Hopeful post-apocalyptic Stories & Media


#1

For the longest time I didn’t like anything from the post-apocalyptic genre, but over the last couple of years I’ve found stories that I really liked and also managed to resonate with me on a deep level. Looking back I’ve realized that the one key ingredient that seperated the stories I liked from to ones I didn’t was hope. Do any of you feel the same way?

The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin is set in a fantasy world that is ravaged by massive earthquakes every couple of hundred years. The inhabitants of that world have structured their whole society around surviving these natural catastrophies, which they call Fifth Seasons. They survive by building local communities (Comms), assigning each member to a “use-caste” based on their abilities and following “Stone Lore” - a survival guide set in stone by the currently ruling empire. This world is also inhabited by so called Orogenes. Those are people with the ability to cause and quell earth quakes. Those Orogenes also get blamed for the way the world is by society at large. It’s very X-Men-y in that way, but still manages to feel grounded.

The world building features many proper nouns, but they are never too hard to understand. Another major theme is systemic oppression, how it can be vowen into many smaller and larger aspects of society and how history can be manipulated to do so. Also the bulk of the main cast is made up of black women and other people of colour.

Pyre by Supergiant Games - The main cast decides to work together from jump, even though they have every reason to mistrust each other. Teamwork is not only emphasised through the games mechanics, but also through it’s story.

The tabletop RPG Dream Askew by Avery Adler isn’t out yet, but it’s design philosophy sounds like it’s going to fit right into my wheelhouse. After listening to the Friends at the Table session that played with this system and reading this interview, I can’t wait for it to be out and play it with friends.

Now I want to hear from y’all. What are your favourite hopeful post-apocalyptic pieces of media?


#2

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a novel about people surviving, but also keeping their humanity alive in the process.

Lost Everything by Brian Francis Slattery is a novel about hope and community in a hopeless situation. It’s set in the area of central Pennsylvania that I grew up in (and a pivotal battle takes place just off the shores of the town I grew up in) and like all of Slattery’s novels, it’s about people and culture surviving no matter the conditons. It’s got the bleakness of The Last of Us with a community and humanity that game couldn’t quite muster.

Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America, also by Brian Francis Slattery, is similarly post-apocalyptic, but it’s way more colorful, and centers on a band of six supercriminals after an economic collapse. It has more of a 70s action movie flair, and has a bit of a post-hippie style to it.

Calexit is a comic that’s not quite post-apocalyptic, but is definitely in the vein. It’s about right now, but an even more dire version where when Trump got elected, California seceded from the union, and is now broken up into districts, some controlled by the government militias, some controlled by the resistance, and some by other parties. It’s very violent, and starts out a little more bleak and edgy than I wish it did, but it becomes a story about hope and resistance and fighting back any way you can. It also has some cool interviews and essays with and from people making positive change in the real world, which is very cool.


#3

I brought this up on a thread about utopic fiction a while back, but 17776 is weirdly post-apocalyptic but also really weirdly hopeful. It’s very much about play, and what people would do, how they’d fill the void of conflict, if all the world’s problems—literally all of them, existential and inconsequential—just disappeared. The answer was, effectively, with giant, lifelong games of American football. And stories.

It also just turned a year old yesterday, so now is probably an appropriate time to bring it back around.


#4

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy’s central struggle is how to attempt to create utopia and this being something that can never be achieved but must always be strived towards. This is all in the face of complete economic and ecologic collapse on earth.


#5

Also 17776 is maybe my favorite piece of science fiction from the last five years.


#6

I just read/played/experienced 17776 and I loved it. I liked the formalism and the dialogue and the ideas were just the right mix of cool, cute, absurd, weird etc. It left me with this warm fuzzy feeling. Thank you guys for the recommendation!


#7

I pretty much came here to say Station Eleven. That having been said, maybe I’ll say Tarkovsky’s Stalker? It’s kind of post-apocalyptic and there is (to my mind, at least) a kind of hope in there.


