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.

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4 Responses to “Slow Apocalypse”

  1. dave andersen says:

    One must pay attention to the popular culture to get a presage about national anxieties. After Hiroshima, for instance, the Japanese made many movies about nuclear radiation and its terrible effects on nature, ie Godzilla. In our times, where did this whole obsession with Zombies ? Vampires? The Walking Dead come from? I’d speculate that we have a strong anxiety about economic collapse — we are never the Zombies ourselves, mind you. It’s mostly the hordes pouring out of the megaopolis, the grasshoppers who did not pay attention like us Aesopean ants, especially the ones living on islands.

  2. Susan C. says:

    If you want to know what a shipwreck here would look like just take a look at the east coast. Still no electricity to a lot of people. Homes that will never be rebuilt for lack of funds and insurance. (and even if insured would they go bankrupt first?) You always think you can do something about a catastrophe but it is nearly impossible to be prepared for everything. However that is not an excuse to not try. Cover your bases to the best of your ability and hope for the best.

  3. wynne says:

    I’ll check the book out, as I’m a great John Varley fan (one of my all time favorite short stories is his early “Persistence of Vision”.) Oddly enough Bill or I checked out a end-of-times-etc tv series called Jeremiah. A bit too visually violent for my taste (I can read it but can’t watch it) but others may like it.

  4. Nancy Ging says:

    Heh, you forgot to mention the subgenre of zombie apocalypse books, too, Randy. Apparently very popular among the young adult/teenager crowd. Not enough for the world to fall apart. Have to worry about dealing with the undead, too, I guess.

    I’ve been looking into stocking up on charcoal to use for cooking heat. Generates too much carbon monoxide, apparently, to use indoors for heating in the fireplace. I don’t know about woodstoves, though. Anyone ever seen charcoal used for home heating? How about a charcoal furnace, perhaps? It’s got some nice features as a fuel, and is compact to store. I found one estimate that said a typical family could prepare meals for a year with 15 bags of briquets.

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