No one ever told apocalyptic science fiction stories about the phrase “too soon.” For as long as we’ve been able to speculatively fictionalize our futures in books, TV, radio, films and beyond, the seeming end of the world has constantly been lurking just around the corner. Whether it’s the fictional Martian invasion of the infamous H.G. Wells/Orson Welles joint War of the Worlds, or the bleak, bleak world of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, science fiction is always warning us about the end. But in a way, there’s a weird amount of hope in this kind of thing; a sort of laughing into the darkness.
Two days ago, author Gary Shteyngart posted on his Facebook a photograph of a sign in Manhattan declaring all bridges and tunnels to be closed. Shteyngart captioned the shot with “The end is so totally nigh.” I liked this, because I had been thinking about his novel Super Sad True Love Story even before all the lights went out in my East Village neighborhood. So, below are seven sci-fi references that might make it all seem manageable while some of us wait for normal life to come back.
The Dark Knight Rises
Naturally, when I was told there was no way in or out of Manhattan on Sunday/Monday, the first thought that entered my mind was “Bane!” I shook my fist at the sky and wondered where that damn masked man was and how long it was going to take before Cillian Murphy was going to start deciding my fate. A fellow Tor.com blogger, Natalie Zutter, safe in Brooklyn and with electricity said, “Well Ryan, when the East River freezes over, at least you’ll have a way back here.” I haven’t seen Batman cruising around the city yet, but that doesn’t mean I’m not looking for him.
As my roommates and I ventured out into the pitch black East Village Streets, we immediately saw hordes of “people” shambling towards us in the darkness. “Walking Dead!” my roommate Marisa declared while clutching her wine glass. “Oh my god! It’s the Walking Dead!” Poor Marisa has been marathoning The Walking Dead on Netflix for the past two weeks, but I had to agree with her. When it’s that dark, and there’s no civilization, everyone looks like a zombie. Luckily enough for us, most of these shamblers just wanted to know if there was an open bar. There was, around the corner, and armed with candles and flashlights, drinks were poured and people laughed and cried a little until clsoing time at 4 AM. But, still, it looked like a bar full of zombies.
When Ray, Peter and Egon discover a river of slime running beneath the island of Manhattan, they also trigger a city-wide blackout, which is a major inconvenience for everyone, even their lawyer Louis Tulley. But, once Louis turned into a Terror Dog and they helped him out—long story. Personally, I really hope the Ghostbusters aren’t locked up in jail or in a mental institution right now. If Mayor Bloomberg really wanted to make me feel better about the recovery of the subway system and the power grid, all he needs to do is affect a heavy movie-style New York accent and say directly into the camera “somebody get me the Ghostbusters.”
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
In Vonnegut’s groundbreaking novel, a substance called Ice9 causes a sort of tidal wave of endless ice around the world. In the book, this has catastrophic effects, but I couldn’t help but think Ice9 might be handy in relation to Hurricane Sandy. If we’d dropped Ice9 on Sandy before it hit, would it have just frozen, suspended in the air? Would it have been like an ice continent hovering over the city? Could we have had claimed some awesome real estate up on said continent?
“They Don’t Make Life Like They Used To” by Alfred Bester
The collection Dark Side of the Earth contains one of my favorite Bester stories of all time, “They Don’t Make Life Like They Used To.” In this one, something crazy has happened to New York City and a woman is now living in the Central Park Boathouse as her residence. She and the other main character drive around a deserted New York City, drink booze, try on clothes and generally behave as though nothing is different. She constantly leaves IOUs in all the various shops and restaurants the pair hits up. I like this, because it signals her hope of a return to normalcy. I haven’t had to leave any IOUs yet, but the couches of my friends’ apartments are starting to feel like my new mailing address.
Right before Sandy hit the east coast, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in quoting aloud Samuel L. Jackson’s most famous line from Jurassic Park: “Hold onto your butts!” Though I didn’t have a cigarette dangling from my lower lip like Samuel L, I did feel the same sort of ironic resolve. Would the dinosaurs living in Central Park be loosed upon the city? And what about the phones? As of yesterday morning, I had no cell phone service in lower Manhattan, and as I hiked up past Times Square and was finally able to get through to my friends, all I could think about was Sam Neill’s awesome understatement from the end of the film: “The phones are working.” If you think about it, Jurassic Park is the perfect storm (pun intended) of a geek disaster movie. Real life danger (a hurricane!) coupled with sci-fi danger (dinosaurs!) My only frustration here is that I can’t blame the loss of power in NYC entirely on Nedry. If I’m lucky, Con Ed has Samuel L. Jackson and Sam Neill on the case.
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
Spoiler Alert! At the end of Super Sad True Love Story, most of New York City is plunged into utter chaos, leaving people with no communication whatsoever. The most heartbreaking part of this is when one of the protagonists, Eunice, is writing and sending e-mails which no one will ever receive. And though Twitter was working in the moments just after the blackout, I felt a little like Eunice the following morning. In the book, everyone uses a Facebook-like social media network called Global Teens. I laughed a little comfort laugh thinking of my Facebook and Twitter as Global Teens and myself as Eunice Park.
On behalf of everyone at Tor.com, my thoughts go out to anyone seriously effected by the hurricane. Let me know what sci-fi/fantasy is comforting you through the chaos!
Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com and is very thankful science fiction and fantasy prepared him for this emotionally.