Posts Tagged ‘Post apoc’

Two weeks ago I brought up several stories which I call my favorites, and that naturally brought me to the idea of influence. You hear the phrases bandied about often by any creative types–“I consider such-and-such my greatest influence”, as in “As a composer, I find Mozart and John Williams to be my greatest influences” for an example, or directors cite earlier movies that formed their interest in the silver screen.

Certainly, as a writer, I count many, many authors and stories among my influences. All writers generally do–after all, that initial exposure to tales that transport us to other worlds or realities far from our own personal experiences engender the desire in some readers to craft our own. Fredrik Pohl, Harlan Ellison, Harry Harrison, John Haldeman, Doyle, Tolkien, Lewis, Shakespeare etc. all count high on my list of literary inspirations.

But… what about other influences, such as music? Take my first example, with music above. I frequently listen to music while writing, matching the mood/tone with whatever I am trying to write. Umbra (and all of its previous iterations) came flying from my fingertips with an ample dose of Alice in Chains, early Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden pounding in my ears. For my darker fantasy stories like “The Falconer and the Wolf“, one of my favorite bands to get me in the right atmosphere is Dead Can Dance. When sketching notes for The Light of Liberty, I turned to Barry Phillips and his version of “The World Turned Upside Down” along with other American Colonial period tunes.

Are there any more? Of course there are. Many people have incorporated their likes and hobbies into their writing. Some cozy mysteries, for example, are based around knitting. My character Ennid the Havoc and his escapades are influenced by my love of MMA (that’s Mixed Martial Arts for those not yet initiated into its primal awesomeness). My interest in genetics features heavily in Clones are People Two. Even if the things we like aren’t at the forfront, we sometimes insert it in small ways. I love goats (Casey, from Umbra), I think rhinos are awesome and I smith silver (both of which will appear in The Opal Necklace, release date TBD) and I’ve an interest in raptors and falconry.

It’s all very simple–EVERYTHING can be an influence on our creativity, and EVERYTHING should be. It’s from these somewhat disparate ideas and influences that some of our richest “juices” flow.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: Unapologetic Spoilers (If you read on, don’t blame me. You’ve been warned)

My obsession with the post-apocalypse began decades ago with George Miller’s genre-defining films, and the Wasteland and Fallout video games. Enough so, that last year (2014) I published two collections that feature some post-apoc stories (“Treasure” in Morsels and the “Ain’t No Coffee” chapter of Melange[1]) as well as a PA mystery novel, Umbra.

They pale in comparison to the mighty prosthetic strength of George Miller.

Completely skeptical in many arenas, I had been hearing about Fury Road for years, when it was an on-again, off-again project for the Happy Feet / Witches of Eastwick / Babe, Pig in the City director. He explored anime as a possible avenue, and there were brief rumors about Shia LeBouf taking the role of Max’s kid (I’m glad he failed that experiment with Indiana Jones instead). I also wasn’t sure what to make of a Mad Max who wasn’t going to be played by Mel Gibson. Remake after remake shows they don’t often get better, and most of the time are worse for all of the gimmicks and none of the story-meat.

So, I watched the trailers, and wasn’t completely turned off. Good sign.

First, the movie NEVER LETS UP. There are scarce moments to breathe, and the “slow” points in the movie don’t really drop its pace. Like downshifting, but the car is still rolling a pace that could snap your neck if you braked too hard. Except for an extremely short introduction in the very beginning (rather like The Road Warrior, but without the montage) you are dumped into the chase. Period. Miller is a master of showing, not telling, with only one very tiny, practically gasped “info-dump”. Otherwise, you glean the narrative organically as the story unfolds through action. This IS a car/rig movie, however, so those of you who just wanted to see souped-up, weaponized and apocalyptisized (yes, I just made that up) versions of vintage cars, look no further.

It also gives no quarter—just when you thought you came up for air, you find yourself smothered in dust cloud. Not everyone gets the happy ending, and one of the most heart-breaking moments in the movie comes in one of these gasps.

Anyway…

Storytellers and directors, take note: THIS is the way to do strong women in movies. Don’t insert them where they don’t belong just to 1) appeal to a young female audience and 2) bring sex incidentally into a film. Not that there’s any sex involved, at least not overtly, and not in the act of pleasure kind of way. Mostly, it’s for procreation. Or lack of. (the chastity belts worn by the brides are positively feral looking, although I think I would have kept it on until I reached my destination. Talk about your rape deterrant!). Believe it or not, there is a tiny romance subplot between a bride and one of the half-life War boys, and it’s handled a little too roughly to start, but it “moves” into its own. But the women here are strong, supportive and determined to escape and survive without having to be glammed up to do it. I could easily see myself as one of the Vuvalini (assuming I would want to survive in a post-apocalypse).

