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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?


20 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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