Ever since I watched Maximum Overdrive when I was a kid, I have been fascinated by post-apocalyptic fiction and drama. Developed from a short story by Stephen King, Maximum Overdrive explores how a group of survivors come together after machines start turning on the humans who made them. Not your usual post-apocalyptic concept, but it still explored how a small group are left when everyone around them has perished. I remember pretending it was real when I walked my dogs around the fields where we lived. I’d pretend I was the only soul left alive in the area and I’d pretend to be grossed out by dead bodies and gruesome finds, while I plotted in my head how I would continue to survive in this new world.
As a huge Stephen King fan I inevitably went on to devour The Stand – a thumping great book about an apocalypse caused by a virus. I found it so fascinating I read it twice! Everything about it intrigued me. From the outbreak of the virus and the horrific details of how quickly it spread and decimated the population, to the individual stories of the people who survived and how they came together, to the rise of good people and bad people and the ultimate battle between them.
Currently, I am watching The Walking Dead for the first time and I am almost at the end of season 10. I’m utterly addicted! A zombie apocalypse is an even more gory and frightening one, but again, it is the human stories that fascinate me – from survival of the early outbreak, to the hopes and fears of groups trying to find safe places and barricade the walkers out, to the inevitable bad humans who are arguably more revolting and dangerous than the walkers, to the fascinating survival skills the humans pick up or develop along the way. I genuinely feel like should a real end-of-the-world situation arise, I would be better prepared thanks to watching this TV show!
I am also currently writing my own post-apocalyptic series and it’s been great fun but also incredibly challenging. I have delved into dystopia before, with The Tree Of Rebels set far in the future after wars have nearly obliterated the human race, but this is the first time I have attempted post-apocalyptic fiction that starts as the tragedy unravels. It’s challenging because it’s been in my head for so long and I have read and watched so many post-apocalyptic books and films, that I feel a bit intimidated. I so want to get it right that sometimes I struggle to write it at all!
I have however written the first two books and I am half way through book three. Because there is a good chance I will want to go back and alter things I am not releasing any of them until all four books are ready. But writing it, and watching The Walking Dead got me thinking – what is it about this particular genre that fascinates us so much? It’s hugely popular – you only have to look at the various Walking Dead spin-offs in action or in the pipeline, to see that the end of the world as we know it is a big business. Here are a few reasons I think the genre is so popular:
- Dissatisfaction with this world – I don’t think anyone would swap this world for one over-run by walkers, deadly viruses, or rampaging robots, but even so, I do think a dissatisfaction and anxiety about the society we live in fuels our interest in post-apocalyptic fiction. Characters in post-apocalyptic dramas tend to find a new way of doing things. Once they have survived long enough to start rebuilding, they tend to rebuild in a different way as if they have learned from the mistakes of the past, and I think we are curious about this. If everything was razed to the ground and we had to start again, what kind of society would we work to build? I think most of us would opt for a kinder, fairer more environmentally friendly one and that’s interesting to think about.
- Curiosity about how we would react – they say you never truly know how you would react to extreme danger, pain, fear, or the threat of death. We simply have no idea whether we would die easily or become a true survivor. Would we hide away crying, or would we come out fighting? In post-apocalyptic fiction and drama, the weak don’t tend to last long. Characters make stupid mistakes and fall victim to all kinds of terrible deaths. We like to think we would do better. We would be smarter, faster, stronger and more adaptable, but would we? Wondering about this fuels our need to watch and read the genre.
- Fascination with survival skills – in a post-apocalyptic world, characters are forced to go back to basics. Walking instead of driving, using horses instead of cars, building shelters, hunting animals for food, fishing, setting traps, filtering water so it’s safe to drink and so on. In our modern lives we don’t need to do any of these things and we tend not to worry about food or oil running out, but maybe we should. We used to be better connected to nature and we used to do all those things to survive. Things are far too easy for us now and we are softer because of it. Watching post-apocalyptic shows and reading the genre makes us more aware of the need for such survival skills. Anyone with these skills is going to have a better chance of survival and I think we enjoy picking up a few tips, just in case!
- Boredom – I think to a certain extent us humans grow bored of the society we live in. Once you are in the never ending circle of work, pay bills, work, buy food, work, work, work, you wonder if a different kind of life is possible. In post-apocalyptic situations, the characters are freed from the drudgery of the work/money hamster wheel and they can do whatever they like. Life might be dangerous, but it’s certainly never boring.
- Disillusion with the human race – now, I would obviously never advocate population control or the mass death of humans! But like a lot of people, I am endlessly disappointed with the human race. I am frustrated and saddened that they continue to vote for selfish, rich people who continue to wreck the planet. I hate to see our wildlife being decimated, our continuous consumption pushing the planet to the brink. If we are not careful, we’ll have a post-apocalyptic situation on our hands sooner than we think. Human beings can be wonderful, but they are also frustratingly stupid and selfish. I see this more and more around me and I weep for what we are doing to Mother Nature. I can’t help thinking she would be better off without us here. I think we enjoy the genre for this reason too. In books and films where the majority of the population have perished, we get to see what the world would be like without most of here, without us wrecking and polluting, using and abusing it.
- The need to go back to basics – I’ve blogged before about my strange desire for a far more basic life. If I could, I would withdraw from society almost completely. If I could live in a little house or cabin far away from humanity, with woods and fields and a stream around me, I would go in a shot. I would go off-grid and get back to nature. I enjoy watching and reading this aspect in post-apocalyptic shows and books. People living basic lives, at one with nature, far away from anyone else.
- Preparation for the future – sadly I think this might be one of the main reasons the post-apocalyptic genre is so popular. We are faced with climate change disaster and ecological disaster, not to mention soil disaster, and the possibility of more pandemics. Wow – sometimes I wonder how any of us get up and get through the day with all that hanging over our heads! It plays on my mind constantly. I have no idea what will happen but I have very little hope that the powerful people in charge will do the right thing. I think millions of us will suffer and die as things get worse in the coming years and for young people, the situation is even more dire and depressing. Maybe we are fascinated with the genre because we are trying to prepare ourselves for what may be coming our way.
What about you? Are you a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and drama or is it something you avoid? Do you have a favourite post-apocalyptic TV show, film or book? Let me know in the comments!