Thursday, May 11, 2017

Optimistic Disaster Fiction

In the current LOCUS, Cory Doctorow writes about his forthcoming novel WALKAWAY, which he labels a "utopian disaster novel." In a deliberate "rebuttal" of the disaster scenario or post-apocalyptic saga where civilization disintegrates into chaos and most people turn into raging savages the moment our technological infrastructure collapses, he has written a story "about people doing right for one another under conditions of adversity." He describes this book as "a weaponized counternarrative of human goodness":

Weaponized Narrative

After all, in the present state of society, do most people indulge in any greedy, lawless behavior they can get away with? No, says Doctorow, most of us are restrained by our sense of what's normal and decent. Although I applaud his message about empathizing with the people "who are picking up the pieces and starting over again. The helpers" (a term he borrows from Mr. Rogers' famous statement about how to discuss scary news stories with children), the word "weaponized" in the context of celebrating goodness irresistibly reminds me of the maxim, "Fighting for peace is like fornicating for chastity." The imagery contains a certain inherent dissonance. Still, Doctorow deserves praise for rejecting what he calls the "old narrative, the xenophobia story," which "makes crises into tragedies."

A good example of the kind of disaster fiction he favors can be found in one of my favorite series, S. M. Stirling's "Emberverse," which begins with the apocalyptic novel DIES THE FIRE. Granted, civilization does collapse, with a great deal of violence involved. As the inciting catastrophe, every form of advanced technology—electricity, internal combustion, nuclear reactions, gunpowder or any other kind of explosion, steam power—instantaneously and permanently stops working. Our large cities and their surrounding suburbs can't sustain themselves in preindustrial conditions, so of course millions perish horribly. The focus of DIES THE FIRE and the series as a whole, however, centers on the people who work together to save as many of their neighbors as possible and build new communities. Despite the mass die-off, the cannibalism (which we only hear about, not see firsthand), and the brutal gangs that seize power in some areas, this is the most humane and, yes, optimistic post-apocalyptic series I've ever read.

What other examples of optimistic disaster fiction exist in recent fantasy and SF? (With a positive tone overall, that is, not just culminating in a "happy ending" reversal at the conclusion like the "Hunger Games" series.)

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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