This week, I’m putting my recent ebook Absences – Two Tales of Impending Apocalypse under the microscope to see exactly what sort of fate I claimed the world is going to endure.
End of the World Predicting is a time-tested method of planning for the future, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t jump on the bandwagon, possibly naked, certainly having left all responsibility for my previous and current life choices behind, and most likely my possessions too.
My benchmark in this is the article Three Apocalypses, by Ethan Mitchell, in which he distils some modern approaches to apocalyptic thinking, and also notes how there is a degree of fuzziness at the edges of each that allows the mindsets to mingle. His categories are:
The Escapist Apocalypse, in which “the apocalypse can be a sort of aggrandized version of personal self-destruction”; and/or
The Cozy Apocalypse, a “scenario that provides a justification for the projects and values that its adherents were already interested in”; and/or
The Sweaty Apocalypse, where the threat of the End Times is used “to generate a massive amount of work that the people involved would not be doing otherwise”
quotes from Three Apocalypses, by Ethan Mitchell
Today, let’s take the first story in Absences…
The lines, the trees, the cliffs, the eaves
In a nutshell, this is a four-part story (a “flash suite”, if you will) set in a world one year after all bird life has abruptly and inexplicably vanished. I don’t mean to suggest that this event itself would be apocalyptic, but that perhaps the resulting shock to the system – both of human mentality and the ecosystem – could be highly damaging.
Each part of the story takes us deeper into this strange future, to a new location, with a new protagonist – but I also wanted to salute a film maker you may have heard of, Alfred Hitchcock, so each section is intended to echo one of his famous movies. Maybe you can guess which ones:
In The Lines, we meet an ordinary little old lady of the English pepperpot variety who misses the lovely sound of birdsong – bare moments before her London neighbourhood is overwhelmed by swarming, homicidal pests from the skies.
In The Trees, the proprietor of a secluded roadside motel finds the silence of the endless woodland around him increasingly oppressive, so he takes what comfort he can in the company of countless stuffed and mounted birds – until a traveller passes by…
In The Cliffs, the world’s last ornithologist keeps a lonely vigil on an island in the South Atlantic, once a breeding ground for many species of sea-bird, but who is now greeted only by the vertiginous drop when he peers over the cliff’s edge.
And in The Eaves, a once neurotic Californian teen relishes his new lease on life, the only member of his family who can face the crumbling world and scavenge for resources – now his irrational fear of birds is safely banished to the past…
Anyway, do any of these sections reflect one or more of Mitchell’s Three Apocalypses? I think the answer is “yes”, but it might be a stretch to claim that any of them are a perfect match – for which reason, I’m going to make sure that there are birds in all the following pictures.
The Sweaty Apocalypse describes actions taken on a significant, maybe societal scale, like a government’s response to an imminent end (Mitchell’s example is the Manhattan Project, emerging from the threat of Nazi domination). I wanted to suggest the decline of humanity’s psyche, at first just unbalanced by a bizarre change in the world, but gradually descending into madness, but to do this I picked individuals to represent the whole – none of my scenarios directly paint the bigger picture.
In The Lines, Mrs. Johnson stands in for a failing grasp on the normal world, and though her son works for the state it is clear that they are not in control of what is coming. So, if there was a large scale Sweaty response to the end of days, it clearly failed. However, in The Cliffs the lone scientist Henry Viedle continues to cling to a futile endeavour – he may not be struggling to solve the problem, but he is at least not succumbing to abject apathy or fatalistic hedonism. In a sense, then, this blind dedication to what was once his duty could fall into the Sweaty category.
Similarly, Charles Coogan in The Trees has not yet abandoned his responsibilities in favour of personal hedonism, but when the opportunity arises he is Cozily taking advantage of the wider situation to practice those antisocial activities he would most like to, if he had free rein. Although we don’t stay with him long enough to find out, I can imagine an escalation in him that would be very frightening to confront, a year or two more down the line – laying the groundwork for real Escapism to come, perhaps.
The Eaves is closer to an Escapist reaction to my apocalypse, but it isn’t a consciously self-destructive one. Before the birds were gone, Jackie Bergman lived in perpetual fear of an outside world that was largely safe and nurturing of humanity. Without them, his phobia is also non-existent and he is able to enjoy life in a way he never could before – even though the failing of civilisation around him actually makes the world far more dangerous than it once was. For him, the world without birds is one of joy and freedom, and my reason for making it so was to use the loss of his irrational fear to highlight the new irrationality that everyone else now suffered from – that being the real reason behind the downfall of society as much as the tangible absence of birds that provoked it.
So, and just to violently mix baseball and cricket metaphors, I’m not calling this “a swing and a miss” so much as “a top edge” – a glancing strike, but no more than that. Will the other story be a hole in one (golf)? Find out on Friday!