Monday, November 30, 2009

The End of The World – But Not As We Know It

There are many ways the world as we know it might end. Plague (man-made and natural), nukes, asteroid impact, alien invasion, collapse of the global economy, agents that destroy petroleum and its by-products, electrical storms and even conspiracy by machine intelligence. You name it. It could even be a soft apocalypse (the term is copyrighted – so don’t even think of nicking it for your indie band) – a degeneration that takes centuries but still reduces humanity to scavenging troglodytes.

I have always loved discovering, along with the protagonist, relics of the world that came before – a burnt out car, a copy of Gone with the Wind or an old wind up turn-table with a suitably nostalgic disc ready to go (We’ll Meet Again etc. - Why is it never something like Falco – Amadeus?).

The ‘I am Legend’/Omega Man set-up, copied by more zombie films than I can count is especially satisfying. A lone survivor, maybe with dog in tow, roots through the dusty shelves of a supermarket for tinned ham, or tries on a shiny new tracksuit at the sporting goods store. Maybe he (or she – the genre has ample female leads) meets a survivor and takes them back to the hideout for a bit of jiggery-pokery with a view to repopulating the planet with their hideous mutant offspring.

Sometimes we encounter the after-the-apocalypse-roughly-half-of-society-suddenly-decides-they-want-to-be-punks set-up. The music would probably be better than pre-apocalypse, but lets face it, most punks are wankers who think spitting makes you look hard/interesting and that a meccano bike with a flame thrower on the front is a good way of getting around. Geebags. The set-up, however, works as an excellent device for the writer and audience to work out their angst at being trapped in a world full of proto-Morlocks. It makes for difficult reading because it confronts us with our greatest fear. No! Not ourselves! I’m taking about those other assholes (ie. everyone NOT like us, gentle reader) who want to make a balls of everything just so they can run around with spears and play with angle grinders. William Golding was right!

Anyway. Enough of that. Here is my list of the Top Ten Post-Apocalypse Novels:

1. Earth Abides. George R Stewart
One of the great works of speculative fiction of the 20th Century. Intelligent, compelling and moving.

2. Mockingbird. Walter Tevis
A hopeful and deeply satisfying tale of a futuristic idiocracy and the struggle of both man and machine to escape the world they have made.

3. Where Late the Sweet Bird Sang. Kate Wilhelm
A lyrical, poetic novel that introduced concepts on the subject of cloning that manage to appear cutting edge nearly four decades after its first publication.

4. Parable of the Sower. Octavia Butler
Followed by Parable of the Talents. In the future, our greatest enemy will be tosspots with the angle-grinders and spears. But the stars will remain our destiny! Far out! Featuring a protagonist that is more complete than 60% of ‘real’ people.

5. Emergence. David Palmer
So the kid was a genius, black belt, fully-qualified doctor capable of flying a plane? Who would have known?

6. The Amtrak Wars. Patrick Tilley
Yes, all of them. The guilty pleasure of the bunch? I read through all five in about two weeks and can’t remember any of it. Other than that I really enjoyed it. (But that was about 17 years ago! And I probably should have been studying at the time).

7. The Postman. David Brin
Is Mister Brin the most intelligent writer currently putting fingertips to keyboard? Probably. Don’t let the Costner connection put you off.

8. The Stand. Stephen King
Yeah I know. Sorry.

9. Davy. Edgar Pangborn
Lusty & funny. but I ran out of patience with it a bit towards the end.

10. This is The Way Ends. James Morrow.
I’m cheating! I just bought this one but didn’t start it yet! Bet it will be good, though!

Also rans:

Lucifer’s Hammer by Niven & Pournelle. The ultimate disaster movie put to paper.

Snow by Adam Roberts. If his books ended as well as they started he’d be 70% better than he is. If you know what I mean.

Honourable mention:
Fallout 3. We are not worthy. I still dream of Super Mutant headshots. As soon as my Xbox comes back from the fixing people, I will be there once more for the game of The Year Edition.

Planet if the Apes by Pierre Boulle.
Yous maniacs!
For the movie version: Charlton Heston 1 (Get your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!), Mark Wahlberg 0.

Yeah, it was a pretty dodgy film overall, but how compelling was the central premise?

The Girl in the Blue Bikini by Me
Longlisted for the 2009 Aeon Award. Like nothing you have ever read. Features Jessica Alba.

Do not read even if you are in prison and are afraid to go into the yard in case Mr Big takes a fancy to your fresh little ass:

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller. Undecipherable muck. Not just uninteresting, but annoying to boot.

The Road by Cormac Mc Carthy. Absolute shite. What point does it serve to have a novel without the slightest redemption? What purpose does a study of unremitting despair serve? Is it just apocalypse porn? Plus, unfettered by the likes of plot, character development or meaning, McCarthy gets to concentrate on language to the exclusion of all else. It might be the kind of thing that makes Booker Prize judges jizz their jim-jams, but I warn you! Stay clear!


  1. must not reads are the entire hoop load of twilight saga books...they don't seem to have made it to the editors and so there are about 350 pages too many in each book...and wow what a moany hole Bella is and how many times can she try to kill herself and what's all this about getting knocked up in her teens???...I confess to reading bits of it while sick and in a fever.

  2. Aaah!.... Amtrak Wars! Loved them, read thru' them at breal neck speed and like you couldn't tell you much bout them... I do recall something with latter day samurai...maybe....feck it, should try and find the books and read them again.
    (I know this is a late comment...just got the 'puther back and am going a bit nuts :))