“a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people.”
For most people the world ending is a source of fear, trepidation, concern even. Some go to great lengths to survive promised nuclear Armageddons or threatened global pandemics. Supplies are purchased in bulk, skills are learned, weapons stockpiled, all in hopes of surviving the worst case scenario ever imagined by the writers of any Bruckheimer summer blockbuster. But for others, it’s the ultimate game of Survivor.
For these, the end of the world is a source of pleasure. Reading pleasure, that is. Welcome to the wild and wonderful side street alley Science Fiction calls Post-Apocalyptic fiction, or PA for short.
Once we pass through the greats of the sub-genre, i.e. Canticle for Liebowtiz, Earth Abides, The Road, etc., we get down to the pulp fiction. Here we find the Former Navy Seal who can do just about anything, the saavy teen phenom with a penchant for solving her problems with a bow, and even the ‘prepper’ who’s learned every skill and stockpiled everything one might need to survive. This last book might usually begin with a laundry list of supplies similar to the IKEA shopping fantasy one finds in a Stieg Laarsen novel. So don’t be surprised when the protagonist pulls out that pair of wound-specific medical clamps from within the bunker.
Once we have a firm hero in mind, the Post-Apocalyptic world is revealed. To be more specific, what’s left of the world is revealed. Our hero journeys through the fallen Starbucks and fortress Wal-Marts of a crumbling world turned upside down.
And this is where I find the beauty of Post-Apocalyptia.
I love to imagine the ‘What If’ particulars of ‘what if it all went sideways’. I have been doing this for some time. I suspect this habit may have begun on the Sunday evening before that fifth grade State report assigned at the beginning of the year was finally due. Why did I pick North Dakota?! Since then, when things get rough, the bills are due, I didn’t get that job, or it’s someone’s wedding, I tend to engage in a bit of Catastrophic Dreaming. It happens a lot, even when I’ve got a few minutes to kill on the road. For example, I give you this happy accident: Just a few days ago I was driving to downtown Los Angeles. It was a Saturday and all the freeways were jammed. Eventually the 710 slowed to a crawl and the traffic report blared that things didn’t look so good for the 5 and 101 interchange. So, taking the path less traveled, I cut up Firestone Boulevard all the Way to Alameda, turned right, sighted the towers and office buildings of downtown and made a straight dash for my destination. A word of note here, this area is Rodney King Riot Country. Since 1992, it has been a place you don’t willingly enter. So I hadn’t, ever in fact. It wasn’t altogether safe, but it wasn’t as bad as my imagination had envisioned it in all those years of driving the 710, and when I turned onto Alameda, I found Post-Apocalyptia.
I found a long line of salvage yards ringed with barbed wire. Tall concrete warehouses with few window openings. Wide spaces to see your enemies coming. All in the southern shadow of the heights of Downtown Los Angeles.
I thought, as I usually do when dreaming up global destruction, how would this place hold up given the end of the world? When I’m at Anthropolgie watching my wife shop, I usually find the answer is, not well. Malls, the obvious 1980’s B movie screenwriters’ choice for setting the end of the world tale, in my opinion won’t hold up too well. Hard to defend, obvious targets, too many entrances. Or if I’m watching my favorite player not hit homeruns for the Angles, I think, wow, Anaheim stadium would be like a Post-Apocalyptia Castle sitting astride two freeways, like some medieval fortress from which a minor warlord might torment the local population.
Back to the salvage yards south of downtown Los Angeles – great places. Already set up to defend their loot. Lots of scrap to construct armor, both personal and vehicular. Off the beaten track. A great place to hunker down and plan your next move.
This is Post-Apocalyptia. This is PA fiction. The thrill is in the setting. Envisioning the ‘what if everything I know doesn’t work, burns down, or I must flee from’. Regular Science Fiction and Fantasy ask you to envision sometimes impossible landscapes. So unless you’ve been to Outer Mongolia and Death Valley, I don’t think anyone’s got a really firm picture of Mordor. And I still can’t even get my mind around Alastair Reynolds’ Glitter Band from The Revelation Space Novels. But my neighborhood two years after a viral doomsday. The skeletal remains of New York City. A burning IHOP surrounded by zombies. I can picture that.
And therein lies the special thrill PA readers seek when delving wastelands both suburban and desolate. The thrill of what happened at the mall. The airport. The deepest depths of The Wasteland. PA readers want to see what End of the World tricks the writer can play with these places we live in, pass along the highway or have seen in the movies. It’s fun.
What will become of this place?
What will become of me?
Nick Cole is the author of The End of the World as We Knew It.
“In the future, an artist specializing in historical records creates a piece of art based on three separate accounts of the Pandemic. What follows is a patchwork tale of survival and horror as two lovers struggle to survive the undying dead and the collapse of an America turned charnel house. Told as memos from Ground Zero, and later in the journal of a Dark Tower-like quest by train and foot across a nightmare landscape of ruined cities and raving corpses, the three accounts reveal more than just the grim realities of society’s collapse. The Notebook meets The Walking Dead in this stained glass depiction of the end of the world as we knew it.’