Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Problem with Doomer Fiction

I'm a huge fan of Doomer Fiction. 

Well, mostly.

Sometimes, though, it's depressing, because it feels like most of the authors of this genre don't have much faith in their fellow man.  Most of the time in these novels the central plot involves a lot of people being really awful to each other.

I guess my experience is different.  Not that I've lived through TEOTWAWKI, but that, in an emergency situation, I've found people to be kind and helpful more often than people who are self-serving individualists.

I also believe that everyone has something to bring to the table.  We just don't always know what that thing is until we start to ask.  I mean, that person may not even know what he/she has until WE tell him/her.  

For example imagine that it is a TEOTWAWKI situation, and you have this neighbor you know by name, but you're not close.  Your lives run down different paths.  Her house looks like something out of the magazine Better Homes & Gardens.  All summer long, while you're breaking your back out in the woods gathering fuel to heat your home during the winter, she's vacationing in Aruba, or she's hanging out down at the beach - a place you never have time to go, because when you aren't working your soul-sucking 9 to 5 job, you're raising food or gathering firewood.   

She doesn't even do her own yard work.  During the summer, some guy stops by once a week to mow her lawn and weed her landscaping, none of which is edible.  She was, at least, accommodating when you asked her to switch her landscaper to someone who didn't use poisons that would waft over into your organic garden.  Probably, the fresh peach pie from your fruit tree helped to convince her.  She's not unreasonable - mostly. 

But she did make some disparaging remarks about your clothesline making the neighborhood look like an Irish slum, and that really nasty letter she wrote about your chicken coop being an eyesore and giving you three weeks to spruce up or she would go to the town, is still, kind of, stuck in your craw.

Then, the SHTF, and she's over at YOUR house asking for YOUR wood and YOUR supplies.  And acting as if YOU should help her, because .... Well, because you're neighbors. 

YOU know that the shit has hit the fan.  She doesn't know it, and she's acting like a little brat, because her house is cold and her power is out.

Do you tell her to go home and huddle in her cold, dark house, because you think she's pretty useless and she has nothing of value to offer?

Or do you invite her into your warm home (because you have a woodstove and fuel for it), give her a cup of coffee (because you gave up an electric coffee pot YEARS ago in favor of a French Press - which makes better coffee anyway - and with the woodstove you have a constant supply of hot water), explain what you believe is happening (because you've kept abreast of the latest news and know that the rest of the world is pretty well sick of us arrogant Americans), and ask her to tell you a little about her life?

It's possible that she grew up on an island and helped her father build their off-grid house.  It's possible that she visited Costa Rica as a youth missionary and learned to make sandals out of old tires.  It's possible that her hand sewn stitches are straighter and neater than a machine stitch, because she learned to do cross stitch and embroidery as a child as a way to cope with a neglectful mother and an alcoholic father.

Those are some pretty valuable skills.  Without machines to sew clothes, for instance, we'll need to be able to sew by hand.  It's a tedious task, and if it's not done properly, clothes fall apart.  Someone who can sit for hours hand stitching a flower on a napkin as an ornament, can surely piece together a pair of pants or a nice dress shirt.  She might even have some really nice sheets in that fancy-smancy house that she would be willing to use to make said shirt - which she'd happily make for you in exchange for some firewood and a jar of peaches.  

But if you slam your door shut, you'll never know these things, and maybe you can't see the immediate value of what she has to bring to the table, but when/if the shit-hits-the-fan for real, we can't possibly know what skills will be valuable.  If we end up in a powered-down world, people who can sew will be valuable.  

It's not just about food.

But what if it is all about food?

You have no idea what treasures might be hiding in her kitchen.  For instance, maybe she's a food snob and gourmet chef who only eats organic vegetables.  She has a massive spice cabinet that includes a lot of salt (are you getting it yet?) and several dozen varieties of fancy vinegars (light bulb, yet?).   She has an impressive wine cellar in her basement.  Originally, she was doing to have it climate controlled with electricity, but her contractor talked her into building it so that it took advantage of the natural temperature and humidity controls underground. 

Do you see what I'm saying?  SHE has a real, suburban ROOT CELLAR!  That's got to be worth something, right?

Plus, she a food snob, and so she has a refrigerator full of organic vegetables.  

You could help her save those vegetables from total ruin by teaching her to ferment.  And then, you could save the seeds so that, in the spring, you would all be able to plant MORE food, from ORGANIC seeds (which means the seeds will most likely NOT be sterile).

