I’m sure you’ve seen them…the questions on Twitter about peoples favorite apocalyptic (or if you prefer, dystopian) novel. It got me to thinking about how and when this bent in fiction got started. I admit, I was a bit surprised.
You’ll see some pretty famous names from the beginning: Mary Shelly (not THAT novel, but chillingly, a post-apocalyptic story about about a world that has been ravaged by a plague); The Last Man (1826). You can grab a free download at Guttenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/18247; Edgar Allen Poe, The Conversation of Giros and Charmion (short story, 1839); H.G. Wells (of course!), The Time Machine (1885) and War of the Worlds(1898). What a start!
Fast forward to the Atomic Age, which officially began in 1945, with the first test of an atomic bomb in New Mexico during WWII. More famous names/titles: George R. Stewart, The Earth Abides (1949); John Wyndham, Day of the Triffids, (1951). Remember the cheesy 1962 movie?; Arthur Clarke, Childhood’s End (1953); Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953); Walter Miller Shute, On the Beach (1957); and Walter Miller, Canticle for Leibowitz (1959).
If you want to discover the origins of apocalyptic literature you have to go back to about 200 BCE. Early Jewish works told of coming disasters, often in scripture. You can read more about that here: https://www.britannica.com/art/apocalyptic-literature.
It’s hard to miss that the above list is very male and very white. Fortunately, in contemporary apocalyptic writing (and Science Fiction in general) that is changing. It includes powerful writing by women of color. Here are just a few to consider: Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death (2010); N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season (2015); Louise Erdrich, Future Home of the Living God (2017); with a very special mention of Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (1993) https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/parable-of-the-sower-octavia-butlers-tale-of-hard-won-hope-is-back-in-a-new-edition/
What does the future of speculative fiction hold? Hopefully more amazing writing by under-represented groups so that the imagination and visions are broad and inclusive. I encourage you to use your time hunkered down to order some of these authors from your favorite independent bookstore. Our buying choices help make a difference.
Until we can get back to whatever is the new normal, stay safe, load up on good books to read and bake something. These are really good: https://www.shelovesbiscotti.com/authentic-italian-anise-biscotti/