A few gimmicky moments exist to play up on the 3D version of the film (most notably the shot near the end with the guitar and the flying steering wheel), but these can be forgiven. George Miller always did have a little fun in his films, with the odd juxtaposition of the ultra-violent and quirky humor (see the exchange between Papagallo and the Mechanic).

Was there a soundtrack? Yes, there was, but the frenetic energy is so pervasive that the “music” is lost. Except for one well-placed, drop-of-the-bass dub invasion. Thanks, Junkie XL.

There are plenty of moments that call back the older movies, such as when Max, wielding a short-barreled side-by-side shotgun goes to blow some guy’s hand off and the round fizzles.[2] There is a moment when one of the brides is playing with the innards of a music box.[3] Hugh Keays-Byrne, as everyone who knows Mad Max knows, played the Toecutter in that film.[4]

Toecutter2-1

There’s even a momentary, overt nod to another director’s film, The Dark Crystal, by having people on long stilts very much reminiscent of the landstriders ridden by Jen and Kira (don’t have a still from MM:FR, so if you want to see it, BUY A TICKET!!!!).

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Count on George Miller to introduce characters with medical issues and/or prosthetics. We know the post-apoc “look” which he created in The Road Warrior went on to infect 80’s hair bands with the feathers and football gear as armor, but his inclusions called on his former career as an emergency room physician. In Mad Max it was the young cop forced to use the electrolarynx after his chase of the Nightrider leaves him with a shard of windshield glass in his throat. In the second, the most notable is the Mechanic, not confined to a wheelchair but held aloft by a cherry-picker like device cobbled together to get him around the equipment. In the third, there is Master-Blaster, a duo whose brain makes up for his lack of stature, and the brawn of which he rides to make up for his weakness for which he serves (and loves) paternally. Then, there is this movie, when it becomes a staple. Imperator Furiosa is the first notable, with her prosthetic arm, and Immortan Joe of course, but then there are the myriads of those with tumors and missing limbs, etc.

Tom Hardy’s Max is an extremely worthy successor to Mel Gibson’s Officer Rockatansky.[5] There’s more than a little nod to Bane there, George, in his and Immortan Joe’s get-ups.[6] Enough said.

latest Hugh-Keays-ByrneImmortan-Joe-Mad-Max-Fury-Road

So, this one is already going to be on my shelf the moment it is released on Blu-Ray.

AND… I have heard there is already a second/fifth one planned, called Mad Max: The Wasteland. I, for one, am looking forward to it

 

 

[1] Which are available for free on Smashwords, and possibly Amazon if they caught up. Read them and let me know what you think!

[2] From The Road Warrior, during the rig battle, when Max discovers the shell he picked up in the beginning of the movie from the dead man on the “Meek Shall Inherit” truck is a dud.

[3] Also from The Road Warrior, and also during the beginning after the battle with Wez, when he finds the music movement and later gives to the Feral Kid.

[4] Calling up of course that George Miller borrows actors from his own movies as well. I address this in another post, here.

[5] That name shows up, by the way, in House of God, Samuel Shem’s novel about a teaching hospital. George Miller finished medical school before he became a director, so might have some interest in reading that novel. Coincidence? I leave you to decide.

[6] Then again, isn’t Bane a little more “Road Warrior” than “Batman” anyway?

I fight through the gila monsters, hordes of raiders and a few desert dwellers, turning them all into a thin, red paste in order to retain my claim to the treasure tucked carefully away inside my backpack.  I’ve been waiting for this for ALMOST 30 YEARS!  At last, the prize is mine!

As I reach my cozy little bunker, far away from the radiation zones where my Geiger counter sits silent instead of clacking away, the excitement and tension are palpable in the cloistered air.  Booting up the old kitbashed Commodore 64, I remove the carefully wrapped package, pop in the disk and proceed to install WASTELAND 2.

*****************************

So I purchased this some time ago, but my writing schedule did not permit me to play it.  I admit freely that I can be easily sucked into playing a video game for hours, but I have plenty of self-discipline to not let it turn me into the freak that lives off of cheese puffs and Mountain Dew in their mother’s basement whose only exposure is a trip to answer the door when the UPS or FedEx guy drops off that special collector’s edition Mad Meltdown Mayhem III.  However, I had been eagerly awaiting this one, as stated, for 30 YEARS!  Not that the Fallout series wasn’t fabulous (all of the games are), but Wasteland was the one that got me started, back in the day.  I was a young girl then, and when my brother bought the game and installed it on his Commodore 64 (two disks, double-sided, had to be copied*), I couldn’t wait to get my fingers on that keyboard.

