Friday, May 25, 2012

WHAT'S SO GREAT ABOUT THE APOCALYPSE, ANYWAY? by Lane Adamson

So, I'm sitting here looking at our little cul-de-sac of bloggers, our bloggerhood, if you will, and it occurs to me to wonder why it is that there's so all-fired much interest in writing about (not to mention reading about) the assorted post-apocalyptic scenarios in play nowadays.

I shall ponder upon that a spell.

Let's start small, with the writer's mind.  (I can say that about writers; I'm one of them.)  There are a couple of different tacks in play here.  One is the J-trap theory, to borrow from Stephen King (might as well steal from the best, as they say).  Each author's mind has a creative bend in it that catches ideas of assorted sizes.  Ours happens to latch onto notions of a post-apocalyptic nature, instead of police procedurals or westerns.  As for the other thing...  I'll get back to that in a few.

For now, let's look at it from the reader's point of view.  Like your summer blockbuster movies, post-apocalyptic stories tend to be big, loud, and in-your-face immediate.  (There's a reason they call that thing where civilizations and the world go all gollywonkers an apocalypse, after all.)  The tale itself can be personal and intimate (I'll reference I Am Legend here, the Matheson novel since adapted to film several times) or wide-open and sprawling (King's The Stand comes to mind, although in many ways the individual character portraits in that are also deeply intimate).

In any event, the storyteller takes the world the audience knows, and blows it up--often quite literally; the first novel of the genre I personally recall reading is Miller's scathing A Canticle for Leibowitz, about rebuilding after nuclear armageddon.  (The beautifully bleak film On the Beach, also from this era, is likewise not to be missed.)  Lately, of course, we like our apocalypses flavored with at least a soup├žon of zombies of one sort or another.

(Ah, zombies.  Des morts vivants.  Our shambling, flesh-eating friends deserve a column all their own, in the not-too-distant future...)

All this death, destruction, and rebirth is a sort of virtual catharsis for the audience.  Yeah, the factory closed and I got laid off and the rent is late and the daggum politicians are a yammering knot of worthless cobblerheads, but you know what?  In this book, the world got blowed to hell and gone, but a simple, hard-working, straight-shooting fella like me survived and thrived by being simple and hard working.  And shooting straight.

May not exactly give a body hope, but at least it takes your mind off your troubles a mite.

And then there's that other thing about writers:  Hey, we like blowing stuff up, even in print.  (In point of fact, it's  quite a lot harder to write a good explosion than it is to just make one.  Ask any chemist.)  When we tear down the world for that post-apocalyptic scenario you'll be reading about, we get to decide what bits get to stay in for you, and what goes, and what gets tinkered with unmercifully.

That's the fun part of being a writer.  Well, that and when you, the reader, tell us we've done a good job.  That makes the whole apocalypse worthwhile.

***

Suggested reading (assorted apocalypses in chronological order):
  • Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham (1951)
  • I Am Legend, William Matheson (1954)
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M Miller, Jr (1960)
  • Lucifer's Hammer, Jerry Pournelle & Larry Niven (1977)
  • The Stand, Stephen King (1978)
  • The Road, Cormac McCarthy (2006)
  • And, of course, the complete PERMUTED PRESS catalogue

2 comments:

  1. ". . . it's quite a lot harder to write a good explosion than it is to just make one. Ask any chemist."

    I love this quote!

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    1. Right proud to be of service, ma'am.

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