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The idea behind this blog is to share my opinions about Post-Apocalyptic Literature, Films and Ephemera as well as my random nattering on a regular basis.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Cosy Catastrophe and Neena Gathering

The main elements for the cosy catastrophe are few a relatively simple.

First: some disaster has to have occurred. Some people don't dicker and will accept any disaster even a localised one as acceptable. Not me I take a pretty hard line. I need for event to have been world wide and nearly uniformly lethal. So that's the first rule: a cataclysm of global and uniformly fatal proportions. Any less than that is a glorified version of 'The Towering Inferno'. The Rift by Jon Williams is the perfect example to illustrate this.

Second: A small group (can consist of only two) survivors begin to coalesce. Sometimes they attempt to recreate the rules and norms of the society that lies rotting all around them. Other times they make their own strange and unusual customs. Some definitions will say the survivors need to be white middle class types who simply want to recreate the world so they continue to be maintained in the lifestyle they had been accustomed to. These people are wrong.

Third: Nothing fatal happens to any of the main characters. They can get sick, be hungry, or injure themselves and it still falls into the category of the Cosy Catastrophe as long as none of these things cause their death.

A quick refresher about how to determine the main character should be done here. In my Introduction to Literature class I took my first year at WOU, Gavin Keulks (Best. English Professor. Ever) taught us that to find the main character ask yourself the question: Who changes? Sometimes it's hard to tell, especially when the book has a very large cast like The Stand. If you apply the 'who changes' test to The Stand, you end up with: (1) Harold Lauder who goes from being the guy in high school who is both too smart and too nice (so girls all stay at 20 foot pole range) to being an enormous douche, (2) Larry Underwood who goes from a self-obsessed almost famous type to being totally and completely self sacrificing, (3) Frannie Goldsmith who goes from being a little girl in grown-up's body; a little spoiled to being an honest-to-goodness leader, (4) Nadine Cross who goes from being a fairly nice lady who teaches kindergarten and cares for people in general to aligning herself with Harold (after he'd gone around the bend) and ultimately being impregnated with hell spawn. She does get the good-sexy-fun-time quote. She says it to Harold, that's right nerdy, greazy and painfully shy Harold gets one of the best line in the book. She says 'coffee, tea ... or me?'

My original point was about cosy catastrophes. The use of the book The Stand was simply to illustrate a book many people say fits in the category but it really doesn't. It has the first two but not the last. Fatal turn of events happen to all but one of the main characters. The ending of the uncut version has all the hallmarks of a cosy catastrophe if it were continued, but in general it's apocalyptic in nature.

The Question Of Reading Apocalyptic Fiction

The question has been posed many times on at least two different forums. Why do you enjoy reading PA? Is it purely because you want to live in devastated world where rules do not apply? Is it that you want to throw off the shackles of The Man and live in a world were the rules no longer apply? Do you enjoy living vicariously because you loathe your rotten work-a-day existence? Or is that you hate humans and would like to live in world where 90%+ have been turned to rotting (but but not zombified) flesh?

The answer is because I FUCKING HATE PEOPLE! Most of them anyhow. I have been married for eleven years but have no children. The best free birth control exits in two places. In my neck of the woods these places were once in the same place. These places are Walmart and McDonald's. A visit to either one of these places at about 5pm will result in you be a specieist. Yes you too will have an adverse reaction to the proximity of any Homo sapiens. People are terrible. In the words of The Joker from Batman 'this town needs an enema'. But I'd replace town with world.

I looked and looked but the essay I wanted to use to illustrate my point here is one I couldn't find. The point of it was sort of an indictment of people who think they'll survive the end. It pretty much said: "you will die. and your death will be neither fast nor painless. you do not want this. if you live live you'll wish you hadn't" So yeah although I don't want to live in post-apocalyptic world I do sort of think about it. Another big point the lost essay had was the scenarios involved in survival. If you live through a nuclear war then all the water, food even the air is poisoned. So you survive only to die slowly and painfully. If you survive contagion then you have mounds of rotting corpses to deal with. Even if diseases from the unburied dead wouldn't be as big a problem as some would have you think, or at least according to this article, you still have the problem of millions of fetid, pungent dead people.

Now if I did survive (and the odds really are against that) I'd hope to do so in a cosy catastrophe. Hence the name of this blog. I prefer my catastrophic event to be one where I'd still be able to enjoy a beer and a good steak. I've said I don't care for people and I don't so if unpleasant or fatal things happened I'd prefer they happen to someone who is not associated with me.

Neena Gathering by Valerie Nieman Colander

The world of Neena Gathering is the perfect PA world. It's one that's been done many times by many different authors. Same type of world that was in Wolf and Iron by Gordon R. Dickson and in Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Some terrible things happen but they never happen to me or to my family. Life may not be exactly comfortable but no one bursts in to take what's yours and then eat you.

That's Neena Gathering. Don't get me wrong it's a great book and I'm glad I took the time the read it. As the story begins The United States has had some sort of civil war. And lost. All that remains are city states. No mention is given about the war that brought this about but it's not important anyway. After the war ends and Washington DC in defeated the city states wage war on each other. It's pretty brutal apparently. But again no real details are given. Also it's not important.

The important thing is the weapons used against the other on both sides. They were called 'Metachemicals'. Again not much was told about these chemicals. I guess they are nearly uniformly fatal. They get into your DNA and change you. What these changes were are again not described. The important thing is a) not everyone exposed to the chemicals died from it and b) some people got away from the cities unharmed.

The people who lived are not only 'Changed' (again not really discribed much) but are ostracized as well.

There are some pretty good apocalyptic scenes in the book, piles of bodies and war. Overall the book is well written to. Valerie Nieman Colander is apparently a poet of some note and the style of her writing is polished and lyrical. Just as you'd expect a novel written by a poet to be.

The book is a prototypical cosy catastrophe. You keep expecting bad things to happen but everyone in the book is fine. The main conflict is between Neena, her uncle and Arden the Change. It's a love triangle. Her uncle is a pretty violent man who may or may not have had a hand in producing the Metachemicals. Arden is one who was forever scarred by those same chemicals. Neena is a girl just flowering into womanhood. You'd expect some sort of violence to break out. Nope. It's a cosy catastrophe.

Marauders or on the loose. They of course take what they want. They never come near Neena or anyone else.

A violent band of religious fanatics as well are on the loose. They convert people and then to make sure you stay in a state of grace ritualistically execute you.

Last though to this giant rambling post. I am curious about living in a post apocalyptic world but only if I'm guaranteed to survive and then survive in world like in Neena Gathering or Wolf and Iron or even Life As We Knew It.

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