Remembrance Day 2013

lest-we-forgetIt goes by many names the world over. In Canada, Britain and Australia, we call it Remembrance Day. In the United States, it’s called by Veteran’s Day. In New Zealand, France, Belgium and Serbia, it’s known as Armistice Day. And to the Polish, it’s Independence Day since the end of World War I was also the occasion when their country achieved statehood.

Interestingly enough, the war that it originally commemorates also goes by many names. To those who fought in it, it was the Great War, but also the “War to end all wars”, as no one who lived through it could fathom that any nation would ever go to war again. And to those who have went to war again just 27 years later, it would come to be known as World War I or the First World War.

remembrance-day-poemRegardless of the name, November 11 is a day when people the world over come together to mark one of the worst periods in our history, celebrate those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and reflect upon the terrible lessons that were learned. And while it is easy to look upon the world and imagine that we’ve learned nothing, I choose to believe otherwise.

When the world went to war in August of 1914, the news was greeted with general elation for those involved. In Berlin, Paris and London, crowds emerged to celebrate the fact that their nations were mobilizing against their enemies. In Canada, people readily volunteered to serve overseas and “fight the Hun”. The propaganda mills of every nation were running overtime, stoking the fervor of war, claiming rightness, and that God was on their side.

Royal_Irish_Rifles_ration_party_Somme_July_1916Four years later, few retained these romantic notions of war. Those who survived the carnage were known as “The Lost Generation”, and those born after the war entered into a world struggling to leave the memory behind and get back to normal. When war was once again declared in 1939, few were enthused, and the general attitude was one o fear.

In fact, part of the reason “Appeasement” – the strategy of giving in to Hitler’s demands, or accommodating Japanese and Italian expansion in Africa and East Asia – was permitted was because no one wanted a repeat of the last war. Even in the Axis nations of Germany, Japan, and Italy, the general public entered the war only reluctantly, convinced they had no choice and fearful for how it might turn out.

Berlin-1945_croppedSix years, 70 million lives, 1600 cities, and several attempted genocides later, the victorious nations of the world once again came together with the common goal of lasting world peace, human rights and economic development. This was embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Court of Justice, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group.

Despite the prevailing mood that a new “Cold War” was already brewing between east and west, the word’s “Never Again” were spoken by people on all sides. After two World Wars and the near total-destruction of many nations, it was understood that the world would not be able to endure a third. Somehow, and despite the arms race of the latter of the half of the 20th century, peace would endure.

Cuban-missile-crisis-photo-from-Oct-29-1962Lucky for all of us, the Cold War ended some two decades ago and the specter of World War III with it. While many wars took place during the intervening period and there were a few close calls (The Cuban Missile Crisis being foremost), a nuclear crisis was continually avoided because all sides understood that no one would emerge the victor.

Today, wars still rage in the underdeveloped regions of the world and even amongst the so-called “developed” nations – the rational ranging from fighting extremism to trying to foster nation building. Nevertheless, I can’t help but look back today and think that those who died and sacrificed so much taught us something invaluable and enduring.

nuclear1Sure, the Great War did not end all wars, nor did those that followed it. But with every mistake, with every new sacrifice, with every new conflict, surely we have learned something. Were it not for the UN and the spirit multilateralism the prevailed after the Second World War, World War III may have been unavoidable, and might still be a possibility.

And while there were still wars between proxy nations during the Cold War, Korea and Vietnam taught us the futility of political conflicts, a lesson which helped end the Iraq War sooner and with less loss of life than would have otherwise been possible. These sentiments have since been applied to the war in Afghanistan and the drone wars, two more unpopular campaigns that are sure to end in the near future as well.

holocaustWhat’s more, the genocide of the Jewish, Roma and Slavic peoples all across Europe taught us the evils of ethnic cleansing and man’s capacity for hate, lessons which have helped us confront and combat genocide in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Darfur, East Timor and elsewhere. They have also forced us to contemplate genocides which have taken place on our soil, in Australia, Canada, the US and Latin America.

To look at the state of the world today, it is easy to grow cynical and say that we’ve learned nothing. But when you consider that fact that we no longer live in a world where total war is seen as glorious, where two superpowers are aiming nuclear-tipped missiles at each other, and where aggression and genocide are actively ignored or accommodated, you begin to appreciate what we have and who made it possible.

Vimy RidgeBut most importantly of all, to say we’ve learned nothing is to disrespect those who made the ultimate sacrifice, not to mention those who came home forever changed and scarred. For these veterans, servicemen and women, and people who risked life and limb to ensure that war would bring peace, that people would remain free, and that greater evils would not be allowed to prevail, saying “it was all in vain” renders what they did for the rest of us meaningless.

With that in mind, I’m very happy to announce that next year, in April of 2014, my family and I will be visiting Europe to witness the Centennial of World War I. While we’re there, we will be visiting the grave sites of those who died overseas, several battlefield from the First and Second World War, and will bear witness to one of the greatest historic events in our lifetimes.

My father made the trip once before and remarked with awe how to people over there, the wars are not something that are commemorated once a year, but on a regular basis. But next year, it is expected to be especially poignant as people from all over the globe converge on Flanders to pay their respects. I expect it to be very eye-opening, and you can expect to be hearing about it the moment I get back!

A sober and reflective Remembrance Day to you all. Peace.

remembrance_day___poppy_day_by_daliscar

Nukemap 3D: Bringing Nuclear War to your Home!

nukemap3Ever wonder what it would look like if a thermonuclear device hit your hometown? Yeah, me neither! But let’s pretend for a moment that this is something you’ve actually considered… sicko! There’s an online browser-based program for that! It’s called Nukemap3D, and uses a Google Earth plug in to produce a set of graphics that show the effects of a nuclear weapon on your city of choice.

All you have to do is pick your target, select your favorite thermonuclear device, and you can see an animated mushroom cloud rising over ground zero. The creator was Dr. Alex Wellerstein, an Associate Historian at the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland, who specializes in the history of nuclear weapons and nuclear secrecy.

nukemap3-1Interestingly enough, Wellerstein’s inspiration for developing Nukemap 3D came from his experience of trying to teach about the history of nuclear weapons to undergraduates. As people who had completely missed the Cold War, these students naturally didn’t think about the prospect of nuclear war much, and had little to no cultural association with them.

Events like Hiroshima and the Cuban Missile Crisis were essentially ancient history to them. For him and his wife, who teaches high school, it was always a challenge to get students to relate to these issues from the past and seeing how they related to the present. Specifically, he wanted his students to address the larger issue of how one controls a dangerous technology that others find desirable.

nukemap3-2And given how inundated young people are today with technology, he believed an online browser that allowed children to visualize the effects of a nuclear attack seemed just like the thing. The concept originally grew out of his own research to determine the size of the Hiroshima bomb versus the first hydrogen bomb versus a modern nuclear weapon.

After producing a web page with the relevant info in 2012, he began receiving millions of hits and felt the need to expand on it. One of the things he felt was missing was info on additional effects of nuclear blasts, such as radioactive debris that comes down as fallout, contamination that can extend for hundreds of kilometers in all directions, and how this can spread with prevailing winds.

NuclearDetonationsIn addition to being a pedagogical tool which can help students appreciate what life was like during the Cold War, Wellerstein also hopes his site could help combat misinformation about modern nukes. All too often, people assume that small devices – like those being developed by North Korea – could only cause small-scale damage, unaware of the collateral damage and long-term effects.

Another use of the program is in helping to combat ideas of “instant apocalypse” and other misconceptions about nuclear war. As we move farther and farther away from an age in which nuclear holocaust was a distinct possibility, people find themselves turning to movies and pop culture for their information on what nuclear war looks like. In these scenarios, the end result is always apocalyptic, and by and large, this is not the case.

nuclear1In a war where nuclear confrontation is likely, civilization does not simply come to an end and mutants do not begin roaming the Earth. In reality, it will mean mass destruction within a certain area and tens of thousands of deaths. This would be followed by mass evacuations of the surrounding areas, the creation of field hospitals and refugee camps, and an ongoing state of emergency.

