Tuesday, January 20, 2009

'Post-Apocalyptic'

"How deserted lies the city, once so full of people" (Lamentations 1:1)

Post-Apocalyptic fiction is set either during or after a major disaster. It is essentially about how civilisation does or does not survive, who survives and why they survive.

The first apocalypse occurred when Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden of Eden. Since then people have been wondering what would happen if civilisation as we know it dramatically changed. A classic example of this genre, set after a nuclear war, is Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien. There are some great English writers of Post-Apocalyptic fiction. For example; John Christopher's short and gripping post-earthquake novel, A wrinkle in the Skin or PD James' The Children of Men*, a great introduction to the genre, set in the near future after a very interesting disaster. From America we get the sobering modern release; The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Australia is well represented by Nevil Shute's pessimistic but compelling novel; On the Beach. Film has also been used to explore this topic to varying degrees. Great movies in this genre in no particular order are; Deep Impact, 12 Monkeys, 28 Days Later, Quiet Earth, The Day After Tomorrow, I am Legend, Reign of Fire, The Postman, Waterworld, Apocalypto and the Mad Max series. The recent television show Jericho is a celluloid classic of this genre set in small town America after a nuclear war.

Wikipedia says the top ten risks to civilisation are:
  1. Ice age
  2. Global pandemic
  3. Megatsunami
  4. Ecological disaster such as widespread desertification
  5. World population and agricultural crisis
  6. Pole shift theory (This one seems dubious, only compasses would be effected.)
  7. Supervolcano
  8. Nuclear War
  9. Bio-Chemical War
  10. "Divine Event" (I added this one.)
Discover magazine lists the top nine 'world as we know' it ending events:
  1. large asteroid or comet impact
  2. solar flare
  3. supernova
  4. gamma-ray burst
  5. black hole
  6. alien attack
  7. death of the sun
  8. galactic doom (sounds fun they mean the eventual burning out of the galaxy)
  9. death of the universe
Not only is the 'Post-Apocalyptic' genre ripe for all sorts of sociological commentary and insights into the human character I think there is a useful theological insight here as well. There are several 'disasters' in the Scriptural storyline: Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden, Noah's flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Exodus, the first destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, "that great and terrible day of the Lord" foretold in Joel, the death of Jesus, the second destruction of Jerusalem** and the final apocalypse at the end of time.

Some post-apocalyptic pictures from the rust belt of Detroit. [ht Tony]


Footnotes:
* Avoid at all costs the film of the same name, it's based on an idea the director had, after his deaf aunt, twice removed, heard part of the book on audio-tape told her cleaner who passed a synopsis of the plot to the director while he was attending "death to George Bush party." Ahgh I want that hour and a half of my life back.
** This one borders on speculation but given how close some of the NT books were written to this event and it's political and religious significance, it's worth putting into the timeline.

10 comments:

Radagast said...

I'm with you on several of those films -- but thanks for the warning on "Children of Men."

I read and enjoyed the book of "The Postman" long before I saw the film, but Hollywood did a much better job there.

As a child, I loved John Christopher's "Prince in Waiting" and "White Mountains" series, both within the genre.

Post-Apocalyptic fiction forces people to reflect on human sinfulness and on the purpose of life. It cannot merely be (as so many people today suggest) the growth of civilisation, if we can imagine standing there at civilisation's demise, and asking "what do we do now?".

Different authors give different answers to that question of course: Nevil Shute suggests suicide; David Brin in "The Postman" suggests restablishing contact between people; Walter M. Miller in "A Canticle for Leibowitz" suggests that -- given human nature -- repeating history is inevitable.

Scott said...

Seems appropriate to add the novel Solar Flare, by Larry Burkett.

Luke said...

Thanks Radagast, it's an interesting question to ask about Christanity, how much would survive? (And of those bits would they be the good bits?) You've done some thinking about this would you be interested in a guest post?

Thanks for the recommendation Scott.

Radagast said...

I was thinking more of the personal philosopico-religious aspects of reading post-apocalyptic fiction, actually.

As to post-apocalyptic *theology*, we know what that looks like: Augustine wrote it as the Christian-Roman Empire was being destroyed around him. And the Church did change in various ways, but not in essentials.

I have more to say on that topic, but perhaps not just yet.

Jereth said...

interesting blog you have here, Luke, I'll try to keep up with it.

Apocalypse interests me a lot. I like thinking about cheery things like megatsunamis, asteroid impacts and global pandemics -- it keeps life from being too boring.

Seriously though I have become a believer in peak oil as the "catastrophe" that will destroy life and civilisation as we know it. Around about 2015 oil demand will radically outstrip supply, causing prices to increase tenfold, a wipeout of the stockmarket, a collapse of agriculture and trade, widespread starvation and disease (due to inability to transport food and medicine), and a World War centred on the Middle East as China, India, the US and EU fight each other to take control of the dwindling oil reserves.

http://www.aspo-australia.org.au/

But that's more than 5 years away, so keep going with the theology degree mate. :-)

JD said...

Did you just say that Reign of Fire is a great movie??

Luke said...

Hi Jereth and John.

Reign of Fire was a great movie, sure the premise was far-fetched - earth after an invasion of dragons, but like Waterworld and The Postman you go into these movies appreciating the genre, the smaller motifs and other such qualities.

Peak Oil, either a sudden or a slow apocalypse, I reckon it'll be the latter.

Arthur said...

I like it... Do we share a fascination with dystopia and dystopian fiction?

John said...

Wow. You mentioned Z is for Zachariah... this was a complete blast from the past for me. I dread thinking about how many actual years it has been since I read it. Now that you mention it, it was post-apocalyptic par excellence.

Keep up the good work!

JB

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