What is it about apocalypses? ~ Outside the Margins with Kelly Jensen

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I have long been a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre. Over the years, I’ve accrued an impressive collection of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, film and art. I have files of research regarding possible catastrophe, and my basement is set up a bit like a fallout shelter. (My husband is still considering my request for a secret, lead-lined floor panel to conceal the entrance.) I also write about apocalypses fairly often. My first published book was a post-apocalyptic love story. I suppose I have what you might call a bit of an obsession—and I’m hardly alone. My fellow doomsayers are a prolific lot.

What is it about apocalypses that we find so fascinating?

Frankly, it’s not the disaster that beguiles me so much as the aftermath—what happens next. The question of why has a rather easy answer: it’s a clean slate. We live such complicated lives. From the moment we wake in the morning until our last conscious gasp every night, our minds are awhirl with lists, deadlines, plans, joys, wishes and regrets. Our worries are tangible and nebulous. They may keep us up at night and they’re still there every morning. Even those of us with simple existences are affected by complicated concerns—war, famine, disease, climate change, the depletion of global resources, questions of sustainability, rogue asteroids, aliens and…zombies.

Arguably, life would be a lot more complex if we had to spend every day one step ahead of roving packs of reanimated corpses hungry for our brains. April 15 could come and go without a worry, however, unless the IRS has a plan for after the apocalypse. Credit card debt and crippling mortgages would disappear with a moist and crunchy pop. A college degree is not required to swing a baseball bat with comfortable ease. No need to shop the sales when your grocery list contains one item: food. And counting calories, or watching your salt intake, isn’t going to be a priority. Finding time to exercise will not be a problem.

We as a species are generally not content to spend our lives running, however. At some point, we will attempt to civilize ourselves again, and this is the part I love reading and writing about. Starting over. The reimagining of human society. The base appeal of grand catastrophe is the opportunity to set things to rights afterwards.

Ordering the Chaos

Who will we choose to be next time around? What impact will near extinction have on our new culture? The biggest question might be whether history is doomed to repeat itself—which it often does in stories written before the last century or so. But with so much fiction set beyond the borders of our solar system, the possibilities are as boundless as our imagination. We even have stories of alien apocalypses (which often become tales of our own demise as displaced peoples decide Earth might make a suitable replacement).


(The surface of Mars is wonderfully post apocalyptic, while at the same time being a blank canvas. Image: NASA.gov)

I’ve designed a few of post-apocalyptic worlds. The one from my aforementioned post-apocalyptic love story, Less Than Perfect, is something like that last scenario. The aliens have come and, while I don’t reveal their true purpose, it’s obvious they mean to claim Earth as their own. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but also just as simple.

In another world I want to write in, the apocalypse nearly happens. I use aliens again, and the near miss (along with some other politics) inspires the construction of ark ships. Fast forward fifty years and one of these ships (privately funded and packed with very special embryos) finds a habitable planet. Fast forward another seven hundred years and the resultant society on that planet is going to be almost wholly alien. What started out as a human colony will have been shaped by the environment and their own unique history. Their origin is only going to be a small part of who these people are.

Building this society has been a fascinatingly complex exercise and I have two WIPs in this setting. It’s a world I’ve put a lot of effort and thought into, and one I’d like to write in for a while. In fact, every time I get a new story idea, I automatically try to fit it into this universe. The writer’s imagination is a fickle thing, however, so my current project has an entirely new setting, and—surprise, surprise—it’s also post-apocalyptic.

Most writers have a few projects on the go—and, sadly, a number of projects that get a word here and there, but will probably never see the light of day. Creating worlds and characters is our way of doodling, I suppose. Not a wasted exercise, but something we use to stretch and limber our writing muscles.

Designing post-apocalyptic worlds seems to be my comfort zone. It’s where I go when I want to relax and enjoy myself. That might seem weird—and somewhat disturbing—until you take into account our general fascination with disaster. When I read about humanity rising from the ashes of corruption to start again, I’m taking a breath of fresh air and opening my mind and heart to possibility. When I propose a world where the unthinkable has happened, I’m not secretly plotting our extinction. Rather, I’m cleaning my own personal slate. I’m imposing order upon the chaos of my own life by retreating into a fantasy that is familiar and comfortable while also being a way for me to explore life beyond our borders.

So, maybe my obsession with apocalypses isn’t really all that weird after all.  I doubt this argument will say my husband next time I ask for a secret door through the pantry to the basement. But if the end does arrive in my lifetime, perhaps my imagination will be as valuable a commodity as my store of beans and sleeping bags.

If you want to talk about your favourite disaster, drop me a line or comment below. If you’d like some post-apocalyptic recommendations (either books or film), I’m happy to comply!


~Kelly Jensen

About Kelly Jensen

If aliens ever do land on Earth, Kelly will not be prepared, despite having read over a hundred stories of the apocalypse. Still, she will pack her precious books into a box and carry them with her as she strives to survive. It’s what bibliophiles do.

Kelly is the author of a number of novels, novellas and short stories, including the Chaos Station series, co-written with Jenn Burke. At lot of what she writes is speculative in nature, but sometimes it’s just about a guy losing his socks and/or burning dinner. Because life isn’t all conquering aliens and mountain peaks. Sometimes finding a happy ever after is all the adventure we need.

You can chat with Kelly on Twitter @kmkjensen or visit her blog at http://kellyjensenwrites.com where she rambles on about anything and everything.

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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2 thoughts on “What is it about apocalypses? ~ Outside the Margins with Kelly Jensen

  1. Your idea of the embryo ship and new society sounds really interesting. I hope we get to read some books set there! And I definitely think your imagination would be an asset in a post-apocalyptic (that is a difficult word to type) world. Thanks for the post!

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