I think it’s the insects’ turn.

Poster for the 1988 movie MIRACLE MILE. I rewatched Miracle Mile tonight; last night, actually, by the time this post is done. (Spoilers follow.)

If you don’t know it; it’s a 1988 movie about a guy who accidentally gets a phone call telling him nuclear war is starting (has started? the missiles are locked in, at any rate), and LA will be nuked in 70 minutes. The rest of the movie is him trying to get to his girlfriend and escape the city.

He manages one of these things.

Miracle Mile is dated, and its pacing and dialogue make it a bit hard to approach, but it pulls itself together as the film goes on. Some of the scenes towards the end are surprisingly bleak; the frantic crawl through the traffic jam is something I’ve never quite seen a match for. And it is an unapologetically downer ending[1]; I find it rather touching as well, which mellows it slightly, but fundamentally this is a movie that unquestioningly accepts that  nuclear war is going to be the end of things and waits for the characters to catch up.

“People are going to help each other, aren’t they? Rebuilding things?”
“I think it’s the insects’ turn.”

I would love to see a remake of it, but I’m not sure it could be done. It seems very much a movie rooted in the Cold War; the idea that a nuclear war could happen, that it was such a real and obvious and accepted fear that with so little prompting people would behave that way. I think you could convey a world in which that fear was present, but I think that for the audience it might be a case of learning that fear, not recognizing that fear.

[1] I said, to the light of my life, “is it really that much of a downer?” And he said to me, “World War Three started, LA is nuked, the main characters drown in tar. It’s a downer.”
He has a point.

The radical notion…

I’ve been thinking a bit about Mad Max lately; specifically the Fury Road movie. I’m fond of the franchise in general, although my interest mostly lies with the post-apocalyptic setting of the second, third, and now fourth movies. And the fourth movie makes me extremely happy.

I am very fond of the post-apocalyptic genre, and I found the character of the protagonist–the fact that she existed, and how the movie handled her–to be deeply affecting in a good if startling way. That said, while I’d heard that the movie was being described as feminist, I don’t think I really thought about it at the time.

(I actually tried pretty hard not to think about it, because I was honestly not expecting it to be really better than most action movies, and I did not want to get my hopes up and have disappointed hopes get in the way of my movie enjoyment. I am not sure if this is selfishness or compartmentalization, and I am okay with that.)

I’ve seen arguments both in favour and against its being called a feminist movie. I’ve thought about it, and because it helps me to write things out when I think about them, I am rambling about it here. I think there are a few ways to parse the definition; looking at the creation of the work, and two ways of looking at the work itself.

Also there might be spoilers, I guess, so time for a break. Continue reading “The radical notion…”

“God, I hate the apocalypse.”

The opening chords and the "Have MERCY" catchphrase are stuck in my head, and I am gleeful.
The opening chords and the “Have MERCY” catchphrase are in my head, and I am gleeful.

It’s been a frustrating sort of day, so I am accentuating the positive. (This is me, so I am doing so by discussing Z Nation.)

God, I love that show.

I’ve basically dropped The Walking Dead, which I’m sure continues to be a well-acted depiction of desperate people driven to cruelty and making harsh decisions as kindness is slowly eroded from a dying world that they have no hope of salvaging.

I don’t think Z Nation is as good, in terms of narrative consistency or pacing, as TWD. I’m okay with that. It’s cheesy in its simplistic approach; it openly says that anyone still around three years into the zombie apocalypse is some kind of pulp-action-adventure badass, and then uses that as a reason to eschew grinding subsistence-level misery and proceeds to give a group of flawed, hopeful, mostly well-intentioned and kind characters a chance to actually do something that might save the world.

It has dark humour. It’s fun. It’s hopeful, in the game grim way apocalyptic settings can be if you give the characters an actual chance to achieve something. And there are moments–when Murphy leaves the door open–when I am actually shocked and horrified by the bad things people do. I like that. I appreciate the hell out of a post-apocalyptic story that can still make cruel things upsetting instead of allowing them to fade into a background slurry of mean-desperate-selfish-mean. Continue reading ““God, I hate the apocalypse.””