And so it is…

First, I made a team loosely based on my characters from Umbra.  [The following may contain some SPOILERS, if you haven’t read the novel or played either of the games.]  There’s Shaw with his beard and boonie, Mance with his youthful stature and mussed hair, without the robes he wore in the novel, however.  And there’s Vera.  I am absolutely delighted to say that within three minutes of starting the game, she had her goat following her.  Now, Aberforth isn’t Casey, but I can’t get everything I want.  And to round out the team, I included hefty meatsmasher Deergut to give my team a little heavy weapons and brute force.  Deergut wasn’t in Umbra, but he will showing up in one of the sequels…

 WL2 Umbra

It was nice to see the “old faces” in the game, namely General Vargas (‘Snake’), Angela Death**, Thrasher and Hell Razor, and sadly, Ace as a corpse. Makes me wonder who else I am going to see***…

What also got me excited was that they tried to stay true to the locations, as well.  The Ag Center map is much like the map from the original Wasteland, with its desk area at the front, the long corridor in the center and the two garden areas off to the side, complete with the satellite dishes. The Ranger Center, now moved to the Citadel where they originally fought off hordes of evil nuns, even has the museum room with the Secpass in the display. (I guess the Quasar key you found there was left behind at Cochise.)

As for the soundtrack, they get extra kudos for bringing in Mark Morgan who created the music for Fallout 1 & 2.  Anyone who reads me knows I am very picky about soundtracks for games/movies like these, but I can’t say enough about Mark Morgan’s work. “Radiation Storm”, the track played during the Vault Dweller‘s trip to The Glow, still gives me the chills when I hear it.  Talk about creeptastic.  If anything, I am looking to progress through the game not just for the storyline and entertainment of playing an RPG, but for the music Morgan brings to the game.

I was really happy to be playing an isometric style game.  I loved the original Wasteland with its sprite-ful overhead view and the combat screens with portraits and descriptors (note that ‘thin, red paste’ I inserted above. And don’t forget to bring the blood sausage!), and I really grew to love the visuals of Fallout.  This game is no different, giving it a retro but not too retro feel.  I am able to accomplish a lot of tactics that I enjoyed setting up, like the crouch and headshot (headshots! woot!) for my sniper in order to get the ‘party’ started, and I like the ambush function.  My only gripe with that feature, however, is that they ALL shoot/aim for the same target on the ambush.  I wouldn’t mind having a simple “wait” so that my sniper, for example, could use her turn on the high-value targets instead of the fodder that can be cleaned up with a club or a simple burst from an SMG when they wander into firing range.  If they change this in an update (which they may already have, but my internet connection is spotty so getting the old computer to a place to DL them is a trip rather than a normal occurence), I will be one happy camper.

I could go on and on, but I think a full play-through will be necessary, and probably more than one, since the very beginning of the game sets it up for multiple playthroughs with different outcomes.  I’ve been having a grand time getting in an hour of gametime a day, so I see this one keeping my schedule occupied for quite a while.  So far, I am going to give the game 4-1/2 out of 5 mushroom clouds.

 

*This was done so that changes made during gameplay were maintained throughout the world, something few if any other games did at the time.  You couldn’t go blow a place up, leave the local map and come back to find everything intact.  Your actions mattered.  This is fairly standard now, but a lot of credit goes to the developers for the persistence of behavior and consequences in Wasteland.  Of course, if I wanted to play the same area over again, I could make another copy of that side of the disk and play ‘fresh’.  I suspect that was how a lot of people, myself included, got their Rangers absurdly high promotions.

**Minor break in continuity, if you had the Strategy Guide from the original Wasteland like I do (yes, I still have my copy).  Angela gets fatally gutted and they leave her behind, and SOMEONE is an android.  Good reading though.

***I hope the reference to the ‘blue woman’ is actually ‘purple’ and happens to be Charmaine, one of my favorite characters from the original game.

So, yes, I know the movies isn’t exactly this summer’s blockbuster, but when I read back over some of my old posts from a different site, I noticed a glaringly obvious snafu.  I promised a review of The Book of Eli when it came out, but I never delivered.

Well, ‘never’ is such an absolute term.  And I am here to rectify my error and nullify that ‘never’.

The Book of Eli stars Denzel Washington as Eli, most often referred to as ‘The Walker’ for the duration of the movie (in fact, his name is said only once, and is written once on a tag and carved into stone).  Mila Kunis plays Solara, the girl who becomes his sidekick by circumstances addressed in the film.

