I think perhaps the main reason I love dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction is the way it strips away all the divisions of society and (generally) puts us all in the same boat. It doesn’t matter what your background or beliefs are, how smart or rich or loud or quiet or well-connected you might be, when the shit really hits the fan, we’ll all likely have as good (or as bad) a chance of survival as the person next to us.
This is something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to recently, not least because we’re in the middle (or possibly the tail end, or maybe still the opening act) of a global pandemic which has had a profound and long-lasting impact on the entire planet, even those who continue to claim it’s a hoax. Far more trivially, I’ve also been thinking about the same themes as I’ve been working on the new AUTUMN books. Book one, AUTUMN: DAWN, was very much a straight-forward survival horror story in the style of the previous books in the series. AUTUMN: INFERNO and AUTUMN: EXODUS, however, will be altogether different. It’s not so much about picking up the pieces after an apocalypse; more about seeing if there are any pieces left to be picked up.
I’ve been catching up with some post-apocalyptic reading, and the novel I’ve just finished – SURVIVORS by TERRY NATION – makes this point very effectively. Unfortunately, it also drives home my earlier assertion that no matter who we are or what we’ve done, in the event of a global catastrophe, we’re all equally fucked. Grim, eh?!
I’m sure many of you will have heard of SURVIVORS – the two BBC TV series, if not the novel. The story, first published in the 1970’s, deals with the aftermath of a global pandemic. A disease with a 95% mortality rate spreads around the world in a matter of days, and the book documents the struggles of some of the remaining 5%. It’s sobering stuff.
Reading this book in 2021 is a mighty strange experience, because it’s both horrifically dated and frighteningly prescient at the same time. The first part of the novel – the pre-apocalypse, if you like – is steeped in the attitudes and chauvinisms of the time. The characters are paper-thin and the dialogue is a struggle. However, the onset of the pandemic (the virus is simply referred to as The Death) is occasionally unnervingly accurate. I recently read an article which talked about how, in some respects, we’ve actually been quite fortunate to experience a pandemic of a disease with a relatively low mortality rate. I can only begin to imagine the horror had it been a disease like Ebola that was sweeping through countries, let alone a fictitious infection like The Death or whatever it was that did all the damage in AUTUMN. It certainly makes you think. How many variants are we away from something truly catastrophic…? I love writing about this stuff, but I’m in no hurry to experience it first hand.
What makes Nation’s novel a really interesting read, however, is the author’s description of the way civilisation struggles to pick itself back up again. The reader is left in no doubt whatsoever that it’s going to be a hell of a struggle. Our band of survivors find a place to live in – someone else takes it. They plant vegetables – their entire crop is stolen or diseased or destroyed by vermin… you get the idea. Nothing’s going to be easy in this grave new world.
The effectiveness of the book is in part down to the way it proves the point I made at the beginning of this post. The apocalypse will be the great leveller. Although the lives of Nation’s survivors are very simplistic in comparison to how we live in 2021, as individuals we’re no better equipped to survive. In some ways, I’d argue we’re less prepared. The pacing of the novel is uneven, the plot occasionally contrived, and the characters frequently frustrating, but with the background of the global situation today, I recommend you pick up a copy and give it a read. It’ll certainly give you food for thought. Print copies are hard to come by, but at 99c/99p for the ebook, you’ve no excuse.