“At least the end of the world meant I finally stopped dreaming about the end of the world” The opening sentence of a novel I didn’t write last year. A year in whioh I devoured much Apocalyptica on paper and on screen, and pretty much got it out of my system. I now realise it was provoked by a collision of life circumstances making me feel more powerless than usual at a time when the Zeitgeist was happily reinforcing the illusions of the powerful and shattering the delusions of the power-challenged. Perfect Apocalypse-fodder. Without the consolation, scapegoat or Dawkinsian kicking-horse of religion, this is what I had instead.
I am usually too squeamish to watch horror films, though a soft spot for the “28 Days” franchise prefigured the run that began when I bought Justin Cronin’s “The Passage” in November 2010. I now know that it operates on many a cliche of the genre, but his slightly literate plague Zombie/Vampire, New World reconstruction tome was all exciting and new to me. My favourite Apocalyptica, it turns out,also needs to have some good Empty Streets Wandering About from the protagonists to particularly do it for me,
I prefer small glimmers of implied hope, but thrill to them all being dashed.I like long, lingering close ups on the gradual meltdown of society and find too much focus on the reconstruction can come to feel more like a Historical Novel- although is very educational since I don’t know enough about how societies are formed.
I prefer that the Psychologically negative effect of being a survivor is acknowledged- and found “Earth Abides”, “Zone One” and “On The Third Day” best for this.
So, for those looking for some Apocalyptica of their own, here’s lists of the page and screen End of Worlds I most remember from the past year. This misses out much of the gorier, Supernatural stuff which seems to be proliferating currently.
1. Stephen King’s The Stand; I do like a plague-ridden end of the world. This one made me see America very differently subsequently, as the Reconstruction of Society bits are particularly well thought out. I haven’t read much Stephen King, but fans seem to feel this is one of his most lovingly written and crafted works. I went on to another of his Apocalypses; “Cell” when Good Phones Go Bad, but wasn’t as rewarded.
2. Nevil Shute’s On The Beach. I prefer a more hysterical End myself. It would be nice to think everyone took it so calmly and kept on drinking Martinins. Images from this 1950s cosy Apocalyspe have stayed with me though.
3. George R Stewart’s “Earth Abides”. A 1949 classic. Beautifully psychologically astute I think. Plenty of lonely street wandering from “Ish” the intellectual hero. One of many American Apocalypses in which the Golden Gate Bridge features. Lots of tentative society building.
4. Margaret Atwood’s Year of The Flood and Oryx and Crake. Satirical, corporate, all-too-true gradual World-Breakdown. Loved discovering her through these books. Much preferred them to the Handmaid’s Tale- which anyway is Dystopian not Apocalyptic
5. Liz Jensen’s The Rapture; Wonderfully written and great sense of foreboding throughout as a young asylum patient predicts the end of the world and messes with her therapist’s head. I have recycled more committedly since…
6. A Canticle for Laibowitz, Walter M Miller Junior. Very different and more layered than most World Ends- set thousands of years post-Holocaust when we’re back to Monks illuminating manuscripts again. Would also love to have read the novel I think is buried within here about the time of the nuclear Apocalypse and the physicist who caused it (The Leibowitz whose papers are excavated from a bunker).
7. Warm Bodies, Isaac Marion. I do not love all Zombie apocalyspes. However, this is a clever, funny, poignant first person Zombie narrative. Currently being made into a film.
8. On The Third Day, Rhys Thomas. Recent, slightly schlocky but ultimately drawing you in through it’s take on survival in a crap world- instead of Zombies and Vampires threatening the survivors you have randomly angry, destructive people banding together- which felt psychologically feasible.
9. The Road- Cormac Mccarthy. Epitomising the Lonely Wanderers apocalypse. Beautifully, bleakly written and miserable. Second only to “Threads” in its refusal of consolation.
10. The Death of Grass- John Christopher. Economical, easy read about a 40s British apocalypse. By the time I got to this one, I had finally absorbed the fact that humans will not necessarily all be nice to each other in the End Times. It was beginning to make me think I should watch Bear Grylls. And take notes.
11. Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now. Straight through, voicey narrative from the p.o.v of a teenage girl. Short (purposely) on Holocaust-detail, good on relationships under stress.
12. Zone One, Colson Whitehead. Another literary novelist overwriting his socks off, but good on work and colleagues and memory as ways of providing meaning which still ultimately proves pointless in the face of the end of the world (A nicely described plague/Zombie apocalypse).
13. Outpost, Adam Baker. Out in paperback now, this would usually be too much of a horror Zombie apocalyspe for my tastes but I liked the protagonist- an overweight female Vicar who takes up running round the oil platform she works on, to become fit enough to take on the scary, bitey people.
14. The Drowned World. J.G Ballard. Dreamy and floaty, and reminiscent of Nevil Shute in it’s refusal of hysteria. Several images from this have also stayed with me.
I would have liked to have read “I Am Legend”, but will wait til longer time has passed since I saw the film, have Christopher Priests reissue of “Fugue for a Darkening Island on my Amazon Wish List, and also devoured Adam Roberts’ recent “The Snow” and Alex Scarrow’s “Last Light” so fast they didn’t touch the sides, but did fill an Apocalypse-shaped hole. I read Julie Myerson’s “Then” while sat in Waterstones and found it too depressing even for me and Lauren Oliver’s Delirium was a fine young adult Dystopia rather than Apocalypse. Mary Shelley’s The Last Man is still unread on my iPad.
1. Jericho- American TV series I watched on DVD. Small town survives a nuclear attack on 12 American cities. In many ways a cosy Apocalypse, but nice conspiracy sub-plots give it more weight, even if it is never much elevated above the Waltons in terms of script/acting.
2. Survivors, BBC. I didn’t see the Terry Nation original, just the 2010/11 remake. Apart from some lonely-streets wandering in the very first episode, this also never reached the Bleak that 80s telly could-ditto the Day of the Triffids remake.
3. “I Am Legend”. Will Smith stars in this excellently pared down One Man Hopelessly Surviving in a Plague City film. Epitomises a pure, lonely end of world with flashes of false hope. Imagine the original Richard Matheson book is even better.
4. Threads. The original nuclear-Sheffield 80s BBC film. Milk bottles melting on doorsteps, council leaders likely to choke on their own cigarette smoke before the nukes get them. Realistic, close to home and with no redeeming hope or joy implied even years later. Humanity at it’s worst. So near the knuckle I had to have an Apocalyse-break for quite a while afterwards.
5. Children of Men. Probably more of a Dystopia- but loved this film based on the PD James book. Just the right flavour of “Everything’s Wrong And Will Never Be Right” but still with good folks like Michael Caine trying to make a post-fertile women world better, Really clever direction from Alfonso Cuaron.
6. War of the Worlds (remake), The Day After Tomorrow, The Numbers- all recentish Hollywood films with good building-collapsing bits but not much else to recommend them.
7. The Walking Dead- American TV series starring Andrew Lincoln from This Life as a Sheriff in a Zombie-infested world. S’alright. Nothing really lived up to the series-advert image of him walking into a deserted city on his own, or waking up in a deserted-wrecked hospital. I think there’s a really good HBO Apocalypse series still to be made (Mad Men Post Plague?)
8. Contagion- This year’ disease film with Gwyneth Paltrow as the Index victim. Yes there was supermarket stockpiling and mass grave-digging, but the actual survival of humanity/the planet never seemed in doubt, so this was an average Apocalypse-lite for me,
I haven’t yet seen Lars Von Triers Melancholia, which sounds like a nice floaty Apocalypse with added family misery.
So, this isn’t an exhaustive list, just a record of one person’s EndTime diet over a year- but to summarise, here’s my top three bleakest and top three cheeriest;
TOP THREE “APOCALYPSES ARE BAD, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE, BUT IT’S PROBABLY FOR THE BEST BECAUSE THERE IS NO MEANING”;
2. The Road
3. The Death of Grass
TOP THREE “APOCALYPSES MIGHT ACTUALLY BE A GOOD THING BECAUSE,AW SHUCKS,HUMANS AIN’T SO BAD”;
1. The Stand
2. Earth Abides