Apocalyptic fiction: why we love it

So the nukes have fallen...

Then come the plagues...

...Soon after, the entire world slides into barbarism...

Imagine, nuclear winters, radiation fallout, the decay of technology, and small, surviving bands of humans forced to make a life for themselves on a fearsome new earth.

The man in me--the crazy, bare chested, mountain loving, sunset craving, animal hunting man--basks in this insane desire to be stripped of all civilized comfort, and to survive in the wild. What would cause me, and many like me, to have this desire in any quantity?

I think there are many reasons, several of which I haven't yet fathomed, but I've come up with a few.

1) Apocalyptic fiction restores a sense of discovery to the world.

It is human nature (arguably more so the male side of human nature) to discover. To see new sights. Experience breathtaking vistas. Basically, we don't want to have our deep sense of wonder hit a barrier. But for many of us, we've done just that. We live in a city or town. There are roads everywhere...paved roads. There are police officers, fences, and gas stations. Signs, signs, everywhere a sign. So what do we do?

Enter the nuclear devastation, and voila, we're back to square one.

2) Apocalyptic fiction strips civilization of its muckiness.

No more schedules or routines. No more bureaucracy. No more Internet, TV, video games. Humans are left to deal with each other, and do it in person. When these things, rituals of our culture, are removed in apocalyptic fiction, often it forces humans in to real, true communities. The kind where everyone knows everyone, and people have each others' backs. This, I admit, is a romantic element of apocalyptic fiction, but it is why we read it. Because at our hearts, we want real relationships with community, and our present culture is much too individualistic for this.

Thus we send in a nuke to return us to our need for others.

3) Apocalyptic fiction drives main characters into REAL thinking...the philosophical BIG question kind of thinking.

Pettiness and gossipy drivel of the the television brand need not rear its worthless little head. Apocalyptic fiction stirs characters to take stock of their lives. It is easy to live in our culture of individualism and materialism when were so comfy cozy in our tiny little lives, but send in a nuke, or a plague...bring us to our knees...heal our self-deception.

When the Twin Towers fell, America united. Remember the American flags on every car? It shook us up as a country, and as individuals. It reminded us of our own mortality. Apocalyptic fiction does this in the same way.

Instead of fighting traffic, life is a fight for survival. Instead of taking life for granted chasing after petty goals, we begin to ask, "What is life's purpose? Why do I exist?"

4) Apocalyptic fiction takes away needless dissatisfaction.

We are creatures that live and die. How often we forget this in our fast-paced lives. We're easily unsatisfied, but quick to want. We live like kings but want like beggars. Strip that way. Off, off and away. What is really important? Relationships and the love that binds them together. It's kind of hard to put relationships in their proper place when we want something that can't love us...like a car, a new flat screen TV, or a whatever shiny commercialized object that blinds us and makes us unhappy.

Nuke it away.

AND SO...in conclusion: I'm definitely not saying we should all go away with the attitude, "By golly, someone aught to nuke the frazzoolee out us so we can put things in order." All I want to share is that apocalyptic fiction, like all good fiction, should make us evaluate our lives. It doesn't take a nuke to tear away all the rot and pettiness mentioned above, all it takes is serious thought, and the will power to apply the answers we come away with.

Why not ask the big questions now, before the bombs fall.

After all, maybe YOU won't be one of the lucky ones to survive...


Robert Treskillard said...

Well said!

But even if something catastrophic doesn't happen to society (God forbid), we will, each one of us, get sick and die someday.

So a certain catastrophe lurks in the future for each of us, and I think God plans this for the same reason you mention here ... to force us to think through the big questions and drop all the petty stuff.

When my father was on his deathbed back in 1991, he refused to admit he was dying. This made it very hard to discuss any of those important things. Made it hard for him to hear the voice of God speaking.

The sooner we all "count our days rightly" the sooner we get serious about what is important in life.

Thanks, Brandon.

scriptoriusrex said...

Excellent and eye opening insights. Just what I needed to think about for some upcoming stories I have planned. Thanks.


Brandon Barr said...


Good points, and very well said. Even if were not struck with some catastrophe, we're all going to die one way or another. If we are wise, we'll ponder things now while we still have breath to breath.
The greatest thing a loving God could do to a sick world was to send it death, otherwise we'd be immortally evil...

Thanks for sharing about your father. I won't forget it. That simple story truly illustrates the pride all of us humans have in our hearts. Only through truth can we be free. How often we'd rather live in a lie...

Brandon Barr said...

Hi Scriptoriusrex (Jeff),

Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad to be a small part in your writing adventures!!!

Thanks for stopping by :)

gzusfreek said...

Magnificent and poetic. These are things I have thought about, but never verbalized. This post is a keeper for me!
Of course, I too, am enchanted by apocalyptic fiction. My aspiration is to put something together that someone might someday desire to read. And what a ride that is!
One more thought. It may be easier to dwell on the possibility of a global tragedy rather than our own tragedies, which as hours pass into days which pass into weeks, feel sort of trivial -- when in fact they are not at all trivial, but rather our own apocalyptic-like reality adventures.
Great post!

Brandon Barr said...

Hey gzusfreek :)

You are very encouraging. And your point about global tragedy vs our own tragedy is a good one.

I hope you succeed in putting that story together you're talking about...the desire to move people through fiction runs deep in us artistic types. Fiction is one way things like grace, hope, faith, love, etc. can be revealed to the world. It's definitely what I aspire to as well.

Lets move people...toward God.

Jonathan Synnott said...

Excellent post Brandon! Well put. You said "Wanting like beggars". That is so true. I've been thinking a lot lately about how fortunate we are as a country, how poverty is so prevelant in the world, even in our backyard. Yet I sit and complain about inconsequential things. Your post has put my own thoughts into words. Thank you and God bless you.

azureavian said...

We live like kings but want like beggars.
love that line. yes, this is why i love apocalyptic fiction. i've started posting mine here on blogger, but i haven't finished yet. thanks for commenting on my journal.

Brandon Barr said...

Hey Jonathan!

Thanks for the encouraging words. I love what fiction can teach us. Humans are wired for learning through stories...

Azureavian :)
Thanks for stopping by. May God bless your writing. Apocalyptic fiction seems fun to write...its a mix of the old west and contemporary society...
Keep in touch.


Everyone else so far has said it already, but I'll say it again: Great post!

And, speaking of post (pun alert), I used to own a hardbound copy of Brin's The Postman, and liked it, unlike just about every other person who had read or attempted to read it.

I wrote a short piece of post-apocalyptic fiction that ended up more positive than I expected, and can only speculate it's because of that clean slate you mentioned: the chance to start over and (maybe this time) get it right.

Brandon Barr said...

Hi Keanan,

So you too loved Brin's "The Postman"!!! Man, I started that book and just couldn't put it down. Talk about a character wresting with huge issues...and the sheer heroism of a regular guy taking on so much for the sake of others. Just an outstanding piece of fiction. It's one of my top ten favorite novel's ever read.