For 36 hours, just as December 21st came grinding down, I was sent back to an earlier time as a snow storm stranded me and my family in an isolated cabin without electricity. We warmed ourselves by the fireplace, cooked food on a stove, melted water for dishes and hygiene on it, and lived through the night with an oil lamp and flashlights. The real question was how long would this last, and could we make a go at it. Electricity and all of the comforts we took for granted (media, running water, heating etc.), became brand new and so much more appreciated when they finally were restored. Rinsing dishes after washing them was a new and exciting luxury!
What would we do if our infrastructure, our technology, our civilization collapsed–not for a day, but for the foreseeable future? Would we be ready and able to fight and scrounge for our basic survival like our ancestors once did? It does raises uncomfortable thoughts about our reliance on resources and technologies. Many fiction writers have asked the question in a variety of ways and this event made me interested in the topic.
Tales of apocalypse like zombie novels are popular, but a real threat of social collapse can come from less fantastic sources. Even being lost or stranded in an inhospitable outdoor environment can force you to confront a situation similar to a larger-scale catastrophe. Maybe you’re interested in realistic solutions as well. The library offers books written by experts to help you prepare to rely on your own means for survival against a disaster, whatever form it might take, such as How to survive the end of the world as we know it: tactics, techniques, and technologies for uncertain times by James Rawles or Wilderness survival handbook : primitive skills for short-term survival and long-term comfort by Michael Pewtherer.
The best fictional example I can think of on this topic is Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling, a thoroughly researched and convincing tale of a group of diverse, ordinary people cast back to medieval-style subsistence when something renders any technology, including gunpowder and dynamite, inert in 1998. This is the first book in the Emberverse series which so far spans 10 books. The author envisions the creation and ideology of a kind of “neo-feudalism,” some of it benign but some of it taken to its logical dark conclusion. It’s not a light read and is quite wordy (but educational), spending time on explaining how things work, almost to the point of being a survivalist manual in disguise. Readers less fascinated by the technical side of survival might be more interested in the next book.
One Second After by William Forschten is an unflinching look at the collapse of American civilization after EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) weapons wipe out all electricity-dependent technology, with catastrophic consequences for unprepared humanity. The story revolves around one father and his two daughters in a small rural town, and how they and their community struggle with not only the loss of contact with the rest of the world, but with an influx of refugees, dwindling supplies and the harsh reality of survival when social order breaks down. How can you save a diabetic, for example, when the medication can’t be obtained, and has to be refrigerated to keep in any case?
These kinds of scenarios have also been made into movies, of course. In Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men, humanity is slowly dying off after decades of total infertility, and an ordinary man tries to help the first pregnant woman after all this time escape the growing chaos and perhaps even save the human race. Again, we see the struggle not only for physical survival, but the inner struggle to find the will to survive and fight for a future, no matter how grim. On a side note, the original novel, written by P.D. James, is very different than the film adaptation — both are available at the Library.
In Cast Away, Tom Hanks’ character must evolve from comfortable urbanite to a sort of Robinson Crusoe when he endures four years on an deserted island–with only a volleyball as companion. Again, the story first focuses on the protagonist’s adaptation to his hostile surroundings, his struggle for food, shelter and clothing (and footwear), then shifts to his mental battle against solitude and hopelessness.
Heavy thoughts born from just a few hours without electricity! And yet, it’s good once in a while to step back and acknowledge that the comforts we take for granted have not, and may not always be there. Forewarned is forearmed as they say. Maybe this could be an impetus to learn more practical skills?