#8

The Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers takes place after the earth has become uninhabitable and there is a space diaspora that almost leads to extinction. But it’s a very positive and hopeful series!

Going old school, the premise of the Foundation series by Issac Asimov is a man who predicts the galactic empire will fall apart and then tries to plan a future society that will keep civilization going. It was a very influential book on me growing up because the idea of intelligence and planning triumphing over power and physical force really appealed to me. One quote that will always stick with me goes along the lines of “violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”


#9

i thought, in a roundabout way, Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower had a sort of hopeful outlook.

(EDIT: although now that i think about it, i just want to like, add a CW to the book: it does contain a lot of violence and some scenes of sexual assault.)

like, its almost desperately hopeful, hopeful in the face of enormous odds. i was actually kind of reminded of the bit in Austin’s NYU Game Center talk towards the end. that part about the frustration of trying to work towards change in a world that seems resistant, if not actively hostile, to change by virtue of resting inertia and reactionary forces, respectively. the Parable books deal heavily with that feeling, through a post-apocalyptic novel with a lot of character. well ok, its also, like, not quite post-apocalyptic. more “during-apocalyptic?” less fiery cataclysm, more long downward spiral.

i think there’s two kind of trends i see a lot in post-apocalyptic media. one is the nihilistic story where nothing matters except for your strength, and everyone outside your in group is not to be trusted. the “humans are the real monsters / world is a f / born to die” stuff that, to me, slides into fascism real easily. like, in hindsight there’s a lot of “badass” lines from the good guys in the Walking Dead tv show that, with different lighting and soundtrack, could be a totalitarian leader’s big moment, that just go unchallenged.

i also think i see a lot of post-apocalypses that are nostalgic for the way things were before The Bad Thing happened, while ignoring what led to The Bad Thing. like what people have been talking about with Fallout 4’s uncritical embrace of rebuilding the 1950’s. or, not to keep ragging on The Walking Dead, but just like… it feels telling that that series’ symbol for a hero in the face the apocalypse is just, like, a cop with a gun?

Parable of the Sower purposefully avoids both of those. instead, it argues that keeping the capacity for empathy and vulnerability isn’t a fatal flaw in the post-apocalypse, but the only way to maybe unscrew the world. and it even adds nuance, acknowledging the enormity of that “maybe.” the protagonist physically shares the pain of others, but she isn’t framed as a super hero. she makes mistakes, is directly challenged in the sequel. the idea of not to recreating the same broken systems as the old world also comes up as a driving motivator for the protagonist.

anyway wow that really got a way from me, but yeah its real good!


#10

Jon Bois is a fucking treasure and 17776 is one of the best sci-fi works that I’ve read in the last five years, easily.

I’m still not really sure why or how he works at SBNation but I’m so glad they keep him around to do the things he does.


#11

Those are exactly the kinds of trends that made me think that post- apocalyptic narratives were not for me.

I’ve heard so much about the Parable series and I can’t wait to get to it. Your post makes me want to read it even more! It also reminded me of this great article that explains why Parable of the Sower is the more important dystopia for us now, compared to 1984:

In hindsight I should’ve probably chosen the word dystopia instead of post-apocalyptic. Oh well.


#12

awesome! i hope you enjoy it. and oh duh “dystopia” is pretty much exactly the word i was searching for that led to “during-apocalypse” woops. but yeah, if the second book came out today i would probably totally eye roll it as being too on the nose. it was a hard read, both in terms of heavier content, and in the way it pushes back on the first book’s desperate optimism. it being from '98 gives it a scary prescience. that article sums up what i found effective real nicely!

and i’ll edit my original post too but as a warning, both the books have a lot of violence and some scenes involving sexual assault. the second one in particular gets pretty dark. i assumed that warnings weren’t necessary when talking about dystopic/apocalyptic fiction but in hindsight that wasn’t smart of me.


#13

I’m biased cause I’m in the kickstarter video and have had dinner at the designers house but I gotta double down. Dream Askew is a rad as hell RPG about building community for marginalized queer folk to survive among the collapse.