Here’s a word that’s both specific and open-ended at once: apocalypse. A vast majority of people from all walks of life agree that, at some point, the world as we know it will end. It’s a concept embedded into our religious imagery, our political hyperbole, and our art, and as we learn increasingly more about our natural environment and the effects humans are having on it, it’s become an all-too-real theme in our science too. Exactly how we will meet humanity’s collective “end,” though, is where the theories branch out to reflect the great diversity of our world. We’re all just guessing. And we’ve had a lot of time to think about it.
All this means that apocalyptic writing is one of the liveliest genres in all of literature. The spectrum encompasses anything from John Milton’s cosmic imagery to countless young-adult series about what the world might look like once The Event happens, whatever it may be. And those are aesthetically very different than some of the most thought-provoking nonfiction writing, from science writers, theologians, and others. It’s a topic for young and old audiences, “serious” readers and those looking for a good thriller.
The “when” fuels the genre, too. Things always tend to pick up when we have a date in the near future that enough people agree will surely be the end. In 1999, the incoming millennium was treated by many authors as the End of Days, as was the foreboding date in 2012 that aligned with the end of the Mayan calendar. The apocalypse is the ultimate renewable resource for speculative writing: we’re all certain that in one way or another it’s coming, providing the urgency our imaginations crave, and yet the canvas is wide open.
Perhaps most importantly, our apocalypse theories often represent the most striking way of talking about our worldviews, our insecurities, and our truths. What are we scared of? What, at our cores, gives us the most comfort? So naturally, this type of writing promises to be of interest: it’s based on writers asking themselves the toughest questions, and teasing out their answers in the most vibrant way possible.
Some of Rain Taxi’s best reviews of apocalypse literature:
The Apocalypse Reader edited by Justin Taylor (Spring 2008, Online) reviewed by Spencer Dew.
Serpent of Light by Drunvalo Melchizedek, Beyond 2012 by James Endredy, and 2012 by Daniel Pinchbeck (Spring 2008, Online) reviewed by Kelly Everding.
The Sea Came in at Midnight by Steve Erickson (Winter 1999, Online) reviewed by Aidan Baker.