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Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction

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Apocalyptic fiction is a [[wikipedia:sub-genre|]] of [[wikipedia:science fiction|]] that is concerned with the end of civilization either through nuclear war, plague, or some other general disaster. Post-apocalyptic fiction is set in a world or civilization after such a disaster. The time frame may be immediately after the catastrophe, focusing on the travails or psychology of survivors, or considerably later, often including the theme that the existence of pre-catastrophe civilization has been forgotten (or mythologized). Post-apocalyptic stories often take place in an agrarian, non-technological future world, or a world where only scattered elements of technology remain. There is a considerable degree of blurring between this form of science fiction and that which deals with false utopias or dystopic societies.

The genres gained in popularity after [[wikipedia:World War II|]], when the possibility of global annihilation by [[wikipedia:nuclear weapon|]]s entered the public consciousness. However, recognizable apocalyptic novels existed at least since the first quarter of the 19th century, when [[wikipedia:Mary Shelley|]]'s [[wikipedia:The Last Man|]] was published. Additionally, the subgenres draw on a body of apocalyptic literature, tropes, and interpretations that are millennia old.

Ancient predecessorsEdit

Numerous societies, including the Babylonian and Judaic traditions, have produced [[wikipedia:apocalyptic literature|]] and mythology, some of which dealt with the end of the world and of human society.[1] The scriptural story of [[wikipedia:Noah|]] and his Ark describes the end of a corrupt civilization and its replacement with a remade world. The first centuries AD saw the creation of various apocalyptic works; the best known (due to its inclusion in the [[wikipedia:New Testament|]]) is the [[wikipedia:Book of Revelation|]] (from which the word [[wikipedia:apocalypse|]] was originated, meaning "revelation of secrets"), which is replete with prophecies of destruction.[1] In the study of religious works, apocalyptic texts or stories, are those that disclose hidden secrets either by taking an individual literally into the heavens or into the future. Most often these revelations about heaven and the future are used to explain why some currently occurring event is taking place.[2]

Outside of the corpus of [[wikipedia:New Testament apocrypha|]] also includes apocalypses of Peter, Paul, Stephen, and Thomas, as well as two of James and Gnostic Apocalypses of Peter and Paul. The beliefs and ideas of this time, including apocalyptic accounts excluded from the [[wikipedia:Bible|]], influenced the developing [[wikipedia:Christian eschatology|]]. Template:Citation needed

Further apocalyptic works appeared in the early [[wikipedia:Middle Ages|]]. The 7th century [[wikipedia:Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius|]] includes themes common in Christian eschatology; the [[wikipedia:Prophecy of the Popes|]] has been ascribed to the 12th century Irish saint Malachy, but may in fact date from the late 16th century. [[wikipedia:Islamic eschatology|]], related to Christian and Jewish eschatological traditions, also emerged from the 7th century. [[wikipedia:Ibn al-Nafis|]]'s 13th century [[wikipedia:Theologus Autodidactus|]], an Arabic [[wikipedia:novel|]], used empirical science to explain Islamic eschatology.[3]

Modern worksEdit

Pre-1900 worksEdit

The first work of modern apocalyptic fiction may be [[wikipedia:Mary Shelley|]]'s 1826 novel [[wikipedia:The Last Man|]]. The last portion becoming the story of a man living in a future world emptied of humanity by plague, it contains the recognizable elements of the subgenre. It is sometimes considered the first science fiction novel, though that distinction is more often given to Shelley's more famous earlier novel, [[wikipedia:Frankenstein|]].

The 1885 novel [[wikipedia:After London|]] by [[wikipedia:Richard Jefferies|]] is of the type that could be best described as "post-apocalyptic fiction"; after some sudden and unspecified catastrophe has depopulated England, the countryside reverts to nature, and the few survivors to a quasi-medieval way of life. The first chapters consist solely of a loving description of nature reclaiming [[wikipedia:England|]]: fields becoming overrun by forest, domesticated animals running wild, roads and towns becoming overgrown, the hated [[wikipedia:London|]] reverting to lake and poisonous swampland. The rest of the story is a straightforward adventure/quest set many years later in the wild landscape and society; but the opening chapters set an example for many later science fiction stories. Similarly, [[wikipedia:Stephen Vincent Benét|]]'s short story "[[wikipedia:By the Waters of Babylon|]]" (1937) describes a young man's coming-of-age quest to a ruined New York City after an unspecified disaster.

