I haven’t paid a great deal of attention WorldCon this year: not my circus, not my monkeys. I must admit I’m very bitter with Nora Jemison. If she’d managed to hold off for another 24 hours with her magnanimous decision that she would, after all, grace the fortunate attendees with her participation in programming, I’d have been 50 bucks richer, instead of 10 bucks down (yes, 5:1 best odds I could get.) But other than that expected result, I haven’t paid much attention. Apparently John Scalzi informed us that the ‘SJW’ did not in fact eat each other alive, but created ‘a field of programming that is interesting, educational, and representative of the current state of sf.’ Oh, and apparently ‘mostly everyone’s happy.’
I believe this is sung to the tune of ‘Everything is Awesome.’ I’m sure the new program is indeed representative (if not quite of the current state of sf which is more than half Indy, and basically uninvolved and disinterested) of the current state of Tor books and its camp-followers. That, after all is his field of expertise, and what he’d like to believe the entire field is.
I’m a little mystified as to why describing a sf conference as ‘educational’ would be attractive to con-goers. Perhaps – given the program and the strong public political views of so many involved… He means REEE!-education? I wonder there is an exam, and those who fail get sent to Gulag? That would be a big attraction, I am sure.
The ‘Interesting’: Well, I am sure Spider Robinson will be, and I sincerely wish him the best with it.
Then there’s an hour of Pronouns Matter — Gender Courtesy for fans, or Ways To Be an Ally or Beyond Nuclear: Queer Families in SF/F or AT: Ecofeminist Science Fiction: Lessons from Literature and MediaI or Ethical Non-Monogamy 101 or AT: The Art of the [Im]Possible: SF and Civic Engagement or What Does a Nontoxic Masculinity Look Like? I’m sure some people feel this ‘education’ is ‘interesting’ and well worth paying for! Oh and the fascinating one – that I am sure would be educational, ‘representative’ (I do not think that word means quite what he thinks it means. As a small clue, that doesn’t mean 0.05% of the population have more representation than 50%) and of course ‘interesting’. We Will Survive: Diversity in Sci-Fi and Post-Apocalyptic Stories : ‘When the apocalypse hits, why is it that the survivors always seem to be overwhelmingly white, able-bodied, cis or male? Marginalized people are here, have always been here, and we’re not going anywhere–in fact, our experiences may make us better equipped to endure than most. Join us to take a look at the awesome works changing the face of diversity in post apocalyptic or dystopian media.’
Actually, I do find that interesting… Although, also possibly not in the way the panelists do, or John Scalzi does. It seriously has the potential for great stories – although, I suspect once again not in the way our politically correct panelists imagine. I’d give good odds that they look to ‘pushing’ publishing (with suitable reee!-education of the nasty people who actually know anything about the subject, or write it or even read it) in the same way you can guarantee the black character or the gay character in the now ‘diverse’ murder mystery is not the murderer, but the white male middle aged heterosexual conservative is. Oh and his motivation is racism or/and homophobia. He probably likes guns too.
I can see their desire for the various iterations of urban feminist, LGBTQ, handicapped or ‘any color but white’ characters surviving the apocalypse, while the white heterosexual males (all wearing MAGA hats) die in the fire. This would be especially the rural preppers, and hoplophiles… basically everyone on the shit-list of the extreme left. After enjoyably killing these ‘horrible’ people, the survivors would rapidly build a new utopia, with free healthcare, free Birkenstocks, a happy genderfluid society, ruled by benevolent all-providing world government and led by ‘people like themselves’.
And indeed – among the people they are representative of — those sort of Mary Sues will sell well. I do hope Tor throws all its enthusiasm and money into publishing and pushing this.
Maths is hard (well, for some, the kind who think 0.05% of more value than 50%) – but then so is survival. I thought – given this sort of lead in, I’d talk a bit about the entire concept of apocalypse and writing about it.
