Before my stroke, I hadn’t written any creative prose – other than short pieces for my girlfriend – for years. Decades, even. After writing a bunch of stroke-related stuff, the first post-stroke piece of fiction I wrote concerned a guy waking up in the Royal Botanical Gardens of Edinburgh with no memory. Quite fitting, I think, for someone who had
spent his teenage years among the pubs of Auld Reekie recently woken up from a major brain injury unable to remember the President, the Prime Minister, or his age. As befits a first effort, Dunedin was a little overblown, but I liked it.
But we can get to that later. First….
[First? First, sign up for the apoplectic.me Tiny Letter here.
More stroke, more absurdité, fewer pictures of seagulls.]
Tiny Letter readers will know that Longsufferinggirlfriendoftheblogbeth and I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road the other week. Anyone who’s seen any of the original trilogy won’t be surprised to hear it’s all very post-apocalyptic.
Clever apopostles will know that the apocalypse has been foreseen by film and literature since the beginning of time. And that’s hardly surprising. In more recent years, H.G. Wells had not yet heard of the nuclear bomb when he wrote Mind at the End of its Tether, but having lived through the uncertainties of the end of the Victorian and Edwardian eras he was all set to write “the most pessimistic utterance in modern literature.” Just a few years later, Orwell’s 1984 came into being absolutely in the shadow of The Bomb and Stalinism.
Blake’s 7 and blog obsession Threads were part of a seam of depressive British sci-fi that emerged around the time of the country’s impending doom amid the piles of dead bodies piling up in the streets during the Winter of Discontent, and the height of the Cold War arms race. The Wellesian Wall-E predicted catastrophe in the wake of an environmental armageddon. Fury Road seems to foresee a similar disaster. And this is all without getting into other images of The End inspired by Vietnam, The Sixties generally, the end of the ‘sixties, or the forthcoming Clash of Civilisations.
Maybe people just like wallowing in this sort of stuff. Towards the end of the recent election campaign, the more left-leaning papers were envisioning Cameron taking power in a very A Very British Coup sort of a way. After the actual results came in, Andrew Rawnsley wrote of the UK’s impending mini-apocalypse in The Observer. In the wake of the recent General Election, Furiosa’s band of “jubilantly numerous Nationalists [are] now swarming around the Palace of Westminster,” and with many other politicians and analysts, Rawnsley is freshly appalled by the prospect of huge swathes of the country never again getting the government they voted for, damnit.
Among all these examples, The End is usually presaged by some form of science. So, here are a couple of articles to inspire retro, ’80s-style nightmares.
First, in Total Recall-fashion, manipulating memories news, here‘s a story about Amnesia researchers [using] light to restore ‘lost’ memories in mice. Hope for the protagonist of Dunedin, stroke patients, and Brain of Pinky and the Brain. The article concerns a long-running controversy in neuroscience, by which “some researchers [argue that anmesia] occurs when cells are damaged and memory cannot be stored, while others believe that the memories are simply blocked and cannot be recalled.” This new study indicates that in cases of amnesia, memories do in fact remain, but are simply unable to be recollected. Nobel Prize-winning researcher Susumu Tonegawa of MIT said
The majority of researchers have favoured the storage theory, but we have shown in this paper that this majority theory is probably wrong…. Amnesia is a problem of retrieval impairment.
For what it’s worth, in my one-man sample, that feels right.
In this Dr. Strangelove-y piece, we learn that the U.S. Air Force has confirmed the existence of an electromagnetic pulse weapon manufactured by Boeing. The piece begins
Stepping out of the realm of science fiction and into reality is the joint U.S. Air Force and Boeing electromagnetic pulse weapon, capable of targeting and destroying electrical systems without the collateral damage often associated with traditional firepower.
To clumsily paraphrase the rest of the Digital Trends piece, the adorably nicknamed “CHAMP” (or Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project), is an attempt to develop a device with much of the power of a nuclear weapon but with less of the death and destruction to people and infrastructure that such a weapon would cause. Theoretically, the new missile system would pinpoint buildings and knock out their electrical grids, plunging the target into darkness and general disconnectedness. CHAMP would allow military members to cut off electricity supplies to enemy parties while keeping civilians out of the melee.
That is, most of the havoc and lawlessness, without as much damage to units of land, labour, and capital. The factors of production, if you will.
This is where Allan Harrison, the protagonist of Dunedin, comes in (he takes the name from an ID card he finds in a bag next to him when he wakes). It turns out that – spoiler alert – Allan has been affected by something that combines elements of both CHAMP and blue light memories triggers. In his erased memories, he’s lost the connections that bind us to our families and neighbours and comrades and allies, and the ideologies that have been inculcated in us from birth.
