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.

The year is 1876…

…but the history is not our own.


Deadlands is alternate history–a steampunk horror weird Western where the dead get up and walk and things crawl in the shadows and hiss on the night wind and the more frightened people are, the closer you can get to Hell. Graced with the tagline “the spaghetti Western… with meat!” in the early days, its history noticeably diverges from real-world history on the day that the Battle of Gettysburg was called on account of zombies.

Years later, California has mostly fallen into the ocean, the war between the States has hit a kind of cold détente, slavery has been abolished, the new superfuel (colloquially called “ghost rock” because it sounds like damned souls screaming when it burns) is driving technology forward at an unprecedented rate, and what became the United States in our world has been split into six distinct political entities.[1]

I’m probably doing a bad job at describing it. And, let’s face it, the best description I can give it is still going to be textual. That’s not always the most evocative means of description.

And that’s okay. Know why?

They’re making a TV show.

[1] There are a couple of other changes that make me relieved; f’r ex, the most recent edition of the game explicitly sets out that racism and sexism in the game setting are the provenance of the villainous and shamefully ignorant. Arguably not plausible. Guess how much grief I am going to give a game that chose “implausible” over “deal with yet more unfun prejudice that is totally normalized”. Go on, guessssss.

As the riders rode on by him, he heard one call his name…

I like Westerns. Not as much as I like noir, but I like them. (I actually think there’s something to be said about the overlap between the two genres, but that’s a sidepoint.)

However: I love Weird Westerns, from the steampunk through the fantastic to the straight-up horror–admittedly with a strong preference for the horror end of things, but that’s just me. And there’s a new anthology possibly coming out, and the list of contributors is kind of making me wonder why I have heard almost nothing about it.

(What I have heard? Lucy A. Snyder tweeted about it. That’s it. I realize I may have missed some things, but…)

I am trying not to gush too much about that list, but one of the people on it wrote a scene in a horror novel that left me light-headed and faint. Another has written the only zombie story that made me cry. And there are thirteen authors on that list, and at the lowest pledge level that comes out to 77 cents a story and that’s not even counting any other contributors since it’s going to be open for submissions, and…

I get that genre fiction is one of those weird niche things, and Weird Westerns are the teeny-tiny cross-section of the genres that get the least space at our local public library.[1] I get that cash is often tight. I do.

But dammit, this is the Weird West, that place of high-noon glare and shrieking steam, of voices on the wind and grinning horrors in long black coats, of long shadows and bootheels clocking off the hours to midnight. And I believe with the heart of a hopeful fan that there are more than sixty-seven other people who want to get their hands on this anthology. So I figure that some people who would like it simply have not heard about it, and I am trying to pass word along.

Dark Trails. That link right there.

Maybe it’s not your thing. But if you know someone who’d like it, maybe pass the word along?

[1] It’s true. It’s sad. A bookshelf unit has six shelves each, and the horror/western paperbacks only take up three shelves combined. It kind of makes me happy that they’re next to each other, though.

Blinking at the calendar

Wow, it’s been a long time.

Most of February was taken up with some acute household health stuff (everyone’s fine, life carries on, thank god the crying jags were mostly staggered in timing because I think that if we’d had them all happening at the same time it would have been harder to get through).  March was tied up a lot with some temporary work.  And I can’t believe it’s halfway through April, good grief, where does the time go?

I spent a chunk of last night trying to update my CV to reflect something that I’m good at but that I’m not usually hired to do, and it’s a little scary.  Besides that, there’s not much really going on.  I’m tired and I realized today that I’ve dropped the ball on something, and I’m trying to get it back together rather than bolting in the opposite direction throwing excuses behind me.  Should be manageable, really.

Piper’s having trouble walking, so I’m sitting with her in the living room and going to get through as much as I can today without leaving her alone for too long.  I foresee a lot of laundry in my future today.  It won’t be so bad, if I can get to the doing rather than the talking about.