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Exorcising our Fears About the End of the World as We Know It

Whether they are told in movies or in books, I've always loved post-apocalyptic or dystopian stories. I'm drawn to characters whose lives are a struggle of our own making. For me, it began with George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and continued with Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. As a side note, "Aldous" means "of the old house." What an interesting juxtaposition, author name and title.

Lately, I've enjoyed Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam series: Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam set in a used-up and befouled future where we've spliced the world's genetic material to the point of peril. Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven and Justin Cronin's The Passage and The Twelve riveted me with stories of life after plague. AMC gets me on the couch on Sunday nights to watch a dwindling human race battle zombies on The Walking Dead.

Why the preoccupation? some people ask (especially my mother).

I think every generation spends time coming to grips with the things that could emerge to irrevocably change the world. In my parents' adolescence it was visitors from outer space. My dad, to this day, is a huge Sci-Fi fan, preferring the vintage paperbacks of his youth. For my generation, (and the one prior and the one after) it was nuclear war. We grew up during the Cold War when the risk of a nuclear strike was considerable. Life was tense. Really tense. Remember when The Day After aired in 1983? A quick check of Wikipedia calls it "the highest-rated television film in history." Did anyone sleep after watching that? In the light of day, bleary eyed, I arrived at my grade seven homeroom to find the class already in deep discussion about the TV movie, and our teacher shared that he thought there would definitely be a nuclear war in our lifetime. I probably didn't eat lunch that day. Then came the fears of pandemics and environmental disasters. Those are still with us.

So, it's no surprise to me that there are several generations of writers at work typing furiously about characters facing impossible odds in end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenarios and surviving. We root for the characters we write because we probably spent a lot of time wondering what we might do if it ever happened . . . whatever "it" was: a nuclear war, an outbreak of something hideously deadly, or a sudden global weather crisis.

My series in progress, Spin, Measure, and Cut, takes place in a Toronto where SARS got the upper hand, the economy tanked, and crime filled in the gaps. I like to take breaks from that by writing another series about a Beverly Hills struggling actress and dog walker. It's a nice balance.

It makes me wonder what the trends will be twenty years from now. What boogeymen are my children facing that they will exorcise through their keyboards or their entertainment choices? I'm not making fun here, well, maybe a little, but I bet there will be more than a few books about global cellular network outages.

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