Imagine a spherical apocalypse…

I’m connected on this lovely site called BookBub — they watch the booksellers and send email notifications of all the free/cheap e-books offered that day, so it’s a way to build up a fine collection of reading material at little cost, and also get introduced to new authors. Except for a few quirks…

I signed up to be notified of any science books that are bargains. There never are any.

I signed up for the science fiction category. There’s a regular flood of those — but I’ve noticed a familiar and tiring theme: so many books about the end of the world, zombies, plagues, etc., all about doughty heroes and heroines bravely surviving the aftermath and boldly going forth to battle the undead/bad humans who are now infesting the depauperate world. So not only is the story about 99% of the human population dying horribly, but then the story swirls around the protagonist marching about, fighting and killing other survivors (see also The Walking Dead). It makes no sense (ditto, The Walking Dead).

There is an apocalyptic novel I’ve enjoyed: Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart. But that one isn’t about a battlin’ hyper-competent survivalist type who defeats his enemies and rebuilds the world by conquest — it’s about a lost soul numbed by the deaths who builds a cooperative community to survive, and that community rarely acts as an arm of the hero’s will. That’s a lot harder to write about than slash, slash, slash, as David Brin discusses.

No, the plague of zombies and apocalypses and illogically red-eyed dystopias has one central cause — laziness. Plotting is vastly easier when there are no helpful institutions or professionals, when power is automatically and simplistically evil, when there’s no citizenship and the hero’s neighbors are all bleating sheep. Relax any of those clichés? Then suddenly an author or director has to put down the joint (s)he’s smoking and think. That is why “competence porn” – about folks taking on tomorrow’s problems with energy, focus and good will – is so rare. It is also why a cliche-fatigued public is starting to turn eyes, raising them from fields of undead, looking not toward demigods, but toward engineers. See this explicated in my article, The Idiot Plot.

The yearning for more engineers in stories is Brin’s, not mine — I’d like to see more human beings struggling with complexity using a diverse toolkit, rather than pulling a soldering iron, a 3-D printer, and a rifle out of their back pocket, and solving all human problems by reconnecting the hydroelectric dam. But the laziness and simplification idea is dead on, and probably explains why a cheap book service is telling me about works by novice authors trying to build an audience and a reputation. Not that there is anything wrong with that — it’s good for new writers to have an outlet. But it’s bad news when genre writing digs itself an even deeper subgenre rut.

I am also cliche-fatigued and turning my eyes to new fields. Not engineering, though. I just logged in to BookBub and closed my eyes and clicked randomly on the page of preferences. We’ll see what happens.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    I gather that Earth Abides was considered quite apocalyptic when first published in 1950 – but by the time I read it in the mid-’70s, it seemed an extremely optimistic scenario (for a world in which 99.999% of the human population dies).

  2. says

    That’s because the survivors don’t immediately degenerate into tribal road-warriors committing cannibalism and other atrocities. It is optimistic, because it has an optimistic (more or less) perspective on human behavior.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    No, the plague of zombies and apocalypses and illogically red-eyed dystopias has one central cause — laziness.

    Yeah, just add some snappy banter and kill off the occasional protagonist, and you’ve got a megahit with its own dedicated chat show, and fans telling you “but it’s not about the zombies”. Which is good, because that would be even more boring.

  4. Doubting Thomas says

    I too read Earth Abides in the early 70s. It was during my organic gardening, hippy back to the land phase. I loved the book but chiefly remember my amusement from the protagonist’s use of DDT to combat the plague of ants. Silent Spring had come in the interim and DDT was still a fresh topic among us environmentalist tree huggers.

  5. says

    There is an apocalyptic novel I’ve enjoyed: Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart.

    Read that one in high school and loved it. Isherwood Williams and his hammer.

    Since we’re talking all literary in this thread, and I’m incapable of producing fiction to save my life, I’ll throw out an idea that any of y’all are welcome to: you’ve seen all those “Fanny Hill and Zombies” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” books? Someone who can really nail Twain’s tone needs to do “A Connecticut Yankee in a Zombie Outbreak by Mark Twain” Go! Go!

  6. themann1086 says

    One of the reasons I loved World War Z (the novel) so much was that it deftly subverted that trope. He actually wrote a “bonus chapter” for an anthology of zombie stories (can’t remember the title) where it seems like a generic zombie story: male protagonist saves a damsel in distress and transports her, on a motorcycle, to a military base. It ends with him doing something awesome, and then… cuts to some “average American” white guy, barricaded in his own apartment, running out of supplies, and reading this story while imagining he’s the Hero.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    PZ Myers @ # 2: That’s because the survivors don’t immediately degenerate into tribal road-warriors …

    Also because the environmental consequences were so minimal: e.g., George Stewart didn’t foresee the flood of toxic wastes certain to burst out if the humans tending same keeled over.

