Monday, 18 July 2011

Pro-apocalyptic fiction?

Here's a thought. Many fictional settings present cycles of existence, and focus on the period just before a potential collapse or just after. There's a doom to avert or world rebuild, assuming there's knowledge post-apocalypse of what went before.

How about playing with that a little, and writing a world in which the civilisation is being deconstructed, structures dismantled and materials returned to the earth? Scaffolding on the walls of a castle, or machinery scaling a habitat, isn't there to raise, but the ordered opposite, and resources are buried whole or broken down, not by disaster, by design.

The trigger could be tyrannical decree, divine intervention, a revolution whether sudden or slow-building and of course enlightened government, of AI say. Energies in the world might be largely be put into developing new technologies to separate materials, clean them and return them to nature. The goal might be a certain level of ongoing activity, or a stewardship, or that one day a final group, individual or device will turn out the last light.

Maybe concealed observers remain and the thing is an experiment in creating new life?

As a concept, it reflects current awareness and fears of environmental catastrophe, and die-off discussion, and the idea of a noble sacrifice, although it could also suggest the cruelty and horror of periods in very recent history. Maybe it resonates too much with our age to be compelling, or escapist. Maybe this kind of thing is already out there?


Harald said...

Neat concept, but Khmer Rouge springs to mind. Unless the new order can offer a genuinely better way, such a program will most likely result in mass fatalities. As such, I'd file this under evil-overlord-schemes.

The Angry Lurker said...

I like it, nature taking back it's resources, deconstruction, Hollywood will be knocking on your door.

Commissar Carrie said...

“Behold, I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.” Carlos said, standing in the observation dome, watching the deconstructor tear down the city in the distance.

“You're always so dramatic,” said Jill, brushing past him.

Carlos turned away from the view and followed her across the pristine glass floor towards the computer bank in the center of the clear room. From a distance they looked like they were walking in the sky, a pair of angels in white lab coats dancing just beneath the clouds. “You have no sense of scope, Jill. No...” He struggled for a word, then gestured emphatically at the sky. “No appreciation for what we're doing here.”

“What we're doing here,” she said, slipping her touchpad from one arm to the other, “is nothing more than maintenance.”

“Maintenance? Jill, we're destroying civilization!” He pointed out to the horizon where the deconstructor was tearing a city down to its component parts, spewing vast clouds of oxygen and nitrogen into the air.

“No, we're rebuilding a planet. We're taking broken parts out and putting in fresh ones.” She sighed and blew a stray lock of hair out of her face. “My mother was right, I should have gone into medicine. I could be curing cancer right now.”

Carlos leaned against the computer banks, leaving smudges on the crystal. “We are curing cancer. We're curing a cancer that has plagued this world for too long. Look at what we're accomplishing here. The deconstructors move in, ripping apart everything that mankind has built up over the millenia. The hopes and dreams of the past gone, replaced by vast swaths of forest and pristine lakes. Do you know how long it took them to destroy the ozone layer? And we're fixing it in weeks, days!”

“While we sit here reading numbers and pushing buttons and making sure we we get the atmosphere just right. Please, a trained monkey could do this job.”

“No no no,” Carlos said, raising his finger and wagging at her like an impatient teacher. “Trained monkeys did that job. We're doing this job. We're enlightened.”

“You're enlightened. I'm bored. Now move, you're in my way.” Jill shoved Carlos aside and wiped the crystal clean.

Carlos leaned over her shoulder, hands in the pockets of his labcoat. “Tell me about your mother.”

Jill just sighed, and tried to concentrate on the end of the world.

Harald said...

@ Commissar Carrie:
Wow. Now that's a comment.

Commissar Carrie said...

Sometimes stuff hits ya just right, ya know? I felt inspired, and like contributing!

Porky said...

Forget Hollywood - Commissar Carrie's on it! Written on the spot in response no less. I'm wowed - that's talent. It teases out some of the threads the idea might offer too, strikes at the heart of it. A very fine kind of contribution.

The methodical nature of the thing could be played up as well, the Kim Stanley Robinson approach maybe, looking into the details of how it might be done, and letting the fraying and the doubts creep in over time.