Post-Apoc, this baby takes the cake, eats it and bakes us another one.  The visuals in this movie capture all of the bleak and decaying landscape fans of PA and games like Fallout and Wasteland could ever desire.  One particular scene of Eli peering up at the broken, curving highway directly recalls similar images from Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland.

The music was very hit or miss for me.  If anyone’s read my review of The Road, they would know that I favor a ‘less is more’ soundtrack for films like this.  Part of the scoring with the languid, melancholy cello seemed perfect, like endless drifting.  Too much of the heavier ‘rock-like’ music felt invasive.  The insertions of other music via the iPod or the radio felt right, and also seemed like something pulled from Fallout (I especially loved the ‘soothing’ song, ‘Ring My Bell’.  Proved this film had a sense of humor, too.)  Fans of Fallout 3 will also find a familiar face (voice) but I won’t spoil that.

I generally love anything Denzel involves himself in, and this film is not an exception to that.  Not a huge fan of Mila Kunis, but she didn’t grate on me in this film, although her character didn’t develop as much as I’d like.

SPOILER ALERT:

The ending image bothered me in that it seemed too amorphous.  I would have liked to see a complete circle happen in this story.  Having her take some of the Bibles with her would have given the sense of completion.  Eli brought the Bible to the place he intended, and now she is taking it (them) away, on another trip, to distribute.

END SPOILER ALERT:

In all, the only gripe I had with The Book of Eli was a very personal one: some of the images I found in the movie were ones I had already written into a very early draft of Umbra: A Post-Apocalyptic Mystery.  Some things that I conjured up seemed too familiar, too similar and so I felt forced to abandon those particular scenes and characters I had grown to love for fear of being labeled a plagarist.  Someone may still point out that a few of the ones I left in were still enough to evoke those similarities between the two, but for some reason or another, I couldn’t give them up, and they stay, albeit as modified as I could bear to change them.  In a very odd way, I suppose it’s flattering.  After all, the movie proved that some of the ideas I came up with would work, and work well.  (This happened to me quite a few times, sadly enough, while writing other stories during my childhood and early teenage years, when I began to think that someone was copying ideas from my brain.  At least that’s the only logical explanation.  I will just say that one of the Predator stories, as told by Dark Horse comics, is frighteningly close to ideas I developed in unpublished fan fiction.  Cree~py.)

Overall, I liked the movie. 4/5 Mushroom Clouds.

With the rise in the last several years of movies and books with dystopian or post-apocalyptic themes, the reporting media (as usual) does not take a careful look at the particular connotation behind these two terms.

Rule #1:  ‘Dystopia’ and ‘Post-apocalyptic’ are NOT synonymous.

‘Dystopia’ refers to the community or society.  ‘Post-Apocalypse’ refers to the milieu, setting, and is essentially a world-building term, of the locale after the Apocalypse.

The latest dystopian work to reach the masses, The Hunger Games, contains both dystopian elements and post-apocalyptic, but the latter only in a superficial and lazy way (never truly defined).  Mostly, it bases its storytelling on the interaction of the people within this society to ‘current’ events.

Rule #2:  Apocalyptic events often create Dystopias.

The society Panem from The Hunger Games could just as well have arisen from modern politics without the intervention of some apocalypse, in that the series of laws created eventually funneled the society into the state where it happens to be at the time of the novels, when the sheeple have given up their power to the government.  (Another aside: note that they tried once and failed, and gave up after that.  If they allow themselves to be so easily trod upon, then they deserve the government they got.)

Rule #3: Dystopias can beget a man-made Apocalypse

Nineteen Eighty-Four, by far the most famous, also has both elements to give it background, but by and large is dystopian.  It is about the people within the proscribed society.

For another example, I would personnally argue that Mad Max isn’t so much a dystopia as a film of anarchy slipping towards its apocalypse hinted at in the introductory montage in The Road Warrior.  Still, it shows that the societies that are created or born from the bad decisions of mad can eventually lean toward the type of mentality that would unleash its own post-apocalypse.

Rule #4:  Not all Apocalypses are created equal.

Zombie apocalypse abounds in our world.  In my youth, during the Cold War, the threat of a Nuclear Apocalypse reigned (and is still, ironically, my ‘favorite’ PA theme and may or may not be the ‘Visitation of the Fallen Suns’ alluded to in the first novel, Umbra: A Post-Apocalyptic Mystery).  The Road Warrior came from this era, as did one of my favorite games of all time, Wasteland (and its nearly 30 years in the making sequel, as well as the beloved ‘Fallout‘ series.)  The threat of pervasive, mutating radiation infecting everything for decades or hundreds of years, along with the (now-disproven) threat of a ‘nuclear winter‘ seemed just too juicy to not spawn some of the greatest PA works of all time.  (Now there’s also a discussion of a ‘nuclear summer’, for the global-warming hangers-on.)  Of course it had its stinkers too, like World Gone Wild, with Adam Ant and Steel Dawn, with Patrick Swayze, God rest his soul.

