I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but lately there seems to be a lot of post-apocalyptic literature out there. The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Age of Miracles, Pandemonium, Dies the Fire… Younger audiences are the targets for many of these, which I find particularly interesting.
Having read a crap-load of books in my life, this end-of-days trend reminds me of the post-apocalyptic fears of the 80’s. The Cold War didn’t feel like it was winding down with the creation of Reagan’s Star Wars, our favorite Brat Pack members were in Red Dawn (yes, it’s being re-made: copycats) and I was reading Firebrats. Now many of you probably never read Firebrats. Unfortunately it was a short-lived series. But it was so good. The series centered around a young boy and girl who had survived a nuclear holocaust in Middle America by being in the basement of a movie theater (I think that’s what it was).
What I really enjoyed about this series, besides the secret thrill of knowing I was safe when the characters weren’t, was all the tricks and techniques the kids used to survive in a post-nuclear world. What do you do when you’ve got an infected gash in your leg and no peroxide, Neosporin, or other antiseptic? You can use tonic or soda water to clean it out… I just remember being awed by the thought of using soda on a cut. Not to mention having only soda to drink for a few weeks. After a while even the most gluttonous teen-ager grows weary of flat soda.
Their trek across America on their quest to find survivors was heart-breaking and terrifying. They never knew when they’d come across someone with radiation sickness, or someone who wanted to kill them for whatever meager possessions they had. To this day, I still want to know what happened to them.
Now, we come to the present day. As Buffy asked once, “What’s the plural of apocalypse?” We’ve seen quite a few different types of apocalypses in modern literature. The Hunger Games shows us a society ravaged by civil war to the point of detonating nuclear bombs on a portion of the country. We see a society where people live and die where they’re born, eking out a meager existence, subsisting on food rationed by the government. If you live in District 12, you mine coal or support the men who do. If you live in District 2 or 4, you do what the government says you do, or support those who’re doing it. There’s no deviating from this. Unless of course, you’re fortunate enough to win the lottery at the Reaping. For every year, each district will offer up 2 children between the ages of 12 and 18 to fight to the death. In this way are the districts reminded that “resistance is futile”. The more you’ve had to beg for food from the government, the more times your name is put into the lottery bowl.
It always fascinates me how people envision what society will be like after a disaster destroys life as we know it. No more cell phones, personal computers or televisions. No more choice of where to go to school or occupation. No more freedoms. Who will rise to the occasion? Who will triumph?
Dies the Fire, by S.M. Stirling is another fine example of this trend. It’s the first book in a series which follows different groups of survivors after a mysterious Event destroys all electronics and complex machinery as well as transporting the island of Nantucket a few thousand years into the past. What I love about this book and the series (before it got a wee bit too metaphysical/mystical) is the return to medieval ways of life. One group uses the Celtic tribal structure as their model, growing into a large familial community. Another, former members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (or SCA), decides to embrace their medieval play and truly make it their way of life. Some cling to the notion of the United States as a country, but the vastness of the geography of this great land makes it truly difficult. Only at the end of the world could Elvish become a living language.
The conclusion I draw from the preponderance of post-apocalyptic literature is that people are afraid of the world today, just as we were afraid during the Cold War. I may not have had to perform a “duck and cover” drill, but I knew what it was. Today, there are plenty of evils we blissfully ignore. It might be a good idea to start taking notes from some of these novels (especially Dies the Fire) in case the forecast of doom and destruction comes to fruition.