Well, lets take a look at what a post-apocalyptic world would be caused by:
1. Nuclear devastation. Plenty to work with here, something like hope in the wastelands of not just the U.S., but anywhere in the world. Nuclear devastation would affect the entire planet, thus leaving an infinite amount of stories to be told of survival, direct or indirect, of mankind, animals, etc... Still plenty of potential here without going into cliches or copying already-existent material, such as that from the "Fallout" videogame series (which is an excellent, and well-developed vision of the future in my opinion, not to mention that I'm a big fan of the games because of the back story, gameplay, writing, etc...).
2. Global Warming. Again, more than enough to work with here to keep things fresh, especially since this result is more likely to happen than nuclear devastation. Stories of survival and hardship in many areas of the world would be a big draw, i.e. what would happen to the inland areas of the world when all the coastal peoples had to slowly migrate to them because their own lands are slowly being swallowed by the ocean?
3. Off-world Lifeform Contact. This is probably the most cliche of all the possibilities here so far, but I think there are far more stories to be told of an Earth that has made contact with other life (or other life that has made contact with us) to be told, whether it be bad or good. Chances are greater that our own peoples and governments would react completely different when it came to off-world life that the conflicts would be endless, leading to a story not even as much about the off-world life as our own inability to agree on a single course of action as a planet to handling a situation.
These are just three examples I thought of off the top of my head, and hope that maybe it can spark an idea or two. I know I just did for myself!
As for the post-apocalyptic, I'm a big fan of the genre so seeing this thread mentioning cliches (every genre obviously has them) struck at me and inspired me to come up with something fresh to avoid the above-mentioned (and below mentioned) cliches.
All of the post-apocalyptic psychic talents that we have hidden in our DNA are cliche. Oh yes, and the benevolent/malevolent supercomputers that lay waiting in the desert to be discovered by the only sane, moral, goody-two-shoes left on Earth.
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Dystopias where no appreciable reversal of fortune occurs. Mostly just from bad to worse for the focal characters and their societies doesn't float my boat.
Also, dystopias that partially reflect medieval European history and overlook the causal circumstances that; A, caused the Dark (Middle) Ages; B, transcended the circumstances that caused the Dark Ages.
One recent collection of events that shows in a relatively brief snapshot of time what happens when society breaks down played out from Hurricane Katrina.
Are the fingerless gloves a result of the apocalypse (maybe there's a giant warehouse where the nuclear blast *just* reached the fingers of the stored gloves) or a sign of things to come (i.e. when your good driving gloves start losing fingers, it's time to head to that underground bunker)?
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Hmmm... nuclear catastrope reducing us to some sort of new dark ages stikes me as a cliche. As is the epidemic that leaves only one or a handful or people standing...
I'd like to see stories where the dramatic change event unravels slowly rather than quickly and is a work in progress rather than a done deal. Also, how 'bout have the reader aware but not the people in said world aware that life as they know it is ending / has ended , albeit slowly...
People in the middle ages still thought they were living in a Roman period long after the time when historians now consider that civilization ended. That's why you have folks like Charlemagne trying to get themselves appointed 'Holy Roman Emperor', or some such nonsense.
Here goes: how'bout a story about someone running for president of the US and its slowly made aware to the reader taht the US he or she or it is running for office in is not in any shape or form our country...
In any serious devastation, the governments concentrate on the population centers, trying to bring things to order there where the most people are effected. The populations in the "boondocks" the outlying areas, are basically on their own.
With most stories the gangs appear where there is no law, and they become the government. The gangs then go out and collect their "taxes" and eliminate anybody who might challenge their power. They will fight other gang or law for control over the region. Most stories, such as in the MAD MAX series, has someone who is not going to bow to the gangs, hence the story.
For a post apocalypse story, simply have a group of guys deciding they are going to be in charge, then have someone resisting their control.
I would love to see a story from the gang's point of view. They are doing what has to be done, at least from their point of view, and cannot seem to break the stranger who is resisting them. For this story, the reader doesn't have to like the gang members or leaders, but the reader does have to understand why they are doing it.
Another story would be to have where everybody is trying to prevent global warming, and accidentally cause global cooling where we enter another ice age.
RSTEGMAN: "Another story would be to have where everybody is trying to prevent global warming, and accidentally cause global cooling where we enter another ice age."
There is a novel called 'America' (I think) perhaps KDW will know who wrote it.(she knows everything) I don't think the writer is a regular Sci Fi writer. The novel is about a European explorer visiting America after an ice age that would have been prevented had we only continued our overuse of carbon based fuels.
