Photo by Nur Andi Ravsanjani Gusma
Walter C. Boutwell’s books on post-apocalyptic fiction, the OMAI series, are novel takes on the apocalypse, continuing the tradition of writers and poets imagining how the world might end.
Since humans learned how to think and make up stories, some have been obsessed with how society, and the world by extensions, would end. Eschatological musings are not a recent invention but are a tradition that goes way back, from the world-ending battle of the gods as depicted in Ragnarök to the Gnostic predictions of the Archons collapsing on each other before Earth sinks into the void. Of course, now apocalyptic fare has to do with natural calamities, manufactured destruction, and sometimes even forays into alien hostilities.
As long as people exist, they will always imagine what it would take to stop it from being so. In these modern times, there have been many new arrangements, conceptions, and some mere adaptations of existing theories. At the same time, some are invented out of whole cloth, such as Walter C. Boutwell’s books on post-apocalyptic fiction, which envision a world thoroughly divided along age demographics—a neat and under-utilized idea.
But here are some of the most common and most likely scenarios that the current generation or the ones following them are going to face:
Mushroom People Are HERE
This scenario was thoroughly explored in the Last of Us series of games, depicting a world ravaged by a fungal infection that animated dead human bodies. It is the closest possibility of a zombie apocalypse happening.
While it has undoubtedly been observed happening in simpler creatures like ants and frogs, the chances of a fungal virus that translates to human body systems are so far-off that it seems almost just a fun science-fiction concept.
While it would be a stretch to say that we are coming close to any hyper-intelligent machine that outpaces humanity in cognition and creation, there has been a growing worry in recent years. The possibility of malfunctioning artificial intelligence grows each year, and before an untimely death, Stephen Hawking warned that A.I. could be the worst event in the history of civilization!
There are generally two flavors of machine apocalypse: the most popular one is the construction of humanoid robots implanted with human-level intelligence, who become self-aware enough that they realize that they don’t have to be commanded by humans. Examples of this flavor would be the Terminator series and I, Robot.
The second flavor is found more in literature than on the silver screen. It is the grey goo hypothesis. It says that self-replicating nanomachines will eventually consume the whole world and blanket the Earth’s surface with its clones.
The Rocks Are Falling!
Perhaps best portrayed in the movie Armageddon, and more recently in the Netflix film Don’t Look Up, asteroids hitting Earth is a common far future scenario. In this event, a large enough asteroid strikes Earth, and the resulting impact wreaks so much havoc on the ecosystem, the atmosphere, the water cycle, etc., that humans die out by way of the dinosaurs.
Although a terrifying possibility, worries have been assuaged somewhat with the success of NASA’s DART mission that completely redirected the trajectory of an asteroid. So, fingers crossed!
The Next Black Death
Post-covid, the fears of a worldwide pandemic are not a fringe case. Throughout history, there have been deadly enough pandemics where millions of people die en masse. These events include the Black Death that killed upwards of 200 million. The Spanish Flu of 1918 decimated somewhere around 17-100 million. Pre-Columbian America’s depopulation was so devastating that there is no exact figure of how many Native Americans died from the diseases the Europeans brought with them.
Because of modern civilization’s overreliance on antibiotics and the increase in human migrations, more pandemics are indeed inevitable.
The War to End All Wars
After the Second World War ended and the United States dropped nukes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the likelihood of a world-ending war involving the copious exchange of nuclear weapons was at its peak during the Cold War. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the chances of an atomic apocalypse happening seemed to decrease.
But, with the recent war in Ukraine, the Chinese Communist Party’s desire to retake Taiwan, tensions between India and Pakistan, and North Korea, the world inches closer to being bathed in nuclear hellfire.
While actual projections don’t depict destruction, the aftermath of such an event would devastate everyone and everything.