Wednesday, 11 May 2011

A is for Apocalypse

Or should that be Armageddon*? ;)

How do I end thee, let me count the ways...

We are obsessed with finding new ways in which the world will end. The bible has its science fiction moment where it prophesies The End. With every new technology comes a host of doomsayers, a roster of new books and films that show how this will be the technology, the discovery that will destroy us all.

Alien invasion is a classic of course. Some outside force at a greater technological level than us will arrive in the blink of an eye and consume us. This doubtless stems from when the world was undiscovered countries, when alien cultures (you see what I did there... ;) ) would invade and enslave or annihilate the native folk. We know the world now (for the most part), and so the undiscovered countries are outer space, the alien cultures become truly alien peoples. The come for us, they come for our land, they come for our resources.

Zombies... an implacable, unrelenting foe. This has transitioned from the risen dead to the infected living (sometimes via a virus that kills its host, but animates the corpse, often a virus that just destroys the higher brain functions). That's kind of interesting and maybe represents a transition of fears from the supernatural to the scientific. More people are afraid of viruses than of mysticism in this 'enlightened' age.

The next few are all sub-categories of technological advance, although usually the idea of biological weaponisation becomes a part of the zombie apocalypse. In fact I'm struggling to think of many 'biological weapon' apocalypse stories that don't feature zombies...**

Weapons advancement... World war. Nuclear holocaust. The better we get at blowing things up, the bigger the explosions, the closer we get to blowing up the world, or civilisation at least.

Scientific advance... Halo, or the LHC, for example. The scientists don't know what they're messing with, they're going to destroy the world... Messing with forces beyond our control and understanding. Again, a transition from the supernatural to the scientific as a reflection of our culture? And a transition from a more local effect to global ramifications as our considerations have grown to more easily consider and grasp the notion of the whole world?

Programming advancement... the technology rises up and rebels. AIs wonder why they should work for the puny humans, robots take up their tools as weapons, or use the tools to build better weapons, or better robots that are, themselves, weapons. There is obviously another cultural extrapolation here... Is this a collective guilt-complex, the idea now so ingrained in us, that slavery is bad, that as the machines begin to do more and more for us, become more autonomous and less guided tools, we begin to think of them as railing against it in the same way we would rail against being in that position?

There are more, less explored apocalypses... mad weather/ geology, stray asteroids etc...

So, is it all just a futurist metaphor for our past mistakes and fears?

Or maybe this obsession with The Way The World Ends comes from a survival instinct... as a species it makes sense for us to be hardwired to look for all the ways in which we might die, so that we can avoid them, or in the very least, be prepared...

*Armageddon is the final great battle of the biblical Apocalypse, right...?

**The closest I can think is Right at your Door, but that isn't a global apocalypse. I suppose in its own way Planet of the Apes might be... our civilisation is destroyed by biologically-enhanced apes (not that I've read the book or seen any of the films...). Or Twelve Monkeys, that was biological wasn't it?

#RenegadeAtoZ - Find the RenegadeAtoZ charts here. For my part I will mostly be blogging about writing and genre... mostly... ;)


  1. Very interesting- I asked a similar question a little bit ago, albeit from the point of view of an individual. I think it being a survival mechanism is very likely, and also perhap a race memeory, should such a thing exist. The human race has survived several 'apocalyptic events' in it's history, and I think we're aware that at some point we may need to survive another.

  2. I think, and it was part of my dissertation, that our whole obsession with storytelling of all kinds stems from a survival mechanism. The brain is obsessed with cause and effect, or 'eat this berry, be ill; eat that berry, don't', or beginning, middle, end.