Is the ‘Post-Apocalyptic’ Genre Actually Post-Apocalyptic?

So I’ve been watching my fiancé play Fallout 76 and digging around in Fallout lore. This has led me to thinking about the ever-popular post-apocalyptic genre.

The premise is generally ‘the world after the End’. Pick your end. Nuclear war, plague, zombies, robot rebellion, purposely left vague…civilization has collapsed and the protagonist(s) must now survive. The Walking Dead, Book of Eli, The Matrix, Mad Max, and Fallout are all examples.

My issue is that the cataclysmic events are questionably apocalyptic. Traumatic and world-shattering, yes, but the world is still here. Humans are generally still there and are rebuilding, after one fashion or another.

Now, resources are scarce in these settings and the civilizations coming into power may not be pleasant, but it’s not utter chaos, though it may be close. A tribe is a culture and a method of human organization. I think that the nearest truly apocalyptic bits of fiction are ones where the world has utterly descended into a world of vicious raiders and cannibals, similar to the morbid The Road and the way it was heading in The Book of Eli.

The thing is, civilization has always been a mad desperate scramble. Rust never sleeps.

We now live in a world where roadside banditry is rare enough for occurrences to be shocking, but that is a rare thing in history. Time was that a good king was not necessarily a good man, but one strong enough to make sure the wilderness between villages was safe enough for ordinary travel.

Resources? We are in a worldwide economic crisis presently and I stood at the gas station trying to decide on which candy bar to buy out of dozens of options. It was always or often not so. And not long ago that it came to be that way.

As for health…death in childbirth is rare. Death from the infection from a small wound is rare. Viruses and bacteria that once ravaged the world are now footnotes in our minds of dirty and poor days gone by.

Through all this an genuinely horrifying plague and true famine, through wars that left nations scarred and generations decimated, we built what we have now, where even the least among is can live like relative kings in the kind of health and safety legions of personal guards and physicians couldn’t have granted to the lords of mighty empires in ages past.

So largely post-apocalyptic fiction is more ‘reset fiction’. It’s a thought experiment where creator’s imagine that human civilization has been suddenly thrown into its typical state: desperate, ragged, scavenging, savage, carving out cities and wonders bit by bit against all odds, and always fighting the encroaching rust. It’s a miracle we’re in the world we’re in, honestly.

Rust never sleeps.

Published by kathrynzurmehly

I am, among many other things, an Army vet and a freelance writer.

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