“Winter is coming” as they say. Pretty soon the Fates will decide whether or not humanity has had its day and if it’s time to make room for a new top dog. We geeks always have stuff like this on our minds, hence the growing trend of dystopian, apocalyptic futures in our media — remember when we thought the futuristic world was a happy place, like in The Jetsons? Okay so the apocalypse/dystopian concept is not anything new, we’ve always explored what our world would be like through the minds of George Romero, James Cameron, Fritz Lang, Robert Wise, H.G. Wells, Lois Lowry, Richard Fleischer, and Pierre Boulle, just to name a few. Each illustrate their own brand of how humanity is on the brink of death, how it deals with the day-to-day. There are some that even explore whether or not humanity is still worth saving. Here are just some of our favorite end of the world stories:
1) The Giver
Lois Lowry’s young adult novel set in a utopian society that, as the story progresses, we find has sinister practices. The reader gets to delve into this world through the eyes of Jonas, a 12-year-old boy who is just starting the first steps of becoming a working member of The Community. Very quickly you find out that this world is not like our own, the tone and feel and how the citizens live are practically foreign despite some familiarities. At a certain age, each child is assigned a career path based on their abilities that they’ve shown up until this point. The career assigned designates the type of person you are for the rest of your life, so it can be a badge of honor or of quiet shame. Jonas, showing a unique personality, was assigned “Receiver of Memory,” an enigmatic position that allows Jonas to access a wide variety of memories that everyone else seems to have forgotten. What Jonas discovers during his training is a disquieting reality of the world around him.
2) The Matrix
The Matrix first and foremost illustrates the consequences of Man’s hubris, their overconfidence that they can control and enslave robots (who posses artificial intelligence) because they’re not human. This way of life not only backfires but also the tables are turned on the humans in the worst way. Instead of eradicating all human life, the machines found way to harvest humans as a source of renewable energy. What’s even more messed up about this situation is that the humans are hooked up into a virtual world where they can live out their daily lives, all the while not knowing that they’re being used as cattle in another reality. Despite the quid pro quo, some humans are dissatisfied with this arrangement and fight back. The belief is that it’s worth fighting for a harsh reality rather than living a happy lie, as long as it means humanity is truly free.
3) Planet of the Apes
Similar to how the world of The Matrix started, humans trained apes to do the work for them. Over time, the humans became so lazy that the apes decided to rise against their oppressors, resulting in the world where apes are the civilized beings and humans are the animals. Planet of the Apes, and the movies thereafter, is a continuation of how the humans and apes continued to interact with each other over time all the while discovering what may have happened to cause the evolutionary switch. The ending of the book, by Pierre Boulle, has the astronaut and his new family leaving the ape world on his ship for Earth. Time flowed differently like before on his course and they find themselves on Earth 700 years after he left it, also inhabited by apes. Not wanting to live on this planet anymore, he leaves the planet once more and later leaves a message in a bottle floating through space. The message, which tells the protagonist’s story, is discovered by a couple traveling on a space cruise ship in the beginning of the book. The couple reappear toward the end, and the reader discovers that they too are apes.
4) The Time Machine
H.G. Wells has always been a man of out-of-the-box thinking. The Time Machine is definitely one of them. Simply known as The Time Traveller, our narrator travels forward in time and witnesses a period where Earth and its inhabitants have devolved into more a primitive stage. He meets two groups: the Eloi, a docile group with childlike appearances, and the Morlocks, ape-like creatures who live underground and feed on the Eloi. These two groups, presumably devolved from humans, represent the downward spiral of the human race, which seems to be a theme in this book. It’s a rather cynical view of the future of the human race, when you think about it, though not an uncommon one. What Wells does here is that instead of being taken down by another force, either by machines of their own creation or another intelligent species, humans regress all on their own through an apparent, rising need for dependency. That’s one interpretation, at least.
5) Adventure Time
Okay, I know what you’re saying, “But Adventure Time is a kids’ cartoon full of whimsical candies and a magic dog!” But if you’ve ever paid attention, you’d know that the Land of Ooo wasn’t always gumdrops and flying rainicorns; thousands of years ago it was a wasteland ravaged by the great Mushroom War, which was led by the Lich King. In other words, Adventure Time is essentially a post-apocalyptic series set thousands of years “after the bombs have fallen and magic has come back into the world.” Ooo is sunshine and peaches on top with a hollow shell of an old forgotten world (and mutants) underneath. Also, Finn is the ONLY known human left. That cuts deep, yo.
