Out today, our digital edition of Nick Cole’s fabulous post-apocalyptic novel, THE OLD MAN AND THE WASTELAND.
To celebrate, we’ve got three blogs from the author about dystopia and post-apocalyptia:
The world ends as we know it, and you feel fine?
For most people the world ending is a source of fear, trepidation, concern even. Some go to great lengths to survive promised nuclear Armageddon or threatened global pandemics. Supplies are purchased in bulk, skills are learned, weapons stockpiled, all in hopes of surviving the worst case scenario ever imagined by the writers of any Bruckheimer summer blockbuster. But for others, it’s the ultimate game of Survivor.
For these, the end of the world is a source of pleasure. Reading pleasure that is. Welcome to the wild and wonderful side street alley Science Fiction calls, Post-Apocalyptic fiction, or PA for short.
Once we pass through the greats of the sub-genre, i.e. A Canticle for Liebowitz, Earth Abides, The Road, etc., we get down to the pulp fiction. Here we find the Former Navy Seal who can do just about anything, the savvy teen phenom with a penchant for solving her problems with a bow, and even the self-righteous ‘prepper’ who’s learned every skill and stockpiled everything one might need to survive. This last book might usually begin with a laundry list of supplies similar to the IKEA shopping fantasy one finds in a Stieg Larssen novel. So don’t be surprised when the protagonist pulls out that pair of wound-specific medical clamps from within the bunker.
Once we have a firm hero in mind, the Post-Apocalyptic world is revealed. To be more specific, what’s left of the world is revealed. Our hero journeys through the fallen Starbucks and fortress Wal-Marts of a crumbling world turned upside down.
And this is where I find the beauty of Post-Apocalyptia.
I love to imagine the ‘What If’ particulars of ‘what if it all went sideways’. I have been doing this for some time. I suspect this habit may have begun on the Sunday evening before that fifth grade State report assigned at the beginning of the year was finally due. Why did I pick North Dakota?! Since then, when things get rough, the bills are due, I didn’t get that job, or it’s someone’s wedding; I tend to engage in a bit of Catastrophic Dreaming. It happens a lot, even when I’ve got a few minutes to kill on the road.
For example, I give you this happy accident: Just a few days ago I was driving to downtown Los Angeles. It was a Saturday and all the freeways were jammed. Eventually the 710 slowed to a crawl and the traffic report blared that things didn’t look so good for the 5 and 101 interchange. So, taking the path less travelled, I cut up Firestone Boulevard all the Way to Alameda, turned right, sighted the towers and office buildings of downtown and made a straight dash for my destination. When I turned onto Alameda, I found Post-Apocalyptia.
I found a long line of salvage yards ringed with barbed wire. Tall concrete warehouses with few window openings. Wide spaces to see your enemies coming. All in the southern shadow of the heights of Downtown Los Angeles.
I thought, as I usually do when dreaming up global destruction, how would this place hold up given the end of the world? When I’m at Anthropologie watching my wife shop, I usually find the answer is, not well. Malls, the obvious 1980s B movie screenwriters’ choice for setting the end of the world tale, won’t hold up too well in my opinion. Hard to defend, obvious targets, too many entrances. Or if I’m watching Pujhols not hit homeruns for the Angels, I think, wow, Anaheim stadium would be like a Post-Apocalyptia Castle sitting astride two freeways, like some medieval fortress from which a minor warlord might torment the local population.
Back to the salvage yards south of downtown Los Angeles – great places. Already set up to defend their loot. Lots of scrap to construct armor, both personal and vehicular. Off the beaten track. A great place to hunker down and plan your next move.
This is Post-Apocalyptia. This is PA fiction. The thrill is in the setting. Envisioning the ‘what if everything I know doesn’t work, burns down, or is something I must flee from.’ Regular Science Fiction and Fantasy ask you to envision sometimes impossible landscapes. So unless you’ve been to Outer Mongolia and Death Valley, I don’t think anyone’s got a really firm picture of Mordor. And I still can’t even get my mind around Alastair Reynolds’ Glitter Band from The Revelation Space Novels. But my neighborhood two years after a viral doomsday? The skeletal remains of New York City? A burning IHOP surrounded by zombies? I can picture that.
And therein lies the special thrill PA readers seek when delving into wastelands both suburban and desolate. The thrill of what happened at the mall. The airport. The deepest depths of The Wasteland. PA readers want to see what End of the World tricks the writer can play with these places we live in, pass along the highway or have seen in the movies. It’s fun. I did it over several years driving the lonely highway 8 between San Diego, California and Tucson, Arizona: the setting for The Old Man and the Wasteland. Long ribbons of seemingly endless highway were turned into bent and buckled lifelines connecting the remnants of humanity. Jagged mountains and burning wastes became places of introspection and remembrance. Roadside gas stations and motels hinted at stories of mayhem on that last, long ago day before the world went Ka-boom. You can play it yourself. As you drive today or take the bus or simply head out, walking stick in hand. Take a look around at the grocery store, the city skyline or wherever you find yourself, and imagine what if? What if a dirty bomb exploded? Maybe an EMP pulse over the North American hemisphere? What if I hear the doomsday sirens…
What will become of this place?
What will become of me?
— Nick Cole