I’m finding it hard to think about anything right now except the unfolding disaster in Japan. So I’m going to write about post-apocalyptic novels. I’m drawn to this genre. Put it down to my background in the environmental sustainability field and spending my adolescence under the threat of nuclear annihilation in Britain during the Cold War. Or maybe I’m tapping into a growing unease that one day we will have to pay the piper for our merry consumerist dance. Plus the end of the world millenarianism thing has a venerable history. Our ancestors were always predicting end times. I’m not sure why humans have always felt that way, maybe it’s prescience or perhaps it’s a way of keeping us all in line. Like threatening children at bedtime.
Perhaps it’s also linked to the reason people read crime novels. The baddie gets caught and loose ends are sewn up, restoring a sense of rightness to the world. Justice does win and order returns, (with a few bumps,severed limbs and buckets of blood along the way). Maybe the same goes for the post-apocalyptic novel. Unlike most fantasy novels in which the heroes are trying to save the world, it’s too late for that. The worst has already happened. The really truly absolute worst, worse than a serial killer on the loose, worse than your beloved cheating on you, worse than the loss of someone you adore. This is what happens when the hero doesn’t win. The world as we know it ends and civilisation evaporates in nuclear disaster, ecological catastrophe, technological madness, plague etc. etc.
But there are survivors, of course. They live in a grim world and there’s usually a threat from other humans but they do survive and in one way or another, they overcome. So there’s hope. There’s always hope. Hope for resilience, love, and the future of life on earth. Here’s to hope, for right now we need it. And let’s hope this genre doesn’t become non-fiction.
Some of my favourites
Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake, After the Flood – post ecological catastrophe, bioengineering, dystopian societies, the game ‘Extinctathon’. Read them!
Walter M. Miller Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz – a classic. Monks reshape Catholicism six centuries after nuclear annihilation. A very readable examination of science and religion in a new Dark Age.
Gene Wolfe, Wolf in Shadow – this one got a bit convoluted towards the end, but I love those enigmatic anti-hero heroes.
Angela Carter, Heroes and Villains – lush, surreal, twisted romance. Has a literary feel.
Terry Brooks, Shannara Series – demons meet elves (and humans) in a post-apocalyptic land.
Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle – aah! One of my favourite authors – quirky, succinct, humorous and unique. There’s nothing quite like ice-nine…
Starhawk, The Fifth Sacred Thing – my vision of the perfect place to live (if it wasn’t encircled by the enemy).
Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games – one of the few trilogies that maintains the pace and quality from the first book to the last.
Paul Zindel, Z for Zacchariah– tense, gripping, creepy YA told by a young girl in diary form after theworld has been destroyed by a nuclear holocaust.
Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 – set in a dystopian society. Ray Bradbury must have had a crystal ball, given that this was written in the ‘50s. V. short, no wasted words, absolutely brilliant. The Mechanical Hound will live on in your mind for days to come. And Fahrenheit 451? It’s the temperature at which books burn.
And I have to mention the one I love to hate: Cormac McCarthy, The Road. This one taps into my darkest fears. I find it unrelenting, hopeless and bleak. I now
people venerate this book and say that it shows the power of love and so on. I disagree. There isn’t a blade of grass in this novel, not a stick, a twig, aleaf. It kills me.
And a few movies
I am Legend –zombie apocalyspe. Only to be watched from behind the sofa.
The Book of Eli –I enjoyed the tone and the twist, but would have liked to see the power of biblical language used more.
Knowing – unsettling. I thought it had strong overtones of the religious right and climate change (unlikely partners) but haven’t seen that mentioned in reviews.
Just me, I guess.
Nausicaa Valley of the Winds – beautiful Japanese animation.
Dr Strangelove – pre-apocalyptic, but it’s worthy of inclusion.