6) Y: The Last Man
“I wouldn’t go out with you even if you were the last man on Earth.” Sound familiar? What if the guy really was the last man? That’s the situation Yorick found himself in when a mysterious disease wiped out all of the males on the planet. All of them. Not just the human men, but all the males from every species. This may be a fantasy for most of you men out there, but Brian K. Vaughan immediately backhands that thought out of the way and lends a more realistic situation in this dystopian universe. First off, groups calling themselves the Amazons form all over America, destroying anything that reminds them of men. The main targets before setting their sights on Yorick were sperm banks. While the cause of the sudden pandemic is never fully explained, it goes to show just how quickly the world can turn savage when the status quo ceases to exist, no matter what the sex you are.
7) 28 Days Later
This was one of those break-out apocalypse movies that did something different with the zombie genre. Instead of the dead rising again, people were infected by a virus that amplified a person’s rage and turned them into blood-spewing berserkers. No thanks to a group of animal activists the Rage Virus was unleashed across England, and turning the entire city into a wrecked ghost town. From there, it was pretty much every man for himself. Otherwise nice people had to become ruthless survivors, and the protectors become obsessed with protecting what’s already theirs that nothing and no one else matters. Lesson: FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS SACRED, don’t sneak into labs and release the test animals! Dummies.
8) World War Z (the book, not the movie)
Another zombie apocalypse story but told through many individuals across the entire world. This book did something unique in that we got to learn how many different people dealt with the zombie war. Yes, this was treated like war. Armed forces all over the world rose up and battled the Zs while also protecting the many civilians they were charged with. New information was actually shared: effective plans of action, how best to kill them, how the Zs act, etc. Some of my favorite stories were about an old, blind Japanese guy surviving the initial outbreak by living in the trees, and about K-9 units who served as recon and drew out any lingering Zs still shambling through abandoned cities.
I’m going to tell you all right now, I prefer Karl Urban Dredd over Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd. To me, it captures the gritty, ultra-violent, dystopian future more perfectly than its 90s predecessor. The US is an irradiated wasteland with only three cities remaining: California, Texas, and the East Coast. The Judge Dredd universe is set in Mega-City One, population 800 million. 17,000 crimes are reported everyday, and the only people to combat just a portion of this are the Judges, law enforcement who act as judge, jury, and executioner. Judge Dredd is a ruthless law enforcer, like Commissioner Gordon and Batman rolled into one and with no gray area. It’s always fascinating to see what stories surface if ever asked “What would happen to society after an atomic war? What type of government and law enforcement would it have? In what state of mind would the general population be?” Judge Dredd is one of those answers.
10) The Last of Us
“Either hang on to your morals and die, or do whatever it takes to survive.” The Last of Us is one of those rare stories that gives you all the feels no matter what happens. It also happens to fall under the zombie genre; however, the so-called zombies are humans infected with a fungus based on a real species called Cordyceps. The Cordyceps in the game are transferred two ways, via bite or by breathing in the spores of a deceased infected. There are four stages of the infected: Runners, the recently infected who still maintain some qualities of a human save for their lambent eyes; the Stalkers is the second stage where the Infected still have the eyesight and the speed of the Runners but are beginning to show fungal growth on their faces; the Clickers (the most terrifying) have lost all eyesight from the fungus splitting their faces open, so instead they use echo location to find you; the Bloater stage, which is a huge brute covered in fungus armor, is the final stage of transformation if an Infected is alive long enough. With all of these monsters walking around, however, they’re just a part of the environment. It’s other people you have to worry about. In the game, you have to deal with guys living outside of the Quarantine Zones called Hunters. They do scavenge unoccupied cities, but mostly they set up traps and wait for any poor wanderers to come onto their turf. It is then that they hunt, kill, brutalize, or even cannibalize all that you have on you. They’re pretty much the very picture of humanity at its worst. Throughout the whole game, The Last of Us is a story asking the question “Is anyone worth saving anymore?”