The concept of the apocalypse has always fascinated us. It expresses our primal fear that humanity is ultimately powerless against the forces of nature or that of a higher power. Writers of modern fiction have used the concept of an apocalypse as a plot device to create a sub-genre of science fiction called post-apocalyptic fiction. Apparently, the first such novel is The Last Man by Mary Shelley, written 8 years after Frankenstein. Since then, celebrated writers like H.G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe and Jack London have tried their hand at this genre. In 1954, Richard Matheson published I Am Legend which set the template for a worldwide apocalypse created by a plague and in 1978, horror novelist Stephen King portrayed a very similar apocalypse in The Stand.
In the past few years, there has been a particular deluge of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction in the form of novels, graphic novels, TV series and movies. Here are the ones that I have particularly enjoyed:-
- Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend had been brought to the big screen twice already in 1964 and 1971 before it become the breakout hit of 2007’s Christmas season for Will Smith and director Francis Lawrence. While the CGI vampires looked rather fake, it was Will Smith who connected with audiences by portraying the loneliness and almost-hopeless situation of a person who is unsure if he is the last man left alive on earth, after everyone else has either been infected or killed by a vampire plague.
- Over several months in 2009, I read through the 60 issues of the graphic novel series Y: The Last Man (published from 2002-08). The story deals with a mysterious event which simultaneously kills every male mammal on earth…except a young American man named Yorick Brown and his pet male monkey. Yorick sets out to find his girlfriend (who was trekking in Australia when the event occurred) and during the course of his adventures through a dystopian world, he also succeeds in unraveling the reason for the apocalypse. Truly, one of the best scifi stories I have ever come across, with a strong thread of socio-politics mixed in with the action.
- In late 2010, I chanced upon the first episode of the series The Walking Dead on TV. Based on the on-going monthly comic book series, which has been in publication since 2003, the series portrays the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse and the fortunes of a small group of survivors, led by a sherrif’s deputy Rick Grimes. This is probably the most popular show on US cable today and although I missed all of season 2, I ended up watching the latest episode of season 3, which features one of the series’ chief villains, The Governor.
- In early 2011, I read Justin Cronin’s The Passage, which tells the epic story of a vampire apocalypse. I consider this novel to be thematically similar to both Stephen King’s The Stand as well as I Am Legend. I have just finished reading the sequel The Twelve.
- Also in 2011, I started watching Falling Skies, the drama series produced by Steven Spielberg and created by Robert Rodat (who wrote the script for Saving Private Ryan). In this case, the apocalypse is created by an alien attack, which pretty much destroys governments and infrastructure throughout the world. This remains one of my favourite TV shows till date and I continue to keenly follow the fortunes of Tom Mason (played by Noah Wyle), Capt. Dan Weaver (Will Patton) and Dr. Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood). Fantastic script makes for great characters and a riveting drama series.
- Earlier this year, author Suzanne Collins’ young adult novel The Hunger Games hit the big screen to great critical and commercial success. The trilogy of novels focuses on a post-apocalyptic America shattered by nuclear war and ruled by a demagogic upper class. The film adaptation of the second novel Catching Fire will be directed by Francis Lawrence (of I Am Legend fame).
- A few months ago, I read Max Brooks’ (son of comedian Mel Brooks) celebrated novel of a zombie apocalypse, World War Z, which is soon going to arrive on the big screen (although with a completely altered storyline, as I mentioned in a post a couple of days ago).
- So, after we are done with apocalypses caused by vampires, zombies, gendercide and alien invasions, you would think there is not much left to cover. Not true. In the summer of 2011, Daniel H. Wilson – a robotics PhD turned author – published Robopocalypse, a novel in which humanity is nearly wiped out in an apocalyptic war with a rogue artificial intelligence. The book was on the New York Times best seller list and is going to be Steven Spielberg’s next directorial effort. What makes the story chilling is the fact that much of the rogue behaviour depicted in the novel is based on intelligent technology currently being built into everyday products and utilities.
In fact, this is the common thread running through all the works of fiction mentioned above – the writers have done an incredible amount of research before crafting the stories and all of them are based to a large extent on scientific fact and/or existing technologies. In fact, Both Max Brooks and Daniel Wilson magot into their respective genres by writing non-fictional ‘survival guides’ to zombie plagues and robot uprisings, before hitting the best-seller lists with their respective novels. Just goes to show you how seriously authors are dealing with the sub-genre today.