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Views of an Apocalypse

January 31, 2012

Ahhh, the good old days of Fallout 1.

From Dictionary.com:

a·poc·a·lypse

1. ( initial capital letter ) revelation

2. any of a class of Jewish or Christian writings that appeared from about 200 b.c. to a.d. 350 and were assumed to make revelations of the ultimate divine purpose.

3. a prophetic revelation, especially concerning a cataclysm in which the forces of good permanently triumph over the forces of evil.
4. any revelation or prophecy.
5. any universal or widespread destruction or disaster

The ending of the world as we know it has been a popular topic for a very long time. Since pre-Biblical times possibly. Lately, it seems especially popular in fiction, with all manner of sub-genres rounding out the retinue. There’s the always popular nuclear holocaust apocalypse,

War... War never changes.

the many varieties of zombie apocalypse,

If you're not watching the Walking Dead, you're seriously missing out.

the incurable plague apocalypse,

Never saw this one. The biologist in me called bullshit just based on the preview trailer.

the more recent climate-change apocalypse,

Looking back, did I need to pay to see a slideshow in a theater?

and for those who see this as more than just fiction there’s the good-old-fashioned Rapture and the ensuing Hell on Earth.

You Christians do realize that Revelations was about the fall of Rome, don't you?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that those you reading this all have some idea of where to find examples of the above without my actually linking to them. In fact, there’s practically too many examples out there to choose from. I think there’s a good reason that such stories are popular, and it’s not just the human race’s fascination with it’s own destruction. Once we’ve liberated a set of characters from the confines of a structured and “civilized” world, there’s a whole new wild frontier of the unknown out there waiting to be explored. To me, the idea of the world after the collapse of this civilization just screams Western.

When it comes to my new big project (mentioned previously here), both the setting and the main characters sprang into my head at the same time, inspired by some of my favorite music. At the time I began to daydream this story up I wasn’t very familiar with most of what was out there in the way of post-apocalyptic fiction. Sure I’d seen the Mad Max movies, the original Night of the Living Dead, I’d read about the thermonuclear parnoia of the Cold War, heard my parents talk about freaking out during the Cuban Missle Crisis, and I knew a little bit about the view of the end 0f days supposedly portrayed in the Christian book of Revelations. I hadn’t even played Fallout yet!

Nevermind New Vegas. If you haven't had a conversation with this guy, you haven't really played Fallout.

So what does my vision of the collapse of civilization look like? Over the decade-plus that this story has been bouncing around in my head, the setting has undergone some cosmetic changes based on what I’ve read and watched. But at the core, the causes are the same. My apoclayptic premise is simply this: Unable to cope with a simultaneous economic collapse and severe erratic shifts in the climate, the government infrastructure of most industrialized nations collapses, followed by the rapid degradation of physical infrastructure (utilities, roads, etc.)  as people begin fighting over what’s left. Everyone is so obsessed with trying to either keep the old system alive, or building a new society according to their own beliefs, that civil rights, human rights, and common decency get trod under the boots of hundreds of various paramilitary factions and religious fanatics. Vigilante justice becomes common place. In places that have an economy to speak of, debt-slavery becomes acceptable, followed by lifetime slavery in some places. It’s like the American Wild West collided with the post-Roman Dark Ages, and people did more to bring it about more than any one disaster.

I particularly enjoyed the novel Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler for many reasons, but among them was the fact that her version of the apocalypse was very similar to my own. A major difference between the two is that the gradual collapse of civilization in Parable is told through the eyes and ears of a teenager living through it. My story starts about 30 to 50 years after the time everyone points to as “the collapse.”

While I’ve pretty much written off nuclear war as a cause of The End in this case, I’m coming up with more and more reasons to include nuclear-powered and radioactive disasters, even if they’re only symptoms of civilization’s failings in my own flavor of dystopia. There’s this especially informative article I like about what’s been happening inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone over the past 25 years that gave me some ideas I think are just too good not to use. Radioactive wilderness with mutated animals is every bit as awesome to me as a scarred wasteland. On a sidenote, it will be very interesting to see what becomes of the Fukushima area over the next decade or two. And on a scary note, just a few hours before I started writing this there’s been an incident with nuclear reactor in Illinois. I seriously hope this doesn’t turn out to be another case where the real story about how much radiation was released comes out weeks later.

If my post-apocalyptic frontier wasteland-and-wilderness setting seems too thin, that’s alright. Most of the story I’ve got so far is about the characters, which is as it should be. The setting will become whatever it needs to be as I write more actual story. As I’ve mentioned before, I work best starting with minimal setting details.

Though I think this isn’t a bad summary of civilization’s end either.

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