Guest Blog Post by Author, Ryan King (my DH) for A to Z Blog Challenge
First of all I want to thank my wife Kristin for allowing me to write a piece for her blog…even if she did ask me to do it while traveling half a world away. She gave me a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Are you a post-apocalyptic fan?
I just recently finished Paths of Righteousness, the third and final book in my post-apocalyptic Land of Tomorrow series and am waiting for edits. I’ve also written three post-apocalyptic short novels and envision that no matter what stories I write in the future, post-apoc will never be far from my thoughts.
Post-apocalyptic fiction is generally considered a sub-genre of science fiction and often lumped together and confused with dystopian or horror. Only recently did Amazon add genres for post-apocalyptic and dystopian years after they had established such obscure genres as Arthurian Legend Fantasy and Short Story – Cats.
Most of the online lists for post-apocalyptic and dystopian are identical, but I do believe there is a difference. Post-apocalyptic stories are about life directly after and/or during the destruction of society – think Book of Eli. Dystopian stories are about a future society or world that has changed drastically, possibly by an apocalyptic event, but not necessarily – think 1984, Hunger Games, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Wool, Planet of the Apes, or Eternity Road.
One of the key elements of post-apocalyptic fiction is the terrible aching loss that the characters feel when they gaze at the shadow of what was. Each hunger or pain or loss or act of cruelty is highlighted by the backdrop of an enlightened civilized society that is no more. In many ways post-apocalyptic fiction is two stories in one, and often difficult to construct well.
Modern post apocalyptic fiction is generally believed to have begun with Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (free here) written in 1826. In many ways the book is amazing for its vision of a world beset by a pandemic that slowly destroys humanity. Nearly a hundred years later in 1912, Jack London wrote his version of a world destroyed by disease with The Scarlet Plague.
Even with these two classics, post-apocalyptic fiction really did not hit its stride until the post-WWII nuclear world. This is not surprising given the real threat of nuclear apocalypse that our parents and grand-parents worried about. A threat that oddly enough is no less real today, simply not as obsessed about as much.
The post-apocalyptic genre is often misunderstood and underappreciated. The lines that categorize this genre blur and warp with popularity and passing time and it has never been truly defined. With that said, there are a surprising number of rabid post-apoc fans who read everything they can on the subject and eagerly await more. I am one of those fans.
So why are post-apocalyptic stories interesting? Is it simply a ghoulish and morbid fascination of what could happen in a dying world? Do we like the heart-racing horror or the depressing destruction? I think not. I believe what draws us to post-apocalyptic is the story of ordinary people fighting to stay alive in a world without civilized society. Everything is destroyed or corrupted, yet everything is also new and different. Any good that is done in this world is entirely due to the pure of heart and not laws or societal pressure. People are who and what they are after the Apocalypse. All masks are pulled away and things in many ways are much simpler.
There is also a freedom in a post-apocalyptic world that does not exist in our civilized society. That ruffian giving your daughter an inappropriate look? Shoot him in the face. You’re unsure about the stranger in your midst. Is he a potential ally or is he just someone who will cut your throat in the night? Why risk it? Just shoot him in the face.
Brutal violence aside, this level of simplicity and straightforward life I think often calls to us. In a world with board meetings and suffocating traffic and overwhelming commercialism we often crave the simplicity of a world where to survive the day is the height of achievement.
Of course none of us would ever really want to live in a world like this. If you are ever convinced otherwise, read Cormac McCarthey’s The Road (much more brutal than the movie), a book which takes the romance right out of post-apocalyptic living.
But fiction is often about imagination and even character empathy. We can conceive of something and fully explore it in our mind without really wanting it. I am in many ways a worrier by nature. If my kids are late from school, I immediately start imagining dozens of horrendous and terrible outcomes. I tell myself all of these are unlikely and silly, but the ‘what ifs’ keep coming. ‘What ifs’ are the product of my very active imagination and the results can be seen in most of my stories. A post-apocalyptic world is the ultimate ‘what if.’
So, why do you like post-apocalyptic stories? What are your favorite post-apocalyptic books in the genre? I cannot resist listing mine which I know will differ from others. (See more of my bookshelf on Shelfari)
1. Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank
2. Earth Abides – George R. Stewart
3. The Road – Cormac McCarthey
4. The Stand – Stephen King
5. The Postman – David Brin
6. Madd Adam Trilogy – Margaret Atwood
7. Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
8. Into the Forest – Jean Hegland
9. I Am Legend – Richard Matterson
10. A Gift Upon the Shore – M.K. Wren
11. Lucifer’s Hammer – Larry Niven
12. Swan Song – Robert McCammon
13. Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
14. The Passage/The Twelve – Justin Cronin
15. The Last Ship – William Brinkley
I can hear the screams now. What about Canticle For Leibowitz or Blindness or even that classic On The Beach? Good books all, just not my favorites. That’s another wonderful fact about post-apocalyptic fiction, the works seem to resonate more personally in many ways than other works of fiction. We can identify with a scene and character more than someone else because we are thinking of our own ‘what ifs.’
Reading about, thinking about, and imagining a post-apocalyptic world is the ultimate ‘what if.’ Have you ever imagined yourself there? For better or worse, you aren’t alone.
Ryan King is a bestselling author and career army officer with multiple combat tours who continues to serve in the military. He has lived, worked, and traveled throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. King is married to fellow author Kristin King and they have four young and energetic boys who keep them constantly busy. Ryan King writes post-apocalyptic, dystopian, thriller, horror, and action short stories, short novels, and novels.
Ryan King also writes under the pen name of Charles R. King for historical non-fiction. He has published 22 works, primarily covering the Punic Wars and late Roman Republican Era which was the focus of his graduate degree. Five of these works are currently on seven different Amazon bestseller lists. King is also writing a historical fiction series about Hannibal and the Second Punic War.