Fiction Blog, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Geeky Things

My Five Favorite Apocalypses

I love apocalypses. Whether it’s a man-made nuclear wasteland or angels and demons raging their supernatural war on Earth, apocalypses speak to a deep part of me. They bring out that frequently unexercised survival instinct that the comforts of modern living allow to lie dormant. They raise the stakes, heighten emotion, and destroy all the rules.

Despite the grandiose and mayhem of the world itself, in apocalyptic tales, the characters get to shine. Everyday people fight to make it another day, another hour, another minute. They ban together or fall apart. They showcase the truth of human nature — from its bitter greed to its unwavering compassion. They reveal what each of us could become, if the playing field were leveled by destruction.

Choosing a favorite apocalypse would be like choosing a favorite food — a question I’ve always found ridiculous. How can you choose just one when each satisfies a wholly unique craving? So here are a handful of apocalypses that I simply adore…

road warrior1. Mad Max

This apocalypse itself feels real. The old world got too greedy — draining the earth dry of oil, fighting for control of precious resources, playing with its nuclear machines (sound familiar?). The original trilogy shows the progression of economic collapse to total anarchy in the background of Max’s story, something that many apocalypse stories skip over. And let’s face it, the survivors of this apocalypse are fabulous. From the hockey mask-wearing Lord Humungus to Tina Turner’s chainmail one-piece to the Milk Boys’ gleaming chrome smiles, the Mad Max world does chaos in style. And don’t even get me started on the vehicles.

2. The Book of Eli

On the whole, this is a pretty cookie-cutter apocalypse. Nuclear war leads to an American wasteland. Vagabonds haunt the roads and hurt innocent people. Small civilizations pop up and try to rebuild something that only the older citizens remember and the younger ones can never understand. What I like about this story is Eli’s journey. He’s one man, trudging on with a purpose, a greater goal that he believes will help society find itself again. And on the way, he learns that it is just as important to stop and help others. Whether you believe in the book he carries or not, the message he carries is faith and being good to one another — something people in the apocalypse always need to relearn.

3. The Silo Trilogy

Major spoilers ahead. Hugh Howey’s apocalypse is masterful, because the characters don’t even realize they are in an apocalypse at first. Humans destroyed the world, literally hitting the reset button on society, with the hope that the civilizations that emerge in the silos will learn to be better. The trilogy touches on themes of political power, climate change, isolation/containment, and the very essence of human nature. And the lesson? At about 150 pages from the end, I’m fairly certain that the whole project was useless, that humanity will adapt no matter what it is given, but in the end, the same traits that destroyed the world will be the ones that defy the well-intentioned plans.

michael lucifer4. Supernatural

This is where fans of the show roll their eyes and ask which one. For me, the almost apocalypse I most enjoy is the Biblical one, where archangels Lucifer and Michael are meant to battle it out on Earth. Here, humanity doesn’t really matter. The apocalypse is not our fault, and it’s not even about us anymore. We’re caught in between the longest standing family feud in the mythical world, and yet, everything these supernatural beings feel is inextricably human. Betrayal, jealousy, anger, sadness. There’s nothing humanity can do to stop its destruction…and yet, the Winchesters find a way. Because, as weak and feeble as it may be in the eyes of angels, humanity is still a force to be reckoned with.

5. Interstellar

I felt every labored breath through this entire movie, because it felt too real. Seeing that dusty wasteland on Earth, hearing how it would be the last harvest for okra, it’s freaking terrifying. That is the apocalypse of climate change, and as someone who works in a tangentially agricultural field (wine), it’s a serious concern that I read about on a weekly basis. Again, Interstellar is another triumphant tale, whereby insignificant humans rally together to save their species. As a sucker for underdogs (and a total daddy’s girl), you can bet I teared up several times. I just hope the underlying lesson is not forgotten: as of right now, we as humans have no where to run.

