher praise than that!

    Thank you for writing it. I look forward to enjoying your other works.

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    1. Mad Max 2 must be one of the very few cases of a sequel being better than the original.

      Now I can't get the idea of V8 Interceptors vs Triffids out of my head.

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    2. Now yer talkin'! If you can pull that one off, hats off to you!

      I'd say possibly the only example, that not only improves upon, but greatly exceeds the original. Ok, I'll allow Blackadder, but using that as an example wouldn't have hit quite the same note!

      Judging by the lack of any information about John on the internet, I'm surmising we're quite honoured to have him post. Any chance of an exclusive interview on here given you're buddies with him?! Don't ask, don't get!

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    3. Leave it with me, Andy. Maybe as a warm-up I'll try for an interview with J D Salinger. I know he's dead as well as being a recluse, but he still might be easier to get to talk than John.

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    4. Thanks, Dave. We're in such strange times, you never know. Maybe a combination of Triffid flattery and enforced isolation will bring him out of his hidey hole.

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    5. Forgot to say, Dave. I left a very short review on Amazon.ca. I wouldn't usually mention, but I was smugly pleased with me review title. It's the little things! Also, not that I'm superstitious, 59 (comments) is the equivalent of Nelson in cricket for gamebook readers, so I've taken the single.

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    6. Thanks, Andy. I shall use that as extra leverage with John to try and get him to agree to an interview: "How can you refuse it when somebody went to the trouble of leaving you a review?" or words to that effect. Funny thing, though -- when I tried to leave a review, Amazon.ca wouldn't let me. I'll give it another go.

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    7. PS: Just looked at your review title. I can't beat that!

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    8. It may have been used a thousand times before, but they do just pop in there on the odd occasion!

      Good idea, Dave. Just don't tell him the word count!

      If I could be so bold as throw in a question/comment for John (interview or no), I notice on his Wikipedia page he's done quite a few non Binscombe short stories. Would be great if they got brought together in one place. Collection can then be properly completed.

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    9. I couldn't help myself and just looked through reviews of the original. Triffic has been used before. Grrrr, never mind.

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    10. Ironically just clocked your review is just a few places below it!

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    11. The short story collection is a cracking idea, Andy. I've read some of them and they're an interestingly diverse bunch, as you'd expect from Mr W, including one about the death of Jimi Hendrix! I'll pester him about that next week.

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    12. Btw I tried putting my review on Amazon.ca again and it said I'm not eligible to post reviews. What have I done to them, I wonder.

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    13. You may be significantly worse than a coin flip for the interview, Dave, so a short stories collection would be equally brilliant if you can pull that one off.

      Perhaps Amazon keep an eye on your blog and took umbrage at your "all animals are equal..." comments. I posted my comment a week or so before it was put on. I'd forgotten I'd even done it until I got the e-mail from them. The paucity of words being wine related rather than considered minimalist understatement!




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  13. Hi Dave. Given the inability to leave a review of Triffids on Amazon UK, I thought I'd leave one here for prosperity instead. Hope that's ok.

    I had vivid memories of watching The Day of the Triffids BBC series circa 1981 as a young boy and it then became one of favourite books. I went onto read all of John Wyndham, the vast majority of which are excellent. Roll on the best part of 30 years and John Whitbourn, the author of my one of my favourite short story collections, The Binscombe Tales, has written a sequel.

    The book is set 25 years on from the original and some of the protagonists from that are still alive. The Triffids are in complete control of the UK mainland but the outpost on the Isle of Wight has survived. The story initially centres around development of the society and the management of the Triffid threat, before power and treachery increasingly weave their way into the narrative.

    I read the book over the course of a day. It manages to overcome perceived weaknesses of the original. The Triffids are still a quantitative and stealth threat, but there is no resorting to unrealistic plot devices or unbelievable human behaviour. The perfectly executed story pacing, the considered use of Triffids, the ambiguous morality and the well delivered ending, make for a ripping good yarn.

    For those of you interested, my favourite works within the dystopian genre (or any genre for that matter) are The Tripods by John Christopher, The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, and now The Age of the Triffids (you don’t have to be called John to be one of my favourite authors, but it evidently helps). In my opinion, there hasn’t been a sequel as good as this in any medium since Mad Max 2.

    In summary, The Age of the Triffids is a masterpiece. I can also highly recommend the only other works by John Whitbourn that I’ve read, The Binscombe Tales, A Dangerous Energy and BABYLONdon. They’re all completely different, but no less brilliant for it. I’ve now purchased and am preparing myself to read his remaining works. I just hope they’re as a good as the above.

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    1. Thanks, Andy -- and I'm sure John will be tickled pink. Btw have you registered on Goodreads? Amazon can't stop you from reviewing the book there.

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    2. I haven't, but great. It'll mean I can correct those niggly errors I keep spotting just after posting on Amazon every time. Although in John's case, maybe he'll think I'm paying hum tribute. :)

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  14. I have never heard of The Age of the Triffids until i came to this sight, there is another book called Night of the Triffids by Simon Clark that ive been after for some time, also set 25 years later

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    1. I've heard about that one but never saw a copy. Apparently there's a BBC audio version:

      https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07htd4f

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