So, one of the first “real” books I read as a teenager was “The Stand” by Stephen King. The idea of a de-populated America where good and evil clashed was an amazing world that was both repulsive and alluring simultaneously. Having grown up in the Cold War Mutually-Assured-Destruction days of the 1970s, a world where civilization didn’t make it was a distinct possibility.
And so it sort of surprised me the other day when I was putting away some books that I realized that I’ve spent an awful lot of time reading post-apocalyptic fiction recently. I’m not sure why, but in the last six months, I’ve read:
The Road by Cormac McCarthy follows the story of a man and his son on a journey across an utterly bleak landscape in a post-apocalyptic America nearly devoid of life and all remnants of civilization. Unlike most stories in the genre, it is very introspective and McCarthy’s sparse prose mirrors the locale. I’m not sure I liked it per se’, but I sure do think about it a lot.
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham is a story very reminiscent of HG Wells’ original War of the Worlds – following the exploits of a respectable guy (a biochemist!) in a world gone haywire. Nearly everyone is blinded and becomes prey to legions of intelligent, ambulatory and (too bad for them) carnivorous plants. The deadpan prose is classically British, but there’s a lot of tension behind the calm. This is a story that really needs to be remade by a modern filmmaker.
World War Z (An Oral History of the Zombie War) by Max Brooks is both an amusing and chilling book that “looks back” on the years (in what is almost our immediate future) in which a zombie plague nearly eradicated civilization. In retrospective accounts, the start of the plague, its spread, the collapse of order and the drastic measures taken to ensure the survival of humanity are approached from several vantage points. The story itself is good-reading, but Brooks’ digs at human nature and society are the best parts.
Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse from John Joseph Adams is a collection of short stories that take the perspective of looking at life after the collapse of civilization. This is a very good anthology and has some truly standout stories. I have to admit that it was a little depressing to move from one post-apocalyptic world to another and so on… and that the stories here might be better read a few at a time between other things.
So, what’s it say that I’ve been gravitating towards these stories recently? In general, I think I like the “what if” possibility of stories like this – I love to see the imagination work on such a grand scope – but that is true for many SF and fantasy works. These stories in particular I think offer us a chance to vicariously throw away the homogenized society that we live and participate in – to get a clean slate.
But why should I be thinking of these things? I’ve got it pretty damn good – I love and am loved, have a great family, am healthy, I have wonderful friends, the best blog-neighborhood, and a good career. And maybe that’s the core of it – maybe I can have fun with these stories of edge-of-extinction survival, because my list of “real world” worries is so small.