Apocalypse 1953: Homicidal Alien Blobs

Arthur Clarke’s Childhood’s End was my main pick for 1953 in our survey of post-apocalyptic sci-fi, but John Wyndham’s Kraken Wakes is another great apocalypse novel from the same year. (It was published as Out of the Deeps in the US. Apparently Americans weren’t expected to know what Kraken means, until the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie, because now China Mieville can publish a novel just called Kraken and people purchase it.)

Kraken Wakes is much like The Day of the Triffids in style and development. It’s an apocalypse that develops slowly at first, and then suddenly there’s a tipping point and civilization as we know it could end. Continue reading “Apocalypse 1953: Homicidal Alien Blobs”

Ending the World for 60 Years: 1956

Survivalism, British Style

John Christopher’s 1956 No Blade of Grass is an extremely compelling page turner that portrays our moral traditions and social glue as being so fragile that they can be swept away in a day. Compassion, mercy, and even friendliness are not as hard-wired as we would hope, and they quickly dissolve when the urgency of survival forces us to view all other people as competitors.

Continue reading “Ending the World for 60 Years: 1956”

Ending the World for 60 Years: 1955

Post-apocalyptic Fundamentalism

Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow is one of many post-apocalyptic novels that envision society returned to a 19th century agrarian state. The rural settings of these novels are commonly used to explore life in a society driven by fear, fear or technology, or change, or those who are different. A society based on fear of technology is what Leigh Brackett explores here.

The Long Tomorrow tells the story of a North American society that, in the wake of nuclear devastation, became essentially Mennonite, since it was the Amish and the Mennonites who were able to adapt most effectively to a world without modern, 20th century technology. And thus Mennonite beliefs about technology, in some form or another, spread widely. Technology, curiosity about technology, and scientific knowledge (and the benefits of that knowledge) are frowned upon, and in some cases even punished severely.

This clamp-down on scientific exploration is enforced by the United States government – after the holocaust, the Thirtieth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forces a rural, agriculturalist society on the nation by limiting the size of all settlements to less than 1,000 people. Without industry and the pooled resources of cities, there is no manufacturing, no science, and no technological progress. As a result, people are provincial, superstitious, and suspicious of change, and a ripe harvest for fundamentalist preachers.

Continue reading “Ending the World for 60 Years: 1955”

Ending the World for 60 Years: 1954

Nature is never inexplicable

For 1954, we’re discussing the first vampire/zombie apocalypse in this series: Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. This is a significant subgenre in End of the World fiction, and it reflects the nebulous boundary between horror and science fiction that has been fruitfully occupied by Wells, Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, and many others. If you’ve seen the Will Smith movie version, you know that I Am Legend combines zombie horror with a hard-headed, scientific protagonist like those we encountered in Genus Homo. I Am Legend is significant in our survey of pos-apocalyptic fiction because a key aspect of the book is the idea that nature, even at its most catastrophic and bizarre, is never inexplicable – scientific reasoning always gets to the bottom of the mystery.

Continue reading “Ending the World for 60 Years: 1954”

Post-apocalyptic Neanderthals

Just to reinforce my previous point that it’s natural to think of Neanderthals as living in a post-apocalyptic setting, here’s anthropologist Charles Finlayson:

By the time the classic Neanderthals emerged, during the last interglacial around 125,000 years ago, they were already a people doomed to extinction. Like the hippos, rhinos, and elephants of the eurasian forest, the Neanderthals were a population of living dead, existing on borrowed time.

The Humans Who Went Extinct, p. 116

Finlayson argues that this is so because Neanderthals developed to be ambush hunters, relying on woodlands for close range hunting. Because of climate change after 125,000 years ago, the woodland areas that the Neanderthals exploited best gave way to drier, treeless terrain. Although the Neanderthals survived for almost another 100,000 years, this was the beginning of the end. The apocalypse had already happened, and Neanderthals were playing out the aftermath.

There is more to say on this… stay tuned.

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