End of the World? I Feel Fine

OK, as you were, people. Rapture’s been cancelled. May 21 2011 has come and gone. No one was ‘taken up’, not even Harold Camping, leader of the Family Radio Network, who predicted the event. Pity.

Not to worry, though – donations to his (already mega-rich) organisation have increased in recent weeks which will no doubt go some way towards consoling him in his disappointment. Apparently God loves a cynic, as well as a sinner.

Also now richer on the back of the apocalypse is a woman who set up an  ‘After the Rapture Pet Care’ service. She charged people $10 to sign up to her service guaranteeing care for Felix and Fido when their ‘saved’ owners disappeared. Genius. Wish I’d thought of it.

So in the spirit of cashing in (although I’m not actually getting any money, more’s the pity), here are five different ways sci fi has told us that the world will end. There are many more….

Warning: Some Spoilers Below

28 Days Later1. Deadly virus as seen in…..
28 Days Later (2002), Dir. Danny Boyle

In Boyle’s film, the virus is a particularly nasty little sucker that produces such an intense rage in its victims that most of the UK population turn into slavering, murderous loons within a couple of weeks. Jim (Cillian Murphy), wakes up in hospital to find that the world as he knew it has disappeared. Together with a couple of other survivors he tries to find any remaining pockets of civilization and eventually reaches the apparent security of a military post….
This is a great film which would have been greater still if they’d gone with the alternative ending (which I’ve moaned about before). The sequel, 28 Weeks Later, was OK  and if the first movie hadn’t been so great, may have been better received. And, as reported last year at Screen Rant, if the third movie, 28 Months Later, is indeed directed by Danny Boyle, I can’t wait.

2. Ecological Breakdown as read in….
Dust (1998), Charles Pellegrino

Pellegrino’s a controversial figure who nonetheless wrote an intriguing book looking at the possibility of life on the planet facing extinction when a disruption to the ecosystem (the fungus gnat dies off) causes a catastrophic chain reaction through other insect and animal populations. He’s not a natural novelist but the ideas here are scary enough to get you thinking about the delicate balancing act between all the interdependent biosystems and see the current issues around, say, the bee colony collapse disorder in a different light.

Deep Impact3. Meteor/Comet/Asteroid Strike as seen in…
Deep Impact (1998). Dir. Mimi Leder
Armageddon (1998) Dir. Michael Bay

Whether it’s a comet (Deep Impact) or an asteroid (Armageddon), something hurtling into the Earth from space will be bad news for us. Both movies came out in the same year and in both, the attempt to destroy the incoming space object is a suicide mission for the space crews sent to deal with it. Of the two movies, I prefer Deep Impact‘s style to Armageddon‘s – but that’s more because I’m not a big Michael Bay fan.

The Road4. Unspecified as read/seen in…
The Road (2006), Cormac McCarthy.
The Road (movie), (2009), Dir. John Hillcoat

The story’s two main characters, a father and son known only as the Man and the Boy, are travelling through an America that has become almost unrecognisable. The natural world as we know it no longer exists. Plant and animal life has been destroyed by an unnamed disaster. Trees are blackened stumps, ash covers everything and the few humans still alive are slowly starving to death. Many have resorted to cannibalism. The Man is trying to move south in a desperate attempt to save his son and find something better for them both.
Its setting is post-apocalyptic but it’s debatable whether McCarthy’s novel is actually science fiction as the story never explores or explains what caused the world to disintegrate. But that really is irrelevant. This is simply one of the best, most haunting and most disturbing novels I’ve ever read.  And the movie does it justice.

5. Nuclear Armageddon as read in ….
On the Beach, (1957), Nevil Shute

In Shute’s novel, the unthinkable has already happened. The Northern Hemisphere has been laid waste by nuclear war, everyone is believed dead. In The Southern Hemisphere, the blanket of radiation is creeping south. In Australia, it has already reached the northern town of Darwin and it will only be a few short months before the rest of those living in Australia succumb to a lethal dose.

For the modern reader, the language feels artificial and mannered, and the story develops at a slow pace. But the power of the book comes from the descriptions of deserted towns and the portrayal of the characters as they deal with knowledge of their impending and inevitable deaths from radiation sickness. Some of the assumptions about how people would behave seem unrealistic but, by the end of the book, the quiet extinction of all human life on earth stayed with me long after the last page.
The use of T. S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men is perfect for the book’s approach:

“This is the way the world ends
not with a bang but a whimper.”

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