In short, a nuclear exchange would not means the instantaneous end of civilization as we know it. Instead, it would lead to an extended period of panic, emergency measures, the presence of NGOs, humanitarian aid workers, and lots and lots of people in uniform. And the effects would be felt long after the radiation cleared and the ruins were rebuilt, and the memory would be slow to fade.

Hiroshima, after the blast
Hiroshima, after the blast

Basically, Wellerstein created Nukemap 3D in the hope of finding a middle ground between under exaggeration and over exaggeration, seeking to combat the effects of misinformation on both fronts. In a nuclear war, no one is left unaffected; but at the same time, civilization doesn’t just come to an abrupt end. As anyone who survived the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can attest, life does go on after a nuclear attack.

 

The effects are felt for a very long time, and the scars run very deep. And as those who actually witnessed what a nuclear blast looks like (or lived in fear of one) grow old and pass on, people need to be educated on what it entails. And a graphic representation, one that utilizes the world’s most popular form of media, is perhaps the most effective way of doing that.

In the meantime, be sure to check out Nukemap 3D and see exactly what your hometown would look like if it were hit by a nuclear device. It’s quite… eye-opening!

Source: gizmag.com

 

NASA: The World Will Not End on Dec. 21st, 2012

Worlds CollidingIt seems NASA spends untold resources trying to debunk conspiracy theories and doomsday predictions. Sad, when you consider all the wonderful uses this time and energy could be dedicated towards, like putting people on Mars! In any case, and in anticipation for this coming Friday (and Saturday, if all goes well!), I thought I’d share this video NASA released to put people’s minds at ease. The world will NOT end on Dec. 21st, 2012, it claims, and presents the scientific findings that say so.

Set on Dec. 22nd, 2012, the video approaches the apocalypse as if it is something that has already come and gone and proceeds to explain how the myth of the 2012 End of the World scenario began in the first place. In examining the actual Mayan Calendar, the reasons for why the calendar ends when it does, and taking a look at all the stellar and terrestrial phenomena which are believed to coincide with the date (but which won’t), NASA shows why we have nothing to worry about.

In fact, if anything, the date in question will be a time of rejoicing. Not only is it the holiday season for people worldwide, it is also the natural turning point in the Mayan Calendar, the date at which the ancient astronomers reckoning of time would “reset” in accordance with their ancient theology. This was a regular pattern as far as the Yucatan-based civilization was concerned, and is a testament to their long and expansive concepts of time and cosmology.

Nothing destructive was ever mentioned or implied in the Mayan belief system, merely a rolling over of the odometer and an entrance into a new age. If anything, it was western apocalyptics and cultists, with their preconceived notions of the End of Days and astrology, that attached this significance to the date. Astrological phenomena, such a meteor striking Earth, an inversion of our gravitational field, a massive solar flare, or another planet colliding with us, were all added as a means of explaining how. But, as the experts as NASA show, none of this stuff is happening or in danger of happening in the next few days.

In short, we can all look forward to another holiday season with plenty of food, family, in-laws and swag. As my grandpa used to say “the sun will still rise in the east and set in the west”, the world will keep on spinning, and people will keep on waiting for the end of the days to come. Fear not the End of Days, fear waking up tomorrow and realizing that you still have to get up, go to your job, and tolerate all the little annoyances we all deal with on a daily basis. And while your at it, be thankful you’re alive and STOP WISHING FOR IT ALL TO END!

And if that is still not enough to convince the doomsayers that life will go on, perhaps a quick look at their track record will be enough to convince the rest of us of how often they are wrong. Consider…

30-36 – 2012 C.E: After the death of Jesus and the spread of early Christianity, believers begin to prepare for the “coming of the Lord”. After several centuries, it is clear that the End of Days isn’t just around the corner, so believers begin to settle in and create Monasteries in the hopes of living how the Savior would have wanted. Two-thousand years later, we’re all still waiting!

410 C.E.: Rome is sacked, leading many Christians to fear that the Barbarian hordes are the harbingers of the Apocalypse. However, St. Augustine of Hippo allays much of these fears with his book City of God, where he states that though the corporeal capital of Christianity may have been sacked, the city of God abides. People promptly calm down…

900 C.E.: The fall of the Western Roman Empire leads to renewed fears that the world is ending. However, despite the decline in education, wealth, central leadership, life expectancy, and an upsurge in violence, life goes on…

1000 C.E.: Europe becomes consumed by apocalyptic predictions with the coming of the Millennium. On Dec. 31st, 999, nothing happens! The sun rises on the following day and people go back about their business…

1206-1294 C.E.: The Mongol Hordes, a vast and terrible army, reach Europe from Asia and begin a campaign of conquest and slaughter. People everywhere believe they are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse foretold in the Book of Revelation. However, Mongol expansion soon ceases, the Empire is subdivided amongst Ghengis Khan’s sons and vassals, and life continues. Just another Horde from the East that failed to deliver on the Apocalypse I guess!

1348-1350 C.E.: The Black Death strikes Europe. People everywhere believe this is God’s judgement and the Rapture is sure to follow. Flagellants punish themselves for the good of humanity, witches are burned, Jews are murdered, cats hung, and any and all traces of “wicked behavior” and people are scapegoated and purged. However, within two years, the plague passes, one-third of Europe has died, but life goes on and a period of rapid recovery soon follows.

1914 C.E.: The outbreak of the Great War leads many to believe that Armaggedon, the last great battle that will signal the end of time, is upon them! After four years of brutal, protracted warfare, all sides agree to a ceasefire and previously held romantic notions of warfare are shattered. Henceforth, Remembrance Day, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, and a series of other national and international holidays mark the occasion and remind us how foolish and horrible war really is. However, the world does not end…

1918 C.E.: “Red October” shakes the world, with many predicting that the victory by the “Godless Communists” is a sign of the Apocalypse. However, despite the terrible crimes that follow in the Marxist-Leninists wake, especially where Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot are concerned, the world keeps on spinning, even after the conflict becomes nuclear in scope (see next).

1945  – 1991 C.E.: The advent of nuclear weapons and the beginning of the Cold War lead to a resurgence in Apocalyptic predictions, with many claiming that “The End is Near” on a regular basis. However, numerous close shaves pass without incident, the Cold War ends by 1991, and all predictions as to how “Nuclear Holocaust” will take place fail to be realized. In the end, many people realize that the human race isn’t suicidal or quite as stupid as previously thought. Others continue to ponder how WWIII will happen, but produce no realistic scenarios.

1948 C.E. – : The Arab-Israeli Conflict begins and escalates with such events as the Suez Crisis (1956), the Six Day War (1967), and Yom Kipper (1973). Religious scholars and believers begin to claim that these events were foretold in Scripture, and foretell of the coming battle of Armageddon – which will take place at Tel Meggido in modern day Israel. However, land for peace and a detente have prevented any full-scale wars since 1973, and the Oslo Accords of 1992 seem to suggest that a permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians is just a matter of time.

1980’s C.E.: The growing awareness of the AIDS virus prompts many religious nuts and homophobes to claim that “Gods Judgement is Here” and is taking the form of a virus that strikes down sinners. However, public education and about thirty years with no Rapture lead most to conclude that this is a terrible disease which merits no religious condemnation. Public decrying of victims remains, but few people take them seriously.

1994/5 C.E.: Renewed outbreaks of the Ebola virus leads to new fears of a global pandemic. Movies like The Stand, Outbreak and just about any scenario involving biological warfare do great at the box office, but the apocalyptic nightmare never comes true. And when people realize that casualties are largely reserved to African nations, they generally stop caring!

1990 – 2000 C.E.: Y2K histeria sets in as people get wind of a possible bug that could shut down the world’s computers. People begin hoarding and stocking their shelves in preparation for the pandemonium and chaos that is expected. When the clock strikes midnight of Dec. 31st 1999, nothing happens! The world keeps spinning, the computers keep working, and the nuts go looking for another reason to panic. There are still plenty to choose from…

And let’s not forget 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Bath Salts Zombies and every other major disaster that has befallen the world in recent years. Seems every day weirdos and nutjobs are finding reasons to think we’re all going to die. One would think they wanted it to happen or something…

In the meantime, enjoy the video and all its sane and sensible points!

