The Allure of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

Why do we find stories about living in the ashes of our destroyed world such enjoyable reads?

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The world as we know it has ended, usually with the horrific death of the bulk of humankind, and only a very small percentage of people are lucky enough, or perhaps unlucky enough, to have survived. Here are six reasons why we, as readers and viewers, find post-apocalyptic fiction so appealing.

Escapism and Appreciation

Like most fictional genres, a post-apocalyptic world offers us a chance to escape from our somewhat mundane lives, if only just for a while, into one that is much more exciting, and in some ways seemingly vastly more simplistic, as responsibility for keeping jobs and paying bills are overtaken by a basic need to survive. We can experience the horror, dread, anxiety, and fear that this genre can bring, and then step away from it unharmed, with a fresh appreciation for the fairly safe life we have in comparison. A nail-biting and panic-inducing post-apocalyptic story can truly put our day-to-day problems and worries into perspective.

Self-Exploration

We can ponder over what we ourselves would do in a post-apocalyptic situation, put our morals to the test and truly consider what decisions we would make and what repercussions they may cause. This works well with stories that have multiple characters all facing the same dilemma, because we usually get to see a variety of responses, from the ones who step forward and become heroes to the ones making terrible mistakes. Post-apocalyptic fiction lets us contemplate on what we would do in an end-of-the-world circumstance and which character(s) we might resemble. Of course, we can never truly know ourselves and what person we would become unless we actually experience a post-apocalyptic world.

Insight

Much of post-apocalyptic fiction depicts a catastrophe that cannot be avoided by mankind, such as alien invasion, the spread of a natural plague or disease, or an ‘act of God’ such as a great flood or an asteroid colliding with Earth. However, plenty of the stories do also highlight the dangers that we, humankind, are creating, and displays the possible futures we could have in store for us if we don’t alter our ways. Topics such as global warming, out-of-control technological advances, and nuclear warfare all hit upon sickeningly realistic future post-apocalyptic scenarios for Earth.

Unexpected Dangers

These stories open our imaginations to new dangers created by, but not directly linked to, the catastrophe that caused the apocalypse.

Once domestic and considered to be man’s best friend, dogs without owners to feed them will quickly form hungry, savage packs, as seen in the TV series The Last Train by Matthew Graham, or The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta.

For a handful of men, without law and order – whether driven by a primitive need to preserve mankind through procreation or a base desire to fulfil their own sexual needs – rape is a real possibility, and women are not the only victims.

We also face the danger of a lack of basic human needs which, in the developed world, we often take for granted. These include clean water, wholesome food and the opportunity to buy new and practical clothing.

With a lack of medical supplies, wounds that would need little medical attention in our usual world will easily get infected in a post-apocalyptic one, and illnesses as low-profile as the common cold or flu can easily take lives.

Fascination and Discovery

The fictional ruins of a post-apocalyptic world, however rusty and moss-covered, are fascinating to discover, whether it be a familiar home or apartment with moulding walls and pitted floor, or certain landmarks that help us to identify an area. The Shannara Chronicles is set thousands of years after the fall of humankind, and throughout the story we occasionally spot items of familiarity, such as dilapidated satellite dishes, barely readable road signs and subway stations that are now home to dangerous creatures of fantasy.

A Flip in Social Hierarchy

The brave and agile Glenn from The Walking Dead used to be a pizza delivery boy before the zombie apocalypse, while Carroll was an opinion-less wife in a violently abusive marriage before she was forced to toughen up and is now considered one of the most dangerous and strong-minded individuals amongst the protagonists that the show follows.

In Nod by Adrian Barnes, the cunning and power-hungry cult leader known as The Admiral of the Blue used to be a disrespected homeless person living rough on the streets before everyone stopped being able to fall asleep, whereas the girlfriend of the protagonist had a high-powered office job before succumbing to insomnia and becoming a cult member herself.

Traits and skills that are considered worthy in our current day and age, and that rank people higher than others on the social ladder, can be turned on their heads in a post-apocalyptic world, where survival of the fittest favours the resilient and strong over the intellectuals. This reversal of roles can feed our imaginations as we wonder how we would act and who we would become in a post-apocalyptic situation.

This dramatic flip in social hierarchy shows that the end of life as we know it isn’t in any way ‘the end’ for the few humans who are left standing after an apocalypse, but merely a new beginning. The literal meaning of the Greek word ‘apocalypse’ means ‘an uncovering’ – a disclosure of knowledge or revelation, and these few survivors living in a post-apocalyptic world have the perfect opportunity for a fresh start.

 

These six reasons show why we, as readers and viewers, truly hanker for a great post-apocalyptic story, and in a world where the threat of terrorism and nuclear war, germ warfare and climate change feel imminent, we truly are ready, prepared and primed for panic.

Rebecca Delphine is an aspiring Young Adult author from Thanet.

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