Writing at the end of the world

A version of this post first appeared on My Shelf Confessions, home of The Pabkins. She’s proper lovely – not to mention charmingly bonkers!

The word Apocalypse comes from the Greek ἀποκάλυψις, the direct translation being ‘un-covering’. It implies the disclosure of knowledge or a revelation, not the destruction of our planet.

An inconvenient bit of space weather...

An inconvenient bit of space weather…

Funny, isn’t it, that seers have been predicting the end of the world throughout recorded history and yet here we are, still bumbling along – though perhaps with more potentially planet-killing problems than we’ve ever had before: Earthquake, World War III, Drought, The Greenhouse Effect, The Ice Age, Coronal Mass Ejection, Justin Bieber, Tsunami, Super-virus, Flood, Meteorite Strike, Zombies (look no farther than your own nation’s government to see the risen dead plotting their biggest meal EVER) etc, etc.

Such a familiar roll call.

That’s odd, though, isn’t it? Why do people focus so much on the end of the world? Wouldn’t we rather be thinking about something nice like Fettuccini Alfredo, kinky cosplay or installation art? Perhaps we can’t enjoy a thing completely without the knowledge that it could all be taken away in the next instant.

If so, what a bunch of weirdos.

I bet they don’t waste time imagining the end of the world in your average famine-hit nation or warzone; the world’s already ending for those people. So, all this talk of Armageddon, is it just an amusing luxury for those who can afford to worry without actually staring

Armageddon hungry!

Armageddon hungry!

death in the face?

I really don’t know the answer to that one.

But I do have an idea about why the apocalypse lingers – nay, flourishes – in contemporary Western consciousness. It’s as though we find it easier to imagine the end of everything than we do the end of our own, individual lives. I think we instinctively know that by contemplating the world’s destruction we might understand something important. About ourselves. About, well…everything.

What would we do in that situation? Would we be a force for good or an agent of destruction? When absolutely everything is at stake, how would we behave? It’s as though we crave that conundrum just to find out who we really are and why we’re here.

Hold on. Find out? Like discover? Like Un-cover? Could it be that apocalypse stories actually have a purpose?

I think they do. I think the idea of self-knowledge through the threat of destruction is a kind of philosophical tool. Sure, in many cases, the apocalypse is just plain fun. I mean, there are few things more entertaining in film or fiction than a band of disparate survivors doing their best to keep going under the most impossible of circumstances. But how readily we see ourselves in those characters and in those situations; in facing death at the hands of something colossal and beyond our power to control, we decide who we are and what it is we stand for.

Surf's up...

Surf’s up…

As a reader and viewer, I love a good apocalypse. But as a writer, that love goes deeper. I can lead my characters to a place where everything is at risk. Not only their lives but the meaning of their actions; how they want to be remembered, what their names will stand for in the eyes of eternity. It’s such fertile ground both in terms of character and story. When it’s the end of the world, anything goes. Anything. For an author like me, with a love of Horror, SF and Fantasy, I couldn’t be in better territory than that which is about to be blasted out of existence.

In my Armageddon stories, I often throw my characters to the wolves (Garbage Man, The Kill Crew, The Failing Flesh) but Black Feathers – and its second part The Book of The Crowman – is very different. I wanted something to ‘look forward’ to in the end of days, some sense of purpose in the face of the ultimate destructive force. I think it was my attempt to find the revelation in apocalypse. As though, on some level, I intuited the roots of the word even before I looked it up.

*glances up from laptop*

Oh wow, look at that!

Those are some dark clouds rolling in. Unusual colour, too – tinged with red. How odd.

Brrr.

Did someone turn off the heating? And…it got so dark all of a sudden. Looks like something blotted out the sun.

I’d better go. Looks like the start of yet another last day on Earth.

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4 thoughts on “Writing at the end of the world

  1. hehe bonkers that I am! Takes one to know one! We really do love the apocalypse don’t we? I was wondering though…maybe I need to find a utopian type book and see if it can actually capture my interest.

    • It’s an interesting point, Pabkins. The trouble with a utopia is that there’s no tension in paradise, right? No tension = no story. It would have to be a utopia in which all is not as perfect as it seems…

      • Oh yes, I totally get that. Hence why no on writes about a utopia. Hah – that would make a hilarious anthology – Utopias – all the fluffly unicorns and rainbows what make you want to barf. Sorry its late…I have no filter

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