  8. says

    it seemed an extremely optimistic scenario

    Running around turning people’s skulls into drinking cups and whatnot, takes a lot of energy.

    As fun as the Road Warrior and such seem, I always envisioned most post-apocalyptic scenarios as looking more like “Seven Samurai” aaaandd…. in reference to my previous comment about doing “Connecticut Yankee + Zombies” if anyone does a zombie outbreak version of “Seven Samurai” there is no fate too cruel for them.

  9. operabuff says

    I just finished reading this book:
    (Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel)
    It is beautifully, even poetically written, and it imagines a post-apocalyptic world in which the heroes are artists and musicians, as well as engineers. It has some weaknesses, as the review points out, but I love the idea of Shakespeare and music contributing to a rebirth in which mere survival is insufficient.

  10. applehead says

    The American prevalence towards apocalyptic fiction may in fact be rooted in the nation’s violent birth and its faith culture.

    we started by jumping back 1900 years or so and reading an ancient Greek book called Apokalypsis, better known these days as Revelation. For that is what “apocalypse” means — not the end of the world, but, literally, an “uncovering” — and for all its horrors, Revelation ends with the New Jerusalem descending from Heaven to inaugurate a world without suffering. And this proved to be a recurring theme. I read a big heap of nuclear war books, a few of them on the syllabus but most of them ones I picked up on my own, and I was astonished by how upbeat they tended to be. Look at Alas, Babylon. Look at Tomorrow!. The premise of these books is that, yes, nuclear war means a gruesome death for 99.9% of the population… but for the survivors — and surely we would be among the survivors — the experience builds needed character! Then, once the worst has blown over, we’ll be able to rebuild from scratch and create a paradise we could never have achieved if we’d started with the fallen modern world and tried to make things better through incremental change.

    The xtians want to see the modern decadent world torn down by disasters – sorry, “God’s will” – so they can rebuild the pious, sober society of the old covenant without trans people terrorizing our bathrooms, while the secular version favored by the preppers and Libertopians means they can start anew and return to a simpler system without traffic-congested streets filling the air with exhaust, central governance, taxes and brown people walking around.

  11. Larry says

    My 6th grade teacher read Earth Abides to us all the way back in 1966. I remember the class being totally engrossed in the story and we looked forward to the next chapter. I never read it for myself up until about 5 or 6 years ago when I saw it on my library’s shelf. I checked it out and read it. While some parts were vaguely remembered, it was mostly as new to me and I found it to be just as engrossing as hearing it read all those years ago.

    As a lapsed sci-fi reader, my tastes have always gravitated to the space novels of Clarke, Niven, and Heinlein but apocalyptic stories can have a place if they’re well written. Stewart’s book is that.

  12. says

    Rob Grigjanis@#10:
    I’d certainly watch “Benny Hill and Zombies”.

    I’d buy that for a dollar!!!!!!!

    Especially when they started yakkity sax and do the stop motion runs around the park, chased by zombies…

  13. midaztouch says

    @operabuff: I’ll second your Station Eleven recommendation. Some other thoughtful EOTW books include On the Beach and Alas, Babylon. I’m intrigued by Gifts Upon The Shore but have not read it yet. Avoid One Second After at all costs. It received great reviews on Amazon but the forward was written by Newt Gingrich. I should have known. SPOILER ALERT: Five days after an EMP attack, the protagonist (a college professor) is reluctantly-ish executing people (including a former student!) who stole some narcotics from a nursing home. Five days!!!!! At the local tennis courts. Gimme an effin break. It just gets worse from there.

  14. Rob Grigjanis says

    My favourite apocalypse novel is probably Richard Matheson’s I am Legend, sadly butchered several times on screen. Now, that‘s a twist ending.

  15. says

    I avoid apocalyptic scenarios, and run far away from anything zombie. I don’t think there’s anything quite as boring as zombies.

