What would happen if humanity ceased to exist?
Well, assuming, of course, that earth itself has not been destroyed in this hypothetical apocalypse, the world would continue quite happily without us.
People have long speculated about what would happen in the weeks, months, and years after the end of humanity. There is an obvious perverse pleasure in seeing the world we have destroyed, and continue to destroy, getting its revenge. There’s a misanthropy in this type of speculation, what’s sometimes called “catastrophe porn”, but there’s also a humble recognition that ultimately we are, as humans, largely insignificant in the vast scale of things.
Whatever we feel, we are definitely attracted to exploring the idea; apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction has been around for a long time. We like to imagine the end of the world, but it’s quite hard to write a narrative with no people, so what we also like to do, is to imagine what would happen if just a small number of people remained. Not quite the end of the world, but the end of world as we know it.
Post-apocalyptic stories combine so many fascinating elements: there’s the speculation about the future, the frequent sense of adventure and problem solving in a new and dangerous world, the science fictional world building, the appeal to our curiosity about the future of our species. And the profound, complex questions about us, about our relationship with our planet, and with each other, and the huge societal issues that we face.
In conversation with Professor Heather Hicks, from Villanova University, this episode explores the end of the world, from plagues to nuclear war, drought to zombie hordes, Mary Shelley’s The Last Man to the best contemporary post-apocalyptic fiction.
For links, pictures, a full transcript and more head to wttepodcast.com