Apocalypse, Dying Earth, Survival, Shit-Hits-The-Fan, or whatever else you want to call it; I’ve been a fan of this genre for a long time, now, and it would seem I’m not alone. Strangely, it seems to still be lacking an official sub-genre category listing on the big sites like Amazon, Kobo, and so on but, you know…changing databases is HARD.
I did not realize that my first book was going to be placed in this setting (I actually didn’t have any idea that I was going to write my first book until I started banging away at the keyboard), nor did it occur to me that my first effort would end up being a series a books (go big or go home, right?). I had just finished listening to a string of them and the genre seemed well occupied. Did I really have anything worthwhile to add?
Over time while reading or listening to these works from other authors or watching the visual analog on TV (Walking Dead, anyone?), it became apparent to me that the answer was “yes”. In each of these offerings, I noticed that there were always points where the story began to scratch the surface of topics or plots that really began to interest me without really exploring in the way that I would have liked. There was always this teasing going on where they would walk right up to the edge of an idea and then back away. In some cases, this was totally understandable because the things that interested me didn’t necessarily dovetail with the story that the author (or scriptwriter) wanted to tell. In the worst cases, it was deeply frustrating; I felt that there were a lot of missed opportunities along the way when the characters weren’t just making outright stupid decisions (Walking Dead, anyone???).
I resisted the urge to set the Commune story in an apocalypse landscape but, after a lot of deliberation, I just found that the environment was really the most conducive to what I wanted to do. There were a lot of ideas and concepts that I wanted to explore, covering topics in the areas of primitive survival, small group dynamics, human adaptability, the price of humanity, and the impact of and coping with loss. It’s true that many of these are explored in other stories but I just felt that I had more to say on the matter. An apocalypse in which the human population has taken a significant hit (such that there are no more governments anywhere) gave me the sandbox I wanted.
Additionally, there is a bit of wish fulfillment that I believe we all experience when reading these stories. There is a base understanding that, in such a situation, everyone is reset back to zero. Put another way: your past history, mistakes, regrets, and transgressions are wiped away. You have the ultimate chance to start over. In debt up to your eyeballs? Not anymore! Trapped in a dead-end job or can’t get hired at all? Doesn’t matter now! Are you locked in a loveless marriage? Here’s your chance for a little fresh romance! Have you ever wanted to live in a mansion? Go find one and move in!
All of this can be yours; you need only survive the end of the world.
I love this idea of a mass, societal reset. I’m drawn to the idea that the criminal could find redemption or that the common accountant might grow into a skilled survivor. I’m compelled by this idea that people could get the chance at a do-over if only some agent would step in and erase society along with all of the rules, limitations, and boundaries that seem to hold so many people pinned firmly in place.
The genre gives me an incredible, nearly limitless workshop in which to go about the business of developing characters, which is really what this is all about. They can be built up and empowered or dragged through the mud and tortured pitilessly.
My own personal workshop; and I have a freshly sharpened set of chisels.