What happened in Cambodia is certainly one of those examples of cruelty and horror. That does seem a likely outcome in our world as it is and has been.

Fictionally a positive take is possible, given any context could be set up. A very effective participatory democracy say might choose willingly, could be bound by perceived honour once decided, and with extended lifetimes wouldn't need to inflict the consequences of the choice on children.

Re Hollywood and the like, I wonder what would be made of it. I'd guess it could be played both ways, as dissenters rejecting the idea, but also as supporters uncovering conspiracy to prevent or redirect it.

It struck me after I posted that the Lord of the Rings actually touches on this theme with the willing destruction of the Ring. There too, as far as I can remember anyway, we have no evidence of consensus beyond a leadership group and the bearer and companions, and need to prevent a worse fate is the driver.

ckutalik said...

Year Zero. Yes in our world the Killing Fields (at least in the last century), but it does have an appeal to me in the sandbox. Everybody works, everybody digs.

(Don't want to give too much away as my players haunt our blogs, but my tabletop campaign has a similar themed long-lost secret somewhere hidden in the aeons of the Hill Cantons.)

So much of our fantasy is themed on some kind of terrible cataclysm or fall from grace. A voluntary one seems fresh to me and full of potential as a backstory.

Robinson came to mind for me too, the third book of the Mars series has a voluntary neo-primitivist thread to it post-revolution.

I believe that his parallel California futures book (the utopian one) starts with them tearing up a road as a collective work project. It's been a long time though.

Tedankhamen said...

There was a story I read as a lad about a humanity who spread to the stars and had agreed to return Earth to its pristine state. The story started with the main character working with a steamshovel to knock down old buildings.

Gotthammer said...

A great idea, and a great reply by the Commisar!

The book that first came to mind for me is the Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach. I can't say too much without giving the book away, but it partly contains two very similar situations.

Another similar one is God Emperor of Dune, where Leto II sets up and engineers the destruction of his empire - though it was more a mental deconstruction than a litteral one.

ckutalik said...

I was remiss in adding that the Commisar's comment was pretty damn great.

Porky said...

Good spot on God Emperor. It represents recognition and the backing out of a dead end, but has the extra twist of being the destruction of a limiting thing, making expansion in the broad sense possible again. The Carpet Makers gets my interest too.

By the way, it's funny we're still talking about Tolkien and Herbert, as if they really are alpha and omega. We're still struggling for those words of years to come.

Tedankhamen suggests another possible purpose, recreating an ideal, maybe out of gratitude, or respect, or guilt. It's a small step from something like that to the creation of a museum, and that comes back to Carrie's story and issues of legitimacy. We can also ask what pristine is, how far back we go, and of course how much we know to do it.

I've not read Kim Stanley Robinson's California stories, but thinking about breaking up roads makes me realise that there's an element of this in a lot of stories, the prevention or elimination of the possible for some higher purpose, or the belief it represents another of those dead ends. Think Newspeak in 1984 for example. Even beyond the immediate consequences, anyone behind a project of that kind, linguistic or otherwise, must realise they risk limiting their own potential too.

I'll be keeping more of an eye out for this kind of thing. As yet nothing entirely new under the sun...

Anonymous said...

I think Paul Park addresses some of this in his series of books Soldiers of Paradise, Sugar Rain, etc. In those stories it's because the planet has 80 year long seasons, and near the end of each season the various cultures change their whole structure in preparation for the next one. Autumn means preparing for 80 years of winter, shortages and starvation, so people are laying in food, deconstructing the festive and consumerist societies of Autumn, etc. Usually they go about this through religious cycles, and a lot of it happens spontaneously rather than by design, as the growing changes in "weather" force society into new fissures and uprisings.

I found that series of novels really inspiring and creative.

Porky said...

Inspiring and creative is certainly what they seem. It's a very intriguing setup, again showing the potential in fiction, even where it cleaves close to known things like variation in systems. I'd like to see how events like that are imagined out over the course of a story, and I'll be looking into the series. One great thing about discussions like this is the range of recommendations it throws up!

DocStout said...

Wow. I thought the concept was intriguing before Commisar Carrie crystallized it for me. This is really, really cool and I need to figure out how I can appropriate it for a game.