As I said before, this is by no means a definitive list, but I think each apocalypse speaks to the themes I like: a probable cause, dusty isolation, and the undefeatable human spirit. Because I know someone will ask, yes, I love me a good zombie apocalypse, too. But, as I’m sure many science fiction fans will agree, those warrant a whole other discussion…


What are your favorite apocalypse stories? How do you feel about the apocalypse genre? Share your thoughts below!

Fiction Blog, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Geeky Things

Five Female Science Fiction Characters I Love

As a female Science Fiction fan (and author), I always adore seeing strong leading (and supporting) ladies represented in my genre. Some of them I admire and try to emulate in my personal life, and others provide a source of inspiration for my own characters. While I could name several fictional women I adore, I thought I’d start with a list of five.

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1. Faith Lehane from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I’ve recently been brought into the Buffy fandom (I have to give my husband credit, or he’ll tease me.). Now, the obvious choice for a bad ass chick from Buffy would be Buffy herself, or even Willow — but let me tell you why I like Faith. For better or worse, Faith stays true to who she is, and refuses to change for anyone or anything. Despite the horrible things she’s experienced and done, she still maintains her spunk and works for redemption. Her flaws — lack of trust, ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ attitude — manage to play into her strengths — self-reliance, survival instinct — which makes her fabulously complex.

2. Juliette Nelson from the Silo trilogy

As many of you know, I’m working my way through Hugh Howey’s Silo trilogy, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite Science Fiction series. And my favorite character? Juliette Nelson. When the reader first meets Juliette, she is one of the silo’s most skilled mechanics (as my readers will know, I’m a sucker for females in mechanical fields). Without providing too many spoilers, I’ll say that Juliette has her world turned upside down. She is thrown into a life-threatening situation — and not only does she manage to survive, but she bypasses limits anyone thought possible and emerges as an incredible leader. Between her ingenuity, determination, and compassion for others, Juliette is admirable indeed.

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3. Katherine ‘Kate’ Kane (aka Batwoman) from Batwoman (The New 52)

No — my love for Kate Kane isn’t just about her name (though, it is intensely satisfying that we share a nickname). What do I like about Kate? You mean besides the fact that she’s Batwoman? Well, she didn’t settle for being the damsel in distress. When Batman saved her, she took the inspiration and became a hero in her own right. She knows marshal arts, defends the innocent, and still embraces her feminine side. Another thing I like? The writer/artist behind Kate’s new incarnation (J.H. Williams III) chose to make her a lesbian — without making her a stereotype or a token. Yay for diversity!

 

4. Hadley Fenice from the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series

What kind of steampunk-writing indie would I be if I didn’t give a nod to one of my fellow author’s strong female characters? In Victorian-era England, Hadley Fenice knowingly (and successfully!) subverts gender norms. She makes a living by crafting automatons and prostheses (there’s that mechanic theme again), is generally unskilled at ‘feminine’ activities, and stands up for the education and reproductive rights of her fellow women. More personally, Hadley is deeply loyal to those she loves and never flinches in the face of danger — both traits anyone can admire.

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5. Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road

As I’ve said before, I think writers have a lot to learn from the newest Mad Max film — not least of which how to include feminist themes within your work. If you’ve seen the movie, I probably don’t need to explain why Furiosa is bad ass. But, for the rest of you, let me share. In a society where women are reduced to being wives of an evil overload, providing milk for an army, or acting as slaves, Furiosa has worked her way into a respected, leadership position. Instead of turning against her fellow women, Furiosa uses her advantage to organize the rescue of the enslaved wives, and other than a few moments of assistance from Max, she does so pretty much on her own. She’s a hell of a driver, an equally talented shot, and does it all with a mechanical prosthetic arm. Another kudos for diversity!


Who are your favorite female Science Fiction characters? What qualities of theirs do you admire? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Musings & Bookish Things, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

What Writers Can Learn from Mad Max: Fury Road

road warriorThis weekend, Daniel, my parents, and I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you that we are pretty big Mad Max fans. Okay, let me clarify that: my mom enjoys them, Daniel and I really enjoy them, and my dad ranks Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior as the best movie ever (Joe Dirt and Mad Max are #2 and #3, in case you were wondering).