But what about all those other ones?  Day of the TriffidsWaterworld?  One of my favorite (and arguably one of the only ‘romance’ novels I will ever read, let alone love) – The Silver Metal Lover?  They introduce their own type of apocalypse (blindness/sentient and malevolent plants and melted polar ice caps for the global-warmers, and pollution/asteroid interference, respectively) and all of these are directly influential on the events that occur in the novel.

There are still plenty of differences, and I am sure to revisit this post as time permits to add a few more of my observations, and I invite you to research and suggest some of your own.

Since the dawn of my cognizance, I’ve heard the phrase uttered over and over “write what you know”. (To be fair, I’ve read it often enough too.) I’m here to tell you today that if you write, don’t just write what you know. I doubt many people would want to read an chapter-long exposition on how to repair the air-conditioning and pressurization systems of Naval aircraft, with all the nuts and bolts (literally). Instead, I implore you to write what you love. That passion will sneak its way into your work, and the words on the page (electrons on the screen, if you’ve gone digital) exude it in visceral ways the reader unconsciously picks up on. Insert your own fears into your work, and the reader can’t help but feel that anxiety.

Anyone who has read my anthologies and my longer works may be able to pick up on things I’ve inserted because I love them, or am fascinated by them. Animals are a near constant, either as main characters, sidekicks, pets or just there as local flavor. Casey, K’zirra, the wolf, Sharza* and a few others. I am also intensely interested in classical Roman History, the ethics of cloning, eschatology, mixed martial arts and, of course, nearly anything post-apocalyptic. People who love these things may be attracted to my work, if not for the storyline (initially) then for the inclusion of those elements in fiction they love to see and read about. In that same vein, writing my own fears into my work us in some ways very cathartic, as I can help myself by using the process of figuring how the character is going to cope or overcome. (Dear Lord , are they ever so much more courageous than I am! But I’m glad I don’t have half the problems I throw at my poor characters.)

So, don’t worry about being a hack, don’t try to copy someone else’s style, don’t just write “what you know” or you’ll come out as a dreaded expositor. Write what you love and the passion will flow.

* Who is Sharza, you wonder? She’s in The Opal Necklace, a novel which should be complete and released sometime early next year. What is she? Well, you’ll have to wait and read.

…at least for a lot of publishers of entertainment media these days. Fallout 3 certainly made post-apocalyptia ‘cool’ again with its first-person-shooter RPG stylings. Tim Burton is lending his name to relative newcomer Shane Acker with what looks to be the seriously promising ‘9‘ (not to be confused with some other movie called ‘Nine’ mind you). Hell, even Oprah Winfrey put her guaranteed-bestseller mark on The Road which is headed for the theaters soon. At least one other movie slated for next year with Denzel Washington already confused people into thinking of it as a Fallout movie (The Book of Eli). All well and good, I say, for those people (such as myself) who couldn’t get enough of it during their childhood, when the only mainstream armageddon around was Mad Max, The Road Warrior and Wasteland (Electronic Arts video game).

So what about those older titles? Mad Max. Now there’s a gem of a title. While not explicitly post-apocalypse [actually more of a dystopia, but more on that subject at a later date], Mad Max gave birth to the detritus-clad punks on hastily refurbished vehicles spreading mayhem while an equally detritus-clad anti-hero out-spreads the mayhem, only against the evil instead of for it in The Road Warrior – an unforgettable classic storyline and the birth of the look for decades to come.

Anyone who gamed in the early 80’s on that lovely machine, the Commodore 64, could probably tell you a little bit about Wasteland (What? You mean it was published for other platforms? There were other platforms?). The game drops you into the action with no more information than you play a team of soldiers that trained in a military compound re-purposed from a federal prison completed when the bombs dropped and there’s a disturbance in the desert. Go find out what’s going on. Sure the game consisted of a whopping 4 colors, and a sprite hopped its way mannequin-style across the desert to towns no bigger than you on the main screen, but the storyline engaged you and really pulled you in. Ditto its “spiritual successors” Fallout and Fallout 2 – while the graphics are certainly better, the rich and involved storyline proved thrilling and darkly humorous.

The moral of this story is: Let’s not forget the good predecessors to the current Post-Apocalyptic hits. Without them, the current hits just may not exist.