Published in 1898, [[wikipedia:H.G. Wells|]]' novel [[wikipedia:The War of the Worlds|]] depicts an invasion of Earth by inhabitants of the planet [[wikipedia:Mars|]]. The aliens systematically destroy Victorian England with advanced weaponry mounted on nearly indestructible vehicles. Due to the famous radio adaptation of the novel by [[wikipedia:Orson Welles|]] on his show, [[wikipedia:Mercury Theatre|]], the novel has become one of the best known early apocalyptic works. It has subsequently been reproduced or adapted several times in film, television, radio, music, and computer games.

Post-1900 worksEdit

Nuclear warEdit

Template:See also The period of the [[wikipedia:Cold War|]] saw increased interest in these subgenres, as the threat of nuclear war became real. Paul Brians published [[wikipedia:Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction|]], a study that examines atomic war in short stories, novels, and films between 1895 and 1984. Since this measure of destruction was no longer imaginary, some of these new works, such as [[wikipedia:Mordecai Roshwald|]]'s [[wikipedia:Level 7|]], [[wikipedia:Nevil Shute|]]'s On the Beach and [[wikipedia:Pat Frank|]]'s [[wikipedia:Alas, Babylon|]], shun the imaginary science and technology that are the identifying traits of general science fiction.Template:Citation needed Others include more fantastic elements, such as mutants, alien invaders, or exotic future weapons such as [[wikipedia:James Axler|]]'s [[wikipedia:Deathlands|]].Template:Citation needed

According to some theorists, the [[wikipedia:atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki|]] in its modern past has influenced Japanese popular culture to include many apocalyptic themes. Much of Japan's [[wikipedia:manga|]] and [[wikipedia:anime|]] is filled with apocalyptic imagery.[4] It has, however, also been claimedTemplate:Who that disaster and post-disaster scenarios have a longer tradition in Japanese culture, possibly related to the [[wikipedia:earthquakes|]] that repeatedly have devastated Japanese cities, and possibly connected to Japanese political history, which includes strict adherence to authority until a sudden and dramatic change. See [[wikipedia:Meiji Restoration|]] and the earlier [[wikipedia:ee ja nai ka|]] phenomenon.Template:Citation needed

[[wikipedia:Andre Norton|]] wrote one of the definitive, post apocalyptic novels, Star Man's Son (AKA, Daybreak 2250), published in 1952, where a young man, Fors, begins an Arthurian quest for lost knowledge, through a radiation ravaged landscape, with the aid of a telepathic, mutant cat. He encounters mutated creatures, "the beast things," which are possibly a degenerated form of humans.

A seminal work in this subgenre was [[wikipedia:Walter M. Miller, Jr.|]]'s [[wikipedia:A Canticle for Leibowitz|]] (1959). Ideas such as a recrudescent Church (Catholic or other), pseudo-medieval society, and the theme of the rediscovery of the knowledge of the pre-holocaust world were central to this book.

In [[wikipedia:2003|]], children's novelist [[wikipedia:Jeanne DuPrau|]] released the first of four books in a post-apocalypic series for [[wikipedia:young adults|]]. [[wikipedia:The City of Ember|]] has since been made into a film starring [[wikipedia:Bill Murray|]] and Saorise Ronan.

[[wikipedia:Cormac McCarthy|]]'s [[wikipedia:The Road|]] (2006) is a recent work of post-apocalyptic fiction. It won the [[wikipedia:Pulitzer Prize|]]. It was made into a film by director John Hillcoat starring [[wikipedia:Viggo Mortenson|]] and [[wikipedia:Kodi Smit-McPhee|]]. What actually causes the event which partially destroys the world is never actually explained.

The Fallout series of video games are about survival in a post-nuclear wasteland after "The Great Atomic War" which was set in the year of [[wikipedia:2077|]].[5]


[[wikipedia:The Scarlet Plague|]] by [[wikipedia:Jack London|]], published in 1912, is set in San Francisco in the year 2072, sixty years after a plague has largely depopulated the planet.

[[wikipedia:Earth Abides|]] by [[wikipedia:George R. Stewart|]] (1949), deals with one man who finds most of civilization has been destroyed by a plague. Slowly a small community forms around him as he struggles to start a new civilization and preserve knowledge and learning.

In 1978, [[wikipedia:Stephen King|]] published [[wikipedia:The Stand|]], which follows the odyssey of a small number of survivors of a world-ending influenza pandemic. Although reportedly influenced by the 1949 novel [[wikipedia:Earth Abides|]], King's book includes many [[wikipedia:supernatural|]] elements and is generally regarded as part of the [[wikipedia:horror fiction|]] genre.

