Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction

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Apocalyptic fiction is a sub-genre of science fiction (or, in some cases, the more general category speculative fiction) that is concerned with the end of civilization through nuclear war, plague, or some other general disaster. Post-apocalyptic fiction is set in a world or civilization after such a disaster. The time frame may be immediately after the catastrophe, focusing on the travails or psychology of survivors, or considerably later, often including the theme that the existence of pre-catastrophe civilization has been forgotten (or mythologized). Post-apocalyptic stories often take place in an agrarian, non-technological future world, or a world where only scattered elements of technology remain. There is a considerable degree of blurring between this form of science fiction and that which deals with false utopias or dystopic societies.

The genres gained in popularity after World War II, when the possibility of global annihilation by nuclear weapons entered the public consciousness. However, recognizable apocalyptic novels existed at least since the first quarter of the 19th century, when Mary Shelley's The Last Man was published. Additionally, the subgenres draw on a body of apocalyptic literature, tropes, and interpretations that are millennia old.


[edit] Ancient predecessors

Numerous societies, including the Babylonian and Judaic traditions, have produced apocalyptic literature and mythology dealing with the end of the world and of human society.[1] The scriptural story of Noah and his Ark describes the apocalyptic end of a corrupt civilization and its replacement with a remade world. The first centuries AD saw the creation of various apocalyptic works; the best known (due to its inclusion in the New Testament) is the Book of Revelation, which is replete with prophecies of destruction.[1] The corpus of New Testament apocrypha also includes apocalypses of Peter, Paul, Stephen, and Thomas, as well as two of James and Gnostic Apocalypses of Peter and Paul. The beliefs and ideas of this time, including apocalyptic accounts excluded from the Bible, influenced the developing Christian eschatology.[citation needed]

Further apocalyptic works appeared in the early Middle Ages. The 7th century Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius includes themes common in Christian eschatology; the Prophecy of the Popes has been ascribed to the 12th century Irish saint Malachy, but may in fact date from the late 16th century. Islamic eschatology, related to Christian and Jewish eschatological traditions, also emerged from the 7th century. Ibn al-Nafis's 13th century Theologus Autodidactus, an Arabic proto-science fiction novel, used empirical science to explain Islamic eschatology.[2]

[edit] Modern works

[edit] Pre-1900 works

The first work of modern apocalyptic fiction may be Mary Shelley's 1826 novel The Last Man. The last portion becoming the story of a man living in a future world emptied of humanity by plague, it contains the recognizable elements of the subgenre. It is sometimes considered the first science fiction novel, though that distinction is more often given to Shelley's more famous earlier novel, Frankenstein.

The 1885 novel After London by Richard Jefferies is of the type that could be best described as "post-apocalyptic fiction"; after some sudden and unspecified catastrophe has depopulated England, the countryside reverts to nature, and the few survivors to a quasi-medieval way of life. The first chapters consist solely of a loving description of nature reclaiming England: fields becoming overrun by forest, domesticated animals running wild, roads and towns becoming overgrown, the hated London reverting to lake and poisonous swampland. The rest of the story is a straightforward adventure/quest set many years later in the wild landscape and society; but the opening chapters set an example for many later science fiction stories. Similarly, Stephen Vincent Benét's short story "By the Waters of Babylon" (1937) describes a young man's coming-of-age quest to a ruined New York City after an unspecified disaster.

Ignatius Donnelly's 1890 novel Caesar's Column is another noteworthy entry in the genre.[citation needed]

[edit] Post-1900 works

[edit] Nuclear war

The period of the Cold War saw increased interest in these subgenres, as the threat of nuclear war became real. Paul Brians published Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, a study that examines atomic war in short stories, novels, and films between 1895 and 1984. Since this measure of destruction was no longer imaginary, some of these new works, such as Mordecai Roshwald's Level 7, Nevil Shute's On the Beach and Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon, shun the imaginary science and technology that are the identifying traits of general science fiction.[citation needed] Others include more fantastic elements, such as mutants, alien invaders, or exotic future weapons such as James Axler's Deathlands.[citation needed]

Post-apocalyptic literature was not as widespread in communist countries as the government prohibited depictions of the nations falling apart. However, some depictions of similar-themed science fiction were accepted by government censors, Recently, Wang Lixiong's Yellow Peril was banned in the People's Republic of China because of its depiction of the collapse of the Communist Party of China,[3] but has been widely pirated and distributed in the country.[4]

