The Beauty of Death, Despair, and Suffering

Now that I’ve creeped you out a little bit, I thought I’d spend some time talking about one of my favorite genres, since I don’t talk about what I read all that much. Post-apocalyptic fiction has always been utterly fascinating to me, and after thinking on it for a few years, I think I’ve discovered why.

Often times when we see PA fiction, it is drenched in darkness, or incredibly low lighting. This is an interesting thing about humans; No matter how technologically advanced we become, and no matter how smart we might think we are, we are still creatures and we still long for the basic primal instincts. Just like a plant, we’re constantly reaching for the warmth of the sun. It feels good, provides us nutrients, if we don’t get enough of it we become depressed, and of course we use it for vision as well. Once you take that away… the game changes. This is one of the reasons why people have long had a stance of darkness equals bad and goodness equals light, simply because the light provides so much for us, and the darkness provides so very little. Strange little creatures, aren’t we?

But let’s not stop there. One of the key features of post-apocalyptia that separates it from many genres is that in it, civilization and society are gone, whereas they remain in almost all other forms of fiction. PA can be incredibly interesting because it often times is an examination of what human beings are REALLY like when they’re pressed against a corner with nowhere to run; People will do some fairly crazy shit if you push them far enough, and all it takes is the right trigger and/or lack of consequences for that to become self-evident. Removing civilization and social structure from the narrative formula really lets you explore the space and the doom and gloom of it all. Even more dangerously, it lets you examine the true darkside of people after the gloves have been taken off.

Oddly enough, one of the things I dislike the most is when someone always tries to bring “law to the lawless” and restart the same problems that brought us to the brink of extinction in these stories. You’d think that if it messed us up once before, we’d be wise enough to not try that again, or at the very least try something different. But then, we’re also very stupid creatures, aren’t we?

All in all, post-apocalyptic fiction is really fun for me, simply because I’ve seen a lot of variations on that basic theme, and rarely do you see plot duplication between authors. Everyone seems to bring a really unique spin to the genre, so I never really know what I’m walking into. The only constant that remains seems to be, “What once was, is no longer.”

That alone sends delightful shivers up my spine.



  1. So I’m reading Embassytown, by China Mieville, right? Society is crumbling, everything is falling apart, and the narrator gives us this:

    Whenever any society dies there must be heroes whose fightback is to not change.

    I wonder if those trying to bring law to the lawless and restarting the old ways see themselves as those heroes, as unchanging pillars that the lost might cling to as things go wrong? I wonder if they think that preserving something imperfect is better than losing themselves to the unknown?

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