The award winning novel Emergence by [[wikipedia:David R. Palmer|]] (1984) is set in a world where a man-made plague destroys the vast majority of the world's population.

The Portuguese [[wikipedia:Nobel laureate|]] [[wikipedia:Jose Saramago|]] wrote Blindness in 1995. It tells the story of a city or country in which a mass epidemic of blindness destroys the social fabric.

[[wikipedia:Oryx and Crake|]] by [[wikipedia:Margaret Atwood|]] is an example of [[wikipedia:dystopian|]] post-apocalyptic fiction.[6] The framing story is set after a genetically modified virus wipes out the entire population except for the protagonist and a small group of humans that were also genetically modified. A series of flashbacks depicting a world dominated by biocorporations explains the events leading up to the apocalypse. This story was later followed up with [[wikipedia:The Year of the Flood|]].

Her short story "Freeforall" deals with a totalitarian society attempting to stop the spread of [[wikipedia:sexually transmitted diseases|]].

Richard Matheson's I Am Legend deals with the life of Robert Neville, the only unaffected survivor of a global pandemic that has turned the world's population into vampire-like creatures.

[[wikipedia:The White Plague|]] (1982) a novel by Frank Herbert. When a bomb planted by the IRA goes off, the wife and children of molecular biologist John Roe O'Neill are killed on May 20, 1996. Driven insane by loss, he plans a genocidal revenge and creates a plague that kills women. O'Neill then releases it in Ireland (for supporting the terrorists), England (for oppressing the Irish and giving them a cause), and Libya (for training said terrorists); he demands that the governments of the world send all citizens of those countries back to their countries, and that they quarantine those countries and let the plague run its course, so they will lose what he has lost; if they don't, he has more plagues to release.

[[wikipedia:Survivors (2008 TV Series)|]] is a re-make of its namesake, the 1970s post-apocalyptic series also known as [[wikipedia:Survivors|]]. It focuses on a group of British survivors of a mutated genetically engineered virus that wipes out 99.9% of the world's population.

Failure of modern technologyEdit

In [[wikipedia:René Barjavel|]]'s 1943 novel Ravage, written and published during the German Occupation of France, a future France is devastated by the sudden failure of [[wikipedia:electricity|]], causing chaos, disease, and famine with a small band of survivors desperately struggling for survival.

Half a century later, [[wikipedia:S. M. Stirling|]] took up a similar theme in the 2004 [[wikipedia:Dies the Fire|]], where a sudden mysterious worldwide "Change" alters physical laws so that [[wikipedia:electricity|]], [[wikipedia:gunpowder|]] and most forms of high-energy-density [[wikipedia:technology|]] no longer work. Civilization devastatingly collapses, and two competing groups struggle to re-create Medieval technologies and skills, as well as master magic.

Afterworld is a computer-animated American [[wikipedia:science fiction|]] [[wikipedia:television series|]] about the failure of modern technology.

Extraterrestrial threatsEdit

Edgar Allan Poe's 1839 short story "[[wikipedia:The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion|]]" has two souls in the afterlife discussing the apocalyptic end-of-the-world by a comet that removed nitrogen from earth's atmosphere leaving only oxygen, resulting in a worldwide inferno.

In the 1933 novel [[wikipedia:When Worlds Collide|]] by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer, the earth is destroyed by a rogue planet Bronson Alpha. A selected few escape on a spaceship. In the sequel [[wikipedia:After Worlds Collide|]] the survivors start a new life on the planet's companion Bronson Beta, which has taken the orbit formerly occupied by earth.

In the 1954 novel [[wikipedia:One in Three Hundred|]], by [[wikipedia:J. T. McIntosh|]], scientists have discovered how to pinpoint the exact minute, hour, and day the Sun will go "nova" - and when it does, it will boil away the Earth's seas, beginning with the hemisphere that faces the sun, and as the Earth continues to rotate, it will take only 24 hours before all life is eradicated. Super-hurricanes and tornadoes are predicted. Buildings will be blown away. A race is on to build thousands of spaceships for the sole purpose of transferring evacuees on a one-way trip to [[wikipedia:Mars|]]. When the Sun begins to go nova, everything is on schedule, but most of the spaceships turn out to be defective, and fail en route to Mars.

