For the last three years I’ve been wanting to write. The search for a good plot to wrap the reader’s mind around really proves the old adage true – there is indeed nothing new under the sun.
Regardless of the hooks I want to use, they’re already taken and for the most part they’ve been done very well. I’ll give you an example of what I mean. The genre I think I’d most enjoy writing would today be called post-apocalyptic fiction, or prepper-porn depending on whom you read. Something happens to change the way the world works in a fundamental way and the characters either struggle to adapt to the new world as it has become or they hunker down to survive some sort of short-term hardship with the hope that life will eventually return to normal, they will be able to watch Game of Thrones again on HBO, and Facebook will come back online and Starbucks will once again start serving religiously-agnostic lattes on the holidays again so humanity can return to it’s normal place.
For a novel like this to take off there needs to be some nemesis, some events or cascade of events that sets the stage for the story the reader is about to embark on.
Reader's Note: You can click the book covers to go directly to the title on Amazon.
Financial Collapse – James Wesley Rawles
If you want to read an incredibly realistic scenario where life as we know it ends, James Wesley Rawles is the place to start. The novel is Patriots:” A Novel of Survival in the coming Collapse. He is, in my mind, probably the father of the modern post-apocalyptic genre. The thing that hooked me on this novel was the fact that I read it back in 2011. I was literally sitting on the throne (toilet) reading about Greece and its potential impending financial collapse and all the ramifications that could follow when I picked up a book about hyper-inflation ruining the US dollar and how easily and fragile our financial system is. I couldn’t put the book down. It’s a novel my mother could read and enjoy. The language is not bad and the concepts are easy to follow.
Like all the good novels of the genre, it doubles as the prepper’s bible, although in 2017 the hardware and items used might be a bit dated. It teaches you hundreds of valuable lessons about how to survive in a grid-down world while at the same time keeping you intrigued in the characters and their plights.
Ok, so someone has already done financial collapse. Maybe I’ll move on to something nuclear, but not crazy. Maybe an EMP being set off in the stratosphere over the US and the effects that would have on the nation…
EMP – William R Forstchen
Well crap. There goes that idea. Not only has it been done, but its been done by an author that did it so well that the book literally sat on the floor of Congress as a note to the US government screaming “read this, because this could really happen here”. This book was written after two congressional studies on the effects of EMP on America and was cited in both Congress and the House Armed Serivices Committee as a wake-up call to the American government.
The book takes place in North Carolina, about 150 miles from where I live now and once again is stunningly plausible in describing how people might react, what kinds of scenarios towns and cities might employ to band together to survive a non-functioning US federal government, and what hardships the average American family might face during the years it takes to get the government back to a functioning entity.
Once again, this novel was written so well that to even endeavor to replicate the premise in my own story would simply do an injustice to someone that’s already done it better that I would have.
Maybe I should look outside the reality-based reasons for an apocalyptic setting in which I’ll make my characters thrive. Zombies? No. It’s been done. It’s been done badly. It’s been done very very badly. It’s occasionally been done decently, but for the most part it’s been done badly. Either it’s a prion disease that makes the brain take over autonomic systems of the human body and start feeding some ridiculous need for human meat, or it’s a virus that turns everyone in super-monsters. Don’t get me wrong; lots can be learned from zombie novels if you’re into the prepper genre. The tools, skills, and equipment necessary to survive in a world where everything above ground wants to kill you and eat you isn’t much different from the those necessary to survive an invading force of enemy soldiers camped within American borders. But… and this is a big but… if you start off in Zombie fiction you’re going to type-cast yourself as an author no one will take seriously for the rest of your life. That’s not the goal I have for myself.
Let’s dig back closer to reality-based scenarios under which some sort of apocalypse might occur.
EMP – Angery American
I actually got to know this author. I might even go so far as to say he’s a friend of mine. He started his novel with a premise similar to Forstchen. The grid is gone. Cars quit running and the power grid has totally collapsed. Morgan, the main character is 250 miles from home and has to reunite with his family.
The funniest thing about this novel is that I’d already started writing almost a parallel story years before AA published his novel. His character is in his 30s, happens to be a travelling IT guy, and is a prepper. My character was identical! He was heading from Tallahassee back to his home in Lake County. My character was on the eastern outskirts of Atlanta, GA heading back to Albemarle, NC. His character picks up a young girl as a sidekick to have conversation with and to use to help educate the reader via character conversations on the road home. My character rescues a downed Cessna pilot, who happens to be a young Asian-American woman, for the same purpose. His books both intrigued and infuriated me! He took my idea (though he’d never met me and I’d never published a word of it anywhere online) and then he had the gall to tell the story better than I would have!
