What defines an apocalyptic story?
The easy answer is that an apocalyptic event at the center of the story is what defines entries to this genre, but is that really the case? More importantly for me, how far can I twist the setting of the story before it no longer falls neatly into the genre?
Most of the classic apocalyptic stories have a distinct science-fiction bent to them, giving me reason to wonder if this might provide the defining aspect. Damnation Alley involves the last of the Hell’s Angels crossing the post-war America and facing giant Gila
Monsters, mutated cockroaches, and rogue biker gangs that rule the countryside. That is what comes to my mind whenever an apocalypse is mentioned.
Then you have stories such as Fred Saberhagen’s Empire of the East which is set in a future where, through science, a nuclear war is averted and magic is introduced into the world. Even though that sounds like science-fiction the first book reads like fantasy. Is this an apocalyptic story? If you want to pick nits, then yes. Unlike the movie Wizards, which has a strong blend of science and magic to create its apocalyptic world, I feel that Saberhagen’s novel rests squarely in the realm of fantasy.
Reign of Fire is clearly an apocalyptic story set in the modern age, but is caused by the resurgence of dragons. Perhaps my thoughts that stories in this genre must have a sci-fi element are ill-conceived. What makes this movie work in a genre that seldom features fantasy?
During recent years, a new element in the genre has risen in popularity. Zombie apocalypse stories have brought clear horror elements to what was once a sci-fi haven. World War Z uses a science-fiction storyline, but treats it as a horror story. Don’t get me wrong, I love this. Blurring genre lines opens all sorts of wonderful options to the
With fantasy and horror both represented as part of viable apocalypse stories, perhaps the key element that defines this genre is—us. Only those tales that place us in the path of disaster seem to fit. Either in the present or in the reasonably near future, as long as our society can be recognized amid the destruction that ensues it appears to qualify as an apocalyptic story.
Now that I have that resolved, maybe I write an article on blending some
non-traditional elements into an apocalyptic story. Doesn’t that sound fun? Oh,
I can hardly wait to experiment with that concept. See you all next time.