Carrying on, into the dark of the year

I named it Sidney.
I named it Sidney.

I honestly didn’t remember it was the fifth of November until I was trying to come up with a post title. That puts today as being concurrently in the territory of NaNoWriMo, Noirvember, and Guy Fawkes Day; I think I may go with the “watch a movie and call it good” approach to celebrating.

Hallowe’en was very quiet; while I did the usual jack o’lantern, we ended up putting out candy with a sign asking people to please take one. The trick-or-treaters in our neighbourhood are mostly young kids with accompanying adults, so we figured it was a good bet, and it worked out.

Saturday was awesome; while some of the other people taking the Zombie Diefenbunker Tour were annoying, the tour itself was that kind of cheerfully unselfconscious pulpy creepy setup you’d expect from a Hallowe’en haunted house set in a Cold War bunker. And the bunker itself was amazing, in a rather understated but very stolid way.

(Apparently all 32,000 cubic yards of concrete were hand-poured. I find this particular detail oddly endearing.)

I will need to go back and pay attention to what it’s like when it’s not full of zombies, clearly.

Sunday was fun; the actual getting together and playing of board games in the same room as other people is something I haven’t done in way too long. There were several games of Gloom, one of the new Doomtown, one of Pandemic, and one of Redshirts. I find myself weirdly fond of Gloom in particular; there’s something about trying to kill the family or team represented by your own cards while saving everyone else’s that makes the competition a lot less acrimonious than it could otherwise get, which makes it a good game when you don’t know people too well yet. Plus the art is reminiscent of Edward Gorey.

Work actually ran out of work for me to do, and asked that I not come in today, so that’s kind of nice. I’m trying to catch up on various things around the house before lunch.

Hopes for the weeke– oh, right, free game!

Fallout_NV_logo I was going to mention this last, but I figured that was very much burying the lede; I have a spare copy of Fallout: New Vegas on Steam to give away. It’s an action/RPG, set in a post-apocalyptic retro-futuristic Nevada. It’s honestly a rather cheery setting; less the actual wasteland than an idea of the wasteland that might have been spawned from the ATOMIC SCIENCE of the 50s, crossed with Mad Max and given a cheerful jolt of early- and mid-20th century music.

If you think you might want it, there’s a more detailed summary here. That page also has the system requirements. If you do want it, drop a comment and we can figure out the logistics?

With that out of the way: yesterday work had an incident with spray paint fumes (for a pumpkin; yes, really), and I had been working long hours last week and this week both, so I am at home today. It will mean no headache and being at home.

Am optimistic about the weekend! In addition to Hallowe’en happening (either today or in several hours, depends on where you count from), tomorrow I’ll be making a trip out to Carp to visit the Diefenbunker. It’ll be a day trip; go early, visit the museum before they close it to get ready for their Hallowe’en tour, get lunch or something, and then go back for the Hallowe’en tour that explains just exactly what happened on the night of June 21, 1994.

…I have non-post-apocalyptic interests. I’m just not focussing on them right now, it seems.

And then Sunday is actually getting together with people and playing board games, which is something I enjoy that I just haven’t had a chance to do in months. I’m thinking of bringing a copy of Gloom, a cheerful little board game in which you try to get your own spooky gothic family killed off before the other players can kill off their own spookily gothic family. It’s entertaining.

The quiet background.

A pair of hiking boots on rocky ground.
These boots were made for walking– and will take a skilled cobbler perhaps thirty work-hours to replace. When going among the radioactive hell-weasels, please try to get bitten primarily about the arms and face.

As surprises probably no-one, I am a fan of post-apocalyptic settings. (My boxed copy of Wasteland 2 came in recently!) But I was thinking lately about skillsets that would be useful in a post-apocalyptic setting that don’t get a lot of attention paid them.

