Monday, April 23, 2012

An Apocalyptic Appendix N, Part 4

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream - Another Harlan Ellison entry.  In this story, supercomputers built to manage Earth's military systems decide to wipe out humanity, and only a single insane, malicious computer remains, tormenting the humans left to it's not so tender mercies.  It contains one of the most intense lines ever set to paper, "HATE. LET ME TELL YOU HOW MUCH I'VE COME TO HATE YOU SINCE I BEGAN TO LIVE. THERE ARE 387.44 MILLION MILES OF PRINTED CIRCUITS IN WAFER THIN LAYERS THAT FILL MY COMPLEX. IF THE WORD HATE WAS ENGRAVED ON EACH NANOANGSTROM OF THOSE HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF MILES IT WOULD NOT EQUAL ONE ONE-BILLIONTH OF THE HATE I FEEL FOR HUMANS AT THIS MICRO-INSTANT FOR YOU. HATE. HATE."

The Stand - I started to write this about the story, but as I thought about it, the TV series from the 90s actually isn't that bad, although it was due more to some great acting choices than anything else.  Rob Lowe, Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Jamey Sheridan, Laura San Giacomo, the TV movie was A Big Deal when it came out.   Even though it keeps the Worst Ending to a 1000+ Page Book Ever Written, the first half to three quarters of the show remain one of the most riveting tales of the breakdown of civilization ever, and only enhance the power of the narrative in the book.  It spoiled me on apocalyptic fiction, though.  The tendency is, with a topic as large as the End of Days, to condense it, to coax it into a personal tale that is representative of the larger story.  And while that's nice and all, I still find myself wondering in Night of the Living Dead, for instance, what is going on everywhere else?  And while you get hints at that, with the radio bulletins and such, it still feels as though you're only being told half the story, or less!  Not so with the Stand, which manages to walk in both worlds, telling a tale that is simultaneously very personal, and on a grand scale.  Again, if it weren't for the ending, which to this day gets me riled up, this would rank much higher.  But the chapter where he talks about the spread of the disease, describing it as a "chain letter that finally worked", haunts me to this day.

When the Wind Blows - God this was depressing.  I mean, it was meant to be, but even by those standards, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.  It literally takes all the fun out of the apocalypse, introducing a sweet old couple that reminds most people of their own elderly relatives.  They are natives of England who hear about the war coming on soon, and remember their time hunkering down during WWII, even romanticizing it a bit.  They listen to the government warnings, prepare just as they're supposed to, and are as ready as they can be for when the bomb finally hits.

And then they spend the rest of the movie dying.

Seriously, that's it.  And then they die.  Sorry, I try and avoid spoilers in these, but it's hard to avoid in this case.  The purpose of the film was to raise anti-war sentiment, and they were not too ashamed to resort to emotional manipulation to do so.  Seriously, a horrible, horrible movie that just depresses you.  Or at least, it depresses me.

On the bright side... um.... it has music by Roger Waters, David Bowie and Genesis?

The Grand Daddy of scary Apocalyptic fiction, though is...

The Plant People -  I read this on vacation on Cape Cod as a boy of maybe 8 or so, and it damn near ruined my vacation.  It terrified me then, and still gives me the creeps to this day.  A fog blows through what I remember as being a southwestern town.  People start acting strangely, then they disappear.  One intrepid young lad sets out to find out what's going on, and discovers that the townsfolk are actually turning into cacti!  It sounds silly, but the book includes photographs, which were doctored to go along with the story, lending a horrible sort of authenticity. 

As you can see by the spacing of the text, it's very obviously written for a younger audience, but the pictures just give it a creepy vibe that, literally 25 years later, keeps this story at the forefront of my mind when I think of apocalyptic fiction.  Seriously - keep your kids away from this book unless you want to scar them for life!

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