Which Apocalypse Would Be The Most Fun?


The dinosaurs had it easy.

One day, about 66 million years ago, the Triceratops were munching on leaves, and the Tyrannosauruses were munching on Triceratops, when there was a big boom. What happens next is the matter of some debate, (one that scientists are going to be studying this month), but suffice it to say that the dinosaur-dominated world ended abruptly.

By contrast, the Neanderthals watched their world crumble over tens of thousands of years as the climate shifted and those prissy Homo sapiens moved in and wrecked their neighborhood.

These two types of apocalypses – the cataclysm and the gradual deterioration – are both popular in science fiction, and for good reason.

Cataclysms allow writers to create a world from a blank slate. They can rebuild society from the bottom up, an appealing proposition that allows for some interesting premises. Or they can throw modern humans back into a primitive, survival-only state, ala Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and show us what they think we’re really made of.

The deterioration scenario allows writers to exaggerate aspects of the contemporary world and hypothesize on what happens if these trends keep running amok. A great example of this, while not quite an apocalypse, is the rampant consumerism and government fragmentation satirized in Snow Crash.

 So how’s it going to end for us?

Even though our fingers are no longer twitching above the launch buttons, we still have enough nuclear weapons to incinerate the Earth’s surface faster than you can fry an egg. And we continue to fuel a consumer avarice that’s melting the polar ice caps and has already plunged us into a massive species die-off that’s being called the Sixth Extinction.

Sure, some billionaires like Elon Musk are working to make humans an interplanetary species. As I’ve written before, I’m not terribly optimistic about those efforts working anytime soon.

So until we have backup copy of humanity running on Mars – or until we all die – we writers will have plenty of material to work from.

What’s your favorite apocalypse scenario for writing? And which do you think is most likely?

Fun question to mull over on a Friday, huh?

Scott Kelly Reminds Me How Weak Humans Are

Expedition 46 Landing

Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

With all the well-deserved attention that NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s safe return to Earth is receiving this week, I can’t help but think about how fragile humans are.

Sure, he appears to have emerged from 340 days in zero gravity in good health. And he always seemed remarkably upbeat despite spending nearly a year enclosed within the same curving walls, far from his loved ones, breathing recycled air. At first glance, it’s hard to look at this unfailingly resilient man, probably one of the best members of our species, and feel anything but admiration and optimism for our future.

Then I remember that it may take humans two years – double the length of Kelly’s trip – to get to Mars and back. They’ll face double the isolation, double the physical challenges, spend twice as long eating vacuum-sealed food. They’ll also lose sight of Earth, its blue oceans and swirling clouds. Also, none of them will likely be Scott Kelly.

And yet we’ve already dropped two robots onto the Red Planet to take a look around and tidy up before we arrive. No sweat.

It’s not getting to Mars that’s hard, it’s getting humans to Mars that’s a pain.

Mary Roach probably said it best in Packing for Mars:

“To the rocket scientist, you are a problem. You are the most irritating piece of machinery he or she will ever have to deal with. You and your fluctuating metabolism, your puny memory, your frame that comes in a million different configurations. You are unpredictable. You’re inconstant. You take weeks to fix.”

As a science fan and science-fiction writer, it’s easy to get caught up in pondering all the technological advances that will be required for humans to push out into the stars. But even when we’ve got the propulsion, communications, and landing problems solved, we’re still going to be sending fallible, fragile humans on excruciatingly long journeys. Other than Scott Kelly, how many of us are equipped for that challenge?