Thursday, February 12, 2009



I love the post-apocalypse. A lot. I read post-apocalyptic books. I read post-apocalyptic comics. I watch post-apocalyptic movies. I dress up like post-apocalyptic people.

Wastleands falls ino the first category. It's an anthology of post-apocalyptic stories that run the gamut, like all anthologies, from "pretty good" to "I didn't finish reading it." Still, the stories offer up many different versions on the same basic theme, showcasing a variety of possible apocalypses and outcomes.

Some of the apocalypses shown were caused by natural disasters, some by manmade disasters, some we don't know what happened. They're set immediately following whatever happened, to hundreds of years afterwards. Sometimes they're optimistic about how society will rebuild itself, and sometimes they think we're about a day away from reverting to complete savagery. Sometimes we have reverted to complete savagery.

So what inspired all these creators to write these stories? Why is this a type of story that people keep coming back to? Do they expect this to happen? Do they want it to happen?

For the stories set immediately in the aftermath (where "immediately" means "people alive now are still alive"), I assume there is some amount of "this is what I'd do." Or at least, "this is what I hope I do."

Or perhaps the people that write these stories hate current society and want it to collapse, Unabomber style.

Or maybe, they love our current society, but think this sort of future is inevitable. In his introduction editor John Joseph Adams says that while there was a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction written in the '80s, there wasn't as much written in the '90s. However since 2001 there's been a resurgence. This seems to imply that much post-apocalyptic ficiton is a creation of fear.

Until the Soviet Union collapsed people seemed to think that a third world war, leading to the collapse of civilization, was inevitable. In comparison t that, the '90s became an era of optimism: technology for everyone! The internet will save us all! Of course, none of it was true (even then), but in the last several years, a culture of fear has again become prevelent, leading to more stories about futures devestated by wars against "the other," and the aftermath.

Stories in Wastelands can be split into two broad categories. The pessimistic stories generally feature lone characters trying desperately to stay alive in the immediate chaos following whatever happened. They're about mobs of people banding together and destroying what's left of civilization. About society collapsing into nothing.

The optimistic, and I use this term broadly, are when there may have been a huge drop in the world's population, people might be incredibly poor, there might be barbarians at the gate (not always, or no more than certain parts of the world today at least), but there's still communities (even if maybe nobody trusts each other, and even if they're barely managing to survive), and there's usually still technology, somehow.

I suppose if you got to the technological point of self functioning robots being prevalent, they could probably run for quite a while. And those same robots could probably keep power plants and the like working, so once you get to a certain level of technlogy it's easy enough to keep it stable.

But we haven't reached the stage of self functioning robots yet, so how would we deal with an apocalypse. How soon would we revert to earlier technology? A book on that subject is Earth Abides, which is about the slow decay of technology, even when society is rebuilding itself after massive depopulation. In Earth Abides, which probably covers 60 years or so, finding food becomes the most important thing, and farming, hunting, and gathering become the most important skills for people to have, more so than reading or other things we now learn. Of course, that book was written 50 years ago, so it's perhaps not as applicable in a world today.

Still, while the current generation would probably use books and the like to learn how to farm properly (or do anything they didn't know how to do), would the second? Or would they just learn from doing? The second seems more likely. If most of your time is spent on survival, everything else becomes less important.

The idea of community becomes incredibly important. If you were in a relatively stable society, probably not that large, you'd know everyone else, and your entertainment time would probably be spent with the other people. Thus reading doesn't really become a passtime.

Sometimes post apocalypses are seen as fun. No more work. No more rent. Just hanging out with your friends and looting shops. For many people, this is pretty much the ideal life, unlikely as it may be.

But more frequently they're depressing. Threads pretty much destroyed the mode a post apocalyptic movie marathon I attended (the rest of the fare had been things like Hell Comes to Frog Town).

One thing I would like to see more of, and that I will probably end up writing myself, is the idea of explorers. In the direct aftermath, going through people's, still more or less whole. houses, and just hanging out. Most stories set in abandoned cities tend to have them looted entirely years before. I guess people hanging out in abandoned cities isn't a story in itself, just the setting for one.

I've gotten offtrack. It's an anthology. It's about the post-apocalypse. You probably already know if you want to read it.

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