apocalypse lite

I was looking for something new to read in one of my favourite genres, the post-apocalypse life-after-zombies/killer-flu/climate-revenge novel, and found The Survivors: Pandemic by Alex Burns on Amazon. 4.5 stars from 303 reviews, and only £2.49: bingo.

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It was certainly an easy read. The story bowls along. Killer virus hits; heroine in the city copes for a bit, despite finding best friend and hubbie dead; escapes the city with said best friend’s dog and her own neice (having found sister and hubbie dead); arrives at mum’s farm; gets into self-sufficient life with co-operative neighbours. The sequel – flagged in the novel as a grimmer experience – hasn’t yet materialised as far as I can see.

But.. the apocalypse in The Survivors is weirdly thin. The heroine has a good job (though we’re never told what it is), and her immediate reaction to the end of the world as we know it is to miss grocery deliveries. She has a lovely fiancee and an adoring cat, which are given pretty much equal attention (until her best friend’s dog makes it a threesome). Lovely fiancee gets and sends cute messages, but sadly is stuck in Canada for the duration. You know she’s missing him because she says so. You know she’s grieving because she cries a lot. The fact that her brother and his partner are doctors who left their hospital jobs as soon as the bodies started piling up and went to hide in a country cottage before heading back to their mum’s smallholding, is never discussed as anything like a moral dilemma – it’s just great that they eventually end up at mum’s with the heroine. Mum, by the way, has worried about post-apocalypse life-after-zombies/killer-flu/climate-revenge for decades, and as a result has a self-sufficient smallholding with solar power and water supply: very handy. The possibility that having a mum constantly preparing for the end of the world might have bit of a negative impact on her children isn’t addressed. Instead, it turns out to be very convenient given that the apocalypse has in fact arrived.

The lack of crisis is all deeply odd. Deeply normcore, in fact, and reminded me of this essay on the apparently equally normcore novels of Colleen Hoover. It’s the end of the world but without any real sense of loss or confusion. There’s even a two-women-on-the-road-surrounded-by-dodgy-blokes situation in which the women get away by giving the men a sandwich – yes, a sandwich – hardly Walking Dead territory. Above all, the family is at the core of it: mum, brother, sister and neice are re-united (with various pets) and that seems to make it all ok. As does the rural situation, where food can be grown and harvested and nice people live in nice communities.

A narrative that centres the family is evident in quite a few apocalypse-set books and tv series of course: The Road, the tv version of Station Eleven, Black Summer, Walking Dead itself and many others, not to mention endless end-of-the-world movies on Netfilx. Survival – the good kind – is about preserving families, of various kinds, and that preservation redeems many horrendous acts – if there are any such acts to be redeemed, and in The Survivors these are few and never directly addressed. This is the apocalypse – indeed, life in general – without trauma. Apocalypse lite.

So while The Survivors is not Great Literature, it has made me think a lot about whether the apocalypse, in its early stages at least, might well be a bit like what Alex Burns describes. And therefore what all those much more violent stories of human and nonhuman terror are implying in their repeated demonstrations that families require deathly aggression for their survival.

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