When I was reading Solstice, I found myself discussing the post-apocalypse with a friend of mine. As we talked, we both acknowledged that watching the human race rise up from its own ashes had a lot of entertainment potential, even though we both have very different ideas about how we’d like to see that happen. I’m more a fan of the gritty survival dance, whereas my friend seems to favor the idea of man undergoing some kind of social or spiritual evolution.
Either way, it occurred to me that every single tale of the post-apocalypse can ultimately be boiled down to a single image: that of a child climbing back on a bike after taking a fall.
Look at it this way, the human race is at once naive and ambitious. We’re the people who built the Titanic, the Tower of Babel and a host of other monuments to both our own talents and our inability to really imagine failure. It’s ego, sure, but maybe it’s also the kind of innocent optimism all good childhoods are founded upon.
Either way, we’ve had a pretty good run on this planet, apart from an ice age and a certain plague that swept through Europe a few centuries ago. Today we can travel faster than a speeding scream. We can reach out to other worlds and communicate across vast distances without delay. We live in an amazing age where everything we’ve done has only one thing that can outshine it: everything we will do.
If you squint at us just right, you might see we’re kind of like a kid on the first good day of the year, sitting astride the shiny new bicycle we got over the winter. Mankind, grinning like the happiest kid on the block. We push off, start to peddle and at first everything seems to work out. This is easy! We see Sally Taylor standing across the street and she’s watching us! Really watching!
Then something tilts. Maybe we jog the handlebars too quick, or we’re spending too much time watching Sally. Either way, ass over teakettle we go, straight into the pavement. There’s blood, there are tears, there’s a tangle of metal around us as we sit on the ground and, more importantly, there’s a choice to make.
What do we do next?
Do we get up and kick the infernal machine? Do we let loose with a torrent of anger and take out all that pain and embarrassment on the bike that sent us into the ground? Do we maybe run off to our room, some place of sanctuary and hide in fear? Do we just give up?
I think everyone is rooting for us to get back on the bike, give it another go and overcome the challenge put in front of us, but that’s not always how it works. Some kids take a while to get back on the seat and peddling again. And even if they do jump right back on the bike, there’s bound to be another spill or two along the way.
If that doesn’t sound like every tale of the post-apocalypse, I don’t know what does.
At some level, I believe this image resonates within all of us when we read or watch a story about what comes after the end. It’s a harmonic of the fundamental frequency. Mankind has fallen, what do we do now?
Maybe that’s why these stories are so popular.