I’ve always been a big fan of end-of-the-world stories. I don’t know why. Something about them just tickles my imagination. Maybe it’s my own buried desire to test myself against such circumstances to see if I would come out on top. Maybe it’s just that the stories that come out of such situations, the good versus the evil, intelligence versus stupidity, the luck versus the well-planned action, the way the characters react to the changed circumstances and to each other — all of that grabs me and pulls me in
Stephen King, author of what I consider to be the gold standard for post-apocalyptic fiction, once said in an interview, “The Stand was particularly fulfilling, because there I got a chance to scrub the whole human race, and man, it was fun! … Much of the compulsive, driven feeling I had while I worked on The Stand came from the vicarious thrill of imagining an entire entrenched social order destroyed in one stroke.”
Maybe that explains it for me. It’s just fun!
I’ve tried to write some post-apocalyptic fiction; so far I’ve been unsuccessful. I think it’s because I put myself into the stories too much. I’ve tried writing main characters that I can’t really identify with too much, but that’s hard too. I don’t know if others have the same problem, but I like to sort of “be” the main character. Not me, obviously, but with enough of “me” in him (or even in her). It’s hard with post-apocalyptic stories because I tend to think of how I’d react in the same situation and write my character that way. And I’m a conflict-avoidance type, and you can’t really have a good story without a lot of conflict, or so it seems to me.
I already mentioned that I see The Stand as the gold standard. That’s my personal opinion, but I have my reasons. It’s a classic good versus evil story, and I really like the way that the survivors of the superflu separate. People’s basic nature makes them lean one way or another, but yet there are shades of grey in the good and the bad. It doesn’t hurt that King wrote some great characters. Nick Andros, Larry Underwood, Stu Redman, Frannie Goldsmith, even Harold Lauder are all characters that open themselves to exploration and contemplation. They are all complex with complex motivations.
My second favorite story is Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. It’s a very different story. There are no supernatural elements in this one. It’s all about people. And it’s probably the type of story I prefer, generally speaking. In this story, a comet is streaking toward Earth on a near-collision course, and it is first noticed by a couple of amateur astronomers. The tale follows several different characters whose paths converge on a Senator’s ranch in the mountains. One of the main characters is a TV reporter who decides to do a story on how to prepare for a possible disaster. I found his preparations to be a very interesting part of the story. In the end, it’s a story with a hopeful vision for humanity — the Senator (a good guy; could a story like this be written today?) says with his dying breath, “Give my people the stars.” Science and technology win out, and I like this vision. It’s almost opposite of King’s version: in The Stand technology is depicted as being sought by the forces of evil, even if its purpose is turned to good in the end.
So what prompted me to write about this stuff today? It was my weekend reading of Bobby Adair’s Slow Burn books. There are four in all, and I’m about half-way through the third. It’s sort of a zombie apocalypse. Take King’s plague and put it with Night of the Living Dead but throw in the self-reliance message from Niven and Pournelle and you have Adair’s vision of the future. I’ve read a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction, and I have enjoyed most of the sub-genre coming out of indie fiction (especially Edward Robertson’s Breakers series and of course, Hugh Howey’s Wool series), but I’m not a huge fan of the zombie versions. They’re okay. I’ve read several of them. They just aren’t my favorite ways to approach this sub-genre. they aren’t what I’d choose to write.
But this one is grabbing me more than any of the others I’ve read, including ones by Amanda Hocking, Dan DeWitt, Brett Battles, Scott Nicholson, and others. Why? I think it’s the characters. I really like the main character, Zed. He reacts like I think I might react (not that I’d get the gun stuff) but the way he latches onto the other characters and hangs on for dear life. I like Murphy too. They make a great pair.
But it’s also the situations he finds himself in. Setting the story in the locations Adair sets it in works for me as well. Having Zed work his way around the college and then around the suburban homes and such captures my imagination also.
I have a list of “End of the World” stories on Amazon and I think these stories are going to get added to it as worthwhile post-apocalyptic fiction very soon.