Our Love Affair with the Apocalypse

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A not so silent outbreak has taken the nation by storm. No, I’m not talking about some deadly virus, but rather the addiction to post-apocalyptic fiction. Whether it’s a book, movie, TV show or even a play, the notion of the end of the world has Americans captivated. But why?

I think the answer to that question relates to the very essence of what it means to be human. PA stories have been around as long as the written word. From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Noah’s Ark. We have always been fascinated by the concept of the end of the world. The ‘what ifs’ seem to strike a cord. We have nightmares of the apocalypse. We fear it. And our subconscious knows it. Most of us live in a blissful ignorance of how close our world has been to ending. These stories take us out of our routines and the safe bubbles many of us have all built. And I think that’s what makes the end of the world so scary and also, compelling.

After a long day of work, some of us can’t wait to get home to enter into these worlds. Many of us load our kindles with audiobooks and eBooks about nuclear Armageddon, solar flares and alien invasions. For an hour each night we unzip our bubbles and dive into these stories. In many ways, it’s an escape from the mundane.

Writers have been exploring the end times for centuries, but now, as we learn even more about our planet and our universe we finally realize the infinite threats our species faces.

Michael Crichton wrote that we are surrounded in a sea of bacteria and while 97 percent aren’t harmful, it’s the 3 percent that could develop into a superbug that could wipe out our species. Threats that we can’t see are sometimes the most terrifying. Deep beneath Yellowstone National Park, a super volcano sleeps. It’s not a matter of if it erupts, but just a matter of when. The result would be disastrous—six feet of ash would cover half of the United States, killing most of our crops. Yellowstone isn’t the only buried threat. Nuclear tipped missiles are scattered across the United States in installations that are supposed to be impenetrable, but with the rise of cyber attacks and the risk of an accidental launch, the threat has never been more real. Just a month ago we learned the Pentagon still uses floppy discs for some of their programs. And nuclear war isn’t even the biggest threat. In One Second After we were introduced to the terrifying aftermath of an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP). The list of world ending events goes on. And on…

We love imagining these doomsday scenarios, but we aren’t just fascinated by how they happen. We’re also fascinated by the resilience of people in the face of these enormous events. As an author of multiple PA fiction books, I’m enthralled with apocalyptic fiction because it allows me to imagine how we would react in the face of such an event. I always aim to create compelling characters that respond to these events in different ways. Some hide, some take off for the hills, but others fight for survival, and perhaps that’s what fascinates us the most. In the end, the question of how we would act is always in the back of our mind. Would we fight until the bitter end or would we give up and accept our doom?

I love exploring these questions in my own work. It’s what makes writing in this genre so fascinating. From Orbs and the Extinction Cycle to my next release, Hell Divers, every character I write faces the challenges the apocalypse would through at them. Someday, we might just be those characters.


 

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Nicholas Sansbury Smith is the bestselling author of the Orbs and Extinction Cycle series. He worked for Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management in disaster mitigation before switching careers to focus on his one true passion — writing. A three-time Kindle All-Star, several of Smith's titles have reached the top 50 on the overall Kindle bestseller list and as high as #1 in the Audible store. Hell Divers, the first book in his new trilogy, will release in July 2016. When he isn't writing or daydreaming about the apocalypse, he's training for triathlons or traveling the world. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with his dog and a house full of books.

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You can pre-order a copy of Nicholas’s next book, Hell Divers, for a special price here.

The Brink of a New Age of Discovery

Do you remember those old posters from the 1950's that had people in flying cars and robots doing the dishes? It must have been an exciting time. Test pilots had just broken the sound barrier, followed by a breathless rush into the dawn of the Space Race that led to the moon landings just 66 years after the first time Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first airplane. At that time, nuclear power seemed ready to offer limitless cheap energy, and the boom of microelectronics was just beginning to dazzle.

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What happened to my flying car? While it's true that electronics have gotten smaller and faster beyond the wildest of imaginings of 40 years ago, it's also true that the 747 airliner first flew in 1969, and that's probably the same plane you'd take to fly today. Same speed, same altitude–the 747 was an amazing feat in the 60's, but by now we were supposed to be vacationing in the vast donut space stations of Arthur C. Clark's 2001. And speaking of 1969, that was 47 years ago…if we went from the first airplane to the moon in just sixty years, fifty years after that shouldn't we be taking warp-drive spaceships to Betelgeuse? What happened?