In an apocalypse I’d give myself about a 1% chance of being able to survive, and survive well into the rebuilding. I know a few people I’d go to 10%. If you think this means I rate my chances and expertise low, realize that I’d guess the survival potential of, for instance, the panelists in this panel at about 0.0001%. This is not with malice, just that given where they live and what skills they have, it is unlikely that their chances are good. I, on the other hand, live on a large, remote island that produces enough food for a couple of hundred thousand people, but has a population of 800. (The island, with third world agriculture, would have the water and land and sea resources to feed about 50 thousand). Gun club and pony club are the two biggest societies on the island – with most farmers of necessity being well above the ‘marksman’ level (you shoot 1000-1500 wallaby a year, just to keep farming). Personally, we’re off-grid and have our own water, and would typically have a year’s essential supplies without having to be too careful. With care, we’d make that 3-5. I have a careful lifetime’s supply of precious metals like lead. I can use most tools, and have a lot. I grew up in a hunting-fishing-foraging family and learned centuries of handed-down skills. There’s pretty little that is edible that I don’t know how to harvest and process, and that includes doing it with nothing more than my hands. I’ve tanned hides, I smoke and preserve food. I can make fishing nets from nothing more than cord, and I can make cord. We haven’t bought protein – or much else food-wise, besides flour (in 220 pound lots), coffee and chocolate for the last 8 years. I’m an ex Army medic and a Volunteer Ambulance officer. I have no medical conditions I couldn’t live with untreated… and I think I have 1% chance.
I think the first thing to grasp: just what is an apocalypse? What are conditions when the world falls apart? This obviously depends on your story. It could be anything from disease to a vast war with weapons that wreak cataclysmic damage. But… an apocalyptic event is NOT a minor civil war. Or even a major civil war. Those continue to retain some semblance of governance, at least in some areas. Basically: the definition of an apocalypse is ‘the end of the world (at least as we know it): It’s not a localized event (remote place might escape –depending on what the type of Apocalyptic event is). There is massive mortality – 80-99%. All semblance of governance, policing, law, chains-of-command are degraded and dispersed, largely ineffectual at local level to the point where they basically don’t exist in most circumstances, if they are not totally destroyed. The world as you knew it is gone.
Manufacturing, high-tech anything… comes to a halt. Infrastructure, supply chains, transport links stop functioning. Medical treatment – and the supplies and staff essential for that are rapidly overwhelmed. An apocalypse doesn’t just take out what is convenient for you to do without, or the people you don’t like. From the New York Hipster to the small tribal group in the Matto Grosso, some effect is felt. It’s just not the same effect or amount of it.
There are no ‘safe spaces’ not in any sense of the word, not over the passage of time. Some are safer than others, all are in some way affected.
Secondly: who survives and how and why? There’s this concept that these panelists may feel is just too avant garde: ‘survival of the fittest’. In an apocalyptic situations being the fittest… ain’t enough. You need to be both fit AND lucky. ‘Luck’ extends to being in the right place at the right time. If it IS apocalypse – and believable in your story – survival to be part of a post-apocalyptic story is dependent on both. BUT the fitter you are, the more chance you have of being ‘lucky’. (for certain values of ‘lucky’. In some scenarios, being dead fast may count as ‘lucky’). That will come down to strength, speed, capacity for violence, mental capacity to cope with disaster, intellect… and how well you can shoot. Oddly, what the panel claims are the typical characters of post-Apocalyptic fiction… tend to reflect that reality, except for skin color. And yes, taking the first few… that’s be five men for every woman not protected by a man. Guess what happens to women not as fit, and not shooting well? You want to be a strong independent woman post-apocalypse? Learn to shoot well now.
Survival of the wokest probably just doesn’t cut it as ‘fit’ in most possible apocalypses…
I take that back. Somehow getting the wokest of the woke made into World President’ to ‘lead’ the world (by force, quite a lot of them – but as various woke authors show genocide is just fine so long as it’s against people who are literally Hitler – AKA people you don’t like.) and give everyone free stuff, would possibly qualify. Post this – surviving post world-scale Venezuela or Zimbabwe, being woke will be just the same death sentence.
The grim fact that we SHOULD all know, is for anyone less that physically and mentally able, those needing medication, those needing help to live now, the probability of survival is considerably lower than for anyone else. It’s bad for everyone. It’s just worse if you need insulin or wheelchair access. It’s not impossible or inconceivable. Done right, it could make a great story.
If you need legal provisions and police protection now to thrive… your chances are possibly bleaker. Unless you have the numbers and force equalizers – AKA Samuel Colt’s legacy, and can use them well, with skill and some discipline, you won’t survive. The Pink Pistols might (for a while anyway, until old age and no kids caught up). The sort of people who got killed in the Pulse Night Club – unarmed and relying on civilization and police, won’t.
