Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why We Like Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Post-Apocalyptic science fiction is a staple sub-genre of science fiction. It typically portrays a world after an apocalypse of some sort. Most of humanity dies and the few surviving must make it against enormous odds. The ending is not always happy in the Hollywood sense. The show Battlestar Galactica comes to mind, as does the Resident Evil franchise and 'The Windup Girl' by Paolo Bachigalupi.

I wasn't a big fan of post-apocalyptic science fiction to begin with. I was a Star Trek fan, which meant that I had a very positive, almost utopic vision of the future. I liked science fiction in which humanity expands beyond the solar system and thrives throughout the galaxy. My favorite author was Asimov.

However, gradually I began to like post-apocalyptic stories. And today I wondered why that was. I think the reason is that as I grew older, I learnt more about our social, political and economic systems. I learnt about global warming and neo-colonialism. And in such an environment, it's hard not to become pessimistic and cynical. It is hard not to feel that we deserve and apocalyptic future.

Reading post-apocalyptic science fiction is an act of self-flagellation.

It isn't unlike the concept of heaven in most mythologies. The idea that most of humanity is corrupt and that we'd be destroyed for it (either by a god or by natural course of this corruption) is very old. Of course, some of us will survive and they will essentially be righteous. Heaven is ancient post-apocalyptic science fiction.

Of course, in most modern stories, you don't go to heaven anymore. Instead you're chased by Cylons or zombies (or both: hey, if you can have cowboys and aliens, why not cylons and zombies). There is no reprieve.

So perhaps modern fiction is more like Hell. There is no redemption and you must suffer till eternity.

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