Source: Nasa.org, gaurdian.co.uk

Favorite Cult Classics (Part The First)

It might be that I’m feeling nostalgic, or it might be that since my wife and I sprung for Netflix, I’ve been finding my way back to several of my favorite old movies. Hard to say exactly. All I know for sure is, I want to talk about the cult classic movies that I like best. You know what I’m talking about! Those rare gems, those diamonds in the rough, the movies that few seem to know about, but those who do always seem to love.

Yes, THOSE movies! Sure, we’ve all seen plenty of big hits, but these movies are the ones that occupy a special place in our hearts. Perhaps it’s because they are not so widely known, like the Star Wars’ and and Indiana Jones‘ of our time. Perhaps it’s because they didn’t get the recognition or the money they deserved, at least in their own time. Or it could be that they were simply the kind of things that got better with time.

In any case, I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 favorite cult classics, movies which I saw during my childhood, teen years and even in my twenties, and keep coming back too. Some were adventurous, some were funny, some were downright cheesy. But all have two things in common: One, none of them are known beyond a select group of appreciators, at least in this country. And two, those who like them, like them a lot! Check out the list below and see if you agree, and feel free to tell me your own favorites as well. I know we all got em!

Akira:
One of the greatest animes I have ever seen, and with a very poignant and intriguing story to boot, Akira starts this list off right! The movie adapted several volumes of manga to screen, and did so in such a way that didn’t skimp on either story or detail. Even shortened, the plot still manages to convey the sense of awe and dread of atomic war, revolution, and evolutionary cataclysm. And the fact that the bulk of it is told from the point of view of disillusioned orphans who are all part of a bier gang only heightens the sense on confusion and angst of little people being thrown into situations far greater than they can handle.

And then there was the quality of the movie itself. Having seen this movie several times now and different versions thereof, I can tell you that no matter what the format, every single frame was animated in such a way as to be saturated. And not with digital effects, mind you, but with hand-drawn animations that really manage to capture the post apocalyptic and cyberpunk feel of Katsuhiro Otomo’s original graphic novel.

All in all, I consider this movie to be compatible in many respects to 2001: A Space Odyssey in that they both deal with grandiose of questions of existence, biological evolution, and both managed to blow my mind! And having first been exposed to both of them in my teen years, they are partly responsible for kindling my love of science fiction.

Army of Darkness:
Here’s a movie I kept being told to see, but did not get around to seeing until I was in university. And truth be told, it took me two viewings to really get the appeal of it. After that, it grew on me until I finally found myself thinking it hilarious, and quoting from it whenever I could. “Come get some!” “Groovy!” “This be my BOOMSTICK!” and “Good? Bad? I’m the one with the gun!” All classic lines!

Yeah, this movie is definitely filed in the guilty pleasure section, the space reserved for movies that are deliberately cheesy, over the top, and have a robust sense of humor about themselves. It’s also one of the many that gave Sam Raimi (director of the Spiderman trilogy) his start, and established Bruce Campbell (who appeared in all three) as a gifted ham actor.

Taking the position that decapitations and flesh-eating demons can be funny, this movie tells the story of a blue-collar, rough and tumble, one-liner spouting man named Ash who’s been sent back in time to fight an army of the undead. Automatically, hijinks ensue as he tries to convince people he’s not a demon himself, but instead chooses to establish who’s boss by demonstrating the power of his chainsaw and “boomstick” (aka. his sawed-off double-barrel shotgun).

But predictably, this anti-hero rises to the challenge and becomes a real hero, and does so with as little grace as possible! And of course, there’s a love story as well, which is similarly graceless thanks to Ash’s lowbrow romantic sensibilities. Nothing is left untouched by the ham and cheese! And all throughout, the gun fights, duels, and confrontations with creepy, evil forces are hilarious, made possible by Campbell’s hammy acting, facial expressions, one-liners and some wonderfully bad cinematography. Think Xena: Warrior Princess, but with guns and foul language!

Blade Runner:
Another personal favorite, and one which I wish I had come to know sooner. But lucky for me I was still a teen when I saw this movie, hence I can say that I saw it while still in my formative years. And today, years later, I still find myself appreciating it and loving it as one can only love a cult hit. It’s just that kind of movie which you can enjoy over and over again, finding new things to notice and appreciate each time.

And once again, my appreciation for this movie is due to two undeniable aspects. On the one hand, Ridley Scott created a very rich and detailed setting, a Los Angeles of the 21st century dominated by megastructures, urban sprawl, pollution and polarized wealth. It was the picture perfect setting of cyberpunk, combining high-tech and low-life.

On the other hand, there was the story. Loosely adapted from PKD’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, this version of a future differed greatly in that the artificial humans, the antagonists of the original story, were about the only sympathetic characters in the story. The result was not a cautionary tale on the dangers of creating life in our own image as much as a commentary about the line between the artificial and the real.

The question it asked was: if you overcome all boundaries, if machines possess memory, feelings and a fear of death, is there anything at all to separate them from the rest of us? Will their lives be worth any less than ours, and what will it even mean to be alive?

Conan The Barbarian:
Here’s a movie which has appeared in some friends “guilty pleasure” list, usually next to Predator, Commando and other Anrie classics. But I am here today to tell you it really doesn’t belong. Unlike many 80’s Arnie movies that were so bad, they were good, this movie had some genuine quality and depth to it.

Examples? Well, for starters, this movie was a faithful adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s original concept, Conan the Cimmerian, which was first published in 1932. This franchise, which went through countless adaptations over the ensuing decades, wove real history and myth together with fantasy to create a tale of a bronze age adventurer who traveled across the ancient world, seeking fortune and glory.

One can see this in the movie as well. To create the setting and the various people that make up the universe, imagery, mythology and even names were borrowed from various real sources. For example, the Cimmerians (Conan’s people) were inspired by Celtic and Norse sources. The followers of Thulsa Doom, black-clad warriors from the East, were meant to resemble the Huns, the Goths, and other Eastern invaders. There are also several scenes showing a warlike people meant to resemble the Mongol Hoards, and much of the setting was made to resemble ancient cities of lore – Babylon, Jerusalem, Antioch, et al.

Add to all this some pretty damn good writing and good storytelling, and you can see why this movie has remained enduringly popular with many people over the years. Arnie excelled as the stone-faced barbarian of few words, but who made them count when he chose to spoke. James Earl Jones was exceptional as the amoral, Nietzschean warlord Thulsa Doom, and the production value was surprisingly good for a low-budget flick.

Serenity:
Yeah, I get the feeling everybody knows what I’m talking about with this one! After losing the wonderful show in the midst of its first season, every fan of Firefly was pleased to know that Joss Whedon would be making a full length movie. And personally, I th0ught he did a pretty good job with it too!

Picking up where the show left off, we are reunited with our favorite characters as they continue to work freelance jobs and try to stay one step ahead of the law and the expanding Alliance. From the outset, it is clear that things are getting desperate, as the jobs are proving more risky, and the Reavers are moving in from the Outer Rim. At the same time, a new threat has been thrown in in the form of an Alliance agent known only as the “Operative”, who has made it his business to bring River in at any cost.

And I personally loved how all these threads came together in a singular way, showing how the Reavers, River’s condition, and the Alliance’s ultimate agenda were all connected. Not only was it a tight and entertaining plot that captured the same sense of loss and desperation as the show, it also gave a sense of closure to the series, which ended before its time.

Yes, for myself and many fans, this movie is a way of commemorating a truly great show and idea that faltered because of insensitive boobs couldn’t see the value in it. But that seemed thematically consistent with the series itself, which was all about rebels in a hopeless fight against an evil empire. Take a lesson from this Fox Network, sooner or late,r the bad guys lose!

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For brevity’s sake and the fact that I’m a busy man, I’ve decided to divide this list in half. Stay tuned for entries six through ten, coming up tomorrow! Happy Thanksgiving y’all!