    I have continued to enjoy Jim Hines’s Magic ex Libris series, and the new one from Rachel Caine:

    Now, Ink and Bone, by Rachel Caine. I fell for the premise immediately, I love books about books, like Jim C. Hines’s fabulous Magic ex Libris series (Revisionary is out! There goes the rest of my day). In the Great Library series, the Great Library at Alexandria was never destroyed, and it has become the greatest power in the world. It is against library law to own books. People have blanks, something like a tablet, in which books may be read. Naturally, there are book smugglers, and there are those who fight against the library, generally in a destructive but ineffective manner. The first book follows six young people who have been accepted to the library as postulants, and their discovery that the library is long corrupt, ruled by fear of change and progress. There are direct parallels to world religions, who are also ruled by fear of change. The safety of any of the main characters is not sacrosanct, it’s clear that anyone can die, or have worse happen to them. The world building is vivid and good, if a bit lacking in information here and there. I’m looking forward to the next book, Paper and Fire, which will be out in July.

  16. Rob Grigjanis says

    There’s no doubt about my favourite apocalypse movie: Testament with Jane Alexander. A performance for the ages, and utterly heartbreaking, but not despairing.

  17. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    The yearning for more engineers in stories is Brin’s, not mine — I’d like to see more human beings struggling with complexity using a diverse toolkit

    Make up your mind.

  18. cartomancer says

    The word “apocalypse” comes from classical Greek, and means something like “peeling back to reveal the world as it really is”. The Latin translation is the much more familiar “revelations”, which has become what we in the English-speaking world now call the final book of the Christian Bible.

    It is quite ironic, then, that the popular Mad Max cum George Romero apocalypse scenario reveals a lot about many people’s beliefs on human nature and the values and limitations of civilization and society. There is an awful lot of the problematic lone wolf gunman archetype in there, a lot of Top Gear vehicle wank, and enough toxic masculinity to poison an army. It’s not really about the end of the world or the mechanics of human society – it’s just a convenient backdrop to allow people to tell the kinds of man-versus-the-world adventure stories that in earlier days would have been set in darkest Africa, the American frontier or semi-mythical lands like the Gaste Forest or Medea’s Colchis.

    If you want actual studies of how society would recover, bounce back from and be transformed by an apocalypse scenario, you need fiction inspired by historical events where that actually happened. The collapse of Bronze Age society at the hands of the Sea Peoples led to the sort of cultural creativity that launched the works of Homer – the Iliad and Odyssey are in many ways post-apocalypse literature, written by actual survivors of great social upheaval and combining elements from the pre-apocalypse times of the Bronze Age with contemporary Dark-Age viewpoints. A Mad Max type story about a bard spinning tales of the world before the collapse would be very refreshing. Or how about the decline of the Roman Empire? Or if you want to go with biological catastrophe what about the Black Death? The historical fallout from that could give a powerful shot in the arm to writers of this kind of fiction – what does the sudden death toll do to industry and settlement patterns and wage levels? What oppressive social systems are no longer tenable, and what fears and psychological terrors are borne of the great catastrophe? How does the religion and outlook of the society change? The confident, establishmentarian, positive christianity of the 12th and 13th turned into the witch-hunting, puritanical, devil-obsessed christianity of the Early Modern period in no small part thanks to the events of the late 1340s – why not do something inspired by that?

  19. woozy says

    Hmmm. It could be argued that David Brin’s “The Postman” was a red-eyed dystopia. I wouldn’t because it’s still about how human reaction and attempts and community.

    Seems like 30 years ago when I was much more interested in the theme there were a lot more post-apocolypse books of this sort.

    I’m luke warm on Earth Abides. It’s compelling (very!) but it’s anthropology motifs seem heavy handed to me. There’s a throw away line when 20 or so years after he is eating breakfast– mashed grains and eggs and strips of meat– where he muses that the nuclear family unit and the american breakfast were compelling cultural constants when all else changed. I couldn’t help thinking I’d chuck both of them in a second if situations changed.
    The section of the the stranger, his breaking of the unspoken taboo, his execution and deathly infection following was way too heavy fisted for me, and the worst part of the book. Yet I think anthropologically it was the main thrust of the book and one I just have to disagree with. We don’t have to abide; we can change.

  20. Rich Woods says

    I did enjoy Earth Abides. The idea of the loss of all the old knowledge struck me hard, with the younger generations having to focus on survival skills and rediscovering that knowledge as a priority. Then of course they see Ish as the Last American, and you know that the old culture is gone and forgotten.

    It’s a reminder that everything we have today is only possible because of our global population size and the consequent freedom to specialise. If there are so few people that everyone has to concentrate on growing food and gathering fuel, no-one has any time left for anything other than making clothes and tools, repairing shelters and raising children.