Sorry, don't know that one. <hangs head in shame>
But I have heard that one of the predicted results of global warming is that the temperature difference in the oceans will change to the point that the Gulf Stream will phase out, and the warm water (and, I guess, air) it brings to the British Isles will stop, causing an ice age there, at least.
Supposedly that will contribute to an ice age elsewhere as well (which global warming might help make bearable?).
I'm at a loss. Aren't "fingerless gloves" called "mittens?"
I feel the need to cite favorite works in the genre.
Davy, Edgar Pangborn. Except for the narrative frame, which takes place (apparently) on one of the Azores, the action takes place in the northeast United States--only the United States is gone and a bunch of squabbling small kingdoms have taken its place. Civilization as we know it has vanished. Global warming has also taken place and the coastlines are altered. Yet the characters in the story come across as people who are able to put it aside and get on with their lives.
Earth Abides, George R. Stewart. This is one of those "last people on Earth" story, where the vanished civilization is explored and the survivors gradually come together in groups. Here there's a good deal of regret (on the part of the main character, mostly) for the end of our civilization, though he also does his best, bit by agonizing bit, to see that his descendants have a future before them.
Nuclear War, Biological War, EMP Pulse destroying all electronic equipment, Aliens, Ice Age, Tidal waves, Asteroids, Quantum wormholes, Earthquakes, Global warming, Genetically engineered plants that eat humans, Time traveller with bomb, Disease/mutant insects that destroy all crops, Mutants, Zombies, God and the Devil etc.
Particular hate: No thought given to the fact that if a real apocalypse did occur, that is the end of the world, nada, Ragnarok. Thus there is no such thing as a post-apocalypse society.
Me? I'd start looking seriously at the present fertility statistics, who needs a futuristic event when mankind is doing so well at causing his own demise. The last stats from the BMA in the UK were: 1 in 4 women could only reproduce through IVF, and 1 in 4 men were gay, our gene pool is decreasing. Without the aid of medical intervention, will humankind still be here in 1000 years? So if there was a major disaster, and we did lose some of our technology base, we could be in real trouble...
I remembered one post-apocalyptic beef last night---but it's more a beef about the execution, rather than the post-ap image.
The way the movie version of something will involve science and scientists, often the scientists who are responsible for the apocalypse in the first place (say, all three versions of I Am Legend---not sure of the Will Smith version, but am relying on press reports), rather than sticking with the Everyman figures of the original material (as in the Richard Matheson I Am Legend, and also its bastard-child movie, Night of the Living Dead.)
This isn't really a cliche, but I hate when apocalyptic stories serve as nothing more than a soapbox for the author to cry about how horrible humanity is.
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Insane bikers don't need motivation. What's the point of being insane if you have to have motive?
I used to ride with a bike club in Orlando, where the motto was, "We don't go anywhere in a straight line." Why? 'Cos it's fun is why. One person's "fun" can be another's "Why'd they do that?" and a writer's "But what's their motivation?" Insane fun, mayhem 'cos it's mad, that's the motivation.
(And as a plot device, insane bikers are like someone jumping into the room with guns blazing.)
Meanwhile, I'm also giggling at all the apocalyptic cliches. Like many things (thinking along the "everything's been written before" lines), I think that avoiding them all may be impossible, but not overdoing them would be a good idea. Good luck with your WIP, wrenbird! Haven't "seen" you around as much lately, stick around, will ya?
As Pyraxis noted, please Lord, no more Global Warming or Climate Change scenarios. These were hackneyed and painful, even when they were "new" and now they've become positively attrocious.
The "bomb" scenario was hot when the Cold War was still going on, but right now the chances of a total nuclear exchange seem even more remote than an environmental global catastrophe, so a Roadwarrior-esq type post-Apoc is almost a kind of alternate history. (And I do love the second Mad Max film, to be sure!)
I recently read Lucifer's Hammer by Niven and Pournelle and while it was a terrific read and I enjoyed it a heck of a lot, I couldn't buy into the idea that the comet would literally wipe out the entire United States in the manner described. Even with the endless rain and the climate effects, the interior of the country would not be touched by tsunami and much of the infrastructure and governing mechanisms would remain intact. So while the impact of Hamner-Brown would be a massive event, it would not be civilization-ending in the way described in the book. At least I don't think so, based on events as they're described.
