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How do you like your apocalypse? Sweet and creamy, or dark and bitter? Do you prefer to linger over it, enjoying all the nuances, or do you want it to grab you by the collar and smack some sense into you?… Do you care where your apocalypse comes from? How it’s grown, the details of the slow-roast? Or does it only matter that it’s piping hot and sitting there in front of you?
Within the genre there’s a phenomenon, more evident in films than in books, in which the apocalypse occurs without it’s ‘post’ or the post-apocalypse exists as a setting without any precursory explanation. The best examples that I can think of respectively are 2004’s ‘The Day After Tomorrow‘ and last year’s ‘The Road‘. Both situations annoy me, because in each one I want at least a little of the other, and I’m denied that.

The Day After Tomorrow spends all its time setting up quite a unique post-apocalyptic scenario, with a new ice age having descended so rapidly upon the world that cities outside the tropics (presumably in both hemispheres) are literally encased in ice. Wow. You don’t see that every day. And just at the point where the possibilities of the scenario begin to dawn on you and the wider implications start to become evident, the film ends… “What about all that stuff left behind!?!” My inner survivalist screams. Those new possibilities inspire me; of mining through the ice into a relatively untouched office block or police armory, then humping a load of old-world goods back on a clapped out old snowmobile to trade them with the warm-bloods in the higher latitudes (I’m a southern hemisphere lad); of crossing a frozen Bass Straight from Tasmania to the Australian mainland to do so; of fleeing the first polar bears, introduced to the environment by some well-meaning fool. Sure I can imagine all of that myself, but there should really have been some outlet for it within the film. It’s like being left with a condescending pat on the shoulder and a “There’s still hope for you son” from the hardy old filmmakers, before they stalk off into the blizzard leaving us all alone in their frozen wilderness. Great. Thanks guys. That really helps.

The Road has the opposite problem. Of course its problems begin earlier, by being a book hailed as revolutionary by the Oprah Winfrey book club crowd, the vast majority of whom have probably never had a prior apocalyptic fiction experience. It’s gripping and well written, but it’s no revolution in the genre, and it suffers from a major flaw in my opinion which translates to the film; There’s no explanation for how that world got the way it did. The author, Cormac McCarthy, offers up the excuse that he didn’t want a preachy message detracting from the father/son story. But there’s clearly an environmentalist subtext there anyway, so why not just come right out and deal with it? Personally I consider that a cop-out.
Referring back to my previous post regarding the criteria I apply to these texts, how am I supposed get any insight into what the author values if there’s no indication of what was lost (in their apocalypse), and how? Or what remains, and why? For all the contextual background we’re given, that father/son story could just as easily have been set with the protagonists lost in the wilderness, fending off wild animals and trying to make their way back to civilisation. As far as I’m concerned it doesn’t matter if the explanation for an apocalypse is plausible or not, if it’s scientifically sound or contemporaneously sensitive, just as long as it’s offered.

So for me the flavour of the apocalypse isn’t all that important; I’ll happily drink them all, even if my personal preference tends toward creamy, with just enough sugar to cut that bitter edge. But whether it’s Fair Trade or mass manufactured, unground beans or instant, I absolutely have to know where and how it’s grown, and the details of the slow-roast are vital.


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The Dose

What if every act of imagination were the seed from which a new universe grew?
What universes would you then be responsible for having crafted from the ether of the multiverse?
Mine may well be full of zombies, soviet invasions, apocalyptic wastelands, strange empires and their even stranger inhabitants, but I'd like to think that despite their idiosyncrasies they all share a general sense of hope for their respective futures.

My own little universes, made to scale...
They are the Markrocosm.
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