  21. zardeenah says

    I like the Change series by Sterling. It has a silly premise (electricity and gunpowder stop working), but it’s about people trying to rebuild society with ancient technology.

    Not straight sci-fi as it uo ends up introducing magic, but fun.

  22. grasshopper says

    “Earth Abides” is one of my favourite post-apocalypse novels, given to me to read by my grey-headed old mother back in the 60s, when she was a vibrant red-head. She peppered me with numerous Jules Verne stories, too.

    Two other novels of the genre which stand out for me are “A Canticle For Leibowitz” by George R. Miller, and “Malevil”, by Robert Merle, a French writer. Both novels incorporate a non-proselytizing religious aspect to the rebuilding of civilization.

    “Leibowitz” is packed with wry humor and uses the surviving remnants of theological organizations as a natural foundation for recovering lost knowledge of the pre-apocalyptic world, much like monasteries were repositories of knowledge during the Dark Ages.

    “Malevil” is based on survivors in France who happen to be deep in a wine cellar when a nuclear holocaust occurs. Their survival is threatened by rising theocracy from another group nearby.

    And I guess I could really stretch a long bow, and include Roger Zelazny’s “Lord Of Light” in my list of post-apocolyptic religion-hued novels. “Lord Of Light” gave me my first thorough introduction to comparative religion, set as it was on a planet humans had colonized, where Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity seek to gain ascendancy through technology.

  23. says

    Can I be cheeky and offer up my alter ego’s book from last year- Pickers . It’s got the hordes of raiders- so I could have fun channelling Fury Road- but at heart it’s about communities working out how to rebuild after a climate crisis.

  24. says


    The yearning for more engineers in stories is Brin’s, not mine — I’d like to see more human beings struggling with complexity using a diverse toolkit

    Engineering” is just any planned and scientific method of trying to achieve a goal. It already is and can be a “diverse toolkit”.

    Maybe you’re thinking of “mechanical engineering“, which is a subset and thus less diverse.

  25. lowkey says

    I thought I was the only one who noticed this. There are 2 scifi books at the top of every day’s email, and 95% of them are apocalyptic or dystopian. Not my cup o’ tea.

  26. says

    Of course, I’m pretty sure you can’t be legally hired for a job with the word “engineer” in the title unless you are part of a professional engineering association. At least where I live. So that is one thing that might limit the word.

  27. Nick Gotts says

    Ha! I thought of Earth Abides even before I reached that point in the OP!

    Doubting Thomas@4,
    But it would be perfectly OK, environmentally speaking, to use DDT in that situation, where there was hardly anyone else around to do so!

    I disagree that A Canticle for Leibowitz is non-proselytising. The second time I read it, the pro-Catholic subtext seemed absolutely clear to me – not only does the Catholic church heroically preserve what knowledge it can against the barbarian tides, there’s a bit of finger-wagging at the temerity of scientists who speculate that the people of the time may have been artificially created by the pre-disaster humans, and a heavy “thou shalt not commit suicide” message at the end.

  28. Trickster Goddess says

    I generally avoid zombie stuff, but “The Girl With All the Gifts” by M.R. Carey was very different and very well written. Told from the point of view of a young, intelligent, second generation zombie. I list it as one of the best books I read last year.

  29. unclefrogy says

    probably because of having grown up during the cold war and under the threat of Atomic Immolation I have always had a fondness for the Post Apocalyptic movie I especially like the design often used, all of that “semi raggedy” improvised stuff so much so that when I make projects there is often a bit included, none of that slick design for me I like the guts to show if is ok.
    There is a mini series from UK from a few years ago about the aftermath of some kind of plague that killed most of the people except for a few survivors and a small band of the sames journey across England that I found very engrossing oddly it is called Survivors not much of that junk design though pity that.
    uncle frogy

  30. naturalcynic says

    Yes! Earth Abides was a favorite back in the mid-60s high school days when typically wide awake in some science fiction book at nights while barely awake during the day at school. Something meaningful to me was that I lived in the North Berkeley neighborhood where most of the book takes place from the ages of 5-14. And that my father worked for a time for Wendell Stanley who was quoted at the beginning of the book about the idea that a worldwide plague could occur.

    Well, somebody has to mention the silliest and goofiest end of the world/surviving stragglers story: Waterworld

  31. Jack Krebs says

    I like BookBub, even though I buy very selectively. However I recently got and am reading Chaos by James Gliek, and I got and read To Explain the World by Stephen Weinberg, so it’s not totally bereft of science. However, it does seem that there are a huge number of books that include dragons.

