Today we welcome Hugh Howey, author of the WOOL books, recent favorites of mine. If you haven’t read them, you really must! Unless, that is, the world ends tomorrow… And if it doesn’t, we’ll send one commenter the Kindle version of the WOOL omnibus or a book from our stacks.
It starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane — Lenny Bruce is not afraid.
So begins R.E.M.’s classic hit about the end of the world. Now, I don’t know what Lenny Bruce’s source of inner strength was, but he would likely find himself mostly alone these days. Disaster is looming, right? Except… disaster has been looming for as long as mankind has been around.
The end of all things. We’ve been obsessing about this non-event for as long as we have records. 2,000 years before R.E.M. sang their breathless tune, Paul the Apostle was warning that the end-times would occur, and soonest. The Doctrine of Imminence was founded on the belief that the Second Coming, with all the attendant plague of locusts and other really awful and un-fun things, was due to arrive before Paul’s generation was out. Like all doomsday predictions, Paul got it wrong. And we’ve been getting it wrong ever since.
Tomorrow we’ll witness yet another big poof of nothingness. Just like Y2K, a meaningless date will come and go, and the cosmos will keep on spinning. (Sorry Mayans!) Of course, I’m not all that fascinated by the failure of these predictions to come true. What fascinates me is our collective obsession with the end times. For many, the obsession takes the form of fear. For others, it’s like a crazy kind of longing. I think a few people look forward to the day!
A belief that the world is going to end has made for great popcorn munching of late. Disaster films became a genre in my lifetime. Books like THE HUNGER GAMES and my own WOOL series have captivated readers with the promise of a miserable future to look forward to. And the fascination spans the political spectrum. From theists to environmentalists, you get the same sort of fervor on both sides. Most seem to agree that the fan is sitting there spinning, and the poop is in the air and well-aimed. It’s only a matter of time. Meanwhile, generations of Jeremiads and Chicken Littles have come and gone, and the world is still here.
But surely it can’t go on forever, right? Isn’t this the same way we goad ourselves into playing the lottery? Yeah, the chances are crap, but somebody’s gotta win! Eventually, one generation will bemoan all the bad stuff heading their way, and they’ll look like geniuses when it does!
My thinking is that the genre is popular mostly because it makes for automatic tension. This is the new fantasy. It’s easier to believe in than wizards and dragons. And so as we become more technologically savvy, and we aren’t quite ready for full-on science fiction, we turn to urban fantasy and post apocalyptic stories because they provide a new and fantastical world to explore, but one we can believe in. One that might be possible, however unlikely.
This is my Thoughtful Thursday quandary: How many of you love these genres without buying into the doomsday stuff? I get emails from readers all the time asking me if I’m a prepper. I have to tell them that I’m more like Lenny Bruce — I am not afraid. But I do love the worlds we can imagine after the poop hits the fan. It’s fun to think of how we would try and survive, what we would cobble together for resources, and how humans would treat one another once the rules were taken away.
So, what do you all think, both as readers and believers? Is the world going to end anytime soon? Or do you just love reading about the possibility that it might? Why do we believe in doomsday prophecies when they never pan out? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Oh, and don’t forget how the refrain ends: It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.
(Until people quit reading post apocalyptic books, that is!)