A couple of years ago I did a post on doomsday fiction, a curious genre of science fiction books that attempt to describe a vision of the future after some apocalyptic event such as nuclear war, peak oil, viral plague, or electromagnetic pulse. These books follow a basic formula where there is 1) a horrific event that destroys or seriously damages large parts of the globe, 2) survivors divided up into good guys and bad guys, 3) a narrative on survival methods and the ethical problems survivors will face, i.e. “Could I shoot someone to protect my family?’ or, “Would I share?” and, finally, 4) in most cases some form of happy ending that demonstrates the resilience and adaptability of the human race.
In his new book Slow Apocalypse, John Varley pulls out all the stops: world-wide destruction of oil fields by an airborne bacteria, massive earthquake, floods from broken reservoirs and firestorm. His setting is Los Angeles. The protagonist is a TV writer who gets a heads up on the impending crisis and begins prepping which puts him ahead of the survival game. But the disasters come so fast and furiously that the reader is left a bit breathless waiting to find out what happens to his family and friends who band together to try and escape a destroyed and now unlivable LA. Escape routes are blocked by quake and landslide and surrounding communities are barricaded to stop the inflow of immigrants. So our small band must slowly work their way out of the city in a wood fueled bus to try and find a new promised land. Along the way there are gunfights and humanitarianism and the inevitable happy ending albeit one of hard physical labor.
Mr. Varley’s book starts a bit slow and contrived but in the middle picks up steam and ends up a page turner that will, no doubt, be made into a disaster flick.
The significance of the books like this is to make us think about worst case scenarios and to give some thought to some basic preparation that we should make for short and long term disasters.
Each doomsday novelist has a different take on what a post apocalyptic future might be like. But the common theme is that everything would be easier if one has some “stuff” put by.
When the Swiss Family Robinson was shipwrecked they were lucky to be able to recover an amazing amount of booty from their ship in the form of foodstuff, supplies and even animals. It made life on their island pretty easy. Right now we are like Swiss Family Robinson. Supplies are plentiful and easy to accumulate. After the shipwreck, if there is to be one, it will be much harder to find the stuff that will give our family comfort and security.