Video Game Review: The Modern Warfare Series

Morning all, or afternoon or evening as the case may be. Lousy time zones! Today, I thought I’d get back to my promise of reviewing video games by tackling a series I’ve been wanting to get into for some time. Like most geeks, and just about all guys, I am a fan of first person shooters. Not the violence for violence’s sake type that emerged en masse after the release of Doom, mind you, but the kind’s that used the platform creatively and intelligently.

Which is one thing I always liked about Call of Duty and similar franchises. During the early millennium, it was one of many WWII-era FPS games that sought to reenact history’s greatest war by giving players a first-person perspective on the whole thing. Over time, the depictions became more and more realistic, and embraced more theaters and battles that aren’t usually addressed in popular culture.

And after three incarnations of WWII, the makers naturally decided it was time to make a game that dealt with combat in the modern era, that took advantage of the all the recent developments in firearms, aerial drones, night vision, thermal vision, and other assorted high-tech devices. In short, they thought it would be cool to have players running around with the latest toys and shooting things up in an up-to-date simulation.

However, in this case, the designers also were required to come up with a modern storyline that would reflect the attitudes of today’s military planners and the situation we know find ourselves in. Unlike the other games, whatever story they came up with would be fictitious and speculative for the first time ever. And, in my humble opinion, this is where they were just the slightest bit weak. Sure, Modern Warfare 1, 2 and 3 do have some rather kick-ass gameplay and an intense storyline to them, but they aren’t exactly realistic.

To demonstrate why, let me get to the first game in the series…

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare:
Released in 2007, Modern Warfare was one of the critically acclaimed and well received games of all time. Whereas the Campaign Mode of the game (i.e. single player) was lauded for its intensity and immersive quality, it was the Multiplayer that really wowed critics and gamers alike. Unlike previous COD games, the additional features, such as the ability to call in air strikes and helicopters, as well as unlocking new weapons and types of camouflage, was entirely new.

In fact, GamePro magazine even compared the multiplayer aspect favorably to Halo 3, a franchise that was yet to be rivaled by anyone! And personally, I think gamers enjoyed the ability to play a game that features weapons and tactics they know to be current and real, and not lasers, BFG’s or antiquated weapons. But of course, there was far more to this game than just the gameplay, which I shall get into now…

Plot Synopsis:
The story is a familiar one, one which has been told many times over since the end of the Cold War. And for the sake of the game, it comes in two separate strands which invariably come together towards the end. In the first, Russia has fallen into a state of civil war with the rise of an ultra-nationalists front who are led by a former communists named Imran Zakhaev. He who wants to return Russia to its Soviet past,

In the second strand, a militant Salafist regime led by a man named Khaled Al-Asad has seized power in an unnamed Middle Eastern nation and is apparently being backed by the ultra-nationalist Russians who is sending them nukes. This is apparently a move on behalf of Imran Zakhaev to divert attention from his civil war, and its works!

Yes, this too is a familiar tale, the kind of thing that Israeli and US policymakers have nightmares about. But like I said, the identity of this nation is never specified. One minute things are taking place near Mecca, Saudi Arabia; the next, in Basra, Iraq. Yeah, not doing much to dispel the notion that all Arab nations are the same, dude!

And so the two threads unfold, with you playing as both the British SAS (Special Air Services), who are busy trying to stop the exchange of nukes. After a failed attempt to stop the shipment of one, you are sent to Russia to team up with with Loyalist forces and rescue a contact named Nikolai, a recurring figure in the MW series.

Things then switch over to the US perspective, where you are a Marine Lieutenant Vasquez who is part of the US invasion of the unnamed Middle Eastern nation. In the initial invasion, your Marine unit searches for Al-Asad in the capitol’s tv station, but is too late to retrieve him. As operations progress in the capitol, the warning comes in that Al-Asad has a nuke and is preparing to set it off. All units begin to evacuate, but your unit doesn’t make it out before the blast!

Back in Russia, the SAS manage to finally track down Al-Asad who appears to be hiding out in a safehouse in Azerbaijan. After working him over, he recieves a call from Zakhaev, and the SAS team leader, Captain Price, shoots Asad and explains who Zakhaev is. Apparently, he performed a “wetwork” mission against Zakhaev back in the early 90’s, shortly after the fall of Communism when Zakhaev was just another revisionist trying to get his hands on nuclear material in the abandoned town of Pripyat, Ukraine (outside of Chernobyl). In the course of the mission, Price managed to take down Zakhaev, but instead of delivering the fatal bullet, merely cost him an arm.

Now, years later, it is time to finish the job. With Al-Asad dead, Zakhaev and his forces have managed to seize a major Russian missile silo and are threatening to launch the nukes. When his son, whom the SAS try to seize in order to gain some leverage over him, commits suicide to avoid capture, he goes over the edge and orders the launch. At this stage in the game, you are now part of a joint operation between the US Marines and the SAS and your job is to storm the silo and input the countermand codes before the nukes reach the Eastern Seaboard.

Once that is done, you and your team begin to beat a hasty retreat and are pursued by Zakhaev’s men. The mission then ends with a tense final showdown where you are required to take out Zakhaev with a handgun while he and his men have you cornered and try to finish you off. The good ol’ Russian Loyalists then arrive on scene to medevac you and your friends to safety.

Good Points and Bad:
Like I said already, the gaming experience of this installment in the COD series is pretty badass. Picking up where COD: World at War left off, you have the ability to call in air strikes by “painting” targets with a designator, something that wasn’t available in the first three installments. Second, the use of modern weapons, from M4’s, SAW’s, M203s, RPG’s, AK’s, Flashbangs, Claymores, Suppressors, SPAS-12’s – the list goes on! – is quite cool. Not to mention the scene where you are able to take control of an AC-130 gunship, watching a theater of engagement from above through thermal scopes and be able to bombard targets with either a minigun, a bofors cannon, or a 105mm howitzer.

This idea, incorporating the latest in weapon’s technology, is something which every MW installment adds to in it’s own way, combining the speculative with the current and cutting edge. In this installment, they kind of kept it to the current and tried and true, but it was still fun. As a geek and guy, I was familiar with many of these pieces of kit already, thanks to years of reading up on them and watching TV programs about war. Being able to use them in a gaming environment was pretty sweet!

As for the weak stuff, well I’ve mentioned that already… For one, the story is a kind of predictable and tired one, one which the makers clearly knew the audience would buy into. For almost two decades now, fiction writers and amateur analysts have been saying that it’s only a matter of time before some Middle Eastern regime gets its hand on a thermonuclear device and tries to use it on Israel or US forces. And in every version of this scenario, it’s always Russia that gives it to them, mainly because it’s been theorized that the Russians are not in control of their stockpile of nukes or would be willing to sell them for cheap.

I’m bothered by the reiteration of this story for the simple reason that it’s both stupid and terribly cliched. It’s a well known fact that after the fall of the former USSR, Russia took great pains to make sure it got all its nukes back from its former allies and that those nukes are all accounted for and have been under lock and key for the past twenty years. What’s more, Russia is not run by total freaking morons. They know that if they tried to sell any nukes to a Middle Eastern country, or any regime for that matter, that they would be inviting sanctions, embargoes and even open war on themselves. In the wake of the Cold War economic collapse Russia went through and the rise of a privatized, investor-based economy, this is not something they can afford.

Also, with every spy agency in the world – the CIA, MI6, the Massad, and the KGB – and countless bodies like the UN, NATO,  and the Atomic Energy Commission watching them, no Russian general who might have access to the nuclear stockpile would ever be dumb enough to try and negotiate a private sale. No matter how much money was in it for them, they would know that to steal a Russian-made nuke would put them in the cross hairs of every “wetboy” (i.e. assassin-spy) on the planet! There would literally be no place in the world where they would be safe. What’s more, the idea that any Middle Eastern regime would become an instant threat if it got a nuke is also ridiculous.