Disclaimer: “post-apocalyptic” covers a huge range of stuff, from your generic brown whoops-the-bombs-fell-pass-me-my-gas-mask setting to Fritz Leiber’s chill dark “A Pail of Air” to the slow burn of On The Beach or Stross’s bureaucratically gleeful Mythos-drawing “A Colder War”. So yeah, not all post-apocalyptic settings require those skills, but they strike me as the kind of thing where it’s… hmh. Worth confirming that you don’t need them, if you don’t?

Cobbling. I mean, honestly, there is so much walking in so many of these settings; driving too, and the occasional ornithopter, but… shoes. Sooner or later the pre-existing shoes are going to be scavenged, or you’re not going to be in a spot where you can get more, or you’re just a really common size and everyone else got there first. And yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard of a cobbler in a post-apocalyptic setting. Everyone’s too busy selling spit-cooked rat or something.

While we’re on rats and food… Food preservation is going to come up at some point, unless there is no way to ever raise, grow, hunt, or gather more than you need on a day to day basis. I, for one, have no idea how to can or preserve food (I think you boil it and then pour wax on it; I think I’m missing some critical steps), and would fully expect meat to rot before it became jerky.

Pharmaceutical training, too. Medical skills are a given (again, remember, this is not a discussion of skillsets that are obviously useful, it’s a discussion of useful skillsets that aren’t often paid attention to; this is why mechanics and doctors haven’t and won’t be mentioned), but even just knowing how drugs need to be stored and what interactions you can expect would be useful. Pharmacies in Canada at least often don’t print expiry dates on the prescriptions they dispense; it’d be nice to at least know where to look to find those.

Speaking of knowing things? Archival skills. It’s awesome that you have a printed copy of… well, Wikipedia and the Mayo Clinic site. But even leaving aside that modern paper tends to be acidic, what’ll you do when the black mold gets in? How’re you going to make more copies (where will you get the ink)? If it’s a single huge print-out, who’s going to index this in a useful way now that you can’t just click on a link?

I mean, I am sure there will be workarounds, and I’m not saying a post-apocalyptic setting needs these things, or needs to dwell on them. I am saying it is possibly quite cool to examine the possibilities of developing these things.

There are more, but I really do need to run off and Do Things. I just wanted to note this down while I had a moment.

Post-apocalyptic vs post… well, post-something-else.

By Thibault Fischer; click for a better look.
By Thibault Fischer; click for a better look.

A while back, I got into a discussion with someone about post-apocalyptic settings, and they referred to A Handmaid’s Tale as post-apocalyptic. It didn’t seem to meet the definition, but I didn’t have a chance to sit down and actually hammer out what I thought the definition was until now.

I think (and this is possibly heavily influenced by what I currently take for granted) a post-apocalyptic setting has two elements; an apocalyptic event[1], and a destruction of the larger social infrastructure. That might be because there are too few people left to sustain it, because the roads were ruined in the earthquake and roads are kind of essential, because the things that have lovely Victorian clothes and far too many teeth are coming through every fifteen hours and twenty minutes[2] and it’s completely shot everyone’s focus to hell… For whatever reason, the larger social infrastructure is gone.

(By the way, the Fractured anthology has some very good post-apocalyptic stories. Just saying. Also you can currently see it on my GoodReads feed, down in the widget corner.)

If you get an apocalyptic event without a destruction of the social infrastructure, then what you have is either a reconstruction setting or a dystopia, depending on how people reacted. (This is how I’d classify A Handmaid’s Tale or 1984 if they’d been precipitated by an apocalyptic event[3]. This is also how I’d classify Deadlands, actually, with a side-order of monsters so deep in the shadows that almost no-one knows that there’s been an apocalyptic event.) There’s an apparently stable and effective government operating on a federal level over a huge territory; if that is post-apocalyptic, it’s so far post-apocalyptic that the apocalypse has become irrelevant.

