In New York City, superstorm Sandy knocked more than a few of us for a loop last week--or worse, destroyed homes and lives. Destructive as the storm was, we can still imagine worse--and we have, as the following fictional imaginings of disaster by some amazing authors show. Have you missed any of these books and movies? Time to catch up!
Sandy's flooding caused most of the sorrow, and it turns out that water plays a big part in more than a few dystopian titles. Cat's Cradle, a 1964 novel by Kurt Vonnegut, one of the all-time great American writers of tragedy, comedy, and irony, portrays a world that winds up frozen when all the world's water turns to "ice-nine," or rock-solid H20 at regular temperatures. J. G. Ballard's 1965 The Drought concerns ocean pollution and water shortages, while the three volumes of Richard Cowper'sThe White Bird of Kinship (first title: A Dream of Kinship, 1978) center on a society two millennia in the future, after the greenhouse effect has made the ocean levels rise worldwide.
Science fiction greats Ursula K. Le Guin and Frank Herbert each have written post-apocalyptic titles: Le Guin's Always Coming Home won the Kafka Award in 1985 and was a runner-up for the National Book Award. It postulates a fascinating society in Northern California called the Kesh, who use some advanced technology but reject other aspects of our modern world; Herbert's book The White Plague is straight-up post-plague apocalypse fiction, the titular disease triggered by revenge for a terrorist attack. Both were published just about three decades ago, in the 1980s, Herbert's in 1982 and Le Guin's in 1985.
But for those who live in Lower Manhattan and other areas that were deprived of electricity by the storm, two narratives in particular stand out for their resonance with what our downtown landscape was like without lights:
I Am Legend (and Other Stories), by Twilight Zone veteran Richard Matheson, and the more obscure but quite fascinating The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, a 1959 science fiction flick starring Harry Belafonte, a wildly popular star at the time.
The 1950s Belafonte movie was based on a combination of a novel and a short story, while the Matheson tale became the basis of not one but three movies, each of which attracted major star power: Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price (1964), The Omega Man with Charlton Heston (1971), and I Am Legend (2007), filmed in New York City with the immensely well-liked Will Smith.
What books and movies did Sandy call to mind for you? Imagining disasters is one way we scare ourselves, but sometime nature does the job for us. Let's hope disasters stay fictional, and may we all be able to curl up, stay warm, and be safe with a good book.
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