Too Close For Comfort: Current Times & The Postapocalypse

FlagI’m gonna take a little respite between End of World Subcatogories (back to that next time!) to ponder something I’ve been stewing on for a bit, particularly since a friend of mine tagged me on this particular tweet:

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Whilst it specifically mentions dystopian fiction (the Societal Breakdown!), I would say I’ve had many more Disturbing Thoughts regarding postapocalyptic and disaster fiction as well since the advent of the wormhole this country seemed to collective fall into on November 8th of last year.

Depending on the day, it feels like we will either explode in some kind of nuclear conflict with North Korea, with all the unhinged tweetings of this creature who is supposed to have the best interests of every American in mind (fat chance) (I still can’t put his name after the word “president”), or plunge headlong into something resembling The Handmaid’s Tale at the hands of our current vice president. And then there is the very real and imminent threat posed by climate change/global warming. You don’t have to be a scientist to believe this…we are rapidly approaching the tipping point of no return.

I used to find this sort of fiction cathartic – not sure I can fully describe why, but it has something to do with “Oh, it’s just fiction – as bad as things might be, we’re not THERE yet”…because I don’t think I’ve ever felt this close to THERE as I have over the past few months. And thus, my interest in this type of story has shifted a little…rather than being as completely cathartic as it was before, I look to these movies, television shows and books as a means of instruction, really. What are these people doing in these simulated situations that I could learn from, in the very real possibility of the Sh*t Hitting The Fan for real.

From Walking Dead, I’ve learned not only how to kill a zombie (it’s gotta be the brain!) but which weapon tends to be better in this type of apocalypse. Guns work, of course, but they’re SO loud!Better to use something like a katana, a crossbow or a barbed wire-covered baseball bat: they’re quieter, and get confiscated less. And that the following skills are better than currency: hunting, farming, healing.

From The Stand, I learned to trust my gut – especially when it comes to my dreams. From The Last Ship, I learned that in an outbreak, one should keep one’s distance from others as much as possible.

From most dystopian fiction, I’ve learned that if something is amiss with the way things are being run, don’t ignore it, don’t go with the flow. Resist early, resist often, enlist like-minded people to your cause and fight tooth and nail to keep the freedoms and benefits you have.

From nearly ALL postapocalyptic fiction, I’ve learned one HUGE fundamental thing: other survivors can be your source of greatest strength and your biggest enemies, because the collapse of civilization brings about all sorts of opportunists who size you up according to what they can take from you. Darwinism at its most base, I suppose.

Oh. And if I start talking about what I’ve learned from speculative, climate-change scenarios, I’m going to start crying.

Would love to hear why this type of fiction appeals to you, and what, if anything, you’ve learned from your experiences of it!




End of World Subcategories: The Societal Breakdown (or, DYSTOPIA!)


DystopiaThere has been a bit of a debate about whether or not Dystopian fiction belongs with Postapocalyptic fiction, and I say YES! I bring to you the SOCIETAL apocalypse, because it is the apocalypse of a society. Probably not as much death as, say, a zombie or nuclear apocalypse, but there areusually still mass casualties and things are definitely NOT As They Were Before. Oftentimes, dystopia is a result of some sort of larger and semi-apocalyptic event that precedes it (say a small-scale nuclear conflict, or famine, disaster, etc).

In a Societal Breakdown, we often see a culture, a people slowly implode – there is a small minority of folks who have certain and often extreme (Hitler, anyone? The current Religious right, anyone?) views about how things should be, and this small minority of folks either finds themselves in power or seizes power. It would seem nothing is amiss, at first, and life goes on as normal, but then things begin to change. Little freedoms begin to disappear. Curfews are established. Certain people begin to disappear.

