Apocalyptic Appeal

Every day another apocalyptic scenario! And I’m not talking about the news—I’m talking about our collective desire to imagine the end of the world as we know it—in fiction. Sometimes I wonder how the steady trickle of dystopian novels (short stories, movies, etc.) became a flood and then a tsunami of disasters.

I grew up with dystopian classics—‘Brave New World’ by Aldus Huxley, ‘1984’ by George Orwell, ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury, ‘The Time Machine’ by H.G. Wells… By the time I read ‘A Canticle for Leibowitz’ by Walter M. Miller Jr. and ‘The Children of Men’ by P.D. James, I started to think of dystopias as a favorite science fiction sub-genre.

Once the ‘Hunger Games’ series by Suzanna Collins took over the media universe, the only dystopian threat to that particular scary fight for fictional survival were the hoards of zombies tromping and gobbling their way through the turf of Jane Austen, Abraham Lincoln, cable television and suburbia.

What is it about dystopia that is so appealing?

I have to wonder if it’s because real life is so tenuous. There are wars all over the world, mysterious deadly diseases popping up out of nowhere, the rise of a new far right, religious intolerance, the climate crisis, and lots of other changes that scare the shit out of all or some of us.

Even the changes that many of us embrace (the movement toward equality of opportunity, gender equity, the ubiquity of technology, etc.) feel like the slippery slope toward dystopia to other people. Recent laws restricting transgender individuals from using the bathroom associated with their identified gender instead of the one on their birth certificate, is a good example of a hot button issue that divides people along clear lines. What seems like a sensible protection for the rights of a minority to some—looks like the path to a new dystopia for others.

Maybe we like stories about zombies devouring a suburban landscape, diseases that decimate civilizations, and a man falling in love with his search engine, because no matter how scary fiction is, it’s a walk in the park next to real life?

The window of a hardware store as super storm Sandy began to hit NYC and the entire east coast.

The window of a hardware store as super storm Sandy began to hit NYC and the entire east coast.


  1. The movie ‘The Birds” was quite the ‘end of the world’ scenario. It bothered me so much that Hitchcock never brought a close to it. I never would of guessed that 50 years later I would write the next chapter of that story. And yes, I left a rather dystopian ending to it as well. Maybe we all crave ‘the end’ to live in the current?

    • Candy Korman

      Interesting take! Maybe the credo of living in the present is the backdrop for wanting to discover & encounter the monsters under our beds? Nothing like an apocalypse to bring out the the REAL YOU! I’m going to ponder that all day. Thanks!

  2. Dystopias seem to cycle in and out of [fiction] fashion and I’m never sure what pushes the up-tick. During WWII the Hollywood musical was in its prime – to distract us from reality? But then in the 50’s we had Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Was that a reaction to McCarthy-ism?

    It’s a fascinating topic, that’s for sure. 🙂

    • Candy Korman

      Judging from the invasion of zombie fiction, the second decade of the 21st Century is full of FEAR! Fear that makes the 1950s—with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and giant ants (Them) and other creatures look tame. The lure of the dystopia is real and, yes, fascinating. Are these novels and movies our version of traditional Grimm’s Fairy Tales? The ones that were gory and scary… The ones that confirmed for children that there were monsters under the bed, old ladies with very large ovens (big enough to hold children) and wicked stepmothers? I think so.