There’s a common theme in post-apocalyptic literature right now. We’ve seen it in books like Wool, Metro2033, The Remaining and many other stories. That theme takes survivors of a post-apocalytic event underground to live in tunnels, bunkers or subways. We’ve seen it in movies, and television, too. Of course, this idea isn’t new. And authors have been writing about it for decades.
But it’s got me thinking. So I decided to do a bit of research. The results were startling.
Most people probably have no idea that some governments have already prepared for a fraction of their population to live under the surface. North Korea, China, Vietnam, Switzerland and even the United States are all examples.
You may remember a passage in the book, World War Z, where North Korea moves their entire population underground when the zombie apocalypse hits… but did you know China has an entire underground city? Or that Switzerland is one of the safest countries in the world due to the tunnels they’ve built deep in the mountains?
Governments have been preparing for the apocalypse for decades. It’s fascinating when you think about how fiction is in some ways, not fiction at all…
On Writing: Choosing the Apocalypse
By Nicholas Sansbury Smith
Pictured: An Orb from the bestselling scifi novel—ORBS
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about why I think Americans are obsessed with the apocalypse. But I never explained why I am—and I never explained why I choose to write in this genre.
I’ll start with the “ever since I was a kid,” cliché. Because honestly, my fascination with the apocalypse started when I was about 8. There’s no denying the fact my Friday night routine was nerdy. It started with a trip to Toy’s R Us for the newest Star Wars figurine. From there my parents would take me to Great Midwestern Café for a Tuna Salad Croissant. And finally I would lay on the carpet in front of our modest television and watch The X-Files. Mulder and Scully were my idols. Man oh man, I was in heaven.
I plowed through every Michael Crichton book I could get my hands on in the summer of 1992 and watched an alien burst through Ripley’s chest in Alien 3.
When I reached high school I watched and re-watched the Terminator. The idea of artificial intelligence terrified me. So what did I do? I stayed up late way too many nights reading S.M Stirling’s take on the Terminator universe.
In college I found myself oddly addicted to Lost.
There were hundreds of other movies, television shows and books I devoured by the time I started writing, but these I recall the most vividly.
Today I’m not just a fan of the genre, I’m an author writing exclusively about how life could end as we know it. But just recently I found myself wondering why—why do I find this subject matter to be so captivating?
As I sit here and write this I think it has to do with several factors. I believe the 100 Ways to Die show is an exaggeration, and not because it illustrates too many ways to die. I think it should include MORE. Over the years I have watched the Earth get destroyed by super volcanoes, solar storms, asteroids, global warming and seen the human race eradicated by aliens, super bugs, artificial intelligence, nuclear war and countless other things. My subconscious and conscious are both well connected with the various ways the apocalypse could arrive.
So why do I write these stories?
My main goal is to entertain readers. To help them escape from everyday life. But deep down, my goal is also to warn them. I may not be better prepared for the apocalypse because I know how it might arrive, but I know I will not be shocked when it does. Unless of course, I end up in an ORB. Then I will probably die laughing at the irony.
Our Obsession with the Apocalypse
By Nicholas Sansbury Smith
A silent outbreak has taken the nation by storm—No, I’m not talking about some deadly virus, but rather the addiction to post-apocalyptic stories. They are everywhere. It seems like the major cable networks announce a new show every month with Hollywood producing a blockbuster every couple of months. Even Amazon has jumped into the fray, green-lighting Chris Carter’s new television show, The After.
The more I think about it, the more I question just why everyone seems to be fascinated with the apocalypse. I know why I am, but why are others? After deep consideration I have come up with a theory…
There is no mistaking the fact Americans live in blissful ignorance of all the ways life could end. Most people don’t know that a massive super volcano sleeps beneath Yellowstone National Park, a volcano capable of burying half of the United States in 6 feet of ash—they also don’t realize how close the world has been to the accidental launch of Nuclear Armageddon—nor do they understand the threat solar weather has on our electrical grid. Michael Crichton wrote that humans are surrounded in a sea of bacteria, and while 97 percent aren’t harmful it’s the 3 percent that could develop into a superbug that we should worry about.
But why should people worry about things they can’t see? I mean, isn’t that why most of us don’t seem to care or notice what’s going on in Ukraine, or Africa, or China? We focus on our individual bubbles that consist of daily routines. This is where we feel safe.
But for an hour each night many of us unzip our bubbles, flip on the TV and watch characters torn apart by zombies. What if those people were our neighbor’s we secretly think. We don’t stop there either. Many of us further climb out of our safety shells and head to the theatre to watch aliens take over the planet. What if this really happened we think some more. Then we throw our safety nets back on and go home, order Pizza Hut and catch a rerun of Seinfeld. Then we go to bed and rest our minds to prepare for another day of the same routine.
Deep down though, the ‘what ifs’ get to us. We have nightmares of the apocalypse. We fear it. And our subconscious knows it. We’re terrified by the notion our world could come crashing down around us.
No cellphones? “My god.”
The Internet is down? “TURN IT BACK ON!”
No hot water? No power? “God help us all.”
And guess who is banking on this fear—this fascination?
Their exploitation of our fears isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, one thing I really hope comes out of this new addiction to the apocalypse is a change at the top levels of government. Sure, there isn’t much we can do about Yellowstone, or an asteroid, but there are things we could press our elected leaders to accomplish. We could question our leaders about what the government is doing to protect our grid from solar storms, or what the CDC is doing to ensure a superbug doesn’t wipe us all out. We could pull together and demand the destruction of all nuclear warheads. The goal should be to limit the ways the apocalypse could arrive.
Of course, in the end I hope the apocalypse remains fiction, but I have the sneaking suspicion that someday; maybe tomorrow, or maybe years from now, an alien race will be watching a documentary on their version of Netflix that describes just how swiftly and suddenly humanity came to an end.