Anyway, the purpose of this article is not to gush about the films. Likewise, I do not intend to review Mad Max: Fury Road (5/5 popcorn bags!), nor will I bestow upon you any major spoilers. Instead, I want to discuss what I appreciated about the film on a storytelling level and share some takeaways for writers like myself.

1. Create the fictional world the “real” world needs

I’m not a psychologist, so I’m not going to hurt my brain trying to describe exactly why society loves the apocalypse so much — especially in the 2010s. Maybe it’s that some of us are feeling the effects of The Great Recession. Maybe it’s the pressures that go along with rising credentialism and changing gender structures. Maybe it’s how overstimulated, over-connected, over-shared social media has made us. Whatever the reason, and whatever the apocalypse — zombie, nuclear, economic, or pandemic — we eat it up.

We need the escape the apocalypse offers. We needed it in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I know I love the romanticism of it — the freedom from modern worries, the lack of rules, the return-to-basics survivalism. Mad Max: Fury Road gives us the batshit insane apocalypse we need to release some of that tension and feel just a little bit better about what’s going on in the real world.

2. Include relevant themes

My favorite aspect of Fury Road is that it stayed true to the original trilogy, especially thematically. Several themes from the originals carried over into Fury Road; including, the divide between the “haves” and “have-nots,” putting the good of the community before your own needs, and perseverance for the sake of perseverance (and maybe the hope of something better).

furiosaHowever, Fury Road also introduced a few new themes that are particularly relevant to 2015. First, as many critics have espoused, the film contains a strong, feminist message. On an obvious level, it condemns sexual violence against women and the treatment of women as objects. On a more subtle level, the film showcases women as men’s (mainly Max’s) equals, capable of saving themselves with Max in more of a supporting role than “hero” role. The film’s feminist message is particularly relevant today — throw a virtual rock on Buzzfeed and you’ll hit an article on gender. By tapping into this theme, Fury Road is conveying a necessary, relevant message in its totally wacked-out world and opening itself up to a whole new demographic.

Second, in Fury Road, Max has visions of people he could not save, which ring of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In a time when a war on terror continues and society is growing more aware of and educated about psychological conditions, I think Max’s PTSD is well-placed. Not only does it function as character development, but it incorporates a relevant theme from the real world and helps its audience explore it in a new way.

3. Push boundaries within the world

This tip is short and sweet. Like any other fictional world, the Mad Max apocalypse has rules. It’s in the Australia desert, resources like water, food, and fuel (aka “juice”) are scarce, creativity (in outfit and car design) is crucial, and pretty much everyone is crazy. Just when you think you’ve seen it all with this world, it gives you an electric guitar player strapped to a war machine in the middle of battle. If you have yet to see the movie, trust me, it looks ridiculous — AND YET, it works. And you know what? Fans of the series love it.

The point is: create a world that the “real” world needs, make it relevant, and then push the boundaries to the point that it becomes insane, but epic.

4. Give the audience what it wants

fury roadAlong these same lines, as a writer, you need to know who your audience is and give it what it wants. Fury Road is full of car chases and crashes, nail-biting fight scenes, and punchy one-liners. There’s more action than speaking, and you barely get a minute to breathe. But that is exactly what the audience wants. Whether you write apocalyptic fiction or romance, the best thing you can do is give your readers what they want (and a little bit of what they need from points 1, 2 and 3).

Honestly, I don’t care whether or not you like any of the Mad Max movies. Regardless of your opinion, there is storytelling wisdom to glean from them. The original trilogy became cult classics, and even three decades later, the world and themes within them are still engrossing viewers. The Mad Max series has created a vibrant world and episodic stories that hook its target audience and keep it coming back for more. If you can do the same in your own writing — delivering your audience, whoever they may be, what they need and what they want — you just may have a hit on your hands.


What themes emerge in your own writing? Why do you think the apocalypse appeals to so many viewers and readers? Share your thoughts below!