You’re probably familiar with the term post-apocalyptic as applied to fiction and movies. Post-apocalyptic stories take place in a world after an apocalyptic event has occurred and civilization has collapsed. But here’s a new one on me: pre-apocalyptic fiction.
The pre-apocalypse would be similar to what I called in my last post “last days” stories. By using the term last days, I expect the story to meet two specific conditions: 1) the characters know that the earth is going to end; and 2) there will be no post-apocalypse. Whatever event is going down, no one is going to survive it. I could only think of two examples — the book On the Beach and the movie Last Night — that fulfill both these conditions and qualify as true “last days” stories, but I haven’t done much research yet and could probably dig up more in this sub-genre.
The pre-apocalypse, according to i09, depicts the time leading up to the apocalyptic disaster, but survival may be possible, or the event itself may still be averted. This is where the conflict comes from. The most obvious example of a pre-apocalypse story is the Terminator series, which keeps posing the question of whether the overthrow of humans by sentient machines is inevitable, or whether the actions of the characters who know what the future will be can actually change that future. Along similar lines is the film Twelve Monkeys, in which a time-traveling Bruce Willis is charged with gathering information about the engineered virus that wiped out most of humanity. Once in the past, he tries to prevent the apocalypse from ever occurring but fails — or perhaps his attempts to avert the disaster are necessary for it to actually take place. Again, the question of whether the future is fated is not comfortably resolved.
I haven’t done a lot of delving into this sub-genre yet. Living in uncertain times, as we do, with so many threats facing us, it’s no wonder that apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction has been so popular lately. Probably, the number of pre-apocalyptic stories will also increase along with our sense that the world is rapidly sliding into the void.
On the other hand, there have probably always been people who felt certain they were living in the last days, that the end was drawing nigh and only they were smart enough to see it. I feel like that myself some mornings when I read the news, especially with our leaders trying so hard to ignore climate change and its possible dire consequences. Yet somehow that great disaster never quite arrives. In my own memory, Y2K — which was supposed to bring about the collapse of a civilization overly dependent on computer technology — was a dud, and I don’t think much of anything is likely to happen on December 21, 2012, except it will probably be warmer than the previous year.
Still, it only takes once.