If all is well, by the time you read this blogpost I’ll be hunkered down in my living room taking a much needed vacation, and playing the highly anticipated post-apocalyptic video game Fallout 4 — hopefully, with my glasses intact. As I bide my time waiting for the (nuclear?) launch of this game, I thought I’d take a walk with you, dear reader, through the irradiated wasteland that is post-apocalyptic fiction.
Under the umbrella of science fiction and fantasy, post-apocalyptic fiction exists as a sub-genre. But whereas fantasy is often used as an escape from reality and science fiction uses allegory to explore possible futures, post-apocalyptic fiction often strips us to the bone and forces us to look at ourselves separated from society.
Within the post-apocalyptic sub-genre there are a variety of sub-sub-genres which are usually identified by the way in which the world ends.
The Zombie Apocalypse
I’ve never really been a huge fan of zombies. As antagonists in fiction I find them lacking in intelligence. Luckily, in post-apocalyptic fiction, why the world ends is often much less important than the story of the survivors, so I find when the zombie apocalypse is written well I can often ignore the zombies themselves and focus instead on those left intact. Among the best in this sub-sub-genre is the The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman. Both the graphic novel and the television series have excellent characters who struggle to retain their humanity as they survive a world overrun by zombies.
Pandemic post-apocalyptic fiction is the realm where my favourite book of all time resides: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. It follows the story of Snowman, the last surviving man in the wake of a global pandemic, and his begrudging role as caretaker to a group of primitive sentient beings known as Crakers. Orxy and Crake is the first in a trilogy that includes The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam, and was nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2004.
The Nuclear Apocalypse
My favourite post-apocalyptic sub-sub-genre, the nuclear apocalypse is often the most terrifying. It highlights man’s capacity for supreme self-destruction; not only of humankind, but of all life on earth. Most of the classic post-nuclear works were written in the shadow of the Cold War, when it seemed that nuclear annihilation was a real possibility.
My first experience with post-nuclear, post-apocalyptic fiction was when I pulled Alas, Babylon off my mom’s bookshelf. The title had always intrigued me, as did the cover, which shows a group of survivors wandering a wasteland under a hot sun. The story also had an impact on me and I will never forget the goldfish. Yes, the goldfish.
One Last Selection
If you’ve never seen the classic television show The Twilight Zone, I urge you to check out the first season of the original series. I lifted the title of this blogpost from one of the episodes.
If I’ve missed any of your favourite post-apocalyptic stories, please share them in the comments below.
Alan can be found at the Transcona Library where he may or may not have grown a third arm after his vacation.