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What Is Apocalyptic Fiction?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Apocalyptic fiction is a term used to describe stories dealing with the end of civilization, usually due to some kind of catastrophe. Most of these stories fit into the science fiction genre, at least to some extent, but they can also bring in fantastical elements. Some apocalyptic stories focus on the lead-up to a disaster, while in other cases, the stories are more focused on the efforts of people to survive after something terrible happens. Apocalyptic fiction can be a genre unto itself, but there are also situations where apocalyptic themes have been sprinkled into other genres for dramatic purposes.

From the human perspective, many apocalyptic stories tend to deal with the difficulties of survival. In many of these tales, a catastrophe causes civilization to crumble into a primitive state, and people have difficulty finding basic things like food and shelter. There is also often a focus on the destruction of the social order with roving gangs and a change to a medieval type of society where strength is the only path to power.

Other apocalyptic stories tend to focus on the attempts of people to prevent a disaster. In these cases, the disaster is a looming threat creating tension as people scramble to find some kind of solution. These stories might focus on powerful figures like leaders of countries or military commanders, and they might also juxtapose scenes including these lofty figures with stories of regular people doing everything they can to survive.

Stories dealing with the apocalypse often focus thematically on the dangers of men destroying themselves through their own creations. Many of the stories could be described as cautionary tales about the potential dangers of an over-reliance on technology or the consequences of tampering with the natural order of things. Others may deal with war and the dangers associated with powerful weapons. Authors often use these themes as a way of mixing entertainment with social or political commentary.

Natural disasters are another common occurrence in apocalyptic fiction. There are many stories with meteors striking Earth or climate changes that wipe out much of the planet’s ecosystem. These stories are often designed to show mankind’s inability to control the forces of nature, and some may contain political messages urging people to try living in greater harmony with the environment.

Although most apocalyptic fiction tends to fall into the science fiction category, there are some stories that might mix in supernatural occurrences. Some of these have a religious bent, while others may actually drift more into the fantasy genre. In many cases, these stories also use the apocalyptic elements to make a social or political point. For example, a religious apocalyptic story may be designed to urge a change in moral behavior by showcasing the potential spiritual consequences of evil.

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Discussion Comments
By KoiwiGal — On May 25, 2014

The best apocalyptic science fiction I've ever read was probably "When the Wind Blows" by Raymond Briggs. It's a graphic novel about a couple who live briefly through a nuclear war in England and it is extremely realistic and sad. I think they made a film about it as well.

By pleonasm — On May 24, 2014

@croydon - Often it is supposed to be our world, just so far in the future that it's difficult to tell. The Hunger Games, for example is supposed to be based in the USA but just years after global warming has transformed the landmasses.

I think apocalyptic fiction books set in the near future or the present are harder to write, because you can't just make stuff up. You've got to try and get it to be realistic or people won't believe in your catastrophe.

By croydon — On May 23, 2014

I have to confess that I really love apocalyptic fiction. I particularly like the kind that really explores what happens during the disaster and afterwards as well. I remember reading Children of the Dust when I was a teenager and being blown away by it. It's about what would happen if there was a nuclear war and how the human race might adapt afterwards to the radiation and scarcity.

I'm glad it seems to have come back into fashion, although it seems to have moved more into the idea of dystopias without necessarily being connected to our world.

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