(Originally published at the Meltdown Cafe on 5 AUG 2009)

I had originally published this excerpt on 11 FEB 2010, just a little over four years ago. While the final version is nearly out (I expect everything to be revised, copyedited, formatted and published by the end of April), I find that while some things have taken drastic changes, others have remained quite the same as the original.

Just a reminder that the following, while maybe not used as-is in the upcoming novel, remains my intellectual property with all the rights and privileges to use reserved.

Breath clawed ragged furrows in his throat. Shredding pains in his sides choked off any deep inhalation. Running, trotting, he kept ahead, just ahead, by the barest of a sliver. Slipping and falling on the reeking carpet of foliage, he recovered and kept moving. Tripping over his own traitorous feet. But he didn’t dare stop, didn’t dare look back. Never glance over your shoulder. His pursuer hounded him —he felt the stare scorching the back of his head.

Slow now, just for a second, can’t breathe… He reined in his pace.

The stifling air amplified a brutal crack. Weapon’s fire. The same crack stung his ears before. This morning, that same crack. An explosion of blood. An end to his friend. A cry escaped him, but the pain within his lungs provided no volume.

No stopping. No slowing down for even a moment.

Must get these away. Take them someplace safe. He clutched at the relic, hanging from his strap around his neck, banging against the metal ephod. Must find a way to save the journals. He clutched those too, precious journals, priceless relic.

Brother Sun, protect me! Keep moving. Just keep moving.

