One of my favorite fiction genres is “post apocalyptic”. That is, SOMETHING happens, maybe a nuclear war, whatever, and suddenly, the world as the characters knew it is gone and the survivors, few or many, have to adapt and try to make a new world and society. Some of these types of books are awful and I barely got through them. Others were so good they literally changed my life in a number of ways–made me think differently about my own life and what kind of future I really want for myself.
Two of my most favorite (and, dare I say, the best) of this genre are “The Stand” by Stephen King and “Dies the Fire” by S.M. Stirling. The story and premises of each book is completely different but they are equally strong in impact to get you thinking about “what if”.
In “The Stand” a “super-flu” bug escapes from a government lab (an all too real scenario) and disperses into the general public. It’s very simple. Either you get it and die within days or you’re immune. In the book, approximately 95% of the world’s population succumbs to this flu in the course of a few months. So, there we are, a few scattered survivors, surrounded by cities, towns and villages of full of dead bodies. All the “infrastructure” still works, only there’s nobody around to run it or there’s no one who knows how to. I mean, could you run the turbines in a dam (or similar) if all the people who previously maintained it simply dropped dead? In the book, each major character begins to have powerful dreams that propel them in certain directions. Overcoming the shock of what’s happened in the world, leaving familiar territory and dead loved ones and venturing out into the complete unknown makes this book simply riveting. Even if you “poo-poo” Stephen King, you should read this book. I first read it (at 800 pages) over a weekend when I was living in New Orleans 30 years ago. Seriously, I could not sleep once I had started it. Then, years later, he re-published the book with edited out material that would have made the book too big to print back then, and I actually bought that edition. In hardback. That will give you some idea of how much I love this book because I rarely buy books anymore, preferring to support the library.
My second (and more recent) favorite proposes an entirely different scenario and one that is potentially even more frightening. In “Dies the Fire” everything it going along as it does every day in our modern society. One night in March, suddenly, there is a blinding FLASH, and the lights go out. At first everyone thinks the same thing, oh, a power outage. Then they begin to realize that the lights have indeed gone out–for good. Nothing that runs on electricity works. No cars, no lights, no computers, no electric furnaces, BATTERIES don’t work, etc. THEN, in the first couple of chapters, they find out that, guess what, GUNPOWDER no longer works, either. It sparks and fizzles when lit, but no longer explodes with the force needed to propel a bullet. Things have CHANGED.
However, unlike King’s book, aside from people who were killed when planes suddenly fell out of the air, or when cars suddenly stopped, etc. nearly the entire population is alive. To me, that’s a much scarier premise. Think of our current food distribution system–it’s totally dependent on long-distance trucking and if the trucks don’t haul, millions of folks won’t eat. Hungry people will do bad things to get food when the situation is desperate.
Stirling begins the book with a number of different groups of characters who find themselves in various forms of “direness”. The interesting thing in this book is that it suddenly plunges modern-minded and educated people back into the time of medieval technology. Hand tools work and knives, swords and bows and arrows still work. People still ride horses and fight hand-to-hand. It’s how quickly the people can 1) accept what’s happened and start working with whatever is at hand, and 2) work together to create societies that support and protect each other without all the kinds of political bullshit that we have today.
Both books appeal to me greatly on different levels. I love Stephen King’s writing and his masterful ability to just suck you into the page. Stirling’s storytelling is equally compelling and I found myself thinking about how we could heat the house, turn the park across the street into farmland, etc. while I was reading his book. Good stuff!
So, here’s my question. Say one of those scenarios or something similar happened in your world. Note that in both scenarios, there is not great destruction of property or infrastructure. Aside from what would happen if something caught fire and either you couldn’t pump the water to it or there weren’t any people around to stop it, and similar things, what happens in both books is not particularly violent or damaging to the actual environment. So, life as you’ve known it is now gone. But you’re still here and you’ve got your wits about you and you’re magically uninjured. What do you? Who do you turn to? If your car, etc. doesn’t work, how do you travel or get food? Do you try to organize the neighbors or get the hell out of Dodge? Do you protect the weak or cut your losses? All these questions take on different answers when real, ACTUAL survival is on the line.
What do you think? What would YOU do?