  32. DanDare says

    One of the problems with “competence porn” (interesting phrase) is that the book usually has to posit some solution that the audience doesn’t immediately poke holes in. And that is really hard.

    As an example I would look at Mars Life by Ben Bova. He has global warming and sea levels rising and the New Morality taking over and dumbing things down. And then scientists trying to keep archeology going on Mars. Its an interesting read but (spoiler alert) the ending is very weak and I don’t believe it is a satisfactory solution to the postulated problems at all, despite the triumphal support given to the protagonist’s conclusion by the author.

  33. says

    Someone up above mentioned the classic I Am Legend as a good post apoc story that got the entire point lost in the films.

    I did find that the Vincent Price version was by far closer to the theme than later takes by far yet it too ignored the point of the ending. I’d love to see the books idea that the only difference between hero and vicious monster really mainstreamed

  34. tmink128 says

    I haven’t read earth abides in about a decade. I only remember plagues of various beasts and hopelessness.

  35. AndrewD says

    This “libertarian” approach to a post-apocolypse world seems to me to be an 21st century American trend, many British novels of the 60’s and 70’s had a more cooperative response to disaster. I am thinking of The day of the Triffids were the protagonists were a small group acting together to survive, I am sure there are other lost in the mists of time.

  36. Rich Woods says

    @unclefrogy #33:

    There is a mini series from UK from a few years ago about the aftermath of some kind of plague that killed most of the people except for a few survivors and a small band of the sames journey across England that I found very engrossing oddly it is called Survivors not much of that junk design though pity that.

    That was, sadly, a fairly dire remake of a well-received original from the 1970s (written by Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks, and writer of several sci-fi screenplays from that time). The original’s first series was an exploration of the different types of societies which various groups of survivors attempted to build, seen mostly through the eyes of a woman searching for her son. The second series concentrated on the challenges one group faced when trying to create a farming community and build trade links with their neighbours. The third was a bit more rambling, and I didn’t find it particularly compelling, but it did include a superb episode involving rabies which still occasionally features in my nightmares after all these years!

    If you like that sort of thing, I can highly recommend it. You’ll be able to find it on Amazon (or very likely in other places, if you prefer).

  37. John Morales says

    Climatic catastrophe and ecological collapse is different to other plausible dystopian fantasies: humanity can’t possibly defeat it, it can maybe (at best) adapt to it.

    (Still, with access to firearms, one could deplete the remnants of humanity a bit more!)

  38. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 28:

    “Engineering” is just any planned and scientific method of trying to achieve a goal. It already is and can be a “diverse toolkit”.

    I too read Brin’s comment as using “engineer” figuratively rather than literally. As in a person who examines a problem and figures out how to actually fix it rather than kludge it (ie McGuyver it). And engineering discipline requires more than just mechanical tinkering, but deep insight into both the problem itself and all possible failure modes to be prevented by accounting for them.

    zombies —- ugh. never understood the rise in popularity for zombie fiction. It makes a nice metaphor to describe politicians one disagrees with; who refuse to change their opinions. To call them zombies is very easy disparagement.
    But why inundate all the various media with zombie porn? Why do they make money? Do zombies really work as metaphor for all the other ills plaguing us? [all rhetorical] ugh

  39. zetafunction says

    If you want to read post-apocalyptic fictions, don’t mind graphic novels in watercolors and can tolerate large amounts of adorably goofy Scandinavians, I highly recommend Stand Still, Stay Silent. Available online and in book form.

  40. jack16 says

    I think the term “Idiot Plot” was defined by the late James Blish as a plot that proceeds solely by virtue of the fact that every one involved is an idiot.

  41. dannysichel says

    First-order idiot plot: the protagonist is an idiot.

    Second-order idiot plot: everyone in the story is an idiot.

    Third-order idiot plot: the entire society are idiots.

    oh, and as for zombie apocalypse tales — might I recommend Feed and sequels, by Seanan Mcguire (as “Mira Grant”)? The zombie apocalypse was 25 years ago, but humans are clever, and humans are stubborn. And most importantly, humans had decades of watching zombie movies, and thus were not taken completely by surprise (as is so often the case in zombie apocalypse fiction). Civilization has been drastically altered by the fact that all >40kg mammals zombify upon death — for instance, the CDC is now the most powerful political agency in America — but it has not been destroyed.

  42. says

    After randomizing my preferences, today’s BookBub recommendations just arrived in my mailbox. Lots of free books!

    Mostly “romantic erotica” though. Whoo-weee, it’s a deluge of romantic erotica.

