I still remember seeing the movie version of The Day of the Triffids at a drive-in theater sometime in the early '60s. It scared the bejeezus out of me, even though I was an avid fan of '50s and '60s horror and science fiction films, which were standard drive-in fare. I told my dorm mates about it, and the next night when I pulled back the covers on my bed, I found it filled with dandelion seeds. I knew it was a joke, but still....
This is my first time for reading the novel, however, even though it was written in 1951. I found it not as scary as the movie, but more interesting in a different way. The movie intimated that all the trouble came from an outside source, probably from an alien intelligence. The book proposes that all the trouble is brought about by human beings in their tinkering with bioengineering and in their quest for military supremacy. That shift makes a catastrophe of this kind more likely, even (or especially) today.
The catastrophes here are the blindness of most on planet earth, caused by the viewing of a spectacular meteorite shower; and triffids, a new plant species which has spread across the earth and can move from place to place and kill with a poison stinger (think large Venus fly traps). But these have not been delivered by aliens. The meteorites are most likely the result of the break-up of a satellite, sent up by one of the Cold-War powers, circling the earth with some sort of luminescent weapon which blinds. The triffids have been engineered by a major power (probably the Russians) and spread worldwide. Remember all this was written in 1951, before all suchlike was commonplace science and technology.
As in all "end of civilization as we know it" stories, the novel follows a few principle characters as they try to survive. Also as usual, some people just give up and die or commit suicide, some die from ignorance and incompetence, some sit around waiting for a rescuer, some take advantage of the situation to prey on others, some want to recreate the same type of world which just destroyed itself, and some survive through a combination of common sense and intelligent humanity. Our protagonists are obviously the surviving type.
This novel has a bit of a different ending from most of its type, and certainly a different ending from the movie, as I remember it. It is more of a cautionary tale than most of this genre, emphasizing that the end of civilization as we know it will probably be a product of our so-called civilization. The fact that it was written in 1951 and is still pertinent today makes it extraordinary.
Recommended as both suspenseful and thought provoking. It is also very literate; not pulp-fiction writing at all. Thanks to Jonathan Aaron Baker for recommending it to me.