I don’t think a reconstruction setting needs to have that large or effective a government, mind. I’d call Fallout: New Vegas more reconstruction than post-apocalyptic, with the world starting to knit itself together again, and the territories claimed by the various factions certainly aren’t continent-spanning.

(Also, I will just note that I still have a spare Steam copy of F:NV to give away, because I collect them expressly for that purpose.)

If you get the destruction of the social infrastructure without an apocalyptic event, then what you have is… well, it’s rather cynical, and I can’t think of cases where I’ve actually seen it. But if it doesn’t have an apocalyptic event to have happened after then it’s by definition not post-apocalyptic, dammit.

Just some thoughts, I guess. Feels good to get them down, even if I’m not sure where they’re going yet.

[1] I am absolutely willing to count slow or soft events as apocalyptic–total economic collapse, widespread drought or famine, humanity becoming sterile[4], etcetera. Doesn’t have to be bombs or plague.
[2] I’m short-changing Bob Leman’s “Window” horribly, here.
[3] I personally wouldn’t classify the event precipitating the Republic of Gilead’s creation as apocalyptic, but I understand that if you find the story focuses closely enough on the US, you can consider it to be so.
[4] See [3]; if you turn the narrative focus from “things potentially affected by an apocalypse” down to the narrower focus of “humanity”, you can tell an apocalyptic story even when the vast majority of life on earth will be fine. See also “There Will Come Soft Rains“, and yes, that was a deliberate link to the poem and not the story.

Loss of time.

So I got home, and it was tired and quiet, and I had an idea for something to do.

Instead of doing it, I… er. Well. Sort of Pinterested for an hour.

…possibly a little more than an hour.

This was, I feel, less than strictly useful. (On the other hand, I have figured out that I can declutter my likes, which I often use as a “decide if I will pin this later” holding pen, by creating a board for fonts, posters, and bookcovers.)

I did discover that there’s an annual event called the Wasteland Weekend in Southern California, which involves… uhm, well, it looks like a four-day post-apocalyptic version of a Society for Creative Anachronism party. I am charmed[1] by the aesthetic, which is pretty heavily Mad Max. (Their site notes that it is a post-modern apocalypse: laser guns, powered exoskeletons, cyborgs, zombies, and high-tech robots need not apply. But Pip-Boys are okay.)

So it has not been a productive evening. But it has been a relaxing one, and I am at least going to go to bed managing to enjoy the fact I’ve looked at pretty things, if not done everything I wanted to do.

[1] I initially wrote “weirdly charmed” but… well, know thyself, and all that.

Sticks and string (and probably bloodthirsty radioactive mutants).

I am fond of post-apocalyptic settings. I’m particularly fond of ones with a retro-futuristic styling[1]; god knows why I keep coming back to that, since it’s not as if there haven’t been some beautifully detailed and realized post-apocalyptic settings which don’t conform to that aesthetic.  I imagine it hooks into that part of my brain that always argues for finding a diner[2] if one is looking for a restaurant.

I also knit.

These two things meet in my brain not infrequently, and apparently I’m not alone. Alex Tinsley is editing a book called Doomsday Knits, which also includes lovely photos and amusing flow charts to assist you in identifying your apocalypse, and I am so there. (I think that of the patterns I’ve seen on the blog tour so far, I am particularly fond of the Fennec shrug. Am just sorry I missed the Kickstarter.)

It’ll be coming out next month. Something to look forward to.

[1] For those who don’t know me: why yes, this covers the excellent game settings Deadlands and Fallout, particularly Fallout: New Vegas. For those who do: yes, I’ve got my brain in Deadlands and Fallout again.  Hush. It’s just one of those things that happens every now and then.
[2] This is occasionally overruled by other parts of my brain. My brain is large; it contains multitudes. Still, I acknowledge the impulse. Tangentially: diners are apparently called coney islands in Detroit. (Also, would totally accept Detroit as a future Fallout setting. Michigan has been sadly underused. Also Ronto.)