As for ‘skin color’ or ethnicity – well, I’ll bet that they don’t mention John Ringo’s BLACK TIDE RISING series. I’ve just written a story in that universe. Let’s say it doesn’t run according to their narrative. I suspect – if you were going to write a realistic story – so much would depend on your cause of your apocalypse. (For the record, I think all the evidence suggests that modern Western Cultures – largely with ‘white’ roots, will be kinder to women, ‘non-cis’ people, and people of other races or ethnicities).
If the cause of your apocalypse was say a massive war between the West and China, with both sides throwing everything but biological warfare into the mix, and weapons of considerably more destructive power than common now… Africa and parts of South America or maybe India would possibly be where most survivors concentrated.
Once you get to disease, or biological weapons + the rest – well, that’s where culture comes into it. Cities, be they Lagos or New York or Moscow, just lose nearly everyone. Hell, no matter what the disaster is, cities will be worst hit (and in the third world, women and children far worst). But remember, I’m from Africa, and oddly something very common to rural Africa is also true of most non-Western cultures. It was described in the Old Testament – it’s been around a long time. You can wander into the most remote bit of Zululand – where there are less than hundred people per square mile… and there will be a village, with everyone in huts less than ten yards apart. On a hill-top (for defense) – with all the people in a couple of square miles. The community itself might be ‘isolated’ (although there is a lot of to-and-fro) but it typically would be as dense as an urban settlement. The isolated homesteads and farmsteads… the guy and his wife and kids on a mountainside… that’s a legacy of long term peace, or Samuel Colt or both. And in the face of a fast-spreading disease, they’ll survive better than ‘bunching’ people. Afterwards, yes, for defense they’ll have to bunch.
Of course the big question becomes: who are you trying to sell your book to? Reality may not be your deciding factor. But it is always good to know what it would probably be. That helps with writing stories that suspend belief.
Thirdly… what do they do then? Let’s assume the main wave of dying is over. The cities, with no real reserves and huge reliance on infrastructure and supply chains… have destructed and emptied out almost all survivors. And, short of finding stashes of food that looters haven’t found, most cities are not much on food resources, assuming you can find water. It doesn’t really matter, because the average city dweller… even if they’re not ‘overwhelmingly white, able-bodied, cis or male’ have next to no skills needed to survive without the support system of civilization.
People WILL be tribal. I’m not being nasty or arguing the rights or wrongs: I’m just basing this on historical facts, outcomes repeated thousands of times in thousands of tribes and groups across the world.
In these circumstances you know, full well, noble concepts and ideals go out the window. So do the stupid ones. Pragmatism is all will see you through. It will require a level of hard, physical, labor-intensive work, needing practical skills… and, beyond the very short term, fertility. Trust me on this, much of living a self-sufficient life is HARD LABOR and heavy lifting and carrying. When you can’t mechanize, that means lots of hands needed. Children will be valued, not only for long term survival and rebuilding– but will also start to work from a very early age (see Tasmania, where School holidays were shaped around fruit picking on family farms). Women who can’t have children, better find something really valuable to do for their group. Look at any primitive society, men fight/defend/raid, do heavy labor… women do the rest.
Joe the gay blacksmith (so a skill that is really valuable) in a small village where he knows and gets on with everyone will be valued and protected. Dyed-hair polysexual genderfluid fashion journalist who flees the city looking for a safe space… not likely. Parasites won’t be tolerated because the host cannot carry many. If they are, that group will die.
Yep. There’ll be ‘marginalized people’. And they’ll be just as, or more marginalized, or dead, because when things are really tough groups become uniform, and turn on those who don’t fit. By the PC definition of ‘marginalized’ they will have a far harder time than in the comfortable shelter of modern civilization. Now, Fred the poor white rural farm boy whose daddy was a farm laborer who did a bit of poaching on the side, and is barely trailer trash in modern America – and is marginalized all right, but not PC – he might flourish. The Tor-dahlings… not.
Still: that doesn’t mean that there is no potential for a great post-apocalyptic story – one which effectively suspends disbelief, which will appeal to a wide swathe of the audience (not a narrow little niche group) with a female character, a handicapped character, or a character with a different sexual orientation to the human norm, or the character of a different skin color or ethnicity. Each of these adds new hills of complexity to climb, and as long as readers like the character and care about them – best achieved via shared humanity they can identify with, you could have a winner. After all – the boring story: why Dave Freer survives (he has the knowledge and skills and resources and geography on his side). The interesting story: Why the character who is unlikely to survive does, and how they have to adapt, learn and change.
But that does mean they have to change, because the believable post-disaster world won’t.