In a way, stories about the end of the world are some of the oldest science fiction / fantasy stories available to mankind. But visions of the apocalypse have evolved from the Biblical and mythological, leaving behind the destruction of earth by a powerful God or gods. In later years authors have mapped the pending doom onto more secular topics such as nuclear devastation, climate change or alien invasions. The essay establishes a map of the different discourses of apocalypse and then follows some of the more recent trends of apocalyptic science fiction, from Last Man literature (19th century) to genetic pandemics (21st century).
This is the lecture “Apocalyptic SF” by Prof. Dr. Allan Weiss (York University Toronto):
Videofile – MP4
Audiofile – MP3
Or download this link via right-click and “save as…”: Lecture
The introductory essay “Apocalyptic SF” by Prof. Dr. Allan Weiss is available for download here:
Recommended Articles for Further Reading
THE ROAD TO SCIENCE FICTION, VOL. 1: FROM GILGAMESH TO WELLS (ED. JAMES GUNN):
Wells, H.G. “The Star” (1897) – pages 339-348.
The story tells of the events when a comet aimed directly at Earth is discovered. Apocalyptic in the sense that it deals with the consequences of Earth’s imminent destruction.
THE ROAD TO SCIENCE FICTION, VOL. 2: FROM WELLS TO HEINLEIN (ED. JAMES GUNN):
Campbell, John W. “Twilight” (1934) – pages 259-76.
A man drives through the desert and encounters a time traveller, who has seen the “twilight” of mankind, where the race is slowly dying. Not the most apocalyptic of stories, but has some bearing on the topic.
WESLEYAN ANTHOLOGY OF SCIENCE FICTION (ED. ARTHUR B. EVANS ET AL.):
Wells, H.G. “The Star” (1897) – pages 39-49
for this story, see above entry
Bradbury, Ray. “There Will Come Soft Rains” (1950) – pages 234-40.
Part of his short story cycle The Martian Chronicles, this story employs the unusual perspective of a fully-automated house left standing long after a nuclear war has destroyed Earth.
ADDITIONAL READING (ASIDE FROM THE ANTHOLOGIES):
Wells, H.G. “The Time Machine” (1895) – free internet version at the University of Virginia Library.
Wells’ novel is an excellent example of apocalyptic SF, describing in detail the end of humanity.
Doctorow, Cory. “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” – free internet version at Doctorow’s site The Craphound.
In this story the world (i.e. the internet and electronic media) ends and only a few system administrators fight to keep civilization running. Funny take on the apocalypse.
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Knopf, 2006. / Hillcoat, John (dir.) The Road. 2009. Film
Bleak novel (and its film adaptation) about a father and his son in a devastated, post-apocalyptic America. The story deals mostly with moral decisions that the two need to make when faced with survival.
ADDITIONAL Media (to be considered):
Marker, Chris (dir.) “La Jetée”. 1962. Free version at Youtube.com
This short film is the basis for Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys and deals with a post-apocalyptic world after humans were (almost) wiped out by a virus. It is a black and white photo collage with narration – very experimental.
Meyer, Nicolas (dir.) The Day After. 1983. TV film. Free version at Youtube.com
This is an ABC tv production dealing with nuclear war in the 1980s. Made in pseudo-documentary style it tells of nuclear apocalypse and the time after.
MLA Citation for this page:
Video Lecture: Weiss, Allan. “Apocalyptic SF”. Video Lecture. A Virtual Introduction to Science Fiction. Ed. Lars Schmeink. Web. 2012. <http://virtual-sf.com/?page_id=394>.
Essay: Weiss, Allan. “Apocalyptic SF”. A Virtual Introduction to Science Fiction. Ed. Lars Schmeink. Web. 2012. <http://virtual-sf.com/?page_id=394>. 1-10.
Info Page: Schmeink, Lars. “Apocalyptic SF”. Web Page. A Virtual Introduction to Science Fiction. Ed. Lars Schmeink. Web. 2012. <http://virtual-sf.com/?page_id=394>.