    May have to change my preferences back.

  43. says

    You should read Worm. It’s a super hero webserial that has apocalyptic overtones and the whole thing is played a lot smarter than most super hero stuff. Also free, socially conscious and irreligious.

  44. auraboy says

    Strange as it may seem, I always enjoyed Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’. The survivors are quite plentiful – the ‘bad’ guys go to Vegas and the ‘good’ guys go to Boulder – but other than the evil lynchpin, the bad guys have plenty of decent folks and similarly there’s a lot of petty minded anti-social wreckers in the good community. The shock is discovering that both sides think the other is plotting to wipe them out. And the whole middle of the book is a community figuring out how to start up power generators and build a working, non-violent community. Of course by the end the gun nuts and reactionary conservatives are taking over even the good commune.

    It’s obviously a supernatural story with King’s usual ‘Christianity:After Dark’ stylings and some of his awful cliches but I have a soft spot for all the characters after all these years.

  45. unclefrogy says

    Rich Woods
    the one I saw was the 2008 version it was in part a story of a journey with a mystery of the disease, the different places they would end up all had problems so they had to move on. I especially liked the one with where some guy decided to re-create a society like ancient Greece and included slavery (someone had to work the coal mine!) which resulted in abuse and a slave revolt.
    very funny
    uncle frogy

  46. grasshopper says

    @31 Nick, To the best of my recollection, “Canticle” doesn’t argue that we should all be Catholics, or drone on about Jesus, which is my definition of non-proseletyzing. I haven’t read the story for a decade or two, but I have read it perhaps five times. The “Cadfael” novels by Ellis Peters, set in 11th century Shrewsbury in England, are similarly set in a Catholic millieu but I have never seen them as promoting a Catholic way of life. The ethical and moral quandaries raised by the writers are not questions unique to Catholocism. The answers (if there are any) is when religions stick their feet in the door.


  47. Muz says

    I must confess I like survivalist-type apocalyptic fiction quite a bit, and even zombie survivalist-type. Worse yet, I have even spent a good chunk of time attempting to make some. This was a little before The Walking Dead series came along. I had a weird notion that 1) the zombie craze had crested and was looking for something a little different and 2) no one would try a long form series before I/we had inserted our take. Very wrong on both counts.

    Without going into it too much I should say I agree with all the crits of the ‘genre’ as a sort of a lazy pornography of misanthopy . It’s kind of interesting how much pull that has for people though. Even for me (the one I was working on had a slightly different tone from many, by drawing heavily from Day of the Triffids and The Decameron if you’re wondering. Still zombies though. Sorry).

    As per PZs remarks, what stuck out for me in trying to think one of these thing through I couldn’t see society falling to brutish anarchy quite as readily as most of these things suppose. Even with flesh eating disease ridden creatures wandering about. But you can’t talk about this with barely anyone at all, even people who are the kindest most generous hearted liberals normally, without running into the assumption that half an hour in to some widespread disaster scenario we’re going to start murdering one another for food and fuel.
    This sort of attitude isn’t usually uttered aloud by anyone other than the sort of cynical to the bone, gun nut conservative. They’re proud of believing that civilisation is a thin veneer on top of we ruthless predator animals that could crumble at any minute. But the acceptance of this notion is far more widespread than that.

    Similar to what some have said already I found that this attitude might have manifested in reality a little too often. Most notably in the wake of Katrina and the Haiti earthquake. From memory, rescue and aid efforts were delayed and even complicated in both those incidents partly by a heavy handed emphasis on security. The media reporting too was so focused on just how disasterous it was and how the grim the situation must be, people were going to turn violent or already had. Sure there was some bad stuff, but it was nowhere near as much as you’d have thought based on the reporting. But they were reveling in it. And the impression that lingers is the forces that went in were expecting to assert themselves over complete violent anarchy, zombie apocalypse style, rather than mostly help people. It was the overriding assumption of what a disaster scenario would be and how it would play out.

    It’s interesting that George Romero, in the ur-zombie story that started it all Night of the Living Dead, told a tale of people being undone by their own paranoia and cynicism under stress. Followers have aped this many times, but only to wallow in that cynicism rather than critique it as he did. And now we wallow in it in life too it seems.

  48. chigau (違う) says

    Canticle is still in print.
    Y’all can stop “recalling correctly” and just open the book.

  49. says

    Two points:
    1) Agreed, Earth Abides is an excellent novel;
    2) We engineers are human beings as well, most of the time.