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Friday, March 26, 2010

Doomer Fiction

I make no apologies or excuses for my book collection. In fact, I highly recommend building a library. In a lower energy world, without mind-numbing entertainment, like television, reading books, as a pastime, will enjoy a resurgence.

I enjoy reading all sorts of books, on all sorts of topics, but I've definitely had my favorite genres and favorite authors. For a very long time, anything by Stephen King was in the TBR. I read The Tommyknockers in a day.

It's probably no surprise, therefore, that the first doomer novel I read was The Stand. I was in high school, and I had some reasons for wishing that such a thing would happen ... and, of course, I'd be one of the survivors ;).

At the time, King's vision was completely fantastic. Certainly, the idea that a super-flu bug could wipe out the entire world was possible, but in that time, in my world, it just seemed incredibly unlikely. And, then, of course, there was that supernatural spin with Granny and the Randall Flagg. Oh, please!

Several months ago, I read Eternity Road, which was an amazing story, and which was probably, partially, responsible for some of the book culling we've done recently. Like Stephen King, Jack McDevitt envisions a post-epidemic world, but unlike King, McDevitt's world is centuries after the epidemic has killed off most of the population. The epidemic decimated the population, and in their attempts to simply survive, many parts of culture were lost, including the books, but there is the rumor of a library where the old volumes were preserved.

While I was reading the book, I thought, if I had to compile a collection of the best of the best, what books would I include ... which would I exclude? Which books would I want our future generations, people who will not have grown up as we have, to read to give them a sense of who we are? It's a fairly daunting exercise. There are a lot of things about our society and our culture of which I am not proud, but I think knowing about our ancestors, with all of their warts, is useful, if for nothing else than to show us how bad we can be in hopes that we'll strive to be better. It doesn't happen, usually ... but it's a useful theory, I think :).

Mass die off from disease seems to be a popular theme in doomer fiction. Despite his belief in the Long Emergency and the inevitable economic collapse leading to TEOTWAWKI, Kunstler's doomer novel World Made by Hand also speaks of a mass die-off due to disease (although it was preempted by some other catastrophy, and the die-off was exacerbated by a lack of modern medical treatments). What I don't like about his novel is that he also inserts a supernatural element. It's small and very minor to the story, but it's there. I'm actually looking forward to The Witch of Hebron: A World Made by Hand Novel to see where he takes it.

Some writers explore other end-of-the-world scenarios. In his novel, Last Light, Alex Scarrow explores the possibility that we are being manipulated by some group of very powerful, very wealthy individuals. He brings to full focus the conspiracy theories regarding who is really controlling our world economy and the irony is that in trying to manipulate population control, the "group" ends up destroying what they've worked so hard to build. The comeuppance aspect was actually pretty satisfying to me.

So far, Last Light is probably my favorite, except that I like to think that we wouldn't degenerate so quickly to mass chaos. I'd like to think that the average (adult) person is a little smarter than to drink untreated water. I like to think that, but I know it's probably not true. Many people tend not to think much in an emergency situation ... and then, there are, of course, the winners of such dubious honors as The Darwin Awards, who would do just as Scarrow predicts ... well, we can hope their stupidity will kill them before they can do any real harm to the rest of us.

Compared to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, those other novels are optimistic. To say that McCarthy's novel is not optimistic is a gross understatement of mass proportions. All life, with the exception of man, has been destroyed, and while McCarthy seems to want to end on a happy note, he's already set the precedent - there is no plant life, thus, there is no hope. The novel actually gave me nightmares.

Currently, I'm reading S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire. It's both optimistic and hopeful. If any of the novels prove to be true, I hope it's this one, and I hope I can find some horse wrangler who knows how to make swords out of old car parts ;).

The likeliest TEOTWAWKI scenario is one that we haven't even considered or planned for, and we can't plan for all possibilities, but we can explore our options for when the world becomes something we no longer recognize.

What's useful to me about these fictitious TEOTWAWKI scenarios is the thought exercise that is involved. I don't read for pure entertainment value (although some books certainly provide a lot of that, as well), but rather to push me to think about what I would do if ....