4 October 2017 — 1227 mdt
Puerto Rico’s predicament resembles a doomer novel’s plotline
There’s a genre of literature known as Doomer Fiction. Part science fiction, part political fiction, it depicts what happens when an apocalyptic disaster, either natural or human caused, brings about The End of the World As We Know It. In some scenarios, tens of millions die in nuclear blasts. In others, they die from pandemics, from wildfires that scorch millions of square miles, from a deoxygenated atmosphere, from rising seas, or from famine. But all share a common theme: the disintegration of civil society. Governments collapse, scarcity sets neighbor against neighbor, the law of the jungle rules, and those who survive do so because they have guns, gold, grit, and faith in God.
The modern granddaddy of the genre is Pat Frank’s classic, Alas Babylon, set in central Florida in the nineteen-fifties. After a multi-megaton exchange with the USSR kills millions and leaves vast areas of the nation uninhabitable, the residents of Fort Repose, led by Randy Bragg, an attorney and reserve Army officer, must overcome shortages of food and medicine, and roving gangs of murderous scavengers.
Frank, an accomplished novelist and drinker who often was sober, wrote Alas Babylon to sober Americans to the realities of nuclear war:
I have an acquaintance, a retired manufacturer, a practical man, who has recently become worried about international tensions, intercontinental missiles, H-bombs, and such.
One day, knowing that I had sone some writing on military subjects, he asked, “What do you think would happen if the Russkies hit us when we weren’t look — you know, like Pearl Harbor?”
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It was a big question. I gave him a horseback opinion, which proved conservative compared with some of the official forecasts published later. I said, “Oh, I think they’d kill fifty or sixty million Americans — but I think we’d win the war.”
He thought this over and said, “Wow!. Fifty or sixty million dead! What a depression that would make!”
I doubt if he realized the exact nature and extent of the depression — which is why I am writing this book.
Alas Babylon served as the template for William Forstchen’s 2011 novel, One Second After, forward by Newt Gingrich, in which civilization goes to hell after terrorists detonate two H-bombs over midAmerica, producing an electromagnetic pulse that fries the nation’s electronics and power grid. One Second After provided Gingrich with valuable publicity for his 2012 try for the Republican Presidential nomination, but it did not provide a valuable contribution to any body of literature.
Pat Frank wrote Alas Babylon for a social purpose as well as for money. Most of today’s doomer fiction that I’ve read was written for money, both from sales of the books and sales of associated items such as two-year supplies of freeze-dried food and manuals for staying alive when The Shit Hits the Fan.
What hit Puerto Rico, of course, was a pair of devastating hurricanes that knocked out the electrical grid, wrecked roads and bridges, and ripped apart homes built to a flimsy standard typical of the tropics. The violence of the storms, the damage they wrought, and the difficulty the bankrupt island’s government is experiencing in responding, would make a powerfully convincing first chapter in a doomer novel premised on an end to civilization caused by apocalyptic weather born of global warming.
Puerto Rico won’t disintegrate into a neighbor killing neighbor for a bucket of water dystopia. The island’s government is stressed, and not functioning at a high level, but it is functioning. And help from the mainland has arrived and will continue to arrive. A full recovery, however, will take years. And until potable water and reliable electricity is restored to everyone, hardships will remain, as will the risk of outbreaks of diseases.
One result of Puerto Rico’s plight may be an outbreak of doomer novels in which Category 6 hurricanes precipitate The End of the World As We Know It. Another, more useful, but perhaps less entertaining, may be a re-evaluation of the standard recommendation to be ready for disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and tropical cyclones, by laying in a three-day supply of food, water, and medicine. Based on the Cascadia Rising Drill last year, Pacific Northwest disaster agencies now recommend an emergency kit that’s good for two weeks. At this point, I’m compromising on a one-week supply of food, water, medicine, and associated supplies, and laying in enough reading material, a doomer novel or two included, to keep my mind occupied while I wait for the calvary’s arrival.