the m john harrison blog

Tag: the day of the triffids



seeing the future

I wrote an introduction to the Heyne edition of The Day of the Triffids, which begins roughly– “1949: John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris decided he would like to write something more relevant to his time. In turning away from the American pulp market, simplifying his name to John Wyndham, & selecting as his subject matter the disruption of a recognisable near future, he redeemed not just himself but the medium of science fiction. The novel of catastrophe surfs the anxieties of the day, viewing them as a disaster that has already happened; the self-reinvented Wyndham, fresh from his chrysalis, found himself in an age rich with new anxieties. Huge changes were afoot in the aftermath of a war which had shown the English that their most valued possessions–a firm social structure, a quiet life, dependable lines of communication & supply–could be eroded in six months, to be replaced by uncertainty, blackout & shortage. Power had been taken out of the hands of the pre-War middle classes (a process both mourned and celebrated in the quintessentially English films of Powell & Pressburger) & placed in the hands of a bureaucratic infrastructure. After the war, it wasn’t given back. During the austerity winters of the postwar years, overshadowed by science they didn’t understand, no longer comforted by religion or imperial certainty, the English huddled in their underheated houses & began to wonder what the future would be like. The genius of John Wyndham was to offer them a way to think about their situation.”

On the re-read pile: nice crisp Vintage editions of The End of the Affair, The Quiet American & Stamboul Train. On repeat: Slow Club, “You, Earth or Ash”. Seen out of the window: eight or nine redwing. Is this possible in Barnes ?

what is the exact nature of the catastrophe ?

Where would you look if you didn’t want to write a classic post-industrial disaster? Obviously ask the question above. But even that would have to be a new question, framed out of the understanding that, as far as Cassandra is concerned, the disaster is that which has always already happened. What sort of disaster are we in? What sort of metaphors does it cause us to seek? (Are we able to seek anything but the appropriate metaphors? Are we already on rails with this?) Wyndham voiced so clearly the slow disaster of the English middle classes in the across-the-war period, from the invention of the BBC to the reinvention of the bureaucracy, the loss of India to the invention of the hydrogen bomb. Who’s doing that for our sad bankers? What does their disaster–not yet risen to consciousness but still, surely, fully known to them–feel like? Is it possible to describe a post-economic melancholy? What would be the landscape indices of that? Of the collapse of the corporate management class which has already begun to happen but which will be visible to them only in hindsight? What are the false catastrophic indices, which must be lying about in numbers like a kind of dereliction themselves? — remains of old disasters much the same as the remains of old futures, which we might greet by saying, Bored with that, bored with that, that won’t do it? If The Day of the Triffids was, at base, a book about John Wyndham’s extraordinary act of self-reinvention–the almost-blinded man who wakes one morning to find he can see & everyone else can’t, the utter wet dream of the sci-fi Cassandra–& if he was the perfect candidate for the job–whose self-reinvention can we expect here? I’m ready with the laurel wreath.

what will he do next ?

November already. I forget who I am at this time of year. A lot of research goes into working it out again. Then I write something & look at it & think: You’re not him, come on. Whoever I am, he doesn’t want to be found. It’s laborious. It gets worse into December. Meanwhile work laps up around your feet, lots of already sodden paper with nothing written on it. That tells the whole story. Or would do, if he had a printer, whoever he is. At the moment he seems to be writing an introduction to The Day of the Triffids, reading Will Eaves’ first volume of poetry, Sound Houses, listening to Bert Jansch’s late-life reinvention of Blues Run the Game.