Monday, March 30, 2009

Post-apocalyptic fiction

Because I was away on holiday, I managed to accumulate quite a backlog of emails. Among ones I’ve found is a message from Abe Books about ‘end of the world’ fiction. Since I’ve always been a reader of post-apocalyptic novels, this was one bulk message I didn’t want to delete.

I agreed with quite a few of their choices – especially Earth Abides, one of the most memorable books of my life (apparently Carl Sandburg agreed with this assessment).

There were a few that I thought they’d got ‘wrong’ – like John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids. Even though it might have served as inspiration for Jose Saramago’s Nobel Prize winning Blindness, I don’t think it fits the category of post-apocalypse fiction. A better candidate by Wyndham would have been his The Chrysalids, in which ‘mutants’ are outcasts in the prevailing day’s society. Their genes are wildly mutated by residual radiation from a long-past nuclear war, so I think this title qualifies better.

One of the writers they didn’t mention is John Brunner. And maybe that’s because his books aren’t so much set after a specific disaster, but rather in the midst of them. Stand on Zanzibar’s premise is overpopulation; The Sheep Look Up finds its threat in ecological disasters. Can you say topical? And I’m still pretty sure it’s one of those two books that sees police maintaining crowd control (people are standing in long queues for food) by distributing joints for them to smoke.

Another two books that should be on their list are Ronald Wright’s A Scientific Romance and Russell Hoban’s Ridley Walker. Although Wright’s book is based on the trick of time travel, his images of grown-over roadways will always stay in my mind. Ridley Walker is a true one-of-a-kind. Not only is set in a far-distant post-acopalyptic future, it’s written in a ‘new’ kind of language. Although the book was written in 1980, much of its language seems similar to today’s texting, especially its use of numbers to mimic the sounds of words.

There was even an old school text, Z for Zachariah, which might well be worth a re-read.

Doing a bit of research on this genre, I’ve encountered a few more titles I’ll need to track down, John Crowley’s Engine Summer, Philip K. Dick’s Dr Bloodmoney, and J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World . This last one presumes the polar icepacks have melted. But the oddest-sounding one of all is Bernard Wolfe’s 1952 novel, Limbo. These last recommendations are all thanks to a wonderful volume by David Pringle, Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels.

I'd love it if anyone could up with other suggestions in this thought-provoking genre. Comments with names are always the best, but if Anonymous can suggest a great book, I'm happy enough to know about it.


Anonymous said...

S.M. Stirling's Dies The Fire series.

hg said...

I did a bit of googling around on this, and most comments aren't very favourable. Still, I will give Stirling's work a try.
Thanks for the tip!

Kimmy said...

yes to Riddley Walker! some of the best post-apoc fiction ever written, and (i think) cribbed by David Mitchell for the central story in Cloud Atlas.

hg said...

I knew there was a reason I was so enchanted by Cloud Atlas. How could I have not made that connection?