Playing God: Apocalyptic Story Telling


Playing God: Apocalyptic Storytelling
EE Knight, Daniel H. Wilson, Victoria Blake
OryCon 33
  • Panel
    • Daniel - background in robotics. Wrote How to Survive a Robot Uprising. Then Robopocalyse.
    • Victoria - publisher of Underland Press. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror. We haven’t yet published a straight apocalypse novel.
    • EE Knight - vampire series, post apocalypse. dragons series. last book of dragon series is apocalyptic.
  • Apocalypse
    • definition: revelation
  • Favorite scenarios
    • Daniel: as a society, we’re totally enmeshed in technology. if you take the technology away, or if you turn the technology against us, that’s really fun. it tears the world around. it explores how we depend on it, and what we get out of it.
    • Victoria: apocalypse stories have to choose where they are situated: a year after the event, 50 years after the event. that choice interests me. 
    • One generations luxuries become another generations necessities. and then the next generation they become unneeded again. e.g. a post apocalyptic society wouldn’t say we need electricity for lights, they would just go to bed when it gets dark.
    • apocalypse is just a 5 minute event, and then it’s over.
  • anything done to death?
    • No... it just need to be done well.
    • zombie apocalypse done to death...and yet, still love to read them.
  • Daniel
    • when I read it, I want to know who the bad guys are.
    • apocalypse scenarios show us what people are made of. people stand up. heros are forged.
    • but when you get into things like people roasting babies on spits... that’s too contrived and too pointless. 
    • i want redemption. the apocalypse is about starting over clean. are we inherently good or bad? do we hunt and kill each other or work together
  • When you blow up whole worlds... movies like that thing. but you need to show the few people, which is what people care about.
    • You can focus too much on one person, or zoom out too far.
  • Zone One
    • literary apocalypse novel
    • no plot
    • three days
    • the end happens at the end.
  • The interesting part is seeing how people survive the scenarios.
  • The little details are what make stuff. 
  • Knight: I really like On The Beach. I do like the scenarios where everyone dies.
    • It’s a resonate book about a whole society where everyone knows when they are going to die.
  • Justin Kronan’s The Passage
    • the book is divided into thirds.
    • first third is the moment of the apocalypse
    • second third shoots forward in time dozens of years: rebuilding
    • third third
  • Q: Is it still an apocalypse novel if the apocalypse occurred 50 or 100 or 200 years ago?
    • Seems like yes.
    • Q: So what are the defining points of an apocalypse story?
    • Daniel: You need to establish the context. You have to have the world. You don’t know to do that if its Poland in WW2, because we know it. But if it’s a different world, you have to establish it. Then once you build it, you rip it apart. 
    • Knight: It’s the story of who lives and who dies. People have to make a choice of whether to live or die. 
  • It’s almost like running a simulation: let’s run five people through the simulation and see who lives and who dies.
  • There’s lots of real stories about apocalypses: every culture that died as a result of English colonization had an apocalypse. Maybe when you are living in the time, you don’t need to write about it.
  • Books discussed
  • If you want to research this stuff, you can live in places that give that feel. Go to South Africa.
  • Most Indian Reservations are post-apocalyptic societies.
  • Daniel: Used Native American background. Loved having cowboys and robots.
  • Q: Does a slow motion apocalypse qualifies? e.g. water wars, rising water levels. Is that an apocalypse, or just science fiction?
    • thermodynamics says everything is in growth or decline.
  • Seems like two types of stories:
    • the actual apocalypse: surviving
    • the post-apocalypse: rebuilding
  • In Orwell’s 1984, you have a protagonist trying to figure out what it was like before.
  • If you have an apocalypse scenario, what is the long story arc? To get across the street? To get to the hospital? Then what? There’s less to explore.
  • Apocalypse novels are exploration of current society’s fears: environment, radiation, government, cold war, robots.
  • Mockingbird - about robots that feed humans birth control drugs.
  • Kurt Vonnegut has a short story in which all people carry these little radios that tell them what to do all the time.
  • Ray Bradbury’s 
  • When you take away all the people, you take away all the meaning.
  • The Sparrow - unintended consequences of an anthropological mission.
  • Robopocalypse: 
    • We barely give each other any rights. We’re highly unlikely to give robots any rights. We’ve never had to deal with another sentient species, let alone a superior sentience.
  • Q: To Victoria Blake: What are you looking for in an apocalypse novel in as a publisher?
    • Blake: It just has to be done well.
  • Q: What’s going to be the next big apocalypse theme?
    • Technology
    • Robots
    • Home mortgages
    • Society collapsing under its own weight
      • The domino effect, the effect of only 3 days of food in new york city.
    • Drought
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