I literally can’t finish that book because it would be a complete duplication of his series. Instead I had to settle for helping build his website for him. You can see it for yourself at http://angeryamericansurvival.com/. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em right?
He has continued to create an amazing series that as of today is eight books long and still going. ( I just started book eight today.)
In terms of being useful prepper-porn, his books are right up there at the top. You learn all kinds of valuable skills that you’ll be interested to try out at home but they’re wrapped up in the auspices of a fictional story that keeps you engaged as a reader. Did you know you can make starch and flour from Kudzu? Did you know you can make table salt from boiled roots of hickory trees? Yeah, me either. Know how to use a one-time pad or use a ham radio? This series makes you want to go out and try this stuff for yourself to see how to master it.
Coronal Mass Ejection – Drew Gideon
One of the most plausible uncontrollable reasons for the collapse of the entire world’s infrastructures is referred to as a CME. That’s short for coronal mass ejection. Let me take the mystery out of this one and step it down for you in case you’re curious but not overly technically minded. The sun is a giant boiling ball of fire. Picture it like a pot of boiling water. Have you ever been too near a pot of water going at a hard boil when one of those bubbles shot out and spattered you? Hurt like hell didn’t it? Well that’s basically what a CME is, just on a huge scale. The sun is always throwing out flares of solar energy. Sometimes they are small and sometimes not. We had an incident in 2012 that most of you probably didn’t pay any attention to, but that could have severely disrupted live on this planet. The sun send out a massive coronal ejection in our general direction. Luckily for us the earth had moved slightly out of the way in its orbit and we only lost a couple of satellites. Had the solar flare been shot from the sun only a few days earlier, you wouldn’t be here reading this and I wouldn’t be able to be here writing it. I’d be too busy out trying to hand-till my garden because there would likely still be no power on our planet. That 2012 flare was the largest recorded flare in over 150 years. It was so intense that the Northern Lights were seen as far south as Cuba.
Drew Gideon came out of nowhere with an amazing series that I feel I can honestly say is the most engaging plot I’ve read yet. It is the story of a college-age girl and her friends trying to get home after a huge solar flare takes out almost all the earth’s electrical grid. It tells the story of towns coming to grips with the truth and longevity of things – how their lives are forever changed by it, and how people try to cope with being instantaneously taken back almost to a time before electricity. From a writer’s perspective, a CME is almost the perfect tool for a post-apocalyptic story. Everything with a wall plug would basically be useless. Every transformer on every pole on the planet would fry in place. It would be ten years before we had reliable AC power again and probably another decade before things like air-conditioning were seen to be common-place again. The interesting thing is most self-powered or DC-powered items would still be OK. Phones would still be useful as tablets, though there would be no GPS satellites left in space to use Google maps. Facebook would be gone, but e-readers would still exist. Cars could still drive the roads if you could find fuel after the first few months. In general its probably the most perfect scenario from which to base a novel like I’d want to write.
Once again, someone beat me to it and did such a great job of it that I’d not want to sully their writing by putting my story in the same genre.
Searching for a story
So, here I am again, finding myself in search of the perfect story. Meanwhile, maybe you can take some time to pick up a few of these yourself and introduce yourself to a new genre you just might fall in love with!
On that note – dinner is ready. Gotta run!
Directly after posting this to the blog I realized with horror I had forgotten one of the most compelling fantasy-prepper books in history! I came back later to edit and add the content below. I couldn’t in good conscience leave S.M. Stirling out of the mix. It would be doing you readers a horrible disservice!
Fantasy Apocalypes – S.M. Stirling
Some time back in 2012 I posted on Facebook I was out of authors to read and asked my friends for some recommendations. An old high-school friend and current college professor, Karra, suggested to me the Change series by S.M. Stirling. Be warned – this isn’t the usual post apocalyptic series. Surely you will find the occasional nugget of information but most of the useful information for preppers centers around the rebuilding of homesteads and how certain types of individuals might act in a lawless world. Imagine the power never coming back. The laws of physics forever changed such that gunpowder no longer works and combustion is no longer possible. It would literally take the world back to the stone age.
That is the land you walk into with the Change series. It is a place where even Tolkein’s fantasies can be reborn into reality. Yes, the riders of Rohan and the Rangers become part of the story, though not in a way you would think. The change series is one of the most amazing novels you will ever read. Thousands and thousands of pages of compelling story will keep you going through the end. I’ve linked to the first book in the series. If you love it, you can follow the characters for generations through out the Emberverse sub-series that follows up to this one. Give it a read. You simply will not regret it.
As for prepper-porn, eh, just shut up and enjoy a great plot once in a while, ok?