* * *

The sun remained asleep beyond the horizon, but Click arose and gathered up his kit. The bride train escorts and the brides-to-be untangled themselves from one another, yawned and stretched the funk of sleep away. Four single, macho men (not counting Click) guarding seven twittering, nubile women as they traveled the Circuit made for a sad equation, and Click witnessed the product of that outcome for the last three nights. He pitied the men anticipating their tickermail dreams, thinking a virgin angel traveled to greet them and surrender themselves to their future and only husband. Gratitude swelled inside of him, nearing the time to be quit of them all. He looked forward to getting back to his own team, his own territory. He prided himself on his discipline, but a week and half of involvement in the odd dynamic threatened to end his moral standing, if not his goal.
At least one teammate remained with him to remind him of his business on the Circuit. Ibsen displayed more self-control than either the men or the women here. Click expressed his gratitude for the presence of at least one disciplined companion, even if he walked on four legs instead of two and drooled all over him. He reached down and scratched the gray and black furred head, and Ibsen glanced up at him with wintry blue eyes and panted in appreciation.
Not to mention I can get this done with and shave this damnable beard. Click scratched idly at the bristly, hair again, and felt the pustule of an ingrown hair break under his fingernail. When I get back I’m taking a day of liberty and using all twenty-four hours to bathe. Ten minutes with these guys also revealed one of their toughest weapons —personal hygiene. Between the body odor and the breath, the four men of the bride train possessed enough chemical weaponry to keep the wolgs and the highwaymen at a fair distance. The women didn’t fare much better, although they tried to hide it by rubbing themselves with crushed green they could pluck from the autumn-wounded trees and weeds.
The Circuit tried, with the bride trains, to mix up the gene pool, and Click silently applauded them on that effort. His people worried about the lack of genetic diversity in the smaller communities. He already saw the result of a small society mixing out of hand, and dealing with that counted among the gut-squirming and bloodiest situations Click and his men ever encountered. He didn’t even like to think about that mess, even though time placed it well over a decade behind him. These people didn’t seem to invest a lot of thought into the best way of mixing up DNA. If they knew what that was, he mused. Still, they tried.
Working with these escorts also disgusted him with the superficial machismo they strutted out to impress the betrothed. A hooligan at least ten years Click’s junior called himself their ‘captain’ and tried to pass himself off as a veteran warrior and conquerer of women. He ended up painting his own portrait as a sad, desperate man who took advantage of the naive girls and their willingness to indulge. Unfortunately, when Click signed on under this man, he assessed and dismissed his so-called prowess: he bedded more women —intended for other men— than anyone else on the Circuit. Period. Highwaymen, beware!
On one of the rare nights Click didn’t volunteer for the first watch, he sat down with their captain —”Just call me Honcho, my care” — he learned all he needed to know concerning the escorts. They considered themselves tightly knit, and knew not only the other escorts on the Circuit, but also the regular travelers; textwalkers, mapmakers, merchants, C-guard. Within a few questions, and some plain observation, Click realized his man wouldn’t stay among types like these for very long. He would stand out, much like Click himself, as possessing considerably more self-control. Unfortunately, none of the captain’s descriptions, physical or characteristically, resembled his man.
But the escort captain and his men did fill him in on some of the more colorful personalities, like the anxious textwalker who memorized everything they told him instead of writing it down, and they played games with him to see if they could trip him up. According to one escort, they all failed to get him to trip up on even the details. Not even when they watched that man flop onto his rear against a tree and stared at the ground with his head bobbing up and down. The storytelling escort performed a demonstration and Click watched the others as they cackled, pointed. “That’s him, man. That’s him!” Regarding another one, the captain related, “You know this one mapmaker… She… Yeah I said ‘she’… She been walking the Circuit like for five years, my care. Least I knows of. She a quiet thing, keeping to herself. But I change that. Real quick. I change that and she be begging me.” He thrust his hips in vulgar humping gesture, and loosed a few mock groans in a pitch high enough to make the women sound masculine. The others, escorts and brides all, erupted in chuckles and wolg-whistles. Whatever turns them on, I suppose. Click shrugged and dismissed the crude humor.
A dusky-skinned man with a crooked nose, smacked his thigh and laughed harder, louder and longer at his captain who tossed a scowl in his direction. “Beggin’ you to stop.? Rich, cap’n Honch. Rich indeed. Way I recall it, you tell that woman you gonna light an in-fer-no in that ice crack of hers, and she just rock that rifle she got in your ugly face. You looking all ‘I jus’ piss my pants’ and she just straight-face. I jus’ saying.” He raised his hands in a gesture of submission, holding his serious mien for a moment before losing it in a fit of laughter.
“Ya, he ain’t never saw no woman toting a gun before.” The guffaws began anew.
All escorts around the fire rejoined the levity; all of them except for their leader. Lips crushed together, his face graduated from bronze to red with the laughter feeding it. He hopped to his feet, snatched up his shotgun. “I’ll go do up a watch.”
The captain gathered his own weapon. “Bitch need a man to do her over a couple times, from behind,” He illustrated his statement with more vulgar gestures and then hightailed it out of sight. That only affirmed, signed, and nailed to the front door Click’s final assessment of the man’s (severe lack of) character. Click found himself silently giving the unknown woman a long-distance knuckle bump for turning the man down, and urging her to simply shoot him next time they cross paths.
A few more hours of walking, Click reminded himself as the others rose and began to gather their gear. Just a few more, hiking north along the cracked and weed-sprouting road, and they would arrive in Shebor. Then it’s a hearty rendition of “Goodbye, bride train. Goodbye.”
For all of his talk, the captain did seem to make it a point to keep up the information on other groups who traveled the Circuit. Only one of the Shebor-based group caused the Captain to come up short on knowledege. The Guv — the man who ran the Circuit, or at least thought he did — started sending out guard patrols, men as well armed as the escorts, to police the southern roads. The Circuit always faced clashes with the trash wolgs; those highwaymen trying to harass farmers in between towns, ambush traveling merchants or snatch the women from the bride trains (though after seeing what went on during the train, Click wasn’t convinced the trashdogs could treat them any worse).
Now, however, someone felt threatened enough by extra activity along the southern swing, with reports of bodies of entire communities found strung up by their necks. Raped, mutilated, executed, or simply executed in the middle of the road and left for the vultures, the escort captain described it all. Not that they saw any of that during their trip. Either the C-guard patrols proved effective (something Click doubted very much, if these men were the best protection the Circuit could turn out) or whoever caused the problems displayed more selectivity in their victims than the captain gave them credit.
Anticipation of the journey’s end pumped more adrenaline into his veins, and Click’s steps seemed lighter. Had these men displayed any physical discipline (and had the women been in better shape) he might have urged them to quicken the pace to a steady march just to get this over with. He forced himself to calm down, to keep pace, and examine his surroundings. Once back at his home, the intelligence alone might make the trip profitable, if he found his man or not.

As (what I hope to be) the worst of the winter weather and that vile beast known as the Polar Vortex retreats from the US, I gave pause to reflect on what has happened during those times we are most effected. For several days, many folks, including most of my family, endured without power. We were fairly lucky, as we had an alternative heating source that didn’t require electricity to operate, so we huddled next to the fire as the snow and ice coated our little slice of civilization. Meals consisted of soups, toasted cheese sandwiches, scrambled eggs -things which needed only simple preparation. We had plenty of water for tea and cocoa, not just from the on hand bottled water stores. Water for flushing the toilet came from outside where we would scoop snow into buckets and let it melt near the fireplace. So we survived until the power companies cleared ice and fallen trees and limbs from the lines and restored power.

In all of that, the one thing I missed most was the running water. Not because we needed it to drink, but we needed it to shower. I’m a hot shower person myself, and the thought of a splashdown sink bath using ice cold water made me numb just thinking about it. After the first day, I called around to relatives to find one with power and running water and asked if I might come over to use their facilities.