According to some theorists, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in its modern past has influenced Japanese popular culture to include many apocalyptic themes. Much of Japan's manga and anime is filled with apocalyptic imagery.[5] It has, however, also been claimed[who?] that disaster and post-disaster scenarios have a longer tradition in Japanese culture, possibly related to the earthquakes that repeatedly have devastated Japanese cities, and possibly connected to Japanese political history, which includes strict adherence to authority until a sudden and dramatic change. See Meiji Restoration and the earlier ee ja nai ka phenomenon.[citation needed]

Andre Norton wrote one of the definitive, post apocalyptic novels, Star Man's Son (AKA, Daybreak 2250), published in 1952, where a young man, Fors, begins an Arthurian quest for lost knowledge, through a radiation ravaged landscape, with the aid of a telepathic, mutant cat. He encounters mutated creatures, "the beast things" which are possibly a degenerated form of humans. There have been many retellings of this basic story, yet little or no acknowledgment is paid to Andre Norton, despite sales of more than 1 million copies of Star Man's Son,[citation needed] for her thematic development, and popularization of this genre.[citation needed] The novel set a pattern for many future movie plots.[citation needed]

A seminal work in this subgenre was Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959). Many subsequent stories were clearly derivative of this novel.[citation needed] Ideas such as a recrudescent Church (Catholic or other), pseudo-medieval society, and the theme of the rediscovery of the knowledge of the pre-holocaust world were central to this book.

In 2003, children's novelist Jeanne DuPrau released the first of four books in a post-apocalypic series for young adults.[6] The City of Ember has since been made into a film starring Bill Murray and Saorise Ronan.[7]

Cormac McCarthy's The Road (2006) is a recent work of post-apocalypse fiction. It won the Pulitzer Prize, rare for a post-apocalyptic or science fiction book.

[edit] Pandemic

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (1949), deals with one man who finds most of civilization has been destroyed by a plague. Slowly a small community forms around him as he struggles to start a new civilization and preserve knowledge and learning.

In 1978, Stephen King published The Stand, which follows the odyssey of a small number of survivors of a world-ending influenza pandemic. Although reportedly influenced by the 1949 novel Earth Abides, King's book includes many supernatural elements and is generally regarded as part of the horror fiction genre.

The award winning novel Emergence by David Palmer (1984) is set in a world where a man-made plague destroys the vast majority of the world's population.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood is an example of both dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction.[8] The framing story is set after a genetically modified virus wipes out the entire population except for the protagonist and a small group of humans that were also genetically modified. A series of flashbacks depicting a world dominated by biocorporations explains the events leading up to the apocalypse.[9]

[edit] Extra terrestrial threats

Lucifer's Hammer by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven (1977) is about a cataclysmic comet hitting the Earth, and various groups of people struggling to survive the aftermath in southern California.

[edit] Cosy Catastrophe

The cosy catastrophe is a name given to a style of post-apocalyptic science fiction that was particularly prevalent after the Second World War and among British science fiction writers. A "cosy catastrophe" is typically one in which civilization (as we know it) comes to an end and everyone is killed except for a handful of survivors, who then set about rebuilding their version of civilization. The term was coined by Brian Aldiss in Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. The concept, however, can be dated back as far as 1890's Caesar's Column by Ignatius L. Donnelly (under the pseudonym Edmund Boisgilbert), where the violent uprising of the lower class against a plutocratic oligarchy leads to the destruction of civilization, while the protagonist survives back home in a now-fortified European colony in the Ugandan highlands.

English author John Wyndham was the figure at whom Aldiss was primarily directing his remarks, especially his novel The Day of the Triffids. The critic L. J. Hurst dismissed Aldiss's accusations, pointing out that in the book the main character witnesses several murders, suicides, and misadventures, and is frequently in mortal danger himself.[10]

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ a b Zimbaro, Valerie P. (1996). Encyclopedia of Apocalyptic Literature. US: ABC-CLIO. p. 9. ISBN 0874368235. 
  2. ^ Dr. Abu Shadi Al-Roubi (1982), "Ibn al-Nafis as a philosopher", Symposium on Ibn al-Nafis, Second International Conference on Islamic Medicine: Islamic Medical Organization, Kuwait (cf. Ibnul-Nafees As a Philosopher, Encyclopedia of Islamic World).
  3. ^ Yellow Peril by Wang Lixiong
  4. ^ Of banned books and reading habits
  5. ^ Murakami, T.: Little Boy: The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture, Yale University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-300-10285-2
  6. ^ "The City of Ember Book Review" Kidzworld.com. Retrieved 2009-04-01.
  7. ^ "The City of Ember Movie Review"Kidzworld.com. Retrieved 2009-04-01.
  8. ^ Guardian book club: Oryx and Crake, The Guardian, April 11, 2007.
  9. ^ See also her short story, "Freeforall".
  10. ^ *Essay by L.J. Hurst

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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