Since 1992, Israel and the US have maintained the position that if Iran, Syria or any other Middle Eastern nation that has not signed a peace treaty with Israel got a nuke, they would attempt to use it. Just how stupid do they think Arab nations are? Israel maintains a stockpile of over 200 nukes and the US has one that numbers in the thousands. Once said Arab regime used this one nuke and took out a single city, they would be nuked several hundred times over, their country completely obliterated in the process. Does anyone really believe that any nation would be willing to watch all of its citizens die just for the sake of some measured revenge? I certainly hope not! The only reason why this notion is taken seriously at all is the fact that decades of inaccurate portrayals, propaganda and bigotry have led many people to believe that Arabs and Muslims are viscous, crazy, hateful people who’ll stop at nothing to kill Christians, Americans and Jews.

And yet, the fiction of this idea persists, mainly because it’s the only way writer’s like Tom Clancy can keep outputting spy novels in the post-Cold War era. His book Op Center was based on this very idea, of a Russian general who sells a nuke to some Middle Eastern terrorist for a small fortune. The plot of The Peacemaker was also built around this very same concept, and in the movie Broken Arrow it is openly said that anyone wanting nukes could just got to Russia, where they would “give you a half dozen for the price of a BMW”. Bullshit, man! If it’s such a plausible scenario, then why hasn’t it happened already? For the same reason that WWIII has not happened, and that is, once again, that no one is willing to risk total annihilation for the sake of politics or ideology.

But I can understand why they took this approach. Again, in the post-Cold War era, there aren’t really a lot of stories that provide the same interest and intensity as the potential for nuclear war. But it does demonstrate just how tired and unrealistic this plot device has become. And the only reason I labor the point is because it only gets more like this the longer the franchise goes. It capitalizes on the fact that the American public really doesn’t know that much about the world or its people, and are willing to believe various doomsday scenerarios because they’ve been so inundated with them by movies and fiction for so many years.

But how else are you going to create a fun and accessible WWIII scenario?  An in the end, it doesn’t take away from the awesome gaming experience that Modern Warfare truly is. Stay tuned, up next, the sequel!

The Post-Apocalypse in Sci-Fi (Part III)

The Book of Eli:
This 2010 movie – starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman and directed by the Hughes Brothers – takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States thirty years after nuclear war has left it a scarred and desolate place. Enter into this a wandering nomad named Eli (Washington), a man who is wandering to the West Coast with a mysterious book that “a voice” commanded him to take there. As he travels, the importance of his task is made clear, as the history of the post-war world he is making his way through.

Along the way, he encounters a town run by Carnegie (Oldman), a  man who dreams of building more towns and controlling their residents through the power of a (again) a mysterious book he has heard about. His men are busy at work, searching the surrounding countryside for this book, but so far to no avail. When Eli arrived in town, Carnegie forces him to stay, as he is the only other literate person he has ever encountered.

Ultimately, it is learned that Eli has the book Carnegie is seeking, and that this book is none other than the Bible. He escapes from town and is pursued by Carnegie’s daughter, Solara (Mila Kunis). He explains to her that the Bible he carries is the last remaining copy since all others were destroyed after the nuclear holocaust. He was guided to it by a voice, he says, and has since been making his way across the country, guided by his newfound faith.

Eventually, Carnegie catches up to them, mortally wounds Eli and takes the Bible for himself. However, Solara manages to escape from his custody and begins transporting Eli to San Francisco so he can complete his mission. They come at last to Alcatraz where a group of survivors has been holding up under the watch of the curator named Lombardi (Malcolm McDowell). When Solara reveals they have a copy of the King James Bible, they let them in. Eli, who for the first time is revealed to be blind, begins reciting the Bible from memory.

Back in Carnegie’s town, he manages to unlock the Bible and is horrified to see it is in braille and that his wounds will soon kill him. Meanwhile, Eli dies in Alacatraz just as the printing press there begins printing copies of the Bible and the curator puts the original on a shelf next to the Torah, Tanakh and the Qur’an. Solara decides to leave and head back home, taking with her Eli’s possessions in the hopes of making a difference. She, like him, has become a wanderer guided by faith.

Granted, the message of this movie might seem a little over the top. I, for one, can’t imagine why post-apocalyptic people would destroy Bibles. If anything, I would think they would take their frustrations out on science and turn to religion for solace. Still, the point is made very clear through several key acts of symbolism. Eli, though blind, is guided by faith and it keeps him alive. And though he is robbed of the Book, the true source of it’s power, which Carnegie wants to abuse for the sake of power, lies in Eli’s own self. Really, the message couldn’t be more clear, and yet it is demonstrated with a degree of subtly that one would not ordinarily expect from a movie with a religious message. But it’s not so much about the Bible itself, it’s about maintaining hope and faith in a world where these things have been abandoned.

A Canticle for Leibowitz:
Published in 1960 and written by Walter M. Miller Jr., this novel is a considered a classic of post-apocalyptic sci-fi by genre fans and literary critics alike. Renowned for its themes of religion, recurrence, and church versus state, this book has generated a significant body of scholarly research, yet it was strangely the only novel Miller wrote in his lifetime.

Inspired by Miller’s own participation in the bombing of the monastery  at Monte Cassino in WWII, the story takes place in a Catholic Monastery in the South-Western US after a nuclear war – known as the “Flame Deluge” – takes place. Known as the Albertian order, the monks who inhabit this monastery are dedicated to preserving humanity’s scientific knowledge and rebuilding civilization over the course of thousands years.

The story opens roughly 600 years after the war takes place, in a time when science and technology, even the idea of literacy itself, has been almost wiped out by a campaign known as “Simplification”. At around the same time, a Jewish electrical engineer named Isaac Edward Leibowitz, who worked for the military, converted to Christianity and founded the Albertan order.

After generations of hiding and smuggling books to safety within the orders walls, Leibowitz was betrayed and sacrificed by “Simpletons”, at which time the Catholic Church had him sainted and ordered the monastery beatified. Centuries after his death, the abbey is still preserving “Memorabilia”, the collected writings that have survived the Flame Deluge and the Simplification, in the hope that they will help future generations reclaim forgotten science. The story is structured in three parts titled: “Fiat Homo”, “Fiat Lux”, and “Fiat Voluntas Tua” (Let There Be Man, Let There Be Light, Thy Will Be Done), with each part comprising six centuries each.

In Fiat Homo, which takes place in the 26th century, events revolve around a young novice who while on a Vigil, finds his way to a bomb shelter with the help of a mysterious Wanderer. The discovery triggers an uproar at the Monastery, as it seems that the shelter contains relics belonging to Leibowitz himself. Some fear the sensationalism triggered by the discovery will hurt Leibowiz’s canonization, which is still being debated. After many years, the canonization is given the green light and Francis is sent to New Rome to represent the order at the Mass. Unfortunately, he is murdered in the wilderness and is buried, by none other than the Wanderer himself!

Fiat Lux opens up  in the 32nd century, 6 centuries later, when the New Dark Age is coming to an end and a New Renaissance beginning. At this point in time, the Abbey is coming into conflict with the city-state of Texarkana, a metropolis’ who’s growth was hinted at in the last pages of Fiat Homo. The mayor, Hannegan, is essentially an upstart dictator who intends to become ruler of the entire region my manipulating alliances and gaining access to the Abbey’s own stores of knowledge. In the end, Hannegan’s intentions to occupy the abbey and make war on his neighbours leads to a schism whereby Hannegan is excommunicated by the Pope and he declares loyalty to the Pope to be a crime in his domain.

In the last part, which takes place towards the end of the 38th century, humanity has once again returned to a state of advanced technology, complete with nuclear power, weapons, and even starships and extra-solar colonies. As a state of cold war sets in between the Atlantic Confederacy and the Asian Coalition, the Order begins to enact a contingency plan known as “Quo Peregrinatur Grex Pastor Secum” (“Whither Wanders the Flock, the Shepherd is with Them”). As the nuclear bombs begin to fall, members of the Order board a starship and launch for deep space. With Earth about to succumb to nuclear war yet again, the Order is heading out to ensure that both humanity and its knowledge survives.

