For starters, I’ve been interviewed by C.E. Martin, author of the pulpy Stone Soldiers series, as part of his Chowmageddon series about post-apocalyptic fiction and particularly food after the apocalypse, so head over there and check it out. And while you’re at it, you can also read the other interviews in the series with Ann Christy, Marcus Richardson, Lawrence Herbert Tide and Leo Nix.
The timing of the interview is highly convenient, because I also have a new release to announce, which just happens to fall into the post-apocalyptic subgenre.
The new release is a short story collection entitled After the End – Stories of Life After the Apocalypse. All but one of the stories in the collection were the result of the 2016 July short story challenge. The objective was to write a story per day in July 2016.
When you attempt to write a whole lot of stories in a very limited time frame, certain themes inevitably emerge. And one of the themes that emerged during the 2016 July short story challenge was post-apocalyptic stories. As for why I felt so drawn to this particular theme, I suppose the unstable geopolitical situation and general apocalyptic mood in the summer of 2016 (which has not exactly become any more stable since then) had something to do with it.
The apocalyptic scenarios featured in After the End are all different. Five of the apocalypses are triggered by climate change, one of the likelier end of the world scenarios, though the particulars vary. There are three stories set in a world flooded due to global warming and melting ice caps, a story set in a world suffering from massive droughts due to global warming (with an extra shout-out to the depletion of the ozone layer) and a story set in an ice-bound world where climate change has paradoxically triggered global cooling and a new ice age in the Northern hemisphere.
Other apocalypses are more fanciful. I have a story set in a world where modern technology has ceased to work due a massive electromagnetic pulse caused by a solar storm and where humanity suddenly has to rely on nineteenth century technology. There is the requisite zombie apocalypse story, of course, and a story set after the robot apocalypse.
However, as varied as the end of the world scenarios are, one common theme became notable as I was putting together this collection. For while the vast majority of post-apocalyptic fiction focuses on the struggle for survival in the immediate aftermath of the apocalypse, the stories in this collection are all set years or decades after the apocalypse, when a new normal has asserted itself. And most of them feature young protagonists with little to no memories of the world before who are just trying to get through their everyday lives.
Initially, I wondered why the theme of young people living in the new normal after a world-shattering apocalypse resonated with me so much. And then it hit me: The reason why that theme resonated with me so much was because I had been that young person growing up after a world-changing catastrophe and just trying to live my life in the only world I knew, while older people, the generation of my parents and grandparents, just could not stop talking about the bad old times.
Of course, I did not grow up after the literal end of the world. However, I grew up in postwar Europe at a time when the Third Reich and the bombings of World War Two were still within the living memory of my parents and grandparents. And World War Two was pretty damn apocalyptic for those that lived through it, particularly in Europe and Asia. Even by the time I was a kid, some thirty to forty years later, there was still visible bomb damage in our town, either hidden behind billboards or in the form of suspiciously empty lots in otherwise densely built areas.
Nor was World War Two the only apocalyptic event within living memory. Very old people also still remembered World War One, which was equally apocalyptic and probably even more successful at totally destroying the world as it had been before. Then, when I was a teenager, the Berlin Wall fell, once again spelling the end of life as they knew it for friends and relatives from beyond the iron curtain. And finally, as an adult, I teach German to refugees who have fled the apocalyptic hellscapes of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea and Mali for the relative safety of Europe.
The thing about real world apocalypses is that unless humanity is wiped out altogether, life goes on. People still go to work, fall in love, get married, have children. And to those children, life after the apocalypse will be the new normal.
It’s this new normal that the stories contained in this collection focus on. And it’s no coincidence that After the End starts with a funeral and ends with a man holding a baby in his arms.
Of the eight stories included in this collection, two probably require a bit of further explanation. The optical telegraph or semaphore described in “Lifeline” was a real communication technology that was developed in France in the late eighteenth century and became obsolete by the mid nineteenth century, when electrical telegraphs came along. You can learn more about optical telegraphy here.
One of the fairly few surviving optical telegraph stations is located in the town of Brake in North Germany. It was once part of an optical telegraph line stretching from the North Sea port of Bremerhaven to the city of Bremen. You can learn more about that line here (only in German alas). Nowadays, the Brake telegraph tower has been restored and turned into a museum. I had the chance to visit the museum during a trip to Brake. It occurred to me that optical telegraphy would be the ideal long distance communication medium after an apocalypse, which eventually inspired “Lifeline”.
The port of Bremerhaven is also mentioned in “Shelter” as the destination of the ice-locked vehicle carrier MV Aniara. Among other things, Bremerhaven is the one of the biggest transshipment ports for cars and other motor vehicles in the world. Every day, some four thousand cars pass through the port of Bremerhaven, more than two million per year, as well as a further million of busses, trucks, tractors, construction equipment and other heavy vehicles. The giant car carriers and the huge lots full of brand-new cars waiting to be loaded either onto vessels for export or onto trains for further distribution are truly a sight to see. And just like Paul tells Karla in “Lifeline”, pretty much everybody driving through Bremerhaven’s car terminal has probably thought of just climbing over the fence and nicking one of the ten thousands of brand-new cars waiting at the quay.
There really is a car carrier named MV Aniara by the way, operated by Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics who tend to name their vessels after operas. I chose it because of the science fictional connotations of the name, which of course refers to Harry Martinson’s epic science fiction poem Aniara and Karl-Birger Blomdahl’s eponymous opera adaptation. Here is a photo of the real MV Aniara, BTW.
So if you’re looking for some post-apocalyptic fiction that’s not all bleak, then check out:
In a drowned world, the descendants of surface dwellers remember the cities that were lost, the inhabitants of ocean floor colonies cling to outmoded customs and scavengers search the flooded ruins for anything that might be of use. In a world ravaged by droughts, two college students come face to face with how the other half lives. A lone explorer traverses the icy wasteland that used to be Europe. A group of children travels across a zombie-infested America in search of shelter and safety. After a robot uprising, a police officer is assigned to clean-up duties and finds an unexpected miracle among the ruins. And in a world blasted by electromagnetic solar storms, a nineteenth century technology suddenly becomes the sole means of long distance communication.
Length: 24500 words
List price: 2.99 USD, EUR or GBP
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