I love a good post-apocalyptic story. Hell, I even enjoy ones that aren’t that good, because just the hint of one will perk my ears. And given the proclivity of this kind of setting lately, it’s safe to say I’m not the only one. Just
yesterday I came across some trailers for an upcoming game, The Last of Us, where a version of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the fungus that can create a zombie ant, has jumped to humans and created zombies and lead to the collapse of civilization as we know it. I know so very little about the gameplay, the plot, anything, but I know it looks gorgeous and I’m suddenly we’ve got a PS3 and I’ll be able to play it! I’ve also written before about another such setting I ate up (a coincidentally interesting choice of words on my part) when I wrote about Feed by Mira Grant, which features fantastic world-building. The third book and final book in that trilogy, Blackout, releases later this month and I can’t wait to read it.
When reading up on TLOU the other day, a few things occured me. One, this was a perfect topic for my next Thursday Tropes post! Two, I clearly have an itch to write my own post-apocalyptic story, so I should work on that at some point. And three, why are we obsessed with post-apocalyptic stories? I’ve come to at least one conclusion: it’s real-life fanfiction crossed with cautionary tale.
It’s the first question of any curious mind, anyone who’s ever delved into anything beyond their everyday knowledge. When you learn, when you experiment, when you settle into a story in any medium, it all comes from this basic question. And it’s the basis of all fanfic: take a setting and characters you’ve found and love, and then ask, “But what if, instead, this other thing happened?” And bam, fanfic!
We take our world and ask “What if something changes everything about the world we know and destroys it? Then what?” That’s the fanfic angle, change an aspect, explore what might happen if this one significant aspect were something other than what it is. What if the dead didn’t stay dead? How does that affect everything else about our lives? We’ve got a new reason entirely to fear dying, to avoid it as long as we can, and to be forced to struggle with the fact that eventually we all will in fact die; because it’s no longer going quietly in your sleep and that’s that. It’s knowing that when you’re gone, you become a part of the problem, and you’ve got no choice about that. How much of society changes when the dead simply don’t stay dead? (See The Last of Us, and The Walking Dead, and any other zombie-centered fiction.)
Or how much does society change when we learn we’re not alone in the universe? When a species that knows more suddenly appears and begins to guide and change humanity? Alternatively, when they arrive and attack humanity? Does having an enemy from beyond change the in-fighting of Earth’s nations and peoples, or does that fighting continue on regardless? Maybe it gets worse? (See Childhood’s End1, and any other alien-encouter themed fiction.)
How about if demons and magic were real? How does that change us, how does that change science? How does that change how we relate to one another and those who are gifted with such abilities? (See anything with superheroes or demons for this one2.)
We just want to know…what if?
The Cautionary Tale
There’s a popular theory that the current era of civilization, the one where the Western World is the powerhouse, is going to be reach an inevitable collapse. Much like many superpower cultures before it, like the Roman Empire of old, the age of America seems destined, at some point, to fail. And if that happens…what happens to us? Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
The cautionary tale aspect is another kind of curiosity, the kind where you can’t help but wonder, how would I do in a fight? A real honest-to-god fistfight? If someone threw a punch at me, how would I handle it, how would I hold up? Would I come out on top, would I just totally fail to defend myself? If my life or that of a loved one were threatened, what could I do to make sure we didn’t die? We think about these things to feed our egos, yes, but also to consider what we might do when push comes to shove before the push comes.
So if the world went to shit, what would we do? What scenarios can we see, and how well do we do in them? How prepared am I right now if the world loses electricity entirely? If my computer were to shut down for good, my phone, my car?
How woefully under-prepared am I for the world that hasn’t happened yet, but could? What if it happened? What would my story be?
1 After some discussion of this on Auston’s blog recently, I learned that Arthur C. Clarke intended the end of this book to be “hopeful”, while I have always found it terrifying.
2 I’m looking for suggestions on movies, TV shows, books, etc, that feature demon-and-magic-centered post-apocalyptic settings. Any suggestions?