by Raymond M. Coulombe
Oh boy, is there are lot of post apocalyptic S/F stories out there or what? I must admit,for a number of years, I read a lot of it. There are some great stories by really good authors. If you want to read a real classic in the genre I recommend Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.
Of course, anything Niven and Pournelle produce is going to be well written. They are masters of the trade. The premise of the story is that there is a civilization ending comet strike. It’s a wise choice as the destruction happens fast and is widespread. They avoid a lot of the pitfalls of the genre by having a fast and hard collapse.
Here’s the thing that drives me nuts. Take a story that’s set many years after a disaster. Civilization is in ruins. However, they all go around riding gasoline burning vehicles and shooting automatic weapons with wild abandon.
The first problem is that gasoline doesn’t store all that well. The current formulations break down in a matter of months. That’s why if you park a lawnmower full of gas in the fall, it will be tough to start in the spring. There are additives that can stretch it out a bit, but it won’t be usable gas ten years down the line.
Then there are parts like radiator hoses, gas lines, brake lines, and tires that also break down over time. I’m in the process of restoring a motorcycle that’s been parked for fifteen years and a lot of stuff has to replaced. It’s a big job. In a post apocalyptic world, with no new parts, vehicles will not be running.
How about all the automatic weapons? Sure, militaries use automatic weapons and shoot an awful lot of bullets. They also have a huge supply line feeding them a steady stream of consumables. There’s a whole industrial infrastructure supporting those guys in the field.
If you want to write post apocalyptic fiction there’s two ways to go. There’s the Lucifer’s Hammer way of a big fast disaster where the modern machines of our age still work. Another way is to seriously dial back the technology. Put your troops on horseback and arm them with flintlock rifles. Black powder isn’t too hard to manufacture and muzzle loading rifles can be built with hand tools using salvaged metals.
It might be tempting to go all Road Warrior, and that’s fine, but it’s Fantasy, not S/F.
Don’t even get me started on The Walking Dead.