A Message of Hope

Post-apocalyptic literature addresses the question: what would life be like if the world as we know it came to an end?

The answer can be dark or light, dystopian or utopian. All depending on how the author wants to play the game. For now, the dark, dystopian answer seems to be what everyone wants. Hence the popularity of all the various iterations of the zombie apocalypse, and such books as The Hunger Games, or such TV series as The 100.

The end of the world as we know it ushered in Hell on Earth. In most cases, this approach to the post-apocalyptic story is survivalist in tone. The main character or characters are in a fight for their lives from beginning to end, with little relief in the middle.

However, the apocalypse, if we survive it and depending on the state of the world if we do, doesn’t have to be a hopeless cesspool. It can be a time of starting over and hopefully making things better. Everything depends ultimately on the author’s Weltanschauung, or worldview.

That is why I like the cozy catastrophe. At the end of the day, it offers us hope. It offers us a vision of the world where our better side triumphs. In the midst of disaster and its aftermath, the best of what makes us human comes to the fore.

The cozy catastrophe may have a battle for survival as part of the storyline, but the main emphasis is on rebuilding the world. And hopefully make it better than it was before the catastrophe.

S. Fowler Wright in Deluge and Dawn, classic cozy catastrophes (you can read for free at http://www.sfw.org), spends little time on the catastrophe and no time on why it happened. The bulk of the story in both books is allotted to how Martin Webster is going to create a new society without the flaws of the old one and how he will deal with the opposition to his leadership.

The ending of his 2-part saga in Dawn is somewhat bittersweet, and yet the world goes on. In spite of everything it goes on and humanity will survive.

In The Day of the Triffids, the book closes on a note of profound hope. Hope that all will become better for the human race, we’ll learn, and that humanity’s mucking around with nature won’t be the end of the human race.

Writers of cozy catastrophes, for the most part, see the catastrophe as wiping the slate clean. Then, if the survivors are up to it, they can build utopia.

In Dean Wesley Smith’s Dust and Kisses, the enterprising main characters are doing alright on their own when they run into each other. And then trouble comes to town. But is it? Again, hope wins the day.

Not all cozy catastrophes have a happy ending. Some are bittersweet. Fowler’s above mentioned Dawn. Earth Abides. Terry Nation’s book Survivors. But generally they are on the whole upbeat.

My own The Rocheport Saga is part philosophy, part family saga, part satire, and part action/adventure. And all about one man’s quest to fulfill his dream for a new world, a better world. In other words, utopia.

Perhaps it’s painting with too broad a brush to say writers of dark dystopian post-apocalyptic books are pessimists and cozy catastrophe writers are optimists. Nevertheless, the unrelenting darkness of something like The Hunger Games trilogy stands in stark contrast to the optimism expressed in The Day of the Triffids. Or even Earth Abides, where the main character doesn’t get what he had hoped for and yet the human race will survive and perhaps end up better than before.

Pessimistic or optimistic. Dystopia or utopia. Which is your preference?

Until next time, happy reading!

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The Apocalypse and After

September 2000, Muslyumovo, 40 km from the Mayak nuclear complex, Ural mountains, Russia: Former main street in Muslyumovo, near the Techa River, which has been severely contaminated with radioactive waste. © 2000 - Greenpeace/Robert Knoth GREENPEACE HANDOUT-NO RESALE-NO ARCHIVE
September 2000, Muslyumovo, 40 km from the Mayak nuclear complex, Ural mountains, Russia: Former main street in Muslyumovo, near the Techa River, which has been severely contaminated with radioactive waste.
© 2000 – Greenpeace/Robert Knoth
This was one of the worst nuclear disasters in history, occuring in 1957, and the region around the Mayak plant is still the most polluted on the planet today.

The Apocalypse and After

The Conspiracy Game (Justinia Wright, PI #4) is available on a pre-publication sale this week only for 99¢. That makes for 7 Justinia Wright mysteries I’ve published. Three novels, a collection of 3 novellas, and 3 short stories. I love Tina and Harry and find their stories the easiest to write. However if all I wrote were mysteries, I think I’d become bored with writing. As the old adage goes: variety is the spice of life.

