Firstly we watched ‘The Rover’, set in Australia, which was intriguing although a little depressing at times. We also watched ‘Children of Men’, set in England after a war, concerning the mysterious absence of women able to conceive or give birth. Lastly, we watched ‘The Book of Eli’, set in the United States and definitely the movie we considered the best out of the three.
Of course, these post apocalyptic scenarios are nothing new - the theme has been a common staple of science fiction novels for over a hundred years or more. Think about HG Wells' ‘War of the Worlds’, George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’, Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ and all the Sci-Fi movies and books to come out of the 50s and 60s.
As a boy I particularly enjoyed the ‘Planet of the Apes’ series and the movie, ‘Soylent Green’, with Charlton Heston, among others. End of the world scenarios can be fascinating when done well. One shining example of this in my opinion is Stephen King's classic thriller, ‘The Stand’.
So if a budding author wanted to jump on the bandwagon so to speak and write a novel with a post-apocalyptic setting, what things should they consider before beginning mapping out their plot? There are a few basics that need to be decided upon. Firstly, what was the reason society ended? Secondly, what's still available for the character(s) to use? Is there any food? Thirdly, who’s left? While the idea of being the last person on Earth may be fascinating for some, it could lead to some obvious challenges with regard to plot. The story would mostly be a fairly uneventful narrative.
One would have to be careful not to use any of these if they want their story to be ‘original’. If an author did opt for one of these scenarios, they would have to at least write it in an original way, with a twist or two, or perhaps from a different perspective. Personally, I think the zombie angle has been done to death, pun intended! Mind you, I really enjoyed ‘I Am Legend’ and ‘World War Z’.
I am reminded of a line from an old Bill Cosby comedy record that my older siblings used to joke around with, which supposedly a strict mother or father would use to threaten a naughty child,
“I brought you into this world. I’ll take you out!” It makes me think of the Christian Rapture.
Predicted in Revelations in the New Testament in the Christian Bible, the Rapture was the premise in the recent ‘Left Behind’ series. Nicholas Cage appears in an apparent re-boot of the series. The protagonist does not have to be a Christian of course, although that is a definite possibility.
However it still leaves the main character relatively alone in the world, perhaps to achieve a mission. Upon the successful completion of this mission, they might be ‘taken up’ into heaven. It’s easy to imagine the numerous obstacles the protagonist may have to face in achieving the mission – evil antagonists, transport, riots, chaos, maybe even war, and perhaps towards the end various disasters that have been implied in Revelations, such as fire, flood, earthquakes, volcanoes, plagues, tidal waves among others. All of this could certainly create a compelling and dramatic story.
In the meantime, why not have the protagonist’s family and friends cheer him/her on from heaven?
“We’re all rooting for you! No pressure!” they’d all call out as a way of encouraging him/her.
“Yeah, right!” the protagonist would say, rolling his/her eyes as another challenge arises.
Okay, that might be pushing things a bit far, but it could provide some comedic relief among the daily horrors experienced in a post-apocalyptic world. Another possible cause for the end of mankind as we know it is the medical variety, which I mentioned previously. A virus, disease or plague rids the world of people. So how could one put an original spin on this clichéd disaster?
I saw a really interesting documentary yesterday, titled Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels. A rather distinguished group of scientists, some of who were once atheists or agnostics, detail flaws in the theory of evolution. One of the points made in the documentary, with regard to biology and human DNA, was that the human genome has been experiencing a process of degradation for millennia. Every generation passes its genes onto the next, and every set of genes shows some kind of mutation when compared to the genes from which they were derived. In fact, one of the DNA biologists wondered why the human race hadn’t already ended many times over!
Now that’s an intriguing twist on the ‘medical’ cause for an end to mankind. I would have to assume that it would be an original take on why or how the human race ends, with regard to writing a new apocalyptic novel. At least I have never seen that exact premise before, either in books or movies. The human race doesn’t end with a bang, but rather a whimper and a lot of chaos. As the next generation of people begin to fall to diseases such as the common cold, chicken pox, smallpox, heart disease, cancer, Ebola, AIDS, and so on, hospitals are over-run with patients and can’t cope. Private hospitals spring up for the rich, but those are soon attacked and destroyed by an enraged public who can’t afford such health care. It matters not anyway, as even the rich can’t be saved. Antibiotics have been over-used and are now useless against new strains of viruses and ailments.
However, perhaps a handful of people have a rare genetic type, making them immune to the sickness that is rapidly decreasing the world’s population. They would have to hide, as governments would want to use them as ‘guinea pigs’. Extremely wealthy folks, in a desperate attempt to survive, might even want to harvest the blood and genes of these strong and healthy youths to replace their own. Secret, illegal blood transfusions and genetic operations may take place in the homes of the rich, with varied success. Eventually though, only a few humans would remain.
The great thing about this scenario is that almost none of the buildings or the world’s resources would be destroyed. Cities would remain intact, and supermarkets and warehouses would still have canned food, bottled water, and supplies. In car showrooms all over the world, as long as the keys could be located, the protagonist would have a large number of vehicles to choose from in which to drive around. Hotel rooms, luxury penthouse apartments, and the mansions of the once rich and famous would still be in relatively good condition. In the case that animals were not affected, then fresh food would not be a problem either if one had access to weapons and ammunition.
The downside of this scenario is that dead bodies would pile up, causing not just a huge and putrid stench, but also the risk of disease. It would better for the main character to head out into the wilderness for a while at that point, and try to survive in nature. As long as one had a good supply of weapons, hunting supplies, and could find a place nearby which had access to fresh water, one could survive for years, if not decades. Cities would be safe to enter again once corpses had fully decomposed. Other negative factors in an empty world would be loneliness, fatigue, and the risks associated with any injuries. One of the good things about ‘I Am Legend’ is that the main character was a doctor, and could take care of himself. There would be no medical clinics or hospitals to go to anymore. Having others around would be helpful. In order to have a ‘happy ending’ it would be better for the protagonist to find a mate, which would also provide hope for the future of mankind.
Sci-fi and fantasy novels are becoming increasingly common, and readers (not to mention editors) are seeing the same scenarios rehashed. For a new author’s story to be interesting, it would have to incorporate an original idea, or at least an original take on an all-too-popular theme. One could even have scientists returning to Earth years after it had been evacuated. Food for thought!
Wishing you all the very best in your writing.
See you on the shelf!