Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Survivalist fiction

I’ve started reading ‘Dies the Fire’ by S.M. Stirling, after seeing several recommendations, including by a few SCA members.  It is part of a genre of post-apocalypse fiction, which speculates how people would react to a collapse in civilization.  I’ve read a few novels along this theme over the years (such as Lucifer’s Hammer, Day of the Triffids, On the Beach, The Last Canadian, Twilight:2000, World War Z and others) and seen even more movies (Mad Max and its sequels, the Postman, Waterworld, Children of Men, I am Legend, Damnation Alley, Planet of the Apes, Zardoz, The Day After, The Quiet Earth, and more).  Some of these were good, other less so; but generally fun, escapist stuff.

A common (but not universal) theme is that, whatever causes the collapse, there will be some heavily-armed megalomaniac who will mysteriously appear, attract a large following of sadistic thugs, and then impose his ‘vision’ on whatever other survivors he can find.  These other survivors are usually pacifistic, granola-munching hippies who are completely incapable of resisting the thugs.  It is then up to our noble hero to step up and liberate the oppressed hippies.  The result is often a thinly-veiled justification for promoting ongoing access to firearms, a criticism of dolce-vita urbanites, and an implication that city-dwellers will be the first to die and/or give over to cannibalism, mob rule or willingly throw themselves into the service of the megalomaniac tyrant.

However, looking at actual disasters, the most typical response I’ve noted is to pull together and provide assistance for victims.  Police, fire and ambulance services will step forward and do their assigned jobs for the duration of the crisis.  Agencies such as the Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance, Salvation Army and other church groups or community organisations will provide assistance in accordance with their mandate or resources.  People not involved with one or more of these agencies will look for ways to contribute, either with time, money or in other ways.  The sense of community to me usually seems to be strengthened, rather than weakened, by the emergency.

Some of these stories seem to promote what might be the author’s political viewpoint.  However, since the author gets to create the stage and then decide how the characters react, he is able to manipulate events to reinforce his idea.  Don’t take anything you find in these stories as ‘proof’ of anything!

So I am going to continue enjoying my survivalist fiction, and keep it for what it is – fiction, fantasy, just plain made up stuff.  It is not a study in how people are likely to respond in a real crisis.  Don’t draw any morals from these stories; just enjoy them as fun, escapist fiction.


  1. I read that series. I kind of liked that the villain was a proffesor who liked Tolkien and was in the SCA, rather than some biker punk rocker hybrid.
    It's not a hero saves the day story, although there are heroes, saving days.
    He also spent a lot of energy describing the new societies and how they developed.

    1. Hi, Cory! I'm only on chapter 4, and the villain doesn't seem to have appeared yet. The peaceful, tree-hugging hippies have already killed a looter, though!