Hugh Howey: It’s the end of the world as we know it

Today we welcome Hugh Howey, author of the WOOL books, recent favorites of mine. If you haven’t read them, you really must! Unless, that is, the world ends tomorrow… And if it doesn’t, we’ll send one commenter the Kindle version of the WOOL omnibus or a book from our stacks

Hugh Howey

It starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane — Lenny Bruce is not afraid.

So begins R.E.M.’s classic hit about the end of the world. Now, I don’t know what Lenny Bruce’s source of inner strength was, but he would likely find himself mostly alone these days. Disaster is looming, right? Except… disaster has been looming for as long as mankind has been around.

The end of all things. We’ve been obsessing about this non-event for as long as we have records. 2,000 years before R.E.M. sang their breathless tune, Paul the Apostle was warning that the end-times would occur, and soonest. The Doctrine of Imminence was founded on the belief that the Second Coming, with all the attendant plague of locusts and other really awful and un-fun things, was due to arrive before Paul’s generation was out. Like all doomsday predictions, Paul got it wrong. And we’ve been getting it wrong ever since.

Tomorrow we’ll witness yet another big poof of nothingness. Just like Y2K, a meaningless date will come and go, and the cosmos will keep on spinning. (Sorry Mayans!) Of course, I’m not all that fascinated by the failure of these predictions to come true. What fascinates me is our collective obsession with the end times. For many, the obsession takes the form of fear. For others, it’s like a crazy kind of longing. I think a few people look forward to the day!

A belief that the world is going to end has made for great popcorn munching of late. Disaster films became a genre in my lifetime. Books like THE HUNGER GAMES and my own WOOL series have captivated readers with the promise of a miserable future to look forward to. And the fascination spans the political spectrum. From theists to environmentalists, you get the same sort of fervor on both sides. Most seem to agree that the fan is sitting there spinning, and the poop is in the air and well-aimed. It’s only a matter of time. Meanwhile, generations of Jeremiads and Chicken Littles have come and gone, and the world is still here.

But surely it can’t go on forever, right? Isn’t this the same way we goad ourselves into playing the lottery? Yeah, the chances are crap, but somebody’s gotta win! Eventually, one generation will bemoan all the bad stuff heading their way, and they’ll look like geniuses when it does!

My thinking is that the genre is popular mostly because it makes for automatic tension. This is the new fantasy. It’s easier to believe in than wizards and dragons. And so as we become more technologically savvy, and we aren’t quite ready for full-on science fiction, we turn to urban fantasy and post apocalyptic stories because they provide a new and fantastical world to explore, but one we can believe in. One that might be possible, however unlikely.

This is my Thoughtful Thursday quandary: How many of you love these genres without buying into the doomsday stuff? I get emails from readers all the time asking me if I’m a prepper. I have to tell them that I’m more like Lenny Bruce — I am not afraid. But I do love the worlds we can imagine after the poop hits the fan. It’s fun to think of how we would try and survive, what we would cobble together for resources, and how humans would treat one another once the rules were taken away.

So, what do you all think, both as readers and believers? Is the world going to end anytime soon? Or do you just love reading about the possibility that it might? Why do we believe in doomsday prophecies when they never pan out? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Oh, and don’t forget how the refrain ends: It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

(Until people quit reading post apocalyptic books, that is!)

See you tomorrow?

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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  1. I am about halfway through Wool and I had to take a break. The story really sucked me in, but it is a world I needed a break from for a while. This is a genre I normally steer clear of, but I’m glad I took the recommendation/order from Ruth to give it a try.
    I do think the world we know will end at some point in the future but I don’t think anyone can predict when that happens. And I do prefer the finding other worlds and populating the stars stories more than the dystopian stories that are such a hit right now.

  2. I don’t think there’s a single reason for the popularity of apocalyptic fiction and the dominant reason changes through time. In the 50’s and 60’s the focus was on post-nuclear war and many of the stories were cautionary tales of events which seemed all too plausible. This is very different than the more recent obsession with the zombie apocalypse, which most people presumably don’t believe will happen but is a genre/theme currently run amok.

    The 2012 fascination is simply marketing, plain and simple. The media has artificially drummed up the story to create “news”. Most people wouldn’t have ever heard of the Mayan doomsday predictions otherwise.

    I personally don’t have any particular like or dislike for fiction of these sorts. I like a good story and an interesting setting/situation. This can be done in “classic” fantasy or it can be done in a modern apocalypse. Whether it is good or bad is generally independent of the setting.

  3. Melanie Goldmund /

    I do think the world will end eventually. If I’m unlucky, it might even happen in my lifetime, though I hope not, of course. But in the meantime, I’m enjoying life. I believe in being prepared for any emergency that might happen, not only the end of the world, but smaller things too.

    As for the post-disaster genre, I don’t read every book about it that I can find, but I do read some of them. Why do I read any at all? I like thinking about possible futures and wondering what I’d do if it happened to me. Plus, I love it when the main characters break free and find or make something better.

  4. SandyG265 /

    I like reading an occassional post apocolypse novel. I enjoy seeing what authors envision for the future.

  5. April V. /

    I think I could be called a ‘prepper lite’ because I’m one of those people that carries just about everything (need a screwdriver? TP? Candle? Knife? Matches? I got you covered.) with me wherever I go. But, I don’t do this because I truly thing the world will end or anything, but I just don’t like realizing that I really could have used that awl the other day and why didn’t I have it with me??

    I also steer clear of apocalyptic fiction, though I’ve read some of it. I mostly do this because they tend to be low on laugh out loud humor which is something I am always on the lookout for. I want funny, happy, it all ends well fiction because daily real life needs the relief.

    Do I believe the world will end? Eventually. Will I care when it happens? Not at all. I’ll be bits of space goo at that point I’d think.

  6. On the “prepper” side, it doesn’t take doomsday to make life really inconvenient –one big storm, earthquake or power outage can do it, and have some stuff set aside to get you through for a few days is just good sense.

    It seems to me that the best of the post-doomsday stuff deals with questions about how you create a society, and a government. It’s like, “Let’s re-set the rules, and watch what happens.”

  7. I love the stories about people banding together after the fall, but not just returning to normal, but evolving into cultures and technologies that represent genius under pressure to survive.


  8. I’m still waiting for the zombies to come out….sniff sniff

  9. “It’s fun to think of how we would try and survive, what we would cobble together for resources, and how humans would treat one another once the rules were taken away.”

    I think this is what I like about this type of story. I do think it’s fun to think about survival. Part of that is just the “survival of the fittest” idea. Would I be fit enough to survive? I don’t know….

  10. Elida, if you live in the USA, you win the WOOL omnibus or a book of your choice from our stacks. Please contact me (Tim) with your choice and a US address.

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