The stories central themes, which include the rivalries between church and state and the cyclical nature of history, are what make it such a memorable and enduring classic. Even though it is set in a fictitious future, it is loaded with allegories that connect it to the past. Nuclear war in the near future is the fall of Rome, the ensuing New Dark Ages a reiteration of the last, and the final nuclear holocaust between the Coalition and Confederacy represented contemporary fears of nuclear Armageddon.

By the Waters of Babylon:
Also known as “The Place of the Gods”, this short story was originally published in 1937 by Stephen Vincent Benét. Taking place in a future where industrial civilization has been destroyed, the story is narrated by a young man named John, a son of a priest who’s people live in the hills. In his day and age, John’s people believe that past civilizations were in fact Gods. There homes are considered hallowed ground and only priests are permitted to handle metal artifacts taken from them.

Eventually, John decides that he will go to the Place of the Gods, an abandoned city that was once part of industrial civilization. In order to gain his father’s approval, he claims he is going on a spiritual quest, but keeps the intended location a secret. John then journeys through the forest for eight days and crosses the river Ou-dis-sun to make his way to the sacred place.

Once he gets to the Place of the Gods, he finds abandoned buildings, statues and countless indications that the “Gods” were in fact human. When he finally finds the remains of a dead person in an apartment, he comes to realize the truth. The Gods were in fact humans whose power overwhelmed their better judgement, hence they fell.

Upon returning to his tribe, John tells his father of the place called “New York”. It is at this point that it is made clear that the “hill people” live in the Appalachians, and the river he crossed was the Hudson. In the end, his father warns him that recounting the experience to the other tribe members will have destructive consequences. The truth, he claims, can be bad if not conveyed discretely and in small doses. The story ends with John promising that once he becomes the head priest, “We must build again.”

Farnham’s Freehold:
Based on his own experiences in building a fallout Shelter, this 1964 novel by Heinlein involves a family that is transported to the future after a nuclear explosion puts a dent in their reality. In addition to the thematic elements of nuclear war and time travel, the book also contains some rather interesting commentary on race relations and segregation in the United States at the time.

The story begins with the Farnham family holding a bridge game in their home, which is attended by Hugh, his alcoholic wife Grace, their son and daughter (Duke and Karen), her friend Barbara, and a black domestic servant named Joe. After they are alerted to the fact that nuclear war is commencing, the people rush to the bomb shelter and wait for it to pass. When it seems that the bombs have stopped falling and their oxygen is running low, they walk out and begin to investigate.

What they find is that they’ve been transported to Africa, where an advanced civilization now exists that uses white people as slaves. Initially, they suspected they had been sent into an alternate dimension, but quickly realize that they are in the future. They are spared because Joe, their black domestic servant, is able to communicate to their captors in French.

In time, Hugh and Barbara agree to take part in a time-travel experiment in exchange for their freedom. They are sent back to their own time, where they escape from the bomb shelter just as the bombs begin to fall. However, they soon realize that they are not in their own time, but an alternate dimension where things are just slightly different. They survive the war and agree to spend the rest of their lives trying to prevent the future they saw from coming to pass.

The Quiet Earth:
Originally a novel written by New Zealand author Craig Harrison in 1981, this story went on to inspire the loosely-adapted film of the same name which was released four years later. In both cases, the story revolves around a small group of survivors who awaken to find that the world is now devoid of humans and most other forms of life, and that time itself seems to have stopped.

The story begins with John Hobson, a geneticist who was experimenting with using radiation to activate dormant genes, which was meant to have an accelerating effect on human evolution. He wakes up in a hotel room from a nightmare where he was falling, only to find all clocks stopped at 6:12. Upon leaving the hotel, he finds that all clocks have stopped at 6:12 and that everyone appears to have simply vanished. He dubs this phenomena “The Effect” and begins looking for other survivors.

His journey takes him back to his research facility where he finds the corpse of his partner, Perrin, inside the radiation chamber. Retrieving Perrin’s locked box of papers and grabbing some weapons and supplies he sets out for Wellington. Eventually, he finds someone, a Māori lance-corporal named Apirana Maketuin, who agrees to accompany him. They eventually reach the capitol and settle in, hoping to find other survivors and run tests on “The Effect”.

Things deteriorate before long, as Hobson begins to worry that Api might be a psychopath due to his wartime experiences in Vietnam (he finds pictures of him posing with the mutilated corpses of Viet Cong). His plans to kill him with sleeping pills are interrupted when they accidentally run over a woman in the street while joyriding. They return to the hotel and make her comfortable but know she will inevitably die. This leads to a further breakdown between Hobson and Api and they fight. Api dies in the confrontation after apparently giving up.

Finally, Hobson breaks open Perrin’s box and realizes that his partner had him under surveillance because he considered him unstable. Hobson comes to the conclusion that the Effect was his doing since the the project cause the unraveling of animal DNA, and hence only those with the dormant gene pair would be spared. It is at this time that Hobson begins to have flashbacks from his last days at the facility, during which time he sabotaged the machine because of growing misgiving about the project and mistrust for his Perrin’s motivations. It was this sabotage that caused the Effect, and the reason Hobson slept through it was because he took what he thought was a fatal dose of sleeping pills.

Maddened with grief and guilt, Hobson jumps from the window and begins to fall to his death. But then, he wakes up in the same hotel room he found himself in at the beginning, recalling the same dream where he was falling. He checks his watch and it says it’s 6:12… Spooky! Though it bears a strong resemblance to such works as I Am Legend, The Quiet Earth went beyond in that it chose to focus on the themes of perception, culpability, and alternate states of consciousness. All throughout the book, it is not quite clear if Hobson is dreaming, in an alternate dimension, the last man on Earth who is responsible for the death of countless life forms, or just plain crazy.

Shadow on the Hearth:
This post-apocalyptic novel, which was the first novel to be released by Canadian sci-fi author Judith Merril (1950), takes place a week after nuclear bombs have devastated, but not destroyed, civilization as we know it. The plot revolves around a mother named Gladys Mitchell and her two daughters – Barbara and Ginny, who are fifteen and five years of age – as they struggle to deal with worsening conditions and a system that is quickly becoming an abusive dictatorship.

For starters, all civil authority has broken down in the wake of the war and been replaced by the Security Office, a form of emergency services that exercises all power. Gladys’ contact with the services is the local “emergency squadman”, Jim Turner, a neighbor who begins to display a rather creepy fascination with Gladys along with a desire to turn the emergency to his own advantage.

Similarly, the difficult situation breeds suspicion and intolerance on behalf of the authorities who begins see enemies everywhere. The Mitchell’s maid, a woman named Veda, comes under suspicion when it is learned that she was off sick during the time of the attack. Much the same is true of Gladys’ old science teacher, who predicted that nuclear war would be inevitable and now fears the paranoid Security Office might suspect him.

Meanwhile, Gladys tried to maintain a disposition of stoic calm, mainly because she believes its her role as a mother to act as though everything is fine. While her intentions are good, she’s slow to admit that Turner and the authorities are corrupt, that their situation is bleak, or that she might need to manipulate certain people to get her way. But in the end, she is willing to go to great lengths to protect her family, from both external threats and the threat of dissolution.

In several key aspects, this story demonstrates some of the overriding themes and feelings that were present during the early cold war. We have the specter of war and dictatorship, the focus on the single-parent family, the idea of domesticity and sexism, and the affirmation of the mother figure who will do whatever it takes, even if she seems naive and silly, to keep her family safe and secure. While it might seem dated by modern standards, it is nevertheless a fitting and accurate portrayal of life in the 1950’s and the likelihood of what would come of it if the bombs started to fall.

The Time Machine:
Last, but not least, we have the story that has made my lists in one form or another on numerous occasions. In addition to being an example of utopian and dystopian fiction, The Time Machine is also a fitting example of post-apocalyptic science fiction. This is part of what makes H.G. Wells novella a timeless classic, in that it transcends or jumps between genres and can therefore be read from a number of different perspectives.

