I think we can all conclude that even if the Rapture occurs as predicted by Harold Camping, (where it says, “The End off [sic] the World,” I guess spelling doesn’t count in Heaven) I’m not going anywhere. Furthermore, I refuse. I’m holding out for Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods, as any good Norsewoman would. Hand me that labrys, would you?
That said, those of us who are still going to be here (you know who you are) will still need something to read. So I started looking at post-apocalyptic books, you know, to get in the mood. I was mildly surprised to discover that post-apocalyptic lit dates back to the early 1800s, when Mary Shelley (yes, THAT Mary Shelley) wrote what is apparently the very first post-apocalyptic book all the way back in 1826. Overshadowed of course by her earlier more famous work,Frankenstein, The Last Man
is set in the year 2100, after some kind of plague has decimated the human race. The book was trashed in its day, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that it was revived.
In 1885, Richard Jefferies wrote After London: Wild England wherein an unspecified disaster of some sort wipes out most of the population and nature begins to reclaim the land.
Everyone is familiar with H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds from 1898 but unlike the movies the book is set in Victorian London. I remember how surprised I was when I first found that out, although I don’t know why I was surprised that Hollywood had moved the setting to the United States.
Another surprise was finding that Jack London had penned The Scarlet Plague in 1912. Set in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2073, again, a mysterious plague nearly obliterates the human race. More a novella at only 86 pages, it is sadly out of print.
In 1909, E. M. Forster (better known for Howard’s End, The Remains of the Day, A Room With a View) gave us The Machine Stops.
I admit I am surprised at so much dystopian, apocalyptic writing during this Victorian era. Was science advancing too quickly for comfort? The new era of mechanization also gave rise to the Arts and Crafts movement, and Art Nouveau. It must have seemed like the world was already out of control, and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 hadn’t even hit yet.
There has been more post-apocalyptic/dystopian literature written since the 1940s than I can shake a stick at, but it’s easy to see where that came from: World Wars, the Cold War, space race, and so on. Rather than try to list it all, I refer you to David Brin’s Facebook list (you don’t need to be a member to see this) of post-apocalyptic novels, including his own The Postman from 1985 (do not be deterred by the movie that was made of it). And if you are of a science-y bent, you can follow him on Twitter @DavidBrin1 .