I struggle with the apocalypse.
I can’t wait for it to get started, for one thing. Floating cities. Thunderdomes. Roving bands of cannibals. Time enough at last. Mutants. A lot of people say that they were born too late, that they were meant to live in Victorian England or ’60s Paris. I was born to early. I was meant to live through the End of Times.
See, I’ve been writing this story. In my head for years, and with actual words on screen for…years. It’s a novel, maybe, called For A Dying Planet. Or The Herald. Or something better, I hope. And it’s pretty post-apocalyptic. Awesome, because that’s one of my favorite settings. Not so awesome, because the post-apocalypse (or dystopian civilization that rise from the ashes) is definitely the most popular setting for science fiction stories these days.
How am I going to come up with a take on it that hasn’t been done and done to death?
I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Godlike artificial intelligence (which has been done). Terrifying genetic experiments (done). Borderline unlivable alien planets (done, done, done). Youthful female protagonist (so done, but probably still not done enough). A post-Rapture Catholic Church that’s barely recognizable yet still stubbornly the same (yes, done. In other news, done.) So yeah, a lot of ideas that maybe aren’t brand spanking new.
But what is new anyway? It’s the Hip-Hop era, ya’ll, also known as Postmodernism (Modernism, we hardly knew ye), and there’s nothing original under the sun. So say we all. Now that the internet exists, creativity means sifting through the rubble, shaking off the dust, and reassembling the pieces into something shockingly new. Basically, I’m hoping to create the upside-down urinal of post-collapse space opera science fiction novels. That’s cool, right?
Yeah, that’s what I tell myself when I rock myself to sleep at night wondering if I’ve ever had an original thought in my whole life.
The unnamed protagonist of Ben Passmore’s Daygloayhole (issue 1, issue 2) is much more mellow about the whole affair. A spiritual nephew of The Dude, our hero eases into the end of the world like an old man into a hot bath. His apocalypse is full of tropes and cliches, to be sure, but they’re dismissed with a shrug. What else would you expect from a culture that gave us so many American Idol ripoffs and NKOTB clones? Even the apocalypse is another consumer good dreamed up by eggheads at Proctor & Gamble.
Diametrically opposed to this world view is No Limitz, an oogle for whom the new world is the ultimate punk rock challenge to be conquered, one giant cybernetic death worm at a time.
Even though the setting of this comic is deliberately unoriginal in many ways, the characters are refreshingly new. And that was the biggest lesson I took away from Passmore’s book: the most lavish and mind-bending settings are deathly boring without interesting fully-realized characters to inhabit them. By the same token, even a setting that has been used a thousand times can come wildly alive when a character reacts to it in interesting ways.
That’s why I’m going to stop worrying so much about whether the technology, settings, and even plot mechanics of my novel have been used before ad nauseum, and just focus on getting deeper inside the brains of my characters. Because there’s no chance that my take on a desert planet in a state of decay will surprise and astonish anyone, there’s a good chance that exploring the choices and emotions of a realistic character in that environment will surprise even me.
Special thanks to Ben Passmore for sending me the links to his comic and giving me a few minutes of his time at CAKE this year. You should go buy some comics from Mr. Passmore’s store, or check him out at the upcoming RIPExpo in Providence, Rhode Island.