I hated them, and began, last and worst degradation, to hate myself. I clung to my ferocious habits, yet half despised them; I continued my war against civilization, and yet entertained a wish to belong to it.” from “The Last Man” by Mary Shelley.
Triple Double Stuff Oreos are proof that vegan food can be totally unhealthy; it is this non-food food that have, with the demise of the Hostess Twinkie, become my first choice for post-apocalyptic binges. Yup, I think about those things even while eating cookies and tea. I have been sort of obsessed with apocalypse and isolation since childhood. Anybody else remember “On the Beach” the Kramer movie that saps up and dumbs down the Shute’s book of the same name (with still pretty spectacular results I must add but as usual, the book is better.) I do. I was much too young to understand all the relational nuances I got watching it as an adult, but I got it, and it stuck with me the same way Hitchcock’s “The Birds” did.
Apocalypse and isolation, people living outside the structures of civilization, oh and dystopia; these are always my favorite stories even today, but as a child and adolescent, even more so. From Robinson Crusoe to Swiss Family Robinson, the tails of Captain Nemo, “My Side of the Mountain,” or the truly apocalyptic ones like “The Scarlet Plague” by Jack London, “Earth Abides” by George Stewart, or “A Canticle for Leibowitz”, “Alas, Babylon,” “Shadow on the Hearth” or in its own way “Planet of the Apes.” these and the fantasy stories were the works I could not get enough of, weedling the librarian to get me copies to check out (not available in the children’s section my card was valid in) or reading them behind the paperback shelves in the 5 and Dime. (They never kicked me out, although I rarely bought more than my 10 cent weekly milk money worth of candy; in return, I never stole a book from them, or anything else for that matter.)
When I was still pretty young and on a car trip to My Grandma Clegg’s; my little brother was on the way because we kept having to stop for Mommy to pee and Roxanne always got to hold the baby who couldn’t quite stand, so I’d say maybe 5; I told my family that when I grew up I wanted to go live on an “uninhibited” island, I meant uninhabited but my vocabulary often got ahead of my pronunciation. I didn’t realize why they were all laughing so loudly, until my oldest sister felt compelled to explain the difference in the most shaming way possible, however I did understand that they were illustrating why I wished to live away from everyone and why I have always been certain the apocalypse would come.
I still don’t get meanness; I still believe in love, compassion and kindness. In fact one of my loves of classics like Verne’s tales of Nemo and Shelley’s “Last Man” stems from their humanist faith that love can change and redeem a hard and angry heart, however both authors having moved past their era’s romanticism know that a rescued heart can still cease to beat inside an old or battered body and the delineation of good/bad/right/wrong is not as simple as birth, power, money or spiritual affiliation. In their books science is both friend and foe, the problem and the answer; just like many of my favorite modern novels.
They say “Last Man” is the first post-apocalyptic novel, but I posit it is far from the first apocalypse story. I suggest Gilgamesh and Noah are both stories of apocalypse, and any well read geek will realize I have also skipped over the writer’s we all read in school like Vonnegut and Bradbury, or any of the external act ends of the world, or the “cozy” ends of the world. Pandemic or nuclear holocaust or environmental destruction/infrastructure failure are my obsession. Man ends through his own inattention and acts of unkindness; and begins anew if any beginning is allowed (not all books allow our species to survive) because of the heroine/hero’s ability to see possibility and practice compassion.
And always, always the story is accompanied by the Cerdd Dant harp of isolation.
If you are one of the many modern readers who are a bit obsessed with zombies and plagues and isolation and the end of the world, go read “Last Man,” you will thank me later. Also if you are unfamiliar with any other titles here I can thoroughly recommend them.
What is your favorite post-apocalyptic novel? I always can use another good book!
By the way, if we both survive the apocalypse, I still get all the Oreos I want, but since there will be many Oreos and only us left, no worries, there will be some for you as well!