Ten years ago, I was driving in my faithful Toyota truck. I was almost in Tullahoma when I switched the radio on. The radio was tuned to my usual morning radio show. It was one of those “comic and sideshow” teams out of Nashville. They were usually pretty funny guys, but I can’t recall the names now. When I heard them talking about the World Trade Center in such hyperbolic terms, I actually thought they were pulling a radio prank. I was out of the countryside and into Tullahoma proper before I realized that it was no joke.
Writing a story of social apocalypse has been a real eye opener. I started the story as my own personal venting of my frustration with the apparent inability of our country to function. I see an endless parade of talking heads spouting about the solution to this and that, and wonder why they don’t seem to be able to do the math.
Going in, I thought I had read my way through most of the apocalyptic books on the planet. There are a million approaches. Some are philosophical, some are dire warnings, and some are simple gratuitous violence in a world where the cops have all conveniently disappeared. I was wrong.
Thanks to the help of some of my readers, I’ve learned that post-apocalypse, or PA, is a genre unto itself. Before my enlightenment, I thought it was at best, a dusty corner of the science fiction genre. Not so. Then, I learned that there is a metric ton of it out there.
It’s a good thing. Why is it good that anyone would spend time digging through the worst possible outcome of events? My idea is simple. Maybe you’ve heard it before. Change is the only constant. We Americans are fortunate to live in a country of remarkable stability and prosperity. I can hear you saying, “Prosperity? Look around, dude!”
To that I say, “My point exactly.” Here we are, after several years of lifestyle shifting economic troubles, a week after the longest political posturing argument about not solving an obvious chronic problem, and one day after having our national credit rating lowered to an abysmal AA+ after… What, ninety-five years of being the biggest kind on the economic block. Because our economy is a thing of fantasy, albeit one that we generally agree upon, the interesting aspect to watch is not so much the ludicrous numbers. It’s the attitude of all of us who are afflicted by the fantasy.
Middle class Americans always worry. We worry about getting kids to school on time. We worry about our pets. We worry about our 401(k). We worry about keeping up with the Jones’s. In the grand scheme of things, we worry about trivia. What we don’t worry about is finding a cabbage and a potato for our next meal. We don’t worry about freezing to death. We don’t worry about walking to school, barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways.
But the storm clouds of change build on the horizon. A short look at history shows us to be a young and special experiment, but it doesn’t not show us any reason to think that it automatically lasts forever. We either get it right, manage our system with care, or we have a virtual guarantee that someday, historians will argue over how we failed.
Maybe we do have deeper, more significant worries. Maybe those worries are born of the sad pairing of a loss of faith and a loss of true leadership. Maybe we watch the news every day and wonder if our time of stable prosperity and convenience is at risk for the first time in generations. Maybe that’s the reason why the PA genre is thriving.
What’s the worst that can happen? How bad can it get? Perhaps not so bad. Perhaps we will continue to hold our imaginary system together with string and duct tape while our leadership argues about which group of like-minded politicians to blame. But if not, we can all dive into the world of post-apocalyptic fiction and see what’s in store.
Here’s an example of the hidden genre that I enjoyed.