It’s the end of the world as we know it — but is that necessarily a bad thing? While most apocalyptic stories depict humanity struggling in the aftermath of a huge disaster, some post-apocalyptic worlds seem like they might be a nice place to spend a vacation, free from the stresses of modern life.
Brian Aldiss coined the term “cosy catastrophe” to describe apocalyptic stories where the world is quietly depopulated, a few nice, middle class people survive, and the emphasis is on rebuilding civilization. But while some cosy catastrophes still involve wars between survivors or monsters constantly trying to eat you, others seem, well, perfectly nice. If you’re not overly fond of people, you might even want to live in some of these post-apocalyptic stories. (But maybe not the zombie one.)
A plague may have hit the North America of The Last Man on Earth, but you wouldn’t know it to look at the show. There are no dead bodies around and everything is relatively clean (save for the toilet pool). There is no real threat to our survivors as they spend their days lounging in abandoned Tucson McMansions, raiding the local shops, and drinking around the fire pit. Plus, Phil had the foresight to decorate his home with priceless artifacts and works of art.
Really, the only downside is having to live with Phil Miller, who is a pathological liar. But he’s a minor nuisance in an otherwise low-key post-apocalypse.
Adventure Time is set on a version of Earth so badly damaged that it looks like someone took a bite out of it. But the Land of Ooo seems, on the whole, a pretty nice place to live. Sure, the planet’s actual apocalyptic events, including the Mushroom War, were pretty horrific, but in the following centuries, the Land of Ooo became the realm of visual delights it is today. It may not be a perfect world — it has its share of monsters and tyrants — but it’s still a place where cool dudes like Finn and Jake can be happy.
In Hitoshi Ashinano’s manga, humanity is in its twilight — and it’s actually rather peaceful. The sea levels have risen, and the last humans have gathered together to enjoy a simple existence. The comics follow Alpha, a gynoid who works at a remote coffee shop and who occasionally reflects that she will witness humanity’s demise. In the meantime, however, she has very gentle adventures, forming a family of people who also enjoy this quiet new life and admiring the view at the end of the world.
There are a lot of so-called “cosy catastrophes” where the Earth is suddenly depopulated, but the following years are marked by violence and/or oppression (think Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, OT Nelson’s The Girl Who Owned a City, and a whole lot of John Wyndham’s stories). In George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides, however, the main concern is rebuilding civilization. Stewart’s protagonist, ecologist Isherwood Williams, watches the world adapt to the loss of humanity in the wake of a plague and also sees the rise of a new, smaller civilization. Not everyone manages to survive that first, harsh winter, but those with the tools and self-sufficiency do just fine.
Although Ish recognizes that the old American culture is gone, one where superstition is more common than literacy, he also wonders if the new civilization is better off for losing some of our nastier habits.
Sometimes what we think of as an “apocalypse” isn’t so much the end of civilization as the start of a new one, and in the anime Space Dandy, this happens in the grossest, goofiest way possible. After a run-in with a zombified alien, the crew of the Aloha Oe becomes similarly undead. Through a weird set of circumstances (involving insurance companies pissed that zombies are living off their life insurance), every sentient being in the universe becomes zombified (even the robots). Yes, everyone’s technically dead and they spend an awful lot of time in malls, but now that every single species in existence can be classified as “zombie,” there is universal harmony and no more war. Fortunately, it turns out that zombies can subsist on yogurt.
Here’s a post-apocalyptic story with a very distinct point of view. The apocalypse hits in Ardath Mayhar’s The World Ends in Hickory Hollow after bombs wipe out Western civilization. Zack and Lucinda Unger don’t even notice at first. The couple traded city life for a farm in East Texas where they turned to a life of relative self-sufficiency and communion with nature. For them, the only sign that something has gone awry is that the power in their farmhouse has gone out.
The world might be over and the power might be out, but civilization doesn’t come close to collapsing in Hickory Hollow. In fact, life goes on pretty much as before, save that neighbors lean on each other a bit more. Sure, looters start coming in from other towns, but this book is optimistic enough to think that a well-prepared society, one that focuses on practical skills and neighborliness, would handily fend invaders off.
What happens when you have God guiding your post-apocalyptic civilization? Stephen King’s The Stand puts the “deus” in “deus ex machina” after most of humanity contracts an illness known as Captain Trips and dies off. The “good” survivors receive prophetic dreams guiding them to Boulder, Colorado, where they set up a new civilization based on collaboration, hard work, and democracy. Life would be pretty perfect if it weren’t for those sinister survivors living in Las Vegas under Randall Flagg. Fortunately for the Boulder-dwellers, God has a plan for those folks, too. (Edit: A lot of people think the task of clearing out dead bodies disqualifies this one, but I stand by it and its optimistic citizenry.)
Speculative series and movies like Life After People and Aftermath: Population Zero are a friendly reminder that when we say the “end of the world,” we’re usually referring to the end of human civilization. Life After People tries to imagine what would happen to the world after humans vanish and are no longer able to maintain our creations, consume resources, create waste, or otherwise interact with the world. While some of the artifacts we leave behind (weapons, chemicals, and the like) would cause immense damage, the show also imagines nature eventually reclaiming the human corners of the world. It’s a striking thought, even if none of us will be around to witness it.