Monday, July 25, 2011

8 Reasons the Apocalypse Probably Isn't as Cool as it Sounds

I have an unhealthy fascination with stories about the apocalypse. The Stand is one of my three favorite books, but the truth is, I love the genre so much that I have no ability to discern what constitutes good apocalyptic fiction (or movies) from bad. None. Because in my mind, it's ALL GOOD.  

I think this is partly because I imagine myself in the role of the main character (or if not the main character, someone awfully important) and wonder what it would be like to find out what I'm truly made of while traipsing around a haunted funhouse version of America. Wow, Manhattan looks as weird in person as it did in I Am Legend! Boy, they really nailed it!

Plus, these kinds of stories serve as good backdrops for battles of good versus evil, religious discussions, and all manner of themes that I find fascinating, and so it's hard not to imagine how you would do out there, camping by the interstate, drinking boiled water and so on.  

But  have we ever really considered what the apocalypse would be like? 

With that, I unveil my list of eight reasons the apocalypse probably isn't as awesome as we think. 

1. The Surviving Thing 

Those people we come to love and root for in apocalyptic fiction? They're the rare, rare exception. Remember -- the vast majority of us have to die for the survivors to be able to claim they're living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Me? I'll probably die during the first week of the outbreak, before anyone even realizes that there's some nasty new bug going around. You? You'll make it to the second or third wave of infection, right about the time you think you're going to survive and then, oopsie, your lung tissue turns into tapioca. I know you think you're special, but you'll probably be buried at sea with thousands of other plague victims. 

2. The Nuclear Thing

Some months back, I watched a documentary called Life After People (I also watched Aftermath: Population Zero, and the fact that there were two shows produced revolving around this premise should really tell you something about the popularity of the genre). Anyway, there was a brief discussion about the fate of America's nuclear reactors in the event no one was around to keep entering the numbers from Lost and pushing the button (or whatever it is people do to keep reactors from melting down). As I recall, without someone at the wheel, the cooling systems will ultimately fail, and this would be extremely, extremely bad, and let's just say that I hope you find a nice house with a lead-lined basement. 

3. The Loneliness Thing 

Let's say you DO survive. Great. You're the only living human being in any direction for a hundred miles. You'll backpack down to the coast to pick out that awesome beach house you can finally afford, and then after three weeks, you'll be looking back on those lonely Saturday nights in high school and thinking, "whoo, what I wouldn't give for my old Dungeons and Dragons crew to get together!" This is a big damn country. No one's ever going to see you again. 

4. The Undead Thing

I love zombies and vampires (I mean the bad-ass ones from The Passage, not the pretty boys from Twilight), but I'm sorry to say that in the unlikely event we do reformat humanity's hard drive, it probably won't because of some undead virus. There will be no army of evil to fight. I know you've got pictures in your mind about being there as humanity makes its last stand at Yonkers (because I know you read World War Z) or in Philadelphia (because not only did Justin Cronin write one book at about the End Of The World, that sumbitch has promised us THREE!). Forget it. It's going to be some heretofore unknown swamp fever that gets us, and how much you wanna bet it's going to be gastrointestinal in nature? 

5. The What the F*** Was I Thinking Thing

There are probably thousands of people out there, maybe hundreds of thousands of people, who would welcome the apocalypse tomorrow. Stands to reason that at least one of them would survive. Law of averages and all. And then like two weeks in, he's gonna be like, "Those stupid m***** f****** from the Apocalypse Now! message boards didn't know what the f*** they were talking about! Hot survivors my ass! I haven't seen anyone, let alone any good looking girls!"  

6. The Hero Thing

A common trope in apocalyptic fiction is that the main character's true self is revealed in the face of total destruction. Perhaps people are drawn to these stories because they believe that like the characters they come to adore, they too are destined for greatness, but it's their station in life that prevents them from reaching their true potential.  

Well, I've got bad news for you. You'll almost certainly be murdered by the first person you meet because he's too scared and wigged out to find out the apocalypse has brought out the best in you. Or you'll slice your foot open and die of a bacterial infection somewhere along Interstate 10. 

7. The Alien Thing

If most of us are dead, no intelligent species is going to mess around with this planet-sized hot zone. Instead, they'll crinkle their little alien snouts and say to each other telepathically, "Do you SMELL that?"  

8. The Watching All Your Loved Ones Die Thing

If you survive the apocalypse, you'll have what I'm sure is the singular pleasure of watching every person you love die. Boy, doesn't THAT sound exciting? There's a reason that most of our favorite characters from apocalyptic fiction are loners or have little in the way of family when the story opens. 

I'm not the biggest fantasy reader (although I am currently enjoying A Game of Thrones), so apocalyptic fiction is the biggest escape I get as a reader. Like with any good fantasy novel, you're plunged into these fantastical scenarios (without the awkwardness of character names containing three apostrophes), but the thing that sets it apart from the fantasy genre is that these stories are set in a very familiar locale -- your own backyard, rather than the Northern Kingdom of the Seventh Realm of G'la'm'in.

So I will keep on right on reading and watching my beloved stories of the apocalypse. But I'll thank it to stay fictional. 


  1. Haha! Like you, I enjoy reading apocalyptic novels but I don't ever want it to become a reality. I like having a nice house, food to eat, and being disease-free. :)

    I love this post!

  2. The rebuilding thing. An apocalypse isn't likely to pave the way for benevolent, enlightened leadership and reconstruction. Hoping for a second coming of George Washington? Say hello to President Snow.

  3. Really, it's not all good. Have you seen Dolph Lundgren in The Last Warrior? Or tried to read the Ashes series? It's an amazing genre, but when it fails, it fails hard.

    (Check out the Fans of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction and Film page on Facebook.)

  4. Thanks Cherie. Glad you liked it!

    @Matt -- yeah, it won't be pretty.

    @geniuswaitress - I'm proud to say that I have seen it. I also am somewhat proud that I know this bit of trivia -- the movie was also titled "The Last Patrol" at some point. OK, you got me. that was a ludicrous movie.

  5. LOL! I loved #7! Yep, nothing sexy about decomposition, yo. Great post, David!

  6. Don't forget "The Grocery Store Thing" - Pretty sure I'd miss frozen pizza. And ice cream. And Nutella. And...will add to list later. Time for an early lunch!

  7. @Anita -- thanks. And who needs a stinky Earth anyway?

    @Scott -- well, as long as we had Nutella, maybe we could hack it in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I could trade you a jar for a shotgun or something.

  8. mmm, Nutella.

    But yeah, the apocalypse doesn't sound all that glamorous the way you describe it. Another great post.

  9. I have always pictured the post-apocalyptic world as that movie where Rutger Hauer and Joan Chen are playing that game with the dog's skull.
    Sometimes I worry about being prepared for a societal meltdown, but since the smartest step in that direction is probably liquidating my assets into liquor and guns, I have to pass. Of course we could make a break for Lancaster County and see if the Amish (being already self-sufficient) will take us in.