Damn, in the light of these news stories, that’s all suddenly topical – I should do something with it.
If Allan had been able to read the characters that he had uncomprehendingly stepped over, they would have made a noise in his head something like this:
PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC DENIES TESTING
FIRST NEUROMAGNETIC PULSE DEVICE
Gathering of NATO forces off Korean Coast Denounced:
‘We will not rise to naked Western aggression,’
declares Minister for Defence
But that’s nothing. If you want proper, Nostrodamus-invoking terror, I’ll leave you with this.
If you hear a clap of thunder
But there is no sign of rain….
If you feel the wind arisin
Then it’s like a hurricane
Then you know it must be Champion
Gallopin across the plain…
9 thoughts on “Apoplocalypse!”
Have I mentioned that I have read lots and lots of post apocalyptic sci fi? Like all of it which gets a good review except canticle for liebowitz which I should read. And I have this cracking idea for a post apocalyptic sci fi review blog where the reviews are being written from a post apocalyptic future (one of the fizzle types not one of the mad max types) where a narrator has access to a post apocalyptic library and reviews the books with a review plus a “but that’s not how it happened” twist? I probably haven’t. But sounds cool eh?
Anyway so I’ve read a lot, from earth abides – published in 1947 or so and thought to be the first of the genre – to seveneves published 1.5 weeks ago.
I generally like the fizzle ones more than the explosion ones. More character. The greatest of the fizzle ones was probably super sad true love story
Anyway all interesting. And can’t wait to hear the song bits.
That review site does sound good. Friend of the blog Jorge Luis Borges gives it two thumbs up! So, among all that stuff, have you read McCarthy’s The Road? In Ballboy 2.0, post-Derek Raymond, relentless positivity mode, it’s hard to see me getting to it. But I did enjoy All The Pretty Horses.
Now, off to the Pinterest book board….
I didn’t much like the road. I think it was popular with people who didn’t know the genre and while it was textually well written I thought it was just too grim
Station eleven is a far superior book in the literary post apocalyptic (as opposed to more sci fi post apocalyptic) genre
Thanks, pal. Now I can cross that off The List with a clear conscience. From what I understand of the balance of The Border Trilogy, I suspect that The Road cleaves to what McCarthy perceives to be a clear-eyed and honest (if metaphorical) account of the real world as he see it. But I’ll stop there before I talk myself back into reading it.
What I’m working on now is post-apocalyptic, but not sci fi despite what you’d assume by that kind of scenario. You could maybe call it a fabulation in the Pynchonesque sense.
I don’t even know how to verbalise what it’s about at this stage.
My creative process for it at the moment is kind of like weaving a ball of yarn from this huge jumble of loosely related fibers…narrative/thematic/character/setting/dream-based fibers. I’m trying to pull from all these fibers I have scribbled down in a notebook and typed in several files and swimming around in my head, and I’m trying out matching them up in different configurations until I can weave a yarn that just clicks for me.
The story’s more sorted than it sounds, but I can’t really communicate it yet without just zapping my brain into someone else’s head. And no one wants that.
I also think I’m going to have reach out for insights from a few consulting experts – one Dakota-based doctor and a Carolina-based PTSD counsellor. As part of my research, I’ve been reading first-hand accounts from people who have witnessed violent tragedies. Unsurpisingly, it’s dire stuff.
Interesting. I suspect Jim Kelman would suggest that you not make getting things sorted a pre-condition to getting things started. I’m noticing with my opus that – sometimes – the more pre-thought things are, the less freshly they hit the page. Then when things have to move around – as they must – that kinda concretisation makes that process much harder. Having said that, I’m sure Phonefinderoftheblog would be interested in a ref to your unsurprisingly dire stuff.
So, how many pages/much time a day is going to an actual first draft, Rev. Casaubon? ;o)
Finally, I’ll ask the same question I posed Paul
The dire materials were all threads on forums like Reddit and the like. I was reading threads where people were sharing their experiences witnessing others die in traffic accidents, violent murders, suicides, etc. They were more horrifying than therapeutic…except for the repeated advice on them to the tune of: “You really need to get therapy.” I also forced myself to briefly look at accident scene photos for visual references, but it was really too much for me.
I haven’t read The Road, but it’s on my extended list of 3,000 books I must read. I liked All the Pretty Horses and appreciated Blood Meridian.
Have I recommended Oryx and Crake to you? I liked that one. Also, looking forward to the new song as well!
Ha! You may have done! I’ll have to ask Maggie about it at that BHA-promoted event in London.
I’m looking forward to it, too! After it’s received the N.B. treatment, that is.