Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


How would an apocalyptic event actually play out
May 17, 2010 1:57 PM   Subscribe

What are some books / comics that explore how an apocalyptic event would realistically play out on earth? Or: how do you think it would go down?

I'm thinking of creating a "pre-apocalyptic" RPG campaign set in the modern era. I've been thinking a lot about the stages by which society would crumble and am looking for inspiration.

The event itself can be far-fetched or realistic as long as it's followed by a realistic depiction of societal failure in stages and doesn't just throw you into a lawless Mad Maxian universe where men fight to the death in geodesic domes. It's fine if that's the end-result, but how did things get to that point?

If it helps, I'm hoping for a scenario that involves the removal of certain laws, primarily laws against violence (say, to curb overpopulation). Might throw some Biblical Rapture into the mix to keep the fantasy element open.

Some that I'm considering or have already looked at:
Sword of My Mouth
Therefore, Repent
Straight Dope's article on how long it would take the power grid to fail in a Zombie uprising
Descriptions of the Rapture
posted by TimeTravelSpeed to Grab Bag (35 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Lucifer's Hammer.

Also, maybe just buy old copies of Twilight: 2000 books if you're planning a RPG. It's pretty realistic. Although I'm more of a Gamma World man myself.
posted by GuyZero at 2:00 PM on May 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


"On the Beach" by Nevil Shute.
posted by xammerboy at 2:04 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not necessarily global in scope, but I read War Day quite a few years ago that explored the aftermath of a limited nuclear exchange between the US and the USSR. The authors basically tell the story in the first person, the gimmick of the book being that they had decide to journey across American a year or two after the attack to see how things were going. A fictional post-apocalyptic travelogue, interspersed with "interviews" of folks they meet along the way: teacher, cop, governor, etc. I think it's out of print, but seems to be available on Amazon used.
posted by jquinby at 2:04 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


The two comic series that spring to mind are Y: The Last Man and The Walking Dead. The latter has a a fair bit of Mad Max-ism about it, but does cover parts of the breakdown of society.

Stephen King's The Stand covers this ground as well.
posted by flipper at 2:05 PM on May 17, 2010


Check on the Revelation section in The Wolverton Bible. Think a religious MAD magazine illustrator who illustrated the books of Genesis and Revelation. His depiction of Revelation is terrifying, particularly because he certainly put it in our modern world.

Yeah, not quite what you're going for, but it is the original.
posted by Outis at 2:06 PM on May 17, 2010


I only watched a couple minutes of this show, but it was great and sounds like it's just what you're looking for: http://www.spike.com/show/33200?tabId=33737&fxn=getTabMembers
posted by xammerboy at 2:08 PM on May 17, 2010


Or you could find a copy of Aftermath! and some of its scenarios for immediately after the carnage play, or The Morrow Project for a long-time-after-the-fact game.
posted by procrastination at 2:08 PM on May 17, 2010


Threads of the War Game offer a docu-realistic look at how society might break down in the aftermath of a nuclear war.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:09 PM on May 17, 2010


World War Z is a good start to finish accounting of a zombie apocalypse.

flipper beat me on The Walking Dead.
posted by chrisulonic at 2:10 PM on May 17, 2010


I'm not a fan of the (very very conservative) politics at all, but "The Last Centurion" is pretty detailed and walks you through a world social breakdown. The author really loves to rant, though.
posted by Invoke at 2:16 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


'Alas, Babylon' was a interesting read on a midwestern? town that wasnt directly hit, adjusting to the post nuclear war living.
posted by edman at 2:33 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower (and the sequel Parable of the Talents) is great for this. The experience of living through the decline into lawlessness is central to the story. Highly recommended.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:35 PM on May 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


followed by a realistic depiction of societal failure in stages

For that, I squarely recommend Random Acts of Senseless Violence -- this is set in NYC showing the progression of an apocalyptic economic collapse, and doesn't go into Mad Max/Christian/conservative storytelling.
posted by crapmatic at 2:42 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not quite an extinction-level event, but Brian Wood's DMZ comics cover an American war of secession in man-on-the-street detail. Politics, socioeconomics, military aspects-- it's all in there.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:07 PM on May 17, 2010


A lot of good-looking suggestions here. I'll see how many of them I can grab on Amazon.

So far I'm leaning toward starting with "Random Acts of Senseless Violence" as it's available on Kindle and the economic collapse premise sounds pretty close to what I have in mind. But "Parable of the Sower" also sounds up my alley.

