I consume a lot of post-apocalyptic stories, mostly in book format, but also in films and television. Part of it is because I enjoy sf stories, and post-apocalyptic stories look to the future and what could happen to the world and there are elements of both science fiction and fantasy in doing that. Part of it is also because I’m a cold war kid.
I grew up in Alice Springs, which is next door to the US and Australian intelligence base Pine Gap. I grew up when the threat of nuclear warfare was real. I grew up reading Children of the Dust, and it was more of a case of when the war would start than if. This mindset is hard to shake, and so I am drawn to the stories people tell about what if the world we knew ended, and what would happen next.
That said, I’m glad most stories don’t focus on the actual transition from today’s world to the newly imagined world, because that isn’t pretty at all. I watched bits of Under the Dome on TV, and it’s not nice to watch or read about people who need medication to stay alive suffer as their access to medication disappears, or when the water runs out and people start dehydrating or drinking unsafe water, or when food sources disappear and people start starving, or when the social order we appreciate completely breaks down and those that are deemed easy prey are expendable. I know that this happens today in many parts of the world, and it’s not what I want for anyone.
I won’t watch Under the Dome, or even The Walking Dead, because I don’t need that level of horror in my life, but it still fascinates me. What happens with race, gender and sexuality when the world we know today fractures and becomes something different? Do the current biases and prejudices remain? (probably yes) Will people change for the better? (probably no).
Annalee Newitz doesn’t think that the rights that women have fought for and won in many countries around the world are necessarily guaranteed.
So what does that tell us about the future? As I said earlier, it can be a fairly depressing prospect. We see that women have gained freedom and lost it, over and over again. There is no smooth road from lack of freedom to total freedom. It is, as Le Tigre sang in relation to something related, “One step forward, five steps back.”
So why this post? I want to review some of the books I’ve read recently, looking at how women, non-white people, disabled people and sexual minorities are represented, what ended the world today, and whether the future envisaged in those stories is one that I’d want to live in.
Stay tuned as I write over the next while posts about each of those books (when I’m focused and have time obviously). All thoughts and recommendations of other books welcome.