For instance, what about dark matter? This is the stuff that makes up about 90% of the mass/energy of our universe, but so far physicists have only been able to narrow it down to (a) massive subatomic particles that we're literally swimming in although have never detected, or (b) primordial black holes that invisibly glue together galaxies. So 90% of everything is either something subatomic or something unimaginably massive and large. That's a pretty big gap for something rather important.

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Or how about eels? If you live in North America or Europe, you've most likely encountered an eel in your local river. Yet all North American and European eels originate from a single source, the mysterious “Sargasso Sea” somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean where eels spawn each year and migrate outward. Despite knowing this *has* to exist, not one person has ever witnessed a spawning eel, or found the location of the Sargasso Sea that has to exist.

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Two obvious things that have to exist, and yet we've never seen them. I believe this is called faith. So keep the faith, my friends, because our future is fast approaching.

Just a few years ago, I remember feeling depressed when NASA made tired-sounding announcements of sending humans to Mars in thirty or forty years. Ho-hum, ho-hum. And then this week, SpaceX makes a surprise announcement saying they plan to send an unmanned Red Dragon capsule to Mars in 2018 (TWO years from now, not twenty), and in September of this year will they will release serious plans for colonizing Mars. Holy Buck Rogers! And this comes just a few weeks after they butt-landed a rocket on a floating drone ship in the middle of the Atlantic. Does this sound like something from a science fiction book? Cause it's not. This is happening, folks, not to mention the slew of other private space enterprises going on.

In other news, big corporations are now creating their own endemic artificial intelligences–witness Siri from Apple, Alexa from Amazon, Cortana from Microsoft, and reports of just about every major hedge fund in Connecticut starting up their own AIs to run their core businesses. It's not quite the android Replicants of Mr. Philip K. Dick, but it's more than halfway to HAL of 2001…and pair this up with the walking robots from Boston Dynamics. And speaking of AI disasters, when Microsoft recently unleashed Tay–Cortana's AI cousin–free and unfettered into the world a few weeks ago, within hours she became a Hitler-loving racist asshole, which I feel perhaps doesn't bode well for humankind over the long term (bear fealty now to our robot-AI overlords before it's too late).

But this isn't the big news. No. The big news, I think, is that we're on the brink of TOE–and by that I mean the Theory Of Everything. Without getting stuck in the details, for the last forty or so years, we've been stuck with quantum-electrodynamics theory on one side (the merger of quantum, electromagnetics, and strong and weak nuclear force theories) and gravity-relativity on other, and never the twain shall meet. Nobody has been able to devise one coherent physical model of our universe that includes the four fundamental forces together with quantum theory–but I think scientists are on the brink of a breakthrough (witness the discover of a new, previously unsuspected particle by the LHC) that may create a new fundamental picture of reality.

Esoteric?

How can this possibly affect us?

Perhaps.

But “quantum theory” only really emerged in 1924 as a discipline unto itself with Heisenberg and Schrodinger (it did exist as bits and pieces in the 1800's, but only hints of something unconnected), and at the time, sitting on a steamship deck and sipping your coffee, you might have been excused from wondering what possible application it could have. Fast-forward sixty years, and it fueled the technical underpinning of the electronics boom that has birthed the Internet, AIs, and worldwide instantaneous communication networks.

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What could a new theory of the ultimate nature of reality make possible? I have no idea, but I'll bet you that in fifty years it will be something amazing that we can't even imagine now. Tired old NASA is even funding a serious research project into faster-than-light travel–the idea isn't to really travel faster than light, but to bend space (and thus time) to punch holes through it. The physics say it's possible, but the energies required are either vaster than a hundred suns, or not much at all–what's needed is an understanding of the real physics behind the ultimate nature of our reality, and our lab-coated friends may just be on the edge of supplying it. So dust off your Mars suit, boot up your personal AI, and step onto that warp-drive spaceship, because the future is fast approaching.

But I doubt we'll ever find out where eels come from.