Societal Breakdowns, in fiction, are pretty much all over the map. But the thing they have in common, is there are always rebels who disagree. Many rebels and detractors always die early on, and become a cautionary tale and/or inspiration for the protagonist, who is oftentimes disgruntled with the dystopia, but goes along with it until some catalyzing event that forces them to finally become part of the resistance in earnest. Star Wars: A New Hope is a classic example, actually: Luke Skywalkwer dreams of joining the rebellion against the evil Galactic Empire, but is stuck on his uncle’s moisture farm in Tattoine. His parents have died early on (of course, we come to later find out, his father is still alive and at the very helm of the Empire, but Luke believes he is dead until that discovery) as casualties of the dystopian society. The catalyzing event is that he and his uncle buy some used droids that just HAPPEN to have come directly from one of the leaders of the rebellion (Princess Leia), and contain secret plans on how to destroy the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star. Ultimately, Luke blows up the Death Star, which is a huge victory for the rebels, who ultimately bring down the Empire at the end of Return of the Jedi.

Unfortunately, in Star Wars, we don’t get to see so much of the dystopian society itself – the Empire’s reach is so vast that it only barely touches Luke’s daily life until he is caught up in the middle of it. Other fiction goes much further into the history of why the dystopia exists, what its characteristics are, and why it’s ultimately unacceptable for the majority of its citizens.

Books: Animal Farm, 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Anthem by Ayn Rand, Dayworld by Philip Jose Farmer, Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood

Movies: Divergent series, Star Wars (original trilogy), The Hunger Games series, Minority Report, Snowpiercer, V for Vendetta 

TV Series: The Handmaid’s Tale, Almost Human, Fringe, Dark Angel

End of World Subcategories: The Viral Outbreak

Now we come to (arguably) my “favorite” of the post apocalyptic scenarios: the global pandemic. Inplague-based fiction, there is usually some kind of horrible viral outbreak (and zombie fiction could potentially be a subcategory of Outbreak fiction, but I feel it’s gotten big enough to warrant its own subcategory). We see people succumb, one by one, to this disease. Then we see the survivors deal with the end of the world, then we see the survivors come together to form new communities (and maybe fight something else before they get to live happily ever after).

I say “favorite”, in quotes, because, well, who really wants any of these to happen? But, if I had to be a survivor in any of these ways human civilization could perish, outliving a deadly disease would probably be the easiest. I say that with difficulty, because of course it wouldn’t be easy. But, where everything is concerned, it’d do the least harm, because:

1.) No radiation & drastically reduced human population would give the earth a chance to heal, and hopefully, we’d pull back from the tipping point of climate change, and many  endangered species would come back from the brink. As long as the remaining survivors figured out a way to shut down nuclear plants before they melt down, that is…

pandemic2.) Lack of other outside forces to dampen the fun! And by that I mean aliens, zombies or other creatures. Basically, “all” you’d have to deal with are the dead bodies (and I’ll get into THAT in another post), other survivors being horrible and loneliness until you find others. And maybe bureaucrats with creepy agendas.

3.) There’d be vast stores of canned food & drink lying around. Also, you could grow crops out in the open without any threat from aliens or the undead. Or radiation/pollution contamination. And, you’d still have to worry about the weather, but not in a climate-change kind of way.

I mean, that’s not many, but they’re all kinda huge. If I got to pick the type of apocalypse I wanted to survive, this would probably be it. But if I change my mind, I’ll let you know.

Books: The Stand, by Stephen King, The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood, The Last Man by Mary Shelley (this woman was highly ahead of her time), The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton, Blindness by Jose Saramago

Films: Smallpox 2002Outbreak, 12 Monkeys, Contagion,

TV Series: The Last Ship, Helix, Containment, 12 Monkeys, The Strain

End of World Subcategories: The Zombie Apocalypse


Probably (and arguably) the most popular of our postapocalyptic guilty pleasures, if box-office totals and ratings are any indication, and one that has, in particular, gained ground in the last decade is:

The Zombie Apocalypse. Okay. So. Full disclosure: I didn’t have a whole lot of respect for this subset of the genre until recently. I mean: I’m a vampire girl. I cut my teeth on The Vampire Lestat and The Lost Boys. Zombies, on the whole, just don’t make for that fascinating or cunning of a monster. They’re dead, and pretty gross, so it’s hard to feel much empathy or compassion for them. And honestly, if it’s only one or two, they’re pretty easy to take out, especially if they’ve been undead for awhile and are in an advanced state of decay.

