For awhile I was hooked on the TV show Doomsday Preppers. It all seemed so real, what could happen to take society down. While not highly likely, the scenarios preppers thought of became more plausible with each passing episode:
- A comet could hit the earth.
- Yellowstone Park, actually the largest volcano anywhere, could erupt, cloaking the earth in plant-killing darkness for many years.
- Terrorists could get hold of nuclear weapons and/or biological weapons and use them on us.
- Terrorists could hack the public utility systems, taking down heat, electricity, water.
- (Less likely, but more fun:) The Illuminati would finally take over and establish the New World Order, having used the world’s power brokers, banks and even show business, enslaving us all. Stars like Madonna and Beyonce would confess they were always aligned with Satan, Bill Gates would laugh at how he got us all distracted, and Barack Obama would admit he was the Antichrist.
I will admit to doing a little “stocking up,” but it was rather half-hearted. I put some bottled water in one plastic tub and array of items from Aldi–not wanting to be embarrassed by full, expensive commitment–in another. Cans of protein-based food, dried pasta, matches, candles, aspirin and a few other end-of-times necessities were included. I assuaged myself with the thought that it wasn’t such a bad idea, considering sometimes areas had outages in winter lasting more than a day or two.
Having a few things on hand made me feel smart, but the more I watched Doomsday Preppers, the dumber I felt. These people were doing everything and still were not graded as fully prepared. They had mountains of food. Medicine. Guns. Wells. Barriers. Bunkers. Chickens. Greenhouses. Escape vehicles. Hazmat suits. They even had networks of like-minded people they could band with to shoot the many starving people who would roam the countryside, trying to get steal food and water.
Of course fiction can portray it all the more deeply. Anyone untouched by Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road has no soul–especially if they could lightly bypass the scene where there’s a dead baby roasting on a skewer in the fireplace.
I was semi-inspired to do my own dystopian fiction at one point. I was never the type for dystopian competitiveness as found in the super-famous YA books like The Hunger Games or Divergent. The more domestic side of life in that disaster scenario seemed more fun to me. Trouble was, all the good apocalyptic events were already taken.
The end-of-normalcy books I loved most (and wish I’d written) were Susan Beth Pfeffer’s “Last Survivors” series of four books: Life As We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone, This World We Live In, and The Shade of the Moon.
The first book especially grabbed me. This was the more realistic scenario I expected. There is a cosmic accident, and the first thing the family does to “prep” is drain the bank account at the ATM and run to the grocery store to out-grab others. Mom even suddenly remembers, and screams to her daughter, “Go to the tampons aisle! Get lots of tampons!”
Mockingjays be damned. It doesn’t get any more real than tampons.
The second book in the series, The Dead and the Gone, though barely-known compared to the monolith tomes by Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth, is actually the most terrifying YA apocalyptic novel I’ve ever read. Imagine destroyed New York City filled with corpses baking, bloating and finally bursting in the hot sun.
That, from an author whose picture on the internet looks like a sweet, smiling grandmother, decked out in an old-lady jacket and librarian-like glasses. With a flowering magnolia tree in the background.
The conclusion to all this is that it made me think–thankfully, before I started writing. If the world is covered with ashes and there is no food anywhere save for a few rusty cans of beans, or you need five teenagers at home who can help you shoot to death your approaching neighbors who are coming to beg for food, or you have to forage for weeds you can eat or drink brackish water from a well–and knowing that life as we know it has changed forever–why do you want to survive for years and years?
I had already survived. I had finally not hopped on a trend and written something that I thought would be a “hot topic.” Because if you try to get published by writing what’s “hot,” you can’t get that fiery depth of writing that comes from deep in your soul.