Analysis: One of two things is going to have to happen: 1) I would be killed in the first wave of nukes/zombies/mega virus and have little to worry about or (because I couldn’t possibly be that lucky) 2) on top of all the other prep work, I’d have to kludge a shower which would provide us with hot water.

Hot showers are entirely underrated.

Now to find a way for the protagonists of my upcoming novel, Umbra: A Post-Apocalyptic Mystery, to deal with the horrors of unwashed bodies.

(Originally posted 7 AUG 2009)

Nearly all media contains the inherent promise of a good ol’ yarn. Movies, TV shows and books may be the most obvious, and there’s always some type of story, or at least a background/meaning behind two dimensional art. Modern video games are rich with interactive storytelling, but even the eldest games (you know you remember Asteroids, which is purportedly going to be made into a movie based on its minimalist premise of shooting asteroids to save the Earth) contained some grain of an adventure beyond just pummeling the joystick fire button for the top score. Not all storylines are worth the cost of the movie ticket/ reading time/ hours wasted in front of the computer/ tv screen, but the fact remains they exist.

So what? you ask. There’s a story. I don’t really care about the story as long as I get to slaughter raiders/ mobsters/ bug-eyed aliens/ ghosts/ etc. While that may be true for some players, that fact is at the heart of all these stories, the author/ designer/ artist consciously chose the setting for the media. Some start with the setting “I’d like to design a space MMO*” and some with the character(s) “I’m painting fairies.” Occasionally an author or designer nurtures the storyline independently, then drops the characters into different settings to see what happens. Sometimes the setting is extremely important, and sometimes its just incidental (Star Wars could also have taken place in a Western or Fantasy setting with a little tweaking, and that’s why its called Space Opera and not true Science Fiction, but more on that at a later date).

So why choose the post-apocalyptic setting?

Post-apocalypse contains an inherent “cool factor” – the burnt out landscape dotted with skeletal trees and collapsed building and the possibility of the family dog mutating into a two-ton, acid-drooling, bloodthirsty beast make it an alien landscape in its own right. While post-apoc settings are beginning to become more commonplace, the “other” settings already count themselves in the “Done-to-Death” club. Some folks don’t mind seeing the same stories played out in the same settings over and over, but others prefer some novelty and the post-nuclear provides.

Then there’s the paranoia factor. Some modern games make it seem like everyone and their brother, sister, and even their grandmother is out to get the hero for little sense other than the main hero needs something to shoot back at. But move that to a post-apocalyptic setting, and suddenly everyone is out to get you, for their basic survival (hey, they can probably smell that can of Spam you just found. Or they smell you. Mmmm, tasty). Everyone trying to shoot or gut you suddenly makes sense.

Let’s not forget the interesting juxtaposition of the modern versus the primitive. We’ve already seen this kind of thing in history (the natives teaching guerilla tactics to the American colonists to best the better- outfitted English armies), in tons of science fiction tales where A) Space-faring earthlings encounter primitive alien species or B) vastly technologically-superior aliens arrive on earth. Then again there could be a more “modern” modern setting, where heavily-armed astronauts end up landing in the Amazon and for some reason being hunted by a tribe or tribes there. (If there’s a story like this out there, let me know. An interesting premise to try reading, at any rate).

Not always, but in enough media, the post-apocalyptic setting becomes the reason itself for the story, the backdrop as theme, if you will. The reason there exists a story of this type is that the world is the way it is because of mankind, and its folly in destroying itself. The promise is gone and its skeleton is the raped landscape, fallen buildings and spiritually-crushed people. Good stories in the post-apoc setting use it. It is a backdrop to show that mankind is continually spiralling downward, never learning the lessons of the past, the ugliness perpetuating until mankind swallows itself whole. It is a juxtaposition to illustrate mankind’s ability to press on, and even to learn from his mistakes and this time, try virtue. All it takes is one man to be the tiny white flower growing in the vast, barren landscape.

Next time you watch/ play/ read, think for a moment if the setting is important to the tale, or if it makes the movie/ game/ novel transcend in terms of the message it is trying to deliver. You may just discover post-apocalyptia holds a few cards that cannot be accessed in fantasy or space genres.

*Author’s Note: If there are any designers reading this who wish to design a space MMORPG that is truly character-based and isn’t going to nerf the crap out of itself like Galaxies, mucho kudos to you. We need more space and less fantasy out there. And by the way, I know about Fallen Earth, too, so no more e-mails on that one =o) Thanks. You’ve been kind.