This next guest post is from Ron Welch, blogger and author at Theradlands.com . Ron is a purveyor of all things wasteland. That is, to say he is a sort of aficionado of a fictional post apocalyptic, post nuclear war Earth. A planet completely devastated by nuclear war, civilization reduced to rubble, radiation pollution, the whole works! Think of the world of Mad Max or Fallout and you will get the idea.
I reached out to Ron after reading some of his well written and interesting posts and realized that I hadn’t really focused nearly enough on the so far fictional wasteland. The idea of the wasteland is prominent throughout all types of post apocalyptic fiction and it certainly deserves a place here!
I really enjoyed reading Ron’s insightful commentary. He actually puts the wasteland in a new sort of perspective that I hadn’t really considered before. Please enjoy his article and make sure to follow him on Twitter @The_radlands and visit his site theradlands.com . Thanks Ron!
The Power of Post-Nuclear Fiction
by Ron Welch
Post-nuclear fiction is unique; it captivates us with tales of inhumanity, survival, and occasionally grotesque mutations. Although each writer creates a different post-nuclear world, there are always a handful of similarities throughout to define the genre and keep the audience anchored into the setting. Because a post-nuclear world necessarily requires advanced technology, the genre finds itself at a crossroad between sci-fi and fantasy, utilizing the social commentary of the former with the fantasticism of the latter.
From Mad Max to Fallout, post-nuclear worlds are generally rooted in techno-feudalism. Great leaders rise to power, protecting slaves and serfs from the horrors of the wasteland. Typically, walled villages are mandatory to keep out monsters (both human and beast). Bandits and raiders are present in every wasteland incarnation, similar to pirates in both sci-fi and fantasy. Although outwardly techno-feudalism outwardly looks identical to traditional feudalism, where it diverges in post-nuclear fiction is at the means of collecting resources. Traditional feudalism is rooted in farming and the production of resources. Techno-feudalism is rooted in the scavenging of resources, both for convenience and because the secret to advanced (and even primitive) technology is lost on uneducated wastelanders. Scavenging is key to the setting.
While exploring the wasteland, scavengers often come across pockets of radiation. In reality, radiation from nuclear weapons dissipates after a few months. In fiction, radiation is used as a placeholder for magic (again calling on traditional fantasy). Mutants (both human and beast), psychic powers, and unexplained anomalies are engrained in post-nuclear fiction.
From the burnpit screamers in A Boy and His Dog to Ghouls, mutants have been critical to the success of the post-nuclear genre. The existence of these creatures captures our imagination in a way that fantasy monsters and sci-fi aliens cannot. Mutants, by their nature, rely on body horror. Generally, mutant designs are just a twist on something that already exists. For example, the Fallout franchise combined dogs and men into centaurs. The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise has grotesque chimera and pseudogiants. A handful of franchises go a step further, adding sentient mutant races to interact with humans, filling a roll similar to Elves and Dwarves in fantasy or aliens in sci-fi. Mutants are engaging, as they encourage the audience to think about what other animals would look like in the setting.
Although less common than mutants, some post-nuclear settings also include psychic powers. This again calls back to the cross between sci-fi and fantasy. Psychic powers are effectively sci-fi magic. The difference is that mutant powers are often sporadic and uncontrolled (see Psykers in Warhammer 40k or Dark Ones in Metro 2033). Likewise, some settings (specifically S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Metro 2033) have anomalies that split from traditional radioactive horror and merge toward something more mysterious and occasionally spiritual. Anomalies rarely have a scientific explanation (even a super-scientific explanation that works within the universe), but they reflect something critical to the genre. After a nuclear war, the world will never be the same again.
In many ways post-nuclear fiction is similar to sci-fi and fantasy. They all reflect societies where governments are loose, territorial, or non-existent. They all have monsters, but the manner in which those monsters express themselves through design and intelligence varies widely. All of these things help the audience to better connect with the genre, because although fictional, it is rooted in reality. The locations are the same, but they are presented in through the filter of destruction and radioactive horror. Given the opportunity, post-nuclear fiction can define the post-apocalyptic genre the same way Tolkien defined fantasy and Frank Herbert defined sci-fi.
What do you think makes the post-nuclear genre unique? Tell us in the comments!