And so now I switch gears and turn my attention to one of my other loves: the post-apocalyptic tale. The Rocheport Saga currently has 5 volumes in the series and I’m working on number 6. It is the story of one man’s attempt to create paradise out of the disaster that has almost totally wiped out the human race.

The original manuscript for The Rocheport Saga is a monster over 2200 pages long. Normally I do not rewrite. I follow the practice of writers such as Lester Dent, Isaac Asimov, Robert E Howard, Robert Heinlein, and Dean Wesley Smith — get the story written and move on to the next one. Unfortunately with The Rocheport Saga my technical knowledge of surviving such a holocaust and what is possible has increased a hundred fold since I first wrote the manuscript. Therefore, rewrite I must.

The Rocheport Saga is a cozy catastrophe and I’ve written previously on the cozy catastrophe. You can find those posts here, here, and here. Over the next few weeks I’m going to present more detailed thoughts on and examples of this sub-subgenre of speculative fiction.

Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories are very popular and their popularity shows no sign of abating. The current spate of zombie apocalypse tales is proof this subgenre isn’t going away anytime soon. We are fascinated by what it takes to survive. Will we survive?

I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s when the threat of nuclear war was very, very real. I still have those old civil defense pamphlets they handed out in grade school. To this day, I can’t figure out what hiding under a desk will do. But, hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. Right? For me the possible end of the world as I knew it was something I lived with every day. Sure it wasn’t in the forefront of my mind. After all I was a kid. But it was there, subtly, in front of me everyday implied in the newspaper, on TV, in books, and in those civil defense drills. One day, most of us might be wiped off the face of the earth.

The apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic tale is nostalgia for me, at least in part. Probably why I’m not keen on the flood of zombie apocalypse stories hitting the market. That stuff is pure fantasy. If it is fantasy I want, then I prefer the original zombie of Haitian folklore: an undead being created by the evil magic of a bokor. A supernatural being. The mindless slave of the evil wizard or witch. Robert E Howard was a master of this kind of zombie tale. “Black Canaan” being a classic zombie horror story. In fact, I class the zombie apocalypse as a horror tale and not a true apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic story. And, for me, I find the modern zombie story a laughable joke compared to the likes of “Black Canaan”.

The apocalyptic tale and the post-apocalyptic tale are different things, even though they are usually lumped together. The apocalyptic story deals mostly with the cataclysm and the events leading up to it. A classic example is the novel When Worlds Collide and the movie 2012. The emphasis there is on preparation to survive what is coming. The story can be plot or character-driven.

The post-apocalyptic story takes place after the cataclysm. Often the disaster comes upon us suddenly and we have no time to prepare for it. As in the BBC TV series Survivors and the classic sci-fi novel Earth Abides. The focus is not on the disaster, but on the survivors of the disaster. How they cope and what they do to survive in a sometimes radically altered world, such as we find in the Mad Max series, The Road, I Am Legend, and The Book of Eli. In other post-apocalyptic settings the world the survivors face is not radically different. We see this in Earth Abides, Survivors, and After Worlds Collide (where the survivors are on a very earth-like planet). Here, the story is usually character-driven and perhaps that is why I prefer it over the apocalyptic tale.

There are many apocalyptic scenarios, each one affecting the possible direction humanity and civilization might take. My favorite is the cozy catastrophe because the catastrophe is often environmental or the result of scientific interference with nature. The term was coined by Brian Aldiss to pejoratively describe a style of post-apocalyptic literature popular in post-World War Two Britain, made famous by John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids. On the American side of the pond, the most famous example is probably Earth Abides by George R Stewart.

In the cozy catastrophe, the disaster is not dwelt on. It happens rather rapidly and wipes out most of the human race; leaving the world essentially as is, minus the human population. The focus is not on survival so much as it is on re-building civilization and doing a better job of it this time around.

Of course what I just wrote is a broad overview and exceptions abound. But in general, I find the cozy catastrophe on the whole positive — emphasizing the hope we hold on to that we can make the world a better place in which to live.

Over the course of the next several weeks, I’ll delve into more detail as to what is and what isn’t a cozy catastrophe.

As always, your comments are welcome!

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