In this respect, the Time Traveler’s trip to the distant future, where the world has degenerated into a two-tier structure between the monstrous Morlocks and the stagnant but beautiful Eloi, can be seen as an example of post-apocalyptic society. What’s more, their respective degeneration is seen as the result of humanity’s obsession with class distinction, the masters becoming lazy and ineffectual while the workers have become cannibalistic and brutish.

Another apocalyptic element in the story comes towards the end when the Time Travelers recovers his machine from the Morlocks and travels another 30 million years into the future. Once there, he sees some of the last living things on a dying Earth, a red landscape similar to that of Mars which is covered by lichenous vegetation and crab-like creatures wandering across blood-red beaches. As he jumps further, he sees the Earth’s rotation gradually cease and the sun die out, the world falling silent and freezing as the last organisms die off.

In a deleted section of text, which H.G. Wells apparently included in the original serial version at the behest of his editor, but cut from the novel once it was published. Here, Wells demonstrated “the ultimate degeneracy” of man by having the Time Traveler escape from the Morlocks and jump once more before traveling 300 millions years into the future. Here, he found an unrecognizable Earth populated by furry, hopping herbivores, which he interpreted to be the descendents of the Morlocks and Eloi. Thus, in addition to first losing the instincts that defined humanity at its greatest, the Morlocks and Eloi, themselves descended from humans, even reverted to an earlier state of evolution in the end.

Though not a post-apocalyptic tale in the strictest sense, this story does contain the necessary elements of such a story. You have humanity degenerating as a result of cataclysmic events or its own inherent weaknesses, civilization as we know it being destroyed or disappearing, and even the world itself coming to an end.

Final Word:
And that’s all I got for post-apocalyptic sci-if. Sure, there are countless more examples that could be included, but three lists is enough for me and I’m neck deep in other concepts that are vying for page time. In the coming weeks, expect more news on technology, space exploration, the upcoming anthology, Data Miners (set for release in August) and plenty of assorted tidbits on stuff that relates to the world of science and science fiction. Take care all and see you again soon!

The Post-Apocalypse in Sci-Fi (Part II)

Akira:
This futuristic tale takes place in Neo-Tokyo, an ultra-modern city that was built on the ruins of the old after an incident touched off World War III. This is a major them in the movie Akira and manga it was adapted from. Throughout the entire story, there is a pervasive sense of shock and horror over the destruction of the old city, and a sense of dread that it might happen again very soon…

Enter into this story the characters of Kaneda and Tetsuo, two orphan boys who belong to a biker gang that is constantly engaged in battles with other gangs for control of the streets. Being children of the system after their parents died in the war, all they really have is each other and the other members of their biker gang. These surrogate families and their ongoing feuds provide a sense of community and an outlet for their pent-up energies, living in a world characterized by boredom and angst and haunted by a past filled with horror.

In addition, you have Colonel Shikishima, a man who witnessed WWIII and has dedicated himself to the rebuilding and ensuring that it never happens again. In addition to being a main character, he is representative of the generational gap in the story. As a stern, disciplined military man who was shaped by apocalyptic events, he is appalled by the sense 0f self-indulgence which he feels has set in with the younger generation.

And the apocalyptic nature of the story is something which is demonstrated over and over through intense scenes and nightmarish visions. In short, it’s an awesome take on the post-apocalyptic scenario, which could only come from firsthand experience.

Alas, Babylon:
This 1959 novel by Pat Frank is one of the first post-apocalyptic stories of the nuclear age and has remained a science fiction ever since. Taking place in small town in Central Florida, Fort Repose, the story opens with a veteran-turned-lawyer named Randy Bragg who gets a cryptic telegram from his brother who works for the Strategic Air Command. He informs his brother that he will be sending his wife and kids to stay with his Randy, and ends it with “Alas Babylon”, a biblical reference which his brother uses as a euphemism ford disaster.

In time, he learns that the bad news concerns a potential Soviet attack, which inevitably takes place after much escalation. After bringing his sister-in-law and her kids to their home, they are all awoken in the night to the sounds of Miami being bombed. They residents awake to witness a mushroom cloud forming over Tampa shortly thereafter, and the events which characterize the following 24 hours they come to name “The Day” – i.e. a one day war.

The story delves into the effects of “The Day”, which are felt differently by people in Fort Repose. Tourists are trapped in their hotels, convicts escape from jails and prisons, the local retirement homes are filled with panicked people, and just about everyone tries to withdraw their money from the local bank and buy up supplies. The only reliable means of news comes through short wave radio.

As chaos begin to set in, Randy begins to organize neighbors to provide housing, food, and water for themselves and organizes the community to defense itself against highwaymen. As an active Army Reserve officer, Randy learns that he has the legal right to exercise martial law, and an order comes in over the short wave from the acting Chief Executive (who is governing from a bunker in Colorado) for any surviving officers to form local militias.

In the end, military helicopters arrive to evacuate people, but are refused as the locals tell them that they want to stay in the new home they have built. They learn the war is over, that the USA prevailed, and that country is now being run from Denver. However, the victory came at a tremendous cost, Millions are dead, entire stretches of the country are irradiated and won’t be habitable for a thousand years, and the US is now a third-rate power that is dependent on third world countries for aid. Faced with this prospect, the people of Fort Repose settle in and decide to face the “thousand year” night that is coming.

This book not only introduced readers to the likely prospect of what would happen in the event of WWIII, it also presented a likely scenario of how that was going to happen. While it the Soviets were apparently planning an attack in the first place, it was an accident that touched everything off. And in the end, how people went about rebuilding and trying to restore some semblance of normalcy was quite classic. In addition to inspiring numerous generations of nuclear holocaust fiction, numerous apocalyptic franchises owe an allegiance to him, not the least of which is the re-imagined series of Battlestar Galactica.

The City of Ember:
This post-apocalyptic story, written by Jeanne DuPrau in 2003, takes place in an underground city named Ember. After many years of continuous habitation, the city is slowly running out of power and supplies. Similar to in tone and structure to Suzanne Martel’s 1963 story The City Under Ground, this city was apparently built to ensure that humanity had a place to live and wait out the effects of nuclear war.

The story begins when a two protagonists, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, receive a message which is apparently left by “the Builders” containing clues that could lead them back to the outside world. This message was kept in a box that was passed down from mayor to mayor, with instructions that it be opened after two hundred years. Until recently, the box had been lost, but as soon as Mayfleet and Harrow find it, the race is on to decipher it and find a way to the surface.

In the end, the children follow the note’s instructions through a series of caves that lead them towards the surface. When they see the city from above, they realize that they are underground, something which they never knew before. This scene, which calls to mind Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”, provides the story’s big revelation. The story then ends on a cliffhanger note with the girls trying to alert the other inhabitants of what they’ve found.

The Matrix:
The setting and back story of the Matrix revolve around two fundamental facts: One, that a terrible war between humanity and AI’s took place in the future; and two, that what is left of humanity lives underground due to the devastation wrought on the planet’s surface. Enter into this the concept of the Matrix, a simulated reality where humans are kept docile by being fed the lie that they live in the pre-millenial world, at a time when human’s were still in charge.

But of course, not all human beings are able to accept the program and experience a sort of existential crisis as a result. When Mr. Anderson, hacker alias Neo, is presented with the answers he so desperately seeks, he is horrified to learn the terrible truth. Not only was it the year significantly later than he thought, but the world as he knows it was destroyed long ago. All major cities reduced to rubble, the sky itself has been “scorched”, and the surface rendered a cold, uninhabitable shadow of its former self.

This is a crucial element of the Matrix, which is not just a sci-fi story set in a post-apocalyptic world, but a metaphor for truth and “false consciousness”. With reality so displeasing and harsh, there are many who would prefer the warm comfort of a simulated world, which just happens to be a recreation of happier, stabler times. The metaphor is not just thick, but multi-layered!

