The Post-Apocalyptic World

Live from VCON 37 in Surrey BC, the regular nerds talk about life in the post-apocalyptic wasteland with the help of Hugo Award-winning author and Science Fiction Hall of Fame inductee Connie Willis and Nebula Award-winning science fiction author and astrophysicist Gregory Benford. Plus the lesser of two evils: Life after a nuclear armageddon or the biblical apocalypse?

Music: “When the Saints Go Marching In” by Louis Armstrong




15 Responses

  1. Another excellent podcast! Once again, I think you guys have excellent taste when it comes to picking your guest podcasters. Connie and Gregory were great, intelligent and funny!

  2. Just to add some good post-apocalyptic entertainment, I really liked the book Dies the Fire by SM Stirling. If you suspend your disbelief for the cause of the “Change” that wipes out civilization, it is interesting to hear the story about how people cope, and die in huge numbers, without technology (expecially the “Eaters” and later the tribalism that evolves). Also loved hearing how people would fashion war tools out of every day things.

    Love the Walking Dead, which is not just about zombies, but also about survival by scavenging and some farming. I like almost anything zombie.

    I did not like Jericho, TV show. Interesting concept, but too much “Rah, Rah, USA!!!” and terrible dialogue.

    Margaret Atwood wrote some cool books about the apocalypse and post-apocalypse – Oryx and Crake and then the Year of the Flood. Great novels and I hear a 3rd one is coming out.

    I would also like to add my 2 cents as to why apocalyptic entertainment is so popular – it is because our world is so dependent on two things – oil and electricity – without which our world civilization would collapse in a matter of weeks, much as the infrastructure of the Roman Empire collapsed in the early 1st millenium. Take away oil and we have no way of producing and transporting the huge amounts of food humans consume every day. The grocery store would be empty within a few days if that infrastructure was destroyed and our pantries wouldn’t last more than a couple of weeks (not including the hoarding/survival nuts). Take away electricity and most of the food we have would rot within hours/days. We all deeply fear the apocalypse because we are only one or two catastrophes from it!

  3. Another fine show! I agree fully that Mad Max I is “dystopian” rather than “post-apocalyptic”, but “The Road Warrior (Mad Max II)” is a better movie and really sets up so many of the tropes associated with post-apocalyptic worlds, especially the whole-world-is-a-desert thing.

    Two points:
    1. A pretty good novel from the early 1980’s is “The Last Canadian”. The apocalypse is only in the Americas. Basically, a rogue Soviet scientist releases a virus with a >99% fatality rate in North America. It spreads to South America before it can be contained, but Europe, Asia, and Africa institute a strict and violent quarantine (shoot down airplanes first, ask questions later) and are spared. The main protagonist discovers he is one of the rare people who are naturally resistant to the disease, wakes up to find his family dead and the population of the Western Hemisphere reduced to a few thousands. He wanders around trying to figure out what happened.
    2. In the article “6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe About the Founding of America”, Editor Jack O’Brien makes a strong case that the European settlement of the Americas was only really possible because it occurred in a post-apocalypse time and place. The inhabitants, including sophisticated civilizations, of the Americas were annihilated by disease and other factors shortly after first contact with Europeans. In the 200 years between first contact (circa 1500) and major immigration with large, permanent cities (circa 1700), 90% or more of the native population was killed. The European settlers found remarkably well-tended landscapes, just abandoned and perfectly ready for agriculture and other “civilized” activities.
    He ends the article with “We love the apocalypse as long as nobody acknowledges the truth: It’s not a mythical event. We live on top of one.”

    Article here (I don’t know if the link will get flagged by your spam-stopping software):

    Read more: 6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe About the Founding of America |

  4. I’m not finished listening to the whole show yet, but while I agree that those “After Humans” shows were awful, at the same time I think some of the panelists were overemphasizing how fast things would decay, taphonomically. There is such a range in archaeology. Yes, the vast majority of things do get destroyed, or rot (though it should be noted that especially with stuff like masonry building, a lot of destruction can be by later humans stone robbing). But then there will be amazingly preserved things. Go look at the Bonampak murals, which were preserved in the forests of southern Mexico, inside an intact building, for over 1000 years. IIRC, limestone leaching down from above created a protective layer over the paintings.

    I’d also note, as an archaeologist, that while fire is clearly a destructive thing, it is less so than you might think. We detect fire fairly easily, and a lot of sites with wooden architecture have less evidence of fire damage than was suggested in the show. Rot does a lot more to destroy, and the remains of these buildings are going (in tropical or temperate climates) going to get swallowed up by vegetation and then humus, fairly quickly. That said, huge cities of wooden buildings, cities with gas lines and cars filled with gas in them, that’s another matter, and I agree the cities would burn, but that has less to do with typical taphonomy, and more to do with our storage of energy in fossil fuels.

  5. Great episode guys! During the segment where you were talking about the shelter builders in Barrie, Ontario, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a news story involving a survivalist’s shelter built just outside Seattle, WA this past summer.

    The gist of the story is that 41-year old survivalist Peter Keller shot and killed his wife and 19-year old daughter in their home about 20-minutes outside Seattle and then set the house on fire. Fire crews responded and put out the fire before it did too much damage and found the bodies inside the house. When detectives searched the house they found the suspect’s personal computer, on which they found pictures from a bunker built into the side of a hill. One of the photos appeared to be taken looking outside the entrance of the bunker and detectives were somehow able to use that photo to determine the general area where the bunker may be located. They eventually found where the bunker was located (a 2 mile hike off a well known hiker’s trail outside Seattle) and sent SWAT team members to the site where they had a standoff with Klein for two days before they heard a loud noise come from inside the bunker which was the sound of Keller shooting himself in the head. Inside the bunker (which he had been building for 8 years and was built 20 feet into the hillside) they found guns/ammo, food/provisions, a generator with lights, plumbing and ventilation shafts. They also found a video diary where he detailed his plan to kill his wife/daughter and then rob banks and pharmacy’s and hide out in his bunker in the woods.

    Here are some links to some TV News reports about the story:

    Feel free to include on a future episode’s “Followups” segment.
    Seattle, WA

  6. Hello guys,

    Really enjoyed your show on the post apocalyptic world.

    I think that there is a show on channel 4(UK) at the moment which you guys would love. The premise to convince someone that the world has ended. they do this by enlisting and friends and planting seeds in his mind and then use actors and an abandoned nuclear site to simulate the post apocalyptic world. its all rather fascinating.

    the program is called derren browns apocalypse. the guy is a tv illusionist and “mind” magician. Either way it is pretty amazing how a guy working for a tv company can absolutely ruin someone’s life.

  7. Two things to add to the post apocalypse in pop culture:

    1.) Battle Pope: Written by Robert “the Walking Dead” Kirkman it’s the pope getting super powers and fighting the demons that came to Earth after everyone’s been raptured up to heaven. Pot head Jesus becomes his sidekick.

    2.) Red Dwarf? Don’t know if it’s technically post-apocalypse but I’m sure it seems that way to Lister the supposed last human 3 millions years in the future after his crew is wiped out by a radiation leak.

  8. Hey guys – any chance you could post the apocalypse timeline that Toren (I think – apologies if it was someone else!) put together? Found that a really interesting piece!

      1. This reminds me of the Large Hadron Collider timeline. I never watched the series so I don’t know what they said about it but why on Earth do they think the LHC would explode if it lost the emergency generator? It’s a particle accelerator, not a reactor. The emergency generator doesn’t supply enough power to operate the LHC anyway. The LHC uses so much electricity it can only run in the summer otherwise the inhabitants of Geneva wouldn’t get enough electricity to heat their homes.