[[wikipedia:Lucifer's Hammer|]] by [[wikipedia:Jerry Pournelle|]] and [[wikipedia:Larry Niven|]] (1977) is about a cataclysmic comet hitting the Earth, and various groups of people struggling to survive the aftermath in southern California.

Cosy catastropheEdit

The "cosy catastrophe" is a name given to a style of post-apocalyptic science fiction that was particularly prevalent after [[wikipedia:World War II|]] among British [[wikipedia:science fiction|]] writers. A "cosy catastrophe" is typically one in which civilization (as we know it) comes to an end and everyone is killed except for a handful of survivors, who then set about rebuilding their version of civilization. The term was coined by [[wikipedia:Brian Aldiss|]] in Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. The concept, however, can be dated back as far as 1890's [[wikipedia:Caesar's Column|]] by [[wikipedia:Ignatius L. Donnelly|]] (under the pseudonym Edmund Boisgilbert), where the violent uprising of the lower class against a plutocratic oligarchy leads to the destruction of civilization, while the protagonist survives back home in a now-fortified European colony in the [[wikipedia:Uganda|]]n highlands. The [[wikipedia:cosy mystery|]] is an analogous genre in [[wikipedia:mystery fiction|]].[7]

English author [[wikipedia:John Wyndham|]] was the figure at whom Aldiss was primarily directing his remarks, especially his novel [[wikipedia:The Day of the Triffids|]]. The critic L. J. Hurst dismissed Aldiss's accusations, pointing out that in the book the main character witnesses several murders, suicides, and misadventures, and is frequently in mortal danger himself.[8]

[[wikipedia:John Christopher|]]'s [[wikipedia:The World in Winter|]] (1962) also falls into this category, with the main character being able to avoid the worst excesses of the collapse of European civilization, due to a fall in solar radiation. Those who are fortunate enough to escape move to [[wikipedia:Africa|]] where they find themselves treated as second class citizens. Eventually, an expedition is made by [[wikipedia:hovercraft|]] to [[wikipedia:London|]] by Nigerian soldiers and the main character, who sabotages the mission in order to remain with his new wife who has joined a growing group of survivors there.

The Catalan author [[wikipedia:Manuel de Pedrolo|]] wrote Mecanoscrit del segon origen (eng. title: Second origin typescript). It was published in 1974 and is a post-apocalyptic novel where two children accidentally survive an alien holocaust that eradicates all life on earth. They take up the mission of preserving human culture and repopulating the Earth.

David Graham's [[wikipedia:Down to a Sunless Sea|]] (1979) starts off with a seeming "cosy catastrophe" - i.e., the rest of the world is completely destroyed in an all-out nuclear war spreading deadly radioactivity over the world, but the small band of survivors led by a heroic jetliner pilot manage to set up a colony in Antarctica and apparently start a new life for humanity. But in the devastating ending, the radioactivity catches up with them and they all die, humanity and all life on earth become extinct.

Post-peak oilEdit

[[wikipedia:James Howard Kunstler|]] has written a novel World Made By Hand that imagines life in New England after a declining oil supply has wreaked havoc on the US economy and people and society are forced to adjust to daily life without cheap oil.

David Graham also explored a similar theme in his 1982 book Sidewall in which the world is forced to look for alternatives to oil when OPEC cuts production for political purposes. The story covers the construction of a nuclear powered, near-supersonic ocean-going craft and the attempts to stop it by various terrorist groups and nations in order to keep the world dependent on oil.

See alsoEdit

  • [[wikipedia:List of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction|]]
  • [[wikipedia:Apocalypticism|]]
  • [[wikipedia:Dying Earth subgenre|]]
  • [[wikipedia:Zombie apocalypse|]]
  • [[wikipedia:Doomsday event|]]
  • [[wikipedia:Survivalism|]]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Template:Cite book
  3. Dr. Abu Shadi Al-Roubi (1982), "Ibn al-Nafis as a philosopher", Symposium on Ibn al-Nafis, Second International Conference on Islamic Medicine: Islamic Medical Organization, Kuwait ([[wikipedia:cf.|]] Ibnul-Nafees As a Philosopher, Encyclopedia of Islamic World).
  4. Murakami, T.: Little Boy: The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture, Yale University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-300-10285-2
  5. Template:Cite news
  6. Guardian book club: Oryx and Crake, [[wikipedia:The Guardian|]], April 11, 2007.
  8. Essay by L. J. Hurst


External linksEdit

[[wikipedia:Category:Science fiction genres|]] [[wikipedia:Category:Science fiction themes|]]

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