Things That Don't Suck
, Some Notes on The Stand
I recently reread The Stand for no particular reason other than I felt like it. I'm honestly not sure how many time[s] I've read it at this point, more than three, less than a half dozen (though I can clearly remember my first visit to that horrifyingly stripped bare world as I can remember the first reading of all the truly great King stories). It's not my favorite of King's work, but it is arguably his most richly and completely imagined. It truly is the American Lord of The Rings, with the concerns of England (Pastorialism vs. Industrialism, Germany's tendency to try and blow it up every thirty years or so) replaced by those of America (Religion, the omnipresent struggle between our liberal and libertarian ideals, our fear of and dependence on the military, racial and gender tension) and given harrowing size.
I'm happy to say that The Stand holds up well past the bounds of nostalgia and revisiting the world and these characters was as pleasurable as ever. But you can't step in the same river twice, even when you're revisiting a favorite book. Even if the river hasn't changed you have. This isn't meant as any kind of comprehensive essay on The Stand. Just a couple of things I noticed upon dipping my toes in the river this time.
[Spoiler alert: assume everything, from the link above to those below, contains SPOILERS.] [more inside]
Dystopian storytelling is pillar of Western narrative tradition
, but this decade has seen a significant shift in the way our apocalypse is told. Orthodox tales of government tyranny
are giving way to visions of humans running helpless
in the wake of environmental meltdown
. From the plausible to the fantastic
, most of this fiction remains hauntingly real while the non-fiction can get downright scary
. In 2008, the 20th anniversary of climatologist James Hansen's landmark speech before Congress
, popular art is beginning to reflect an increasingly bleak public sentiment on the future, playing out some of our worst nightmares. It may be that these writers and directors are wishing for the end of the world
, but even so, they are certainly giving voice to the creeping feeling that indeed, we might not make it.
On Sundays West Coast Live
I heard an interview with Adam Johnson, the author of Parasites Like Us
, a post-apocalyptic novel with a decidedly (if somewhat spurious) anthropological bent. Literary criticism aside, as an anthropologist myself (and die-hard sci-fi reader), it got me thinking of what our vaunted Western culture may have to offer the survivors of whatever catastrophe may befall our civilization in the future.
From classic novels like Earth Abides
, or even The Stand
, writers and storytellers have tried to discern what may be the surviving aspects of culture once all else fails; what it is that has made and defines us as modern humans, and perhaps what it is that will sustain us.
So, what is it that would sustain you? What would separate you from the crazed and the mad that seem to populate the annals of post-apocalyptic literature? Or perhaps more specifically, what is it that you value of your culture and your technology that makes it worthwhile to maintain and perhaps fight your way back to?