I'll update once I get around to buying some.
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 3:09 PM on May 17, 2010


Oh, oh, and SM Stirling's Dies The Fire and sequels. They're a bit of a draggy read at times-- think pre-industrial Tom Clancy novels-- but they cover a specific mass extinction event in loving detail.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:09 PM on May 17, 2010


Seconding World War Z. I think the zombie obsession is stupid, but damn, that book is good! Seriously recommended.
posted by mixer at 3:31 PM on May 17, 2010


The search phrase to use is Post Apocalyptic Fiction. Lots of terrific novels deal with this. I recommend John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up.
posted by theora55 at 3:36 PM on May 17, 2010


When I was a kid, a TV production of Alas, Babylon, mentioned upthread, scared me to death. I looked out the window at bedtime for mushroom clouds for weeks.

Since you asked about an apocalyptic event, I'll suggest that we'd all be dead within a few months, and a large percentage of us woud be dead within a few hours or so. Likely events would include nuclear war and a strike by a comet or asteroid of sufficient mass. Most post-apocalyptic fiction seems to me to be fat too optimistic.
posted by justcorbly at 3:42 PM on May 17, 2010


War Day, Whitley Streiber
posted by radiosilents at 3:50 PM on May 17, 2010


The search phrase to use is Post Apocalyptic Fiction.

Well, the only problem there is that Post-Apocalyptic Fiction doesn't necessarily depict the process leading up to the crumbling of civilization, just the end result. I'm specifically looking for fine-resolution detail on the timeline following some event.

Since you asked about an apocalyptic event, I'll suggest that we'd all be dead within a few months, and a large percentage of us woud be dead within a few hours or so.

By "event" I don't necessarily mean an immediately-disastrous event. For example, depletion of oil resources on earth could be the event, but wouldn't immediately kill anyone.
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 3:50 PM on May 17, 2010


Quick edit to my comment above:

Post-Apocalyptic Fiction doesn't necessarily depict the process leading up to the crumbling of civilization, [but may simply portray] the end result
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 3:53 PM on May 17, 2010


Consider taking a look at "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" by Jared Diamond. It's a non-fiction book, and as such doesn't have a third-person-omniscient view of a society's breakdown, but he's not guessing, either.
posted by Clambone at 4:15 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


For a completely opposite take on your question, read the Slacktivist Left Behind blog for how *not* to do a post-apocalyptic world.
posted by Green With You at 5:16 PM on May 17, 2010


I scanned the thread but don't think anyone's yet mentioned Transmetropolitan. As Wikipedia notes, some might consider it more dystopian than post-apocalyptic, so YMMV.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 5:35 PM on May 17, 2010


Earth Abides is a classic of the genre. It follows one man through the end of his life after 99% of humanity has died off. It does skip quite a few of the intervening years, however.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 6:25 PM on May 17, 2010


The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged)
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:36 PM on May 17, 2010


It's not the greatest show in the world, but I think that Jericho did a decent job of capturing that 'in-between' phase. If you get past all the conspiracy theory and melodrama, I think there are some good things in there. Most of all I like the very real sense of confusion as this town looses all contact with the outside world. They also do a pretty good job of showing the rise of ad-hoc trading posts and the general mistrust of outsiders that springs up.

And I'll second "On the Beach". It still is one of the most depressing yet poignant books I've ever read.
posted by ghostiger at 6:54 PM on May 17, 2010


If you're interested in what would happen to our infrastructure after an apocalypse, check out the (non-fiction) book The World Without Us. It details how our buildings, bridges, power plants, cities, etc. would degrade and crumble without the constant maintenance we provide.
posted by upplepop at 7:11 PM on May 17, 2010


After "Lucifer's Hammer", Niven and Pournelle visited it again with "Footfall".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:29 PM on May 17, 2010


I went to the bookstore and picked up:

"Lucifer's Hammer"
"Parable of the Sower"
"World War Z"

And downloaded "Random Acts of Senseless Violence" on Kindle

I plan on checking out "A World Without Us" as well. That sounds really interesting.
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 8:20 AM on May 18, 2010


"Alas, Babylon" is set in Florida, not the midwest, and is a great book.
posted by rfs at 9:00 AM on May 18, 2010


Joseph Tainter's The Collapse of Complex Societies is one of the classic non-fiction works on this in the social sciences.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 2:30 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Susan Beth Pfeffer has written a trilogy you might like: Life As We Knew It, the dead & the gone (she insists this is the proper form of the title), This World We Live In. They're young adult novels, but still awesome and realistically grim, especially the second one, which takes place in New York City as the haves escape and civilization devolves for the have-nots.
posted by Flannery Culp at 3:52 PM on May 18, 2010


I picked up "The World Without Us" yesterday. I sample the first dozen pages and it sounds pretty interesting.
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 9:55 AM on May 24, 2010


« Older I desperately and deeply love ...   |  Which is the version of Warcra... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.