Talk to me about a future disaster world.
May 21, 2015 6:17 PM   Subscribe

Ideas for what the world might look like in 50-200 years? Specifically looking for doom-and-gloom speculation, but based on some semblance of evidence or realistic projections.

I'm developing a work of fiction that I'd like to set in a future world where...
- a lot of stuff has gone wrong (global warming obviously a huge one)
- but there's still functioning society for (a dwindling number of) rich/rich-ish people
- and a deadly infectious (but non-supernatural) disease is rampant
...and I'd like ideas for fleshing out the world.

I understand that any answer to this question will be conjectural, but I'm looking specifically for disastrous outcomes.

The more basis on evidence the better, but really it doesn't matter too much. I'm looking for stories, ideas.

This is my favourite thing I've found so far; more like this would be great. (Which I found via this via this.)

Also, recommendations of works of fiction set in worlds like this are very welcome.

posted by Edward Liveing, M.D. to Science & Nature (20 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
One work of fiction that immediately comes to mind is Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam). It's told from the point of view of characters surviving after a catastrophic disease kills almost everybody, but interspersed with flashbacks to the times before that.
posted by number9dream at 6:27 PM on May 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Station Eleven," most recently, for fiction, or "The Road". For a film, "Children of Men." But in his nonfiction book "Hot," Mark Hertsgaard speculates that we will be reset to the living standards of the mid19th century, albeit with the knowledge base we have now.
posted by mmiddle at 6:38 PM on May 21, 2015

- but there's still functioning society for (a dwindling number of) rich/rich-ish people

More fiction - Parable of the Sower, and Parable of the Talents, by Octavia Bulter, is set in exactly this scenario.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:40 PM on May 21, 2015

The World Without Us
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:22 PM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

A post a few days ago on the blue was all about the potential troubles we can look forward to in the future. IIRC, the one we are to be most concerned about isn't climate change, it's artificial intelligence taking over and apparently that's just around the corner in around 15 years or so. Fun times! I for one welcome our robot overlords.
posted by Jubey at 7:31 PM on May 21, 2015

To add to Jubey's comment - read the excellent short story "This Is An Alert," by Thomas Pierce, in the 3/30/15 issue of the New Yorker - about the dark and absurd potential in a drone-dependent society.
posted by mmiddle at 7:52 PM on May 21, 2015

Peter Watts' Rifters series has the most believable near-future crapsack world I've read.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:55 PM on May 21, 2015

The book "Robopocolypse" picks up on the robot overlord theme. I also always think of the humans in Wall-E when I think of the humans race's future fails.
posted by slateyness at 9:00 PM on May 21, 2015

House of the Scorpion is a good YA iteration of this, though you don't really get to see much of the world. The Ear, The Eye and the Arm is by the same author and is maybe too pleasant of a future for your taste, but still interesting.

I haven't read Julian Comstock but it appears to be set in a similar sort of future.

Imagining the Post-Antibiotics Future

I never found The Wind-Up Girl's world-building to be particularly realistic, but it is flavorful (energy storage is mostly in the form of flywheels wound by genetically reincarnated mammoths, which makes no sense but it is cool...)

Climate Fiction might be a useful keyword.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:10 PM on May 21, 2015

Can you get ideas from looking at our world right now? Scientists are telling us very real doom and gloom projections based on mountains of evidence all the time. If you have access, this season's stories on Vice on HBO were particularly sobering. So many alarming reports on climate change, ice sheets melting, accelerating deforestation, threats to agriculture...
posted by incolorinred at 9:17 PM on May 21, 2015

Two of note by the same author: Kaleidoscope Century and Mother of Storms, by John Barnes. Note that they are not set in the same world.
posted by doctor tough love at 9:37 PM on May 21, 2015

Aside from Japan restarting its nuclear reactors and Fukushima II happening, I find this map overlaying US nuclear reactors and seismic activity to be pretty scary.

Here in Virginia, the fact that both federal regulators and Dominion Power have known about the geologic risk to the North Anna power plant since the 1970s really does not inspire confidence. Especially when a 5.8 earthquake happens some 30 years later in 2011, and a generator designed to provide backup electricity suffers a coolant leak and stops working. Yes, it was 1 of 4, but considering that the plant is supposedly designed to withstand only up to a 6.2 earthquake, I think that 4th backup generator is pretty darn important. Who knows what other infrastructure weaknesses are out there.

And that map doesn't include fracking sites- I shudder to think of what that looks like.

In terms of diseases, this NYT article on how Ebola may have been lurking in the jungle for decades is both interesting, and terrifying when considering the global rate of deforestation. This pdf has a map listing 11 major deforestation fronts and projects across South America, Africa, SE Asia and Australia- if you've ever seen the movie Contagion, enough said.
posted by invisible ink at 10:08 PM on May 21, 2015

I'll recommend and anti-recommend Bacigalupi's _The Windup Girl_ at the same time. On the positive, it's long into global warming and food problems and most aspects of the society are interesting. But the big downside is that the big Thing -- there's nothing left to burn so everything runs on muscle (gene-tampered mini-mammoths and the like) and power is stored in springs -- is very, very silly unless it's a religious taboo, but it's treated like a physical constraint.

Bruce Sterling's _Heavy Weather_, about a band of rogue-ish tornado chasers when global warming has made them FREAKY SCARY and there's lots of sexually transmitted retroviruses around and other fun infectious diseases and people need lung enemas, is pretty good.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:06 PM on May 21, 2015

You should take a look through the archives of the ArchDruid Report - the whole druidic angle is a bit wacky, but he's a very lucid writer about the challenges of maintaining industrial civilisation on a finite planet with no obvious, provable replacement for the concentration of energy that fossil fuels represents. Plus he's a bit less alarmist than a lot of the doomer/prepper writers out there who are convinced we're never more than a week away from having to sandbag the front door and shoot looters.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:29 AM on May 22, 2015

As an alternative, look at The Peripheral by Gibson -- bad things happened to humanity, but nobody ever really describes exactly what it was. Anyway, he handled it in an interesting way (I thought), just allusions and casual references.
posted by aramaic at 6:14 AM on May 22, 2015

I think you'd enjoy James Kunstler's books.

Non-fiction: The Long Emergency (pdf)

Fiction based on his non-fiction speculations: The World Made by Hand
posted by General Tonic at 9:04 AM on May 22, 2015

We'll probably experience the end of (wild) seafood in our lifetime.

Seafood May Be Gone by 2048, Study Says
posted by wcfields at 12:49 PM on May 22, 2015

Deep Future, the Next 100,000 Years on Earth--Curt Stager

Eaarth, Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, by Bill McKibbon

Nthing The World Without Us, Alan Weisman
posted by Elsie at 2:33 PM on May 22, 2015

You might want to check out Six Degrees.
Based on assembling a diverse range of climate and related research (geology, botony, etc), it describes the expected consequences of climate change if it was limited to a one degree change, a two degree change, three degrees, etc up to a six degree change (iirc our civilization is doomed at about five degrees, and starts crumbling well before then). It also explains the science behind each element of the predictions.
posted by anonymisc at 6:04 PM on May 22, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks very much everyone. I'll be working my way through this stuff for a while.
posted by Edward Liveing, M.D. at 7:49 PM on May 23, 2015

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