Tag Archives: apocalypse

OryCon Panel: Playing God – Apocalyptic Storytelling

What I love about dsytopian stories the most is learning how they got there. What apocalyptic scenario destroyed the previous status quo, and how did it happen? How did the virus spread? How did the government fall? So I was excited to hear some expert writers discuss that moment of total destruction and what follows.

Our panelists: Daniel H. Wilson, E.E. Knight, and Victoria Blake (not pictured)

Daniel H. Wilson has a background in engineering and is the author of How to Survive a Robot Uprising and Robopocalypse. E.E. Knight is the bestselling author of the dystopian series Vampire Earth, as well as the Age of Fire novels. Victoria Blake is the founder and publisher of Underland Press, and previously worked for Darkhorse Comics.

The panel began with a basic definition of “apocalypse” from Knight: it means revelation and since it appears in the Book of Revelation, the Bible book about the end times, it’s come to be synonymous with “end of the world.” So let’s start with the favorite apocalyptic scenario.

“Robots,” says Wilson, who thinks it’s a fun scenario because he knows all about robots and we really do have this technology. There’s SIRI and cars that park themselves, and it’s scary to think of those being turned against us. “We’re totally [immersed] in technology. Taking it away is really fun because it tears our world apart.”

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One Second After: Apocalypse FTW

I used a clothing price tag for a bookmark while reading this novel.

While browsing the haphazardly stocked aisles of a soon-to-be dead Borders Bookstore recently, I deviated from my normal fantasy/supernatural/vampires/zombies sections and happened upon an interesting title. One Second After by William R. Forstchen.

Undeterred by the cover’s declaration of the book being a New York Times Bestseller (why do I usually trend towards the obscure and mostly unpopular in my fiction choices?) I  scanned the description. Hell, the books were all 60% off and there wasn’t a lot to lose.

I flip the book over…”A story in which….yadda yadda New York Times yadda yadda….sends our nation back to the Dark Ages….yadda yadda Newt Gingrich….” Hold up, wait a second, the Dark Ages?…dare I say…a post-apocalyptic novel?! I love the apocalypse! I enjoy reading others’ fantasies of how the world may end!

I immediately added One Second After to my towering stack of clearance books.

The apocalyptic scenario in One Second After is simple: Bad guys create an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) over the United States by dropping a couple of nukes in our atmosphere. Bam, no more electricity. However – and here’s where it gets all sorts of apocalyptic up in here – its not just a matter of flipping a few breakers and the power’s back. EMPs permanently kill electronic devices. Every electronic device. Pretty much any and every electric device that’s been produced in the past 50 years or so. They won’t work even if the power comes back, and there’s no way to make new electric devices because we need electric devices to produce electric devices!

(Hey…Electromagnetic Pulse…isn’t that the super power the ships in The Matrix used to kill sentinels? Right? I totally thought the same thing. Its comforting to know they exist for real in case a Matrix-type scenario actually occurred….but does this mean Morpheus was shooting off nukes from his ship? How did they make nukes in Zion?)

The darling protagonist of One Second After, John Matherson, is a pretty smart guy. He’s fairly resourceful. He’s very Republican. He’s lucky in that he’s a jack-of-all-trades…oh, and he’s an awesome hero in that everyone looks to him to lead their small, rural city through the apocalypse even though he doesn’t want the job, and he’s eventually portrayed as the reluctant philosopher king. He’s just a little too…perfect. But luckily he smokes cigarettes and hoards a bunch right in the beginning, so he’s not all that good since smoking is obviously quite evil, and its even more evil to hoard cigarettes from others who also want to smoke and be evil during the end of the world. Everyone needs a vice!

Obviously…yeah, most post-apocalyptic fans aren’t reading the books for the awesome character development or compelling personal story lines. While the characters nor the personal storylines in One Second After are the worst I’ve ever come across in apocalyptic fiction, they’re also not the most stellar. Unless you luck upon a great writer who can pull it all together, characters and personal story lines in apocalyptic fiction are usually more a bonus than a necessity. What most of us apocalypse fans are really looking for is a really plausible and scary reason the world could end tomorrow so we can more easily justify the four hundred bucks we just dropped on replenishing our end-of-the-world food stockpile. We simply want to know “Hey, how does the world end? Really? Awesome! It does that? And then all hell breaks loose? And then what crazy things do people do to each other? They do what? Sweet! ” Then we go fantasize about buying that twenty-seven acres of farmland in rural Montana so we can one day build our post-apocalyptic fortress.

So if we kinda just ignore Matherson and his family and personal dilemmas and “But I don’t wanna lead the city” drama, you’ve got an awesome apocalypse story. Power? Gone. Electrical Devices? Gone. You’ve got food disappearing, you’ve got no transportation, no operating hospitals, people dying off right and left, an a small rural city preparing for and subsequently hosting a major battle against invading city dwellers intent on pillaging for resources! There’s also quite a few handy tips and work-arounds for not having any electrical conveniences during the apocalypse. You are now one step closer to being prepared for The End of the World!

Oh…and the Newt Gingrich thing? Dude writes a forward for the book. Author’s a Neo-Con and still suffering from Cold War paranoia. For real. Hilarious!

Review: Robopocalypse: A history and survival guide.

I admit I’m a sucker for apocalyptic novels that go into stark detail about how the Bad Thing comes about, be it a zombie virus, or an asteroid strike, or a robot take over. So many stories take for granted that those things just happen without ever detailing the evolution or progress that eventually culminates in the End of Life As We Know It. (This is also why I’m a huge fan of Feed by Mira Grant, who details the epidemiology of the viruses that mutate to become Zombie Viruses in a frighteningly realistic way.)

So of course I was thrilled to read the unfortunately but aptly titled Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson, who’s a robotics engineer and whose Robot Take Over Book is based on current technology.

Wilson’s novel is set at the end of the “New War” between humans and robots, in the not too distant future when robots have become a large part of domestic life. Cars have robot chips to prevent accidents. Rich people have servant robots and robots help staff retirement buildings. In one fell swoop, these things are turned against humanity.

Cormac Wallace, a solder in the war, stands in the remote tundra of Alaska. They’ve just defeated the artificial intelligence that started and controlled the war, known as Archos. Among the ruins, the soldiers find a cube onto which the robots recorded and documented some of the great heroic acts made by man as the war was conceived and slowly came about.

Wallace doesn’t want to relive the war, but he feels he owes it to the heroes of mankind to document their victories, large and small, and takes to watching the cube and writing down what he sees. He records the tales with annotative notes and puts together a complete history from the moment Archos came into being, to “Zero Hour” –when the robots attacked—and all the way through the years to come.

Rob—the code name for the robots—evolves and changes and adapts in terrifying ways as the war goes on, relying on human body heat to monitor, seek out, and even destroy humans. They usher a small percentage of humans in concentration work camps and attempt to slaughter the rest.

While reading it, I had a nightmare about “pluggers,” which are tiny bots that bite you and burrow into your blood stream, travel to your heart, and explode. It takes like 45 seconds. That’s downright horrific.

But then some elements of the book are a little cheesy. Some of the stories told from first person seem strange, since the robots recorded audio and video but couldn’t hear people’s thoughts. Clearly it’s Wallace analyzing what he sees but all the same, at times it read strangely. Despite that, Wilson’s in-depth knowledge of robotics combined with his imagination make Robopocalypse a frightening page-turner.

Like Zombiepocalypse books, it’s a good frame of reference for anyone who lies awake worrying how they might survive a robot uprising.

It’s already being made into a movie directed by Steven Spielberg and promises to be more action-packed than I, Robot. For more information on the science behind the novel, i09 has this piece by the author.