Musings on Fiction and Tropes

Everybody wants to destroy the world – at least in fiction

Have you ever wondered what you’d do in the event of an apocalypse? We had a chat in the car the other day – in a zombie apocalypse would you rather be in the country or the city? In a house or an apartment? A car or a truck? I was amazed at the level of thought that went into the discussion. For the record, I’ve been scarred by too many horror movies set in isolated houses to want to be in a country home in the event of a zombie apocalypse!  Even though I admit it’s probably better to be as far away as possible from a supply of zombie making people.

I spent much of my childhood living under the simmering threat of nuclear winter – it framed our dystopian novels and our sense of how the world would end. I’d thought that had been left behind us – post apocalyptic horrors a mere philosophical conundrum or movie plot – but current events have had me thinking about this more lately. Not so much about the zombies, i admit, but certainly the threat of nuclear war and authoritarian rule seems less unlikely than a few years ago.

We seem to love to talk about post-apocalyptic worlds in fiction. The ‘something shorted out all electrical equipment and the world has regressed to a group of powerful militias ruling everything’ as in ‘Revolution’.   The super disease which spreads through communities killing millions with no discretion (not such a silly idea – Black Plague anyone? Influenza Epidemic?). The natural disaster, ice age, super storm end of the world themes a la ‘The Day after Tomorrow’,  show how puny we are when faced with the power of nature.

Nuclear apocalypse was a big one when I was growing up:  ‘Children of the Dust’, by Louise Lawrence was at one a gripping story I loved and a traumatic threat. 

So what would we do at the end of the world?

Would we stay in tight knit and supportive communities or would we split into conflicting and hostile groups?

Who would take charge? Who would you trust? We’d need doctors. What about plumbing? There are so many things we have that rely on technology. I know teenagers who are convinced they can’t live without their phones. Heck, I know adults who get withdrawal symptoms when they leave their phone behind. Imagine a world without Google to settle arguments and without YouTube to give us video lessons on how to start fires without technology.

We’d need access to water. Food. Would farmers be the new over lords or would their lands and stock be requisitioned?

I also started thinking about refugees.  If (heaven forbid) there was a nuclear conflict in the Northern Hemisphere and millions of people were driven out and down to the southern part of the globe, how many people could we take in New Zealand, for instance? We’d be pretty quickly outnumbered. How would we deal with that? What if contamination spread our way?

I love the idea of the Doomsday Vault with all the seeds ready for renewing the earth. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway is the best known but turns out there are four others – the Vavilov Research Institute in Russia, the National Centre for Genetic Resources in Colorado (U.S.), the Navdanya in India, and Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Project in England.  The seed banks spark beautiful imagery that reminds me of Demeter spreading seeds and walking the earth to bring Spring and new growth to the world. But then I started thinking – what if everyone near it was gone? how would we get there from New Zealand? Especially without google maps? I find it hard to get from one side of the city to another without GPS, I have a suspicion that heading up to the Arctic Circle might be a bit outside my skill set.

I think some of the attraction of post-apocalyptic fiction is that we get a chance to explore some of our greatest fears – the destruction of all that we know, and the possibility of being left alone. Characters who are placed in these conditions have to come face to face with their inner demons and, if they are to survive, conquer them.


Check out my post-apocalyptic fantasy – Dust Boundhere.

I’ll leave you with a couple more questions – answer in the comments!

What’s your favourite kind of apocalypse to read about?

What role do you think you’d take in our post apocalyptic society?

Why do you think we like post apocalyptic fiction so much?

6 thoughts on “Everybody wants to destroy the world – at least in fiction”

  1. This is fantastic! I certainly did have all my zombie apocalypse plans down whilst watching the walking dead, now not so much… but I think we like to imagine ourselves as the ‘survivors’ in a post apocalyptic world and that we could create a new better world or community, if majority were wiped out by plague or nuclear bomb or other.. I think it’s a fantasy of dystopia, it always seems looming yet has never happened, therefore keeping it in the fantasy realm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that theme of reimagining ourselves creating a better world from the ruins of the old is a perennial one. It crops up in politics too. It’s an attractive vision – we see ourselves as the saviours, the ones who will make all right again. I think we tap into that thought every time we think ‘man if I ran things around here…’
      Clean slate 🙂


  2. It is Interesting how often it’s not the apocalypse, but the aftermath that engages the authors – and by implication, one would hope, readers too. Perhaps the apocalypse itself just doesn’t provide enough tension; it needs to be either the climax to something before, or the backdrop to after.

    Maybe the appeal of the post-apocalyptic is that you get a (semi-) clean slate for world/society-building, and the opportunity to bring in primitivism, barbarism, and technology together.

    The best SF in my opinion is that which actually comments on something important about now, through the medium of a world distant in time, place, technology, whatever. A post-apocalyptic setting allows that removal but enables linking to today perhaps more readily than a fantasy world, or the other end of time, or the galaxy.

    Or something. #shallishutupnow

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree – I too like SF that comments on the Now. It sparks thoughts of ‘what would I do in this situation? Is this situation actually happening in some form already?’

    Increased tension through buildup or consequence makes the emotional impact stronger too I think. We’re anxiously anticipating and hoping to avoid the apocalyptic moment, or following along as the character struggles against enormous odds to restore a semblance of normality.

    I’ve often wondered how relationships fare in a post disaster situation? I can see that the trauma could bond people closer, but also that stress and danger could create conflict and tension between people too.


      1. yes I’ve been thinking about that a lot. When you see refugees in post-apocalyptic works it is always a handful, or a few hundred. The fact we have millions from the Syrian war alone is staggering.


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