Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt (1913)
End of the world narratives are typically about a fight for survival – people fight for food, shelter, and safety as the asteroid, pandemic plague, or zombie hordes threaten to wipe out human life. This was just as true of SF a century ago as it is today: In 1912, Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague featured armed Berkeley professors, holed up in the chemistry building as a plague swept away civilization; while Garrett Serviss’ The Second Deluge tells of a thousand lucky survivors who, in a modern ark, escape a world-wide flood.
The next year, Arthur Conan Doyle also published a novel about a group of hardy survivors. But the terms of survival in The Poison Belt are much more ironic: Professor Challenger and his fellow adventurers, who had fought off dinosaurs and ape-men on a remote South American plateau in Doyle’s 1912 The Lost World, now confront the extinction of human life as passive observers, watching the destruction of humanity from the window of the “charmingly feminine sitting room” of Professor Challenger’s wife. Continue reading
This week I’ve contributed to SF Signal’s Mind Meld. The question is essentially what science fiction you’d bring to a wedding:
Something old, something new, something borrowed. . .
Recommend three books to our readers out of your list of favorites: An older title, a newer title, and title you discovered because you borrowed it from a friend or a library.
Go check out all of the great responses. My answer focuses on, as you may have guessed, post-apocalyptic SF. The best SF book I ever borrowed from a friend was Dhalgren, a marvelous and very weird New Wave beast that takes place in a fictional ruined city. To go with Dhalgren, I picked two other outstanding weird post-apocalyptic classics, something old (The Night Land of 1912), and a strange new book that more people should read (the 2012 Blueprints of the AfterLife). Head on over and whet your appetite for some very weird post-apocalyptic SF.
Mike was recently interviewed by Book Punks about his series of reviews of post-apocalyptic fiction through history (#apocalypsethen) and how this fiction speaks about our relationship with science.
I love the genre because the apocalypse is a fascinating thought experiment: what happens when all of the science and technology that we use to mediate our interactions with nature and with each other disappears? What happens to human nature when it confronts the raw forces of nature without the intervention of technology? – Mike White
Mike also does not give himself very good odds of survival in a post-apocalyptic scenario, which is a bit depressingly realistic (personally, I think Ben is the most likely of The Finch & Pea staff to survive – dude can make good food out of anything, even cooking over a campfire).
Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague (1912)
We’re all familiar with classic scenes of a brutal post-apocalyptic world like this: A group of refugees from the pandemic is holed up in an abandoned building with a cache of food and arms, firing on a gang of assaulting raiders. Or, a former professor of English Literature, clad in goat skins and huddled around a fire, is telling his dirty, illiterate grandsons about life before civilization vanished.
Today these scenes are standard fare in post-apocalyptic fiction, from The Road to The Walking Dead. But when Jack London wrote them a century ago, they weren’t. The genre itself had been around for a long time, and many of the classic themes, settings, and catastrophes had already been introduced. However, nobody before Jack London had described a collapse of civilization so violent or an aftermath so squalid. In the century since, images of a gritty and brutal world in ruins have become almost a requirement in this genre. Continue reading
William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land (1912)
Back in 1805, the French priest de Grainville wrote what could be considered the first Dying Earth novel. Despite many obvious science fictional elements, Le Dernier Homme was a religious fantasy, inspired by the pseudo-biblical style of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Scientist-prophets fulfilled God’s will by conquering nature with science, but in the background was an invisible world of mystical spirits who were part of God’s master plan.
A century later, a quirky British poet produced another major dying earth vision by flipping this formula: he brought the mysticism to the foreground, and put the science in the background, creating a completely secular and much darker vision of earth’s final era. William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, a flawed beast of a book, is a milestone in the genre — a forerunner not only of now-classic Dying Earth fantasies by Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe, but also of psychologically refracted post-apocalyptic visions like Galouye’s Dark Universe and Dick and Zelazny’s Deus Irae. Continue reading