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If the Apocalypse is Old News, What's Next?



ApocThe apocalypse goes back a long way in human culture—whether it's the flood, Ozymandias, or the 70 years we've spent fearing the bomb.

I was first introduced to the concept of the apocalypse when my parents allowed me to watch "Planet of the Apes" on television. That early trauma led me, over time, to seek out others apocalypses: Fahrenheit 451, the "Mad Max" movies, I Am Legend, and The Stand.

But the popularity of the apocalypse, and what comes after, has (ahem) exploded since I was a kid. The top show on television is "The Walking Dead," which first aired in 2010 (the graphic novels started in 2003), and there is even a sister show, "Fear the Walking Dead."

And the apocalypse is not just for adults. Young adults love it, too.

However, all things must come to an end, even The End itself, and I've recently found myself wondering if the post-apocalyptic craze—at least where books are concerned—is losing a little steam. A quick look at the Amazon Books best sellers reveals more covers featuring Alexander Hamilton or Harry Potter, or even books about cleaning up after yourself, than post-apocalyptic ones. There's no Hunger Games. No Divergent series. No World War Z. In fact, I only found Fahrenheit 451 among the best sellers.

Cormac McCarthy's 2006 novel The Road is widely-cited, right or not, as the book that made the post-apocalyptic popular to the masses. That book presents a fairly straight-forward post-apocalypse, with no vampires, zombies, or even cars—just cannibals, which made it an excellent gateway apocalypse. Peter Heller arrived a few years later with his fantastic novel The Dog Stars, which again was a post-apocalyptic novel, but without zombies, vampires, etc.—it could easily have been transformed into a wilderness survival novel with just a few tweaks.

Which brings me to my point. Maybe the post-apocalypse is being replaced by wild places like Alaska.

I sometimes joke that "The Walking Dead" is so popular because, when we watch it, we can finally relax and admit that the world will be as terrible as we think it's going to be. Our anxious restlessness is replaced by necessary action. Finally!

But the same thing happens when we go into the wilderness. The buzz of our everyday world goes away, and we are left to deal with simpler, more rudimentary issues like staying warm or swatting mosquitoes.

A few weeks ago I was reading To the Bright Edge of the World, Eowyn Ivey's upcoming novel about a late-1800s expedition into Alaska, when it dawned on me that I'd read quite a few books set in Alaska over the last couple months. There is Dave Egger's novel Heroes of the Frontier, published in late July, about a dentist who loads her two kids into an RV bound for the great Alaskan wilderness. There's Blair Bravermann's Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube—also published in July—which is a nonfiction account that, as pointed out by Amazon's Penny Mann, appeals to our dreams of escape into the wilderness. There's also Wolf Road, our spotlight pick for last month's Best Books of the Month, which isn't set in Alaska (it seems to be set in British Columbia)—and although it's technically a post-apocalyptic novel, the book has the fundamentals of a wilderness survival story. It certainly fits in with the others.

It could be that what I'm noticing is just part of the White Fang, Alaska, Into the Wild continuum that has been happening for a hundred years. But this feels different to me. It feels more current. It feels like post-post-apocalyptic literature. Or maybe even pre-apocalyptic.

So here's a list of current and past books set in and around Alaska... just in case you're looking to escape your hectic world without requiring the world to come to an end first.

 

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