Apparently I have read a few dystopian or post-apocalyptic books this year. Maybe it comes with the experience of being a child of the eighties. I remember watching the ABC television movie The Day After when I was 12. I remember watching The Road Warrior at a friend’s house whose parents let us watch it. I remember sneaking into the theater to watch They Live, considered a cult classic today—“And I’m all out of bubblegum.”
My reading experiences back then seemed to have included that macabre fascination with the myriad possibilities of civilization’s doom. I collected the Uncanny X-Men comics “Days of Future Past” story arc. I read The Postman by David Brin (later turned into a movie starring Kevin Costner), Swan Song by Robert McCammon (that I read over a 24-hour period, skipping school to do so), Footfall, and Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournell (both of which should be made into blockbuster, big-budget, summer-tentpole movies).
One of the things that bothers me about some post-apocalyptic fiction is that most booksellers categorize it as science fiction. To me that is a misnomer. Science fiction centers around technology in my own personal definition. Take the technology out, and the story breaks down. Many of the post-apocalyptic books I’ve read this year do not revolve around technology to tell the story. Don’t get me wrong though: I absolutely love science fiction.
Case in point is 2014’s Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. A super-flu crashes the world into pre-industrial times. It could have been written in a timeline of two centuries in the future or two in the past. This story is about the characters, not their technology—at least, not in the way you would think.
This book is a train wreck. And not at all like that sounds. It depicts a train wreck of what our society has become. It is a jungle of things. Things that mean nothing. Tossed away without thought and replaced by something new and shiny. Nothing has value until it is gone and out of reach.
The author writes in an unpretentious manner. Casual even. But there is nothing careless in the words written on the page. For me, one of the main themes appears to be about purpose. Characters search for purpose, both before the “events” and after them. Well worth the read.
One post-apocalyptic story that does depend on technology—thus making it science fiction—is 2018’s Relic by Alan Dean Foster. I have known of the author and his works since high school many, many years ago, but this was my first introduction to his writing.
It seems that in the far-flung future, humans are at war with other humans. For some reason, we can’t quite realistically get that out of our system. One side creates a super-germ that wipes out all but one man. He is rescued by advanced aliens. The writing is beautiful, and Foster has incredible descriptions of various aliens, their cultures, and their interactions with each other and the “relic” surviving human.
Some of the other post-apocalyptic titles I have read this year include Time Siege by Wesley Chu, A Canticle for Lebowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., FKA USA by Reed King, United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas, and Earth Abides by George A. Stewart. The numbers nerd in me did some calculating and discovered that 30% of the books I’ve read this year have been post-apocalyptic fiction. And I have many more on my to-be-read pile.
Speaking of post-apocalyptic…the movie The Tomorrow War is being released next month. It looks promising.