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World Without End

I’ve discovered an odd trend in myself these days: I’ve been yelling at the TV a lot. Even more oddly, the things that make me yell at the TV the most (besides Scott Brown political ads…ugh) is the show Revolution. Now, I’ve already ranted a bit about how I find the basic premise ridiculous, but there’s more to it than that. There is a cynicism hidden within and behind the show that makes me pretty frustrated with what is, apparently, the writers (or perhaps modern society’s) attitude towards human endeavor. It isn’t just Revolution, either. I find this frustration present in most zombie franchises, too (another premise I find ridiculous) and, indeed, with much of the apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic sub-genre. Again, it all has to do with what these folks think of human nature and human’s capacity to survive.

In my most recent yell-at-Revolution escapade, I caught an episode where Maggie describes how she tried to get home to her family in Britain after the blackout. There was lightning in the episode, too, which prompted me to yell “DO LIGHTNING RODS STILL WORK?”, but that’s besides the point. The point is that Maggie explains, tearfully, how she couldn’t find anybody to take her across the Atlantic. She meets a fisherman in a flashback who exclaims ‘there are no steam engines, no tall ships anymore, and those we had were broken down for firewood’ and basically explains that no one can sail across the ocean anymore. Even presuming the non-existence of tall ships (false) or assuming we broke them all down for firewood (though you would think having the only ocean-going vessel would be put to better use), I have this to say:

Do you know what you need to cross the Atlantic?

  1. Food
  2. Water
  3. A Compass
  4. A Sailboat that doesn’t leak
  5. Guts

Given the number of fiberglass and aluminum sailing vessels in the US (in the millions), if even 10% of those are large enough to safely cross an ocean, that’s hundreds of thousands of potential boats. There are a lot of sailors, too, and it isn’t all that hard to learn, and you’d imagine if the power went out, sailing would become massively lucrative and important almost immediately.

These facts, though, aren’t what the purveyors of apocalyptic literature are interested in, though. That isn’t what the writers mean, precisely, when they tell us Maggie can’t cross the ocean. They’re trying to sell us on the idea that humanity is helpless without modern civilization and that only the very strongest of us can achieve anything without it. They’re trying to say that element #5 – guts – is a rare and unusual diamond among the detritus of humanity. This, right here, is what makes me start yelling at people.

Look at this guy:

To Be Submitted Into Evidence: Humanity Has Guts

If you think Felix Baumgartner is unique and alone, you’re wrong. For every person watching his jump on Youtube saying ‘I could never do that’, there were others who were saying ‘that is totally awesome’. Hell, many of the team that put him up there are probably cut from similar cloth, in that they invested time, blood, and treasure into this ‘ridiculous’ scheme – you don’t do that unless you admire it. Maybe they’re not likely to jump out of weather balloons, but they’ve got the desire to make their mark on the world. In Felix Baumgartner, we see the thing that the apocalyptics don’t seem to like acknowledging: humans do some pretty amazing stuff, no matter the circumstances. Ever heard of Shackleton? Hillary? Magellan? The Wrights? Eriksson? The Venerablefucking-Bede? The Felix Baumgartners of the world would look at Maggie the English Doctor, crying for her children, and say “Sure lady, I’ll get you across the Atlantic. Might take me a little bit, but I’ve got a plan.”

Humanity is nothing if not adaptable. Even in our darkest times, we accomplished wonderful things. We, as a species, do not crumble in the face adversity; if anything, it makes us better. When I look at scifi stories that refuse to acknowledge the beauty and wonder of humanity’s potential, it saddens me. It reminds me of what Michael Dorn had to say about these days in which we live. To summarize, he thinks we need more Star Trek. We need more optimism. We need people like Dorn and Baumgartner and to remind us that, no matter how bad it gets, so long as there are people, we’ll make a comeback. And the odds are pretty good that we won’t run out of people.

 

Tales of the Quiet Earth: Martyn’s Story

Author’s Note: What follows is some brainstorming/intro material I wrote regarding a post-apocalypse-ish setting I’ve been developing for the last year or two. Tentatively titled ‘Tales of the Quiet Earth’, even though there was a novel of a similar title (one of those ‘last man on Earth’ stories, from the 70s, I think). Perhaps I’ll think of a better one, in time. Still, I hope  you enjoy.

Of the world I once knew, almost nothing remains, just as nothing remained of the world that came before mine. So few remember the scope of history. I and my brethren regretted this bitterly, once, but now I am unsure whether regret is of any use anymore. We are so near to the end. What would it matter?

            We were the last, best chance for this planet. Those of us among the Generation were to bring a new era of understanding and prosperity to the Earth, to raise up our lesser cousins, to inspire the hordes of men to achieve great things in the name of unity. We failed, of course. Much blame can be laid at the feet of many parties, but the failure remains unchanged for all that. All I know is that the wars seemed to stretch on forever. In some ways, they still continue, though the commanders are all dead and gone.

            That world will not come again. It was our chance, and we missed it. Humanity is now locked into a very slow, very gradual spiral towards extinction. None of them realize this, of course. They refuse to see the tenuous nature of their continued existence, as has been the habit of humans since life began. Perhaps, to be fair, this is the failing of all life—miserable, misguided optimism. Trust in the bounty of nature.

            The world is quiet now. The teeming masses of humanity are gone forever. The great sprawling cities that once touched the clouds are cast down, left as little more than twisted wreckage and lakes of broken glass. The knowledge and culture and learning of that far-off time have been warped and compromised into the crudest reflections of themselves; a child’s replicas of adult tools. Even nature itself has shriveled up; like seeds before the winter, the bounty of this planet has been withdrawn. It waits for a dawning of a new age—an age where humanity no longer troubles it, and it may move on without us.

              I have come to appreciate the simplicity of this time. The silence is a thing of beauty, in its way. Magnificent in its power and breadth, I can stand outside my small hut and gaze across the endless dunes and let the silence speak to me. It has more wisdom than a billion human voices in it. It has taken me centuries to learn this.

            I am visited by small parties of nomads—scavengers who live among the bones of the past. With them I trade for food and give them wisdom and healing. They call me ‘wizard’. They bring to me tales of the Enclaves to the south and to the east—‘great cities’ they claim, ‘wealthy and blessed people’. I smile at the irony; those that were once cast out as backward, antiquated fools are now, on their acres of sealed-off farmland, the very pinnacle of human civilization. Their little cluster of a few thousand souls here and there are the most powerful settlements of which humanity can boast. To them I do not go and from them I do not accept visitors. I never agreed with their forebears, and I doubt their descendants are more agreeable. Let the fools live in their holes whilst they may. Someday it will end badly for them, just as I told them it would.

            No, the only ones with whom I might converse as an equal are the denizens of Everscape, and they are no longer human by even the generous definition I ascribe to myself. They likely know more of what goes on in the world than I do myself, but their understanding of it is warped through a lens I cannot hope to comprehend. They are older than I, older even than the society that gave me birth, and their ageless lives of comfort and amusement have rendered them mercurial, fickle, and cruelly apathetic. No, with them I will only parley under duress. 

            Beyond them, there is no one. No one of consequence. There are ancient secrets buried, no doubt, and so-called wonders hidden that would amaze the remnants of my species, but they hold little interest for me. I am, for the first time in my long life, content. Some day soon, I shall die—killed, I expect—and I am ready for it. I bear my eventual killer no ill-will; my death has been a long time coming. The silence of this Quiet Earth, above and beyond all other things, has taught me how to accept the infinite and welcome the unknown with dignity, peace, and the knowledge that I, Martyn, have done all that could be expected of me. In the end, that is all any of us can hope for.