I still love apocalyptic tales, but as an adult I tend to focus on the creativity in which the author takes an element of our society and pushes it until it breaks. For me it’s all about the transformation now. Here are a couple of the stories that influenced my writing.
THE WHITE MOUNTAINS by John Christopher.
This is book one in the Tripod series and the first apocalyptic story that I read as a youth. In the story, Earth has long been enslaved by an alien race known as the Tripods. The Tripods control the population by “capping” children when they turn 14. The protagonist, Will Parker, decides that he doesn’t want to have his personality subdued by the capping and runs away. The story is a classic and instantly hooked me on apocalyptic tales.
Lesson learned: Apocalyptic stories are really cool.
DAMNATION ALLEY by Roger Zelazny
After my first taste of post-apocalyptic stories, it didn’t take me long to snag Damnation Alley. The story was like night to day compared with the Tripod series. Christopher’s tale had a quaint, rural feel to it and in many ways extolled the virtues of humanity. Zelazny took a different route and made his protagonist the last of the Hell’s Angels and allowed the author to deliver a large dose of disdain for war and humanity’s destruction of the environment. I have read this book more times than any other fictional tale. Jan-Michael Vincent starred in the movie version of the story which failed to do the story justice. With super cool armored-vehicles, giant Gila monsters, and biker gangs roaming the countryside unchecked it remains my favorite post-apocalypse story.
Lesson learned: Social outcasts make great protagonist if your goal is to point out the uncivilized qualities of society.
THE POSTMAN by David Brin
Of all the apocalyptic books that I’ve read I found The Postman the most realistic. Brin’s tale is the closest in style and substance to my apocalyptic novel, Call to Arms: Nations Fall. The protagonist in The Postman is just an average person trying to survive the apocalypse. He stumbles across a mail truck and is forced clothe himself in the long-dead postman’s uniform. I love this story because it focuses on putting society back together after the disaster.
Lesson learned: Stories about putting society back together can be just as entertaining as the ones about tearing the world apart.
PLANET OF THE APES with Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, and Kim Hunter.
This is the best of the down-with-the-man science fiction films of the late 60s and early 70s. Charlton Heston starred in the three most memorable efforts of this era. At the heart of the film is the sentiment that mankind is foolish and will ultimately destroy not only themselves, but the planet as well. I love the ending, which came as a powerful surprise to me. It remains, in my opinion, one of the best endings of all time. Placing mankind in the role of animals made a powerful statement and the onscreen kiss between Heston and the ape-clad Hunter caused quite a stir among the audiences.
Lessons learned: 1) Reverse humanity’s role for a new perspective on a subject. 2) If you want people to remember your story then have a memorable ending.
MAD MAX with Mel Gibson
I’ve seen Mad Max over 50 times. (Because it happened to be at the theater I managed the year the movie was released in the U.S.) The original film had abysmal acting, but gained a large number of fans. I credit its popularity to the sense of connection we all have to rush hour road rage. Just kidding. The concept was original and allowed it to survive the poor production elements of the film. At the center of this story we have a simple struggle over limited resources.
Lesson learned: Cool cars and leather jackets make this film work. Style has an important place in storytelling.
Let me wrap this up with a list of a few more apocalyptic stories and the lessons I learned from them.
The Blood of Heroes – Any genre (sports movies) can be given an apocalyptic facelift.
I Am Legend – Sometimes the protagonist turns out to be the monster.
Escape From New York – Think outside the box. Manhattan as a prison is genius.