Apocalypse Fiction: Is This How The Story Ends?

Have you noticed that in the last ten years or so there are a lot more pieces of fiction dealing with the apocalypse?  While it is true that these kinds of stories have been produced en mass since the 50’s, they haven’t been a bigger part of pop culture as they are now.  One of the highest rated TV shows on right now is The Walking Dead about the zombie apocalypse, and a few years ago, The Road won the Pulitzer.  Why have these stories captured the minds of so may people?

In the 1950’s, when a lot of this kind of fiction got started, it made sense.  We’d just created the bomb and were trying to use stories to explain to ourselves what that meant.  But the cold war is over, sure there’s still a mild treat that one of these things is going to go off, but it doesn’t seem like the entire world is going to get vaporized at the drop of a hat.  I don’t think the current fiction about the end of the world has much to do with nuclear war scares.

In the 50’s the world ending was a scary thing and the stories had a horror edge to them.  Our current crop of apocalypse fiction serve as a kind of empowerment fantasy.  Yes, scary things are still going on but I think the stories are hitting a different nerve in the reader or viewer.

One thing you’ll notice about shows like The Walking Dead is that there are a lot of people still alive.  Thus increasing the likely hood that you the viewer would actually survive something that would end civilization.  The world is not empty. Sure the government is gone, but a lot of people would say that’s a good thing.  Now the characters are free from any legislation or person telling them what to do.  Also, all that technology that no one understands is gone.  Now things can get back to “good old days,” where people had to do hard work for their dinner and we as a people understood where things came from.

Spoiler alert: none of that is true.  If even the power grid went out, no one, including you, would be able to figure out how to keep themselves alive long enough to even survive the rampant looting that would happen.  If you look at a lot of the characters in stories like this, they just so happen to have every skill they need to look after themselves or others.  They can hunt, shoot, fix electronics, fight, bater effectively, build tools, hide in the woods, or anything else that happens to come up.  Even if you know some of those things, your not going to know the one thing that is going to save your life.  If society falls apart you’re going to be sold as food just like everyone else.  That’s assuming you even make it past the initial event.

Another reason the end of the world is such a sexy concept is that if it were to happen, it would forgive the debt record.  No need to pay some who is already dead.  Your student loads are now gone.  Enjoy the five seconds you have left to live.

Finally, I think people like the apocalypse because it’s an ending.  If you talk to any historian, they’ll tell you that all human history is, is a collection of stories.  If all of human history is one serial story then the apocalypse would be an end.  Sure, it’s “and then they all died,” but it’s still an ending.  Humans love narratives and any good story ends.  It doesn’t keep going into infinity which is the much more likely outcome to the human race.

Because if we where going to end the world, we would have done it in the 1940’s when we made the bombs in the first place.

Doctor Who: The World’s First Transhuman

November 23 is the 50th anniversary of the British TV show Doctor Who, and like all good connoisseur of Science Fiction, I am a huge Doctor Who fan.  I’ve been into the show ever since the reboot in 2005.  The Sci-Fi channel – back when it was spelled like that – got a hold of it and started playing it after the second season of Battlestar Galactica.  It had aliens, time travel, and comedy.  I was hooked, and so is the rest of US based sci-fi nerds.

But this wasn’t the first time Doctor Who had tried to make it in America.  In 1996, Fox tried to bring back the show with a TV movie.  This was going to function as a back door pilot.  While that may sound a little dirty, what it actually means is a made for TV movie that – if it gets enough ratings – it will get picked up to series.  This was actually how the Battlestar Galactica remake go turned into a series.

I remember that film back in 96.  I recorded it off TV, but I messed up the tape somehow and the sound cut out about half way through.  It didn’t really matter.  I thought the visuals were cool, so I watched my tape a few times even if I wasn’t sure of everything that was going on.

Sadly the views of my tape did not translate to ratings and show wasn’t picked up for series until the middle of the next decade.  Cut to now, and I just got done watching some episodes of reboot and it got me thinking.  Why was this show canceled back in 89 and why wasn’t it picked up in 96?  Why did it take almost 20 years for us to see a proper Dr. Who series on TV?

I think our society wasn’t ready yet for the kind of metaphor that the Doctor represents.  By 2005, the Internet had proven it was here to stay, bottom had basically fallen out of space travel, and cell phones were just on the edge of becoming full computers and usher in the Mobile Revolution.  My generation’s great journey isn’t going to be one to the west or space, it’s going to be to the inside.  We are going to use the web and microcomputers to become Transhuman.

This is what the Doctor represents.  He is a metaphor for the Transhuman.  He’s a lens for what we can become.  His race conquered death through technology, which if you follow tech news, is something that we are constantly brushing our fingers against.  He seemingly knows everything about every culture even if he hasn’t been to that place before.  This is something that was as a culture or experiencing for the first time with our ability to check Google and Wikipedia at any time from our cell phones.  And the technology he uses is so unknowable that it just looks like nonsense when it is being operated, which if you really think about it, is what our technology would look like to any outsider.

Every society throughout time has had to deal with changes and its surroundings.  As a way of dealing with this, we create metaphors in stories to explain our “now” to us on a subconscious level.
Our current situation is this: we are becoming more than human everyday because of our constant connection to the Internet and our evolving technology.  It’s scary because its new and we need some way of making sense of it.  There isn’t a better metaphor for this than the Doctor, who is alway changing and reinventing himself as we must learn to do, all while still having a good time.

Happy 50th birthday Doctor Who, we are going to need you for the next fifty.