I mean, not that I didn’t enjoy The Evil Dead and Night of the Living Dead (and all their exponentially campy sequels and remakes), but the reasons I had a good time had less to do with the quality of the movies and more to do with the people I watched them with. There also was a bit of philosophy going around that zombie fiction tended to be hotter during Republican presidencies (mindless hordes) while vampire fiction tended to be hotter during Democratic presidencies (compassionate bloodsucker), which was always kind of interesting. And of course, now we are in the unprecedented time of the demigorgon, but I digress – that is a tale for another time, and may, indeed, predicate an ACTUAL apocalypse.

The zombie movies I traditionally liked best were the ones that tried to do something slightly different, like 28 Days Later and its rapid-moving rage zombies & Shaun of the Dead, high comedic parody about a group of extremely self-absorbed friends who are more interested in their interpersonal drama than they are aware of the world falling apart around them.

Also: zombies straddle genres: if you look at horror as a subset of Speculative Fiction, and Post-Apocalypse as a subset of Horror, zombies can either squarely fall under Horror, in the further subset of Monster, or Outbreak. For my purposes, I am discussing the Outbreak variety, since that seems to be more likely to result in some sort of global collapse, though below, I will give share my favorite zombie Monster fiction as well.

At any rate, I still didn’t find them to be that interesting a monster, and all around me, zombie culture was exploding: zombie walks, zombie survival courses, zombie video games, zombie birthday parties, you name it. The Walking Dead became the highest-rated cable show, and they were even having Walking Dead parties on Good Morning America. I wasn’t interested.

Then, I read some friends a short, postapocalyptic play of mine (plague-related apocalypse – think more The Stand than anything zombified), that featured a mother talking about her deceased daughter, Sophia. Both friends immediately asked me if I watched TWD. I sighed, rolled my eyes, impatiently said no, and told them why I just wasn’t interested. They pushed me further, saying TWD was more about the post-apocalyptic world that just happened to have been brought about by zombies.

I still was hesitant, but then found myself with some free time the next week…binged the first 5 seasons over two weekends (felt like I’d been sucked into the Zombie Apocalypse myself!), and was, of course, rabidly hooked. The walkers (love that they are NOT called zombies here) were still not that interesting in and of themselves, but some of the things the show has done with them are pretty innovative, from the different ways to kill them, to people keeping their undead loved ones alive or being faced with having to kill them, to weaponizing them in some truly unique ways, did capture my interest, and of course, a television series has more opportunity for long-ranging character development, so I became attached to the dwindling core of main survivors and intrigued, as my friends had said I would be, by the world presented in the series, and the opportunity to examine how human beings cope with not only global, societal collapse, but also with repeated trauma and ensuing PTSD.

My takeaway is this: Zombie apocalypse, while difficult for survivors, would be a great season of rest to heal the planet, and start to reverse climate change. If one manages to survive the undead and the opportunistic living, tempers the waves of repeated PTSD and ends up in a relatively peace-loving and somewhat democratic community, once the zombies finally start dying off (I mean, they have to rot into liquid and bone at some point, right?), the world left behind is likely quite beautiful, from a nature perspective, and maybe an opportunity for humanity to rebuild anew. Thus, as something to live through, I’d prefer it to the nuclear variety.

Other examples of Zombie fiction:

Books: The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks, Cell by Stephen King, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Movies: The Serpent and The Rainbow, Night of the Comet, the Resident Evil series, World War Z, Quarantine

TV: iZombie, Z Nation, Fear the Walking Dead, The Returned/Les Revenants, Resurrection