It is for this reason that the majority of human beings accept the programming of the Matrix, even if they are only aware of this acceptance on an unconscious level. It is also the reason why those who choose to opt out of it, due to an innate feeling that their reality isn’t real, is a choice which must be made many times over. As Cypher himself demonstrated in the first movie, not everyone has the stomach for the real world, and will willingly betray their comrades for a chance to be put back inside. Others however, find hope in the prophecy of “The One”, the person who’s arrival will herald the end of the war and peace for humanity at last… or so it seems!

The Omega Man:
Released in 1971 and starring (once again) Charlton Heston, this movie post-apocalyptic film is a classic amongst film buffs. Based on the 1954 novel, I Am Legend, this story has gone through many adaptations over the years and has been spoofed and imitated endlessly. Though the plot was updated for the most recent version (2007, starring Wil Smith), much of the elements – a post-apocalyptic world, a lone human survivor, fighting against mutants – have remained the same.

Essentially, the plot takes place in a world that has been devastated after a terrible plague was unleashed and wreaked havoc on the world. In the film versions, this involved biological warfare between the Soviet Union and China – or a mutated cure for cancer – but was only hinted at in the book. In any case, the story revolves around a man named Robert Neville, a doctor who seems to be the last man on Earth, hence the term “Omega Man”.

Though technically not the last living creature, Neville appears to be the last human being who has not succumbed to the most dreaded aspect of the plague – transformation into a flesh-eating mutant. Whereas most of humanity died after exposure, a small minority was converted, leaving an even smaller minority of infected to be hunted as prey. Living in a fortified apartment with an arsenal, Neville spends his days patrolling the abandoned city and killing members of “The Family” – the albino mutants who are hunting him.

At the same time, Neville is dedicated to finding other survivors who have not turned. Eventually, he is saved by one such group of people, but discovers that they are not immune as he is. He decides to treat others using his own blood as a serum, while at the same time escaping to the wilderness to start a new life while leaving the mutants to die in the city. Ultimately, Neville is forced to sacrifice himself to stop the Family from overtaking the rest of them, but the survivors make it out, carrying with them a vial of his blood.

Though significantly different from the original novel, all versions of the story deal with a world in which all of humanity has been wiped out by a biological agent, not nuclear war or a natural disaster.

The Road:
This 2006 novel by Cormac McCarthy, which was adapted into a 2009 movie of the same name, takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where a father and son wander the landscape together. Though it is not specified what caused the destruction they are forced to witness and endure, what is clear is the effect it had on the survivors. Most people have given up hope in the ashen landscape, while others struggle to stay alive and some even turn to cannibalism to survive.

The plot involves an unnamed father and son who are venturing south towards the coast because they have realized that they will not survive the winter where they lived. Though the father is dying and they have barely any possessions to speak of, and the land in between is filled with horrors, the two keep going, fending off roving bands of cannibals and raiders and maintaining hope that the coast will be their deliverance.

All along, is father assures his son that they are the “good guys” who are “carrying the fire” through a dark terrible land. In the end, they find no refuge when they reach the sea and are forced to venture back inland, but the father finally succumbs to his illness and dies. He tells his son to maintain hope and to speak to him in his mind after he is gone, and the boy holds a vigil for days over his father’s body when he finally passes on.

With no idea what to do or where to go, he is eventually found by another family who claim to have been tracking them. The father of the group assures him he is one of the “good guys” and asks the son to join them. With no other options available to him, he agrees to join them and they set off together to find a new home.

Inspired by McCarthy’s own relationship with his son, and a great deal of speculation about what the apocalypse would look like, this story is a very personal take on the end civilization and the struggle to survive. Whereas a great deal of the survivors have resorted to unspeakable acts in order to stay alive, McCarthy redeems humanity by showing the lengths to which regular people will go to protect their families and ensure that good people live on when all the world goes to hell.

The Scarlet Plague:
Here we have a post-apocalyptic classic that predates the nuclear age. Written by Jack London and published in 1912, this story was the original “last man on Earth” scenario which inspired such works as I Am Legend and many others. In addition to being based on the idea of a plague wiping out nearly all of humanity, the stories resolution involves the main character imparting his knowledge to others to ensure that something survives when he is gone.

The story is set in San Francisco in the year 2073, sixty-years after a terrible epidemic, known as the Red Death,has depopulated the planet. Enter into this the story’s protagonist, a man named James Howard Smith, a survivors from the pre-plague era. As an aging man living in the San Francisco area, he is faced with the unpleasant question of what will happen when he dies. As one of the few people who is old enough to remember the pre-plague days, he possesses rare knowledge which will be lost.

Through Howard’s narrative, we learn how the plague spread throughout the world and of the struggles of the handful of survivors it left in its wake. This is apparently being told to his grandchildren, who he has decided to teach everything he knows to ensure that his knowledge will not be lost.

Much like the novels it helped inspire, the Scarlet Plague’s real value lies in its personal nature, relating how the struggle to survive goes beyond the mere physical. In the end, it is when people are facing death that what is most important in life is realized and affirmed. Or to put it is as Commander Adama did, “It’s not enough to survive. One must be worthy of survival.” Sorry! My mind keeps going back to BSG with all this post-apocalyptic talk. More on that one later…

The Terminator:
Central to the story of the Terminator franchise is “Judgement Day”, the day when humanity was nearly destroyed in a nuclear holocaust that was triggered by the sentient machine known as “Skynet”. This serves as the backdrop to the story, along with the ensuing war between the human resistance and the machines its spawned.

Though the majority of the story takes place in modern-day Los Angeles, a great deal of attention is dedicated to the war in the future and what life is like for those who survived Judgement Day. Kyle Reese described his life in the following way: “There was a nuclear war… There were survivors. Here, there. Nobody even knew who started it. It was the machines… I grew up after. In the ruins… starving… hiding from [Hunter-Killers]. Patrol machines built in automated factories. Most of us were rounded up, put in camps for orderly disposal. ”

Eventually, these camps were liberated by John Conner, the leader of the Resistance. After training and equipping the survivors, effectively turning them into a fighting force, Conner led them in a protracted war against the machines. For the most part, the resistance lived and operated out of underground facilities and went out at night to fight HK’s and Terminator’s, guerrilla-style. Survivors and refugees were gathered in these facilities, and their defenders were forced to constantly be on guard against infiltrators. Eventually, John Conner organized all his fighters into a massive offensive force and led them against the Skynet’s central HQ, destroying it and winning the war for humanity.

It was for this exact reason that the machines built their time machine and began sending Terminators back into the past. Since they could not defeat Resistance in the present, they reasoned that eliminating their commander before he was even born was their only recourse. This provides the set up for the entire franchise, with both the machines and the Resistance sending people back in time; the former to kill him and the latter to protect him and ensure that the war could be prevented.

The Walking Dead:
Fans of this franchise will know instantly why I’ve chosen to include it on this list. Not only is it a gritty, realistic take on the zombie apocalypse, but it also manages to capture the essence of survival and the struggle to stay human when everything around you has fallen. Part of what makes this show so bang on is the fact that the character’s personal struggles go well beyond the need to stay alive.

In addition to finding food, ammo, and a place to set down, there’s also the constant battle to keep hope alive. This takes them at first to the CDC, where the expect to find answers, a cure, and some protection. But of course, all they find is a single scientist who can explain how the zombie illness works, but has no idea how to cure it.

And of course, the familiar and realistic themes of loss, suicide, procreation, betrayal, and brutalization play a central role to the development of the story. Everyone who has survived the zombie apocalypse has lost people near and dear to their heart. As a result, many people have a hard time going on, some of whom commit or actively contemplate suicide. Rick and Sarah, the show’s main protagonists, also face a tough choice when they realize she is pregnant. Essentially, they’re not sure it would a good idea to bring a baby into this post-apocalyptic world. Much like the decision to carry on, it often seems that embracing death would be a far more merciful decision.

Amongst the other main characters, there is also the extremely difficult choice between survival at all costs and maintaining one’s humanity. Whereas Shane seems to favor survival, and becomes a hardened, amoral man who will kill anyone who gets in his way, the elderly Dale is committed to not being pulled down into a world of misery and letting it change him. With everyone else, the decision is the same, with people falling to one side or the other and divisions setting in.