See, I know, as  Preppers, we have these fantasies about how prepared we are.  We think we have  covered all of our bases, but there's a really good chance that there's something we're missing, and you know why? Because none of us have ever been completely self-sufficient.  

None of us have.

And so we can be as prepared as we can be, but there is no single Prepper I know who doesn't find some weak spot in his/her preps every time there's a power outage or other event.

The fact is that, most of the time, we don't have to worry about it, because we know the emergency is short-term, and we can run to the store to get that milk or that replacement pair of jeans or a new pair of glasses.

But if we can't, then we will be forced to be dependent on people we may think are useless.
And that's what I hate about Doomer Fiction - the cavalier way that the characters, who believe themselves superior to their neighbors, because they've prepped and their neighbors haven't, can just dismiss other people.

I don't believe anyone is totally useless.  At very least, even if they don't have a lot of food or any stored water, they will have other stuff that can be valuable to the group.  If we just dismiss them out of hand, we could be digging our own graves.

I guess I just feel like, if the shit ever really does hit the fan, that it will be an amazing opportunity for us to build community and to teach and learn the skills we need to survive.  Maybe between all of us, if we're willing to share what we have with each other, we can build a life.  

In essence, as a group, we won't Just Survive.  We'll Thrive!


  1. Goodness, I'm a bit slow, I haven't read any doomer fiction at all. Except Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, Children of the New Forest and My Side of the Mountain. And they are kind of accidental doomer fiction. What is your absolute favourite? My plans for the future include learning how to do everything possible to do with gardening and preserving, and passing those skills along, and making lots of friends who can do everything else :)

    1. My absolute favorite is Into the Woods by Jean Heglund.

      Some others that were good: Last Light by Alex Scarrow (I was really looking forward to his sequel, but I haven't seen it, yet); The Stand by Stephen King; The Madd Addam series by Margaret Atwood (starts with Oryx and Crake); The Road by Cormac McCartht; Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank (I guess it's a movie, too ... who knew??); the series by S.M. Stirling (which I believe I've talked about on my blog).

      There are many, many others. I liked the ones mentioned, because both the writing and the stories are really good.

      I like the genre, because of the what-would-I-do-if thought exercise, but there are some equally compelling stories set during wars and economic collapses that provide useful insight into how we manage to survive when our proverbial legs are cut out from under us. Anything by writers who lived through hard times is good food for thought.

      My plans for the future are exactly what yours are ... and getting out of debt before I retire (with the plan to achieve that goal in the next five years ;)).

    2. One Second After by William Forstchen is an excellent novel about life after an EMP attack.

    3. I had a few problems with Forstchen's book. He promoted that same individualistic ideal - with a twist. The one character, his protagonist, was this bully-leader, who basically took over. He says he doesn't want to take charge, but when it comes down to it, he has no problem forcing his ideas and beliefs on people.

      The second thing was that there was no prepping in the very beginning. I mean, if the "leader" knew what was happening, and that things were going to go south really fast, instead of having that BBQ on that first day, why didn't he lead the people in preserving as much of the fresh food as they had? That bothered me - a lot.

      Then, the whole cannibal thing. Seems to me that cannibalism is a favorite topic in all of these TEOTWAWKI-type novels. Perhaps it would happen just as they predict, but I would hope that people wouldn't resort to eating each other three short weeks into an emergency. It just feels like it should take a lot longer to start being okay with eating other people.

  2. I totally agree! I'm a big believer in the idea "everybody has a story" and we never know what it is until we ask. Great post!

  3. What a great post! First time I read something like this about prepping. Wished a lot of those " as long as I have enough ammo I will survive" people start thinking this way.

    1. The problem with that mindset (as long as I have enough guns ...) is that there will always be someone with more guns or ammo, or stamina. It's not always the person with the most fire power.

      We only have to look at some of our past conflicts to realize that victory doesn't always go to the group with the biggest guns. I, too, wish people would get that.

  4. I don't know if it counts as Doomer fiction, but I highly recommend An Ordianry Epidemic by Amanda Hickie. Hannah an ordinary middle class woman living in a pleasant central city suburb (tiny garden- lemon tree, herbs, small lawn) tries to survive an epidemic of a mysterious killer disease with her family when Sydney goes into lockdown. Completely gripping and total plausible

  5. Doh. Some googling has just told me the book is called "Before this is over" in the US and UK. I like the original title though- I think it expresses the sudden change to ordinary life