Maybe this is what makes so many post-Apoc settings hard to believe: they take the ramifications of a singular terrible event, and blow them out of all proportion. There is very little that could affect the entire globe, all at once, to produce the kind of total-end-game scenario that most post-Apoc fiction inhabits. Very little.
More likely than not, a major disaster that affects one continent, won't necessarily spell doom for the others. Not unless we had an impact from a 100-mile wide asteroid that caused so much tectonic disturbance and cast up so much vapor and debris and carbon, that the planet was sent into a dark deep freeze that lasted decades or longer. That might be the one scenario I could buy.
Brad, what about the eruption of a super-volcano (like Yellowstone) or a near gamma-ray burst from a supernova? I'm sure there are many other quick global catastrophes that could occur to make life on Earth miserable for us. Stop being so pessimistic.
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I think post-apocalyptic stories where the apocalypse is always the direct cause of mankind being stupid and evil are getting cliche. We destroyed the planet by global warming... boring. We destroyed the planet by nuclear holocaust... boring. Of the various apocalyptic events that HAVE occurred on this planet, so far they have all been completely natural. Epidemics (not man-made), meteors, super-volcanoes, etc.
For a fresh take on post-apocalypse, I really liked "Dies the Fire" by Stirling, where the "apocalypse" was an global, completely unexplained change in the laws of physics (electrical circuits no longer worked, and chemical reactions were no longer fast -- ie. no gunpowder, explosives, etc. and none of our modern technology worked anymore.)
The idea of "something has changed so that our modern society cannot function" and an exploration of what happens next, in other words, is something I find fresher than "we caused Global Warming: Oh the Humanity!"
A lot of my story ideas, have things happen from atomic accelerator experiments. My favorite is accelerating Bose-Einstein condensates of element 115 (that is one we have not found yet) or antiparticle atoms or molecules. Usually, it opens up a portal to a new universe, which causes whatever I want to happen, to happen. With that start, nothing is impossible.
There is an Island off off Africa that is splitting apart. If half falls away, Florida would cease to exist, along with most of the east coast. It would make the Tsunamis of the Indian Ocean look like a ripple. you saw the effect of 911 and the recent scandals on world economy. consider if everything up to the Appalachians gone. There would be effects along the west coast of the Africa and possibly parts of Europe too What would that do to the world economy? Placement of the disaster, however small, could devastate world economies.
One must realize that the Post Apocalyptic stories really have nothing to do with the cause of the disaster. It is all about people surviving the aftermath and what goes on from there. The only real effect of the type of disaster is that one might not go into certain areas for different reasons, such as radiation. Beyond that, these are really only survival stories and the cause is meaningless. Try to start the story from the character in survival mode, the real start of the story, and not even mention the cause of the disaster. It could be that no one knows since there is no news at all.
I remember one scene of a post apocalyptic movie where the bikers were digging through the remains of the city. One of them said to the hero. "We are radiated. and we are active, so we must be radioactive."
The Postman, 1985, by David Brin resembles a post apocalyptic cliché. The movie more so, which conflated and simplified three of the original novel's motifs, as movies are wont to do. However, I felt that the novel avoided all the trite aspects of post apocalyptic clichés. One of the novel's main messages is that the citizenry causes the downfall of civilization.
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Well, not to be a stick in the mud, but the whole milieu of a post apocalyptic world could be considered a cliche.
It's interesting to note (but irrelavant)that the Greek root word from which apocalypse was derived means a "revealing or "unveiling" and has nothing to do with calamaties (except that calamaties happened to be what were revealed to John).
In the dozen-plus post-apocalyptic stories I've seen (movies) or read, the disaster served primarily to put modern people in what amounts to a medieval setting where violence becomes much more critical to problem solving. So I'd find a story where surviving people don't split into some type of tribes and fight for dominance a pleasant change.
-extrinsic:Quote "One of the novel's main messages is that the citizenry causes the downfall of civilization." (can't be bothered to figure out the UBB) David Brin's novel was a great Post-apoc story the movie not so much. Another message being that the solution was also in the hands of the citizenry. Also that great things (like America) can be founded upon a lie.
No one has mentioned the disappearance of the honey bees as a likely cause for the coming apocalypse.
One movie I saw (about 1966) was Crack in the World in which a volcano was creating an unstoppable rift in the earth's crust. Scientists tried, unsuccessfully of course, to stop it and a cone-shaped chunk of the planet hurtled into space.
Something much better is the novel Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank (c.1959?) As this is so old, I don't believe that it was considered cliche at the time. This deals with the survival of a community in Florida after a nuclear war.