September 13, 2011
As we all know, the world will end in about twenty-five months. It’s going to be awesome. Fire, earthquakes, and possibly God himself coming down and smiting everything and everyone. Of course, given that doomsday predictions have a horrible tract record, I think I’ll stay home and just watch some movies instead.
Of course, nothing is more appropriate for a fake end of the world than some cinematic or even literary end of the world. Let’s take a look at some of my favorites.
Stephen Baxter: The Xeelee Sequence
There’s epic science fiction, and then there’s EPIC science fiction.
You think Star Wars thinks big with its galaxy-wide empire? Think Andromeda was uber-powerful with its depiction of bombs that could make stars explode?
Baxter not only has an alien species that has HAND-HELD guns that can make stars explode, but the species that created them uses galaxy CLUSTERS as little more than bricks in their projects that span quite literately from the beginning of time, and perhaps even longer than that.
In this world, humanity is mostly confined to the Solar system, but a few thousand years from now, we discover that the Xeelee, who are so powerful they probably keep Cthulhus like we keep sea monkeys, are at war with an equality powerful alien species made of dark matter. This dark matter life form, the photino birds, need stable, star-sized gravity wells to live, so they are accelerating the lifetime of stars and forcing them to explode or fizzle out.
In the known universe.
Suffice to say, the impending death of all physical life cycles in the universe is not going to end well for humanity.
The series is set within several dozen short stories and a few novels, my favorite being Ring, which ends the saga, yet could easily be read as a stand-alone novel. The short story collection Vacuum Diagrams fills in a lot of gaps and shows a smaller parallel storyline of the end of time. Like the rest of Baxter’s work, expect paragraphs of scientific explanation, but also some impressive loop-hole jumping through the laws of physics.
Masters of Horror: The Screwfly Solution
Joe Dante has gone across the film spectrum as far as I’m concerned. Yes, he directed Gremlins and Homecoming, but he also directed Looney Tunes: Back in Action. I don’t take kindly to new Looney Tunes.
However, his entry into the Masters of Horror collection, based on the short story by Alice Sheldon, is creepy on a level I had not through possible.
We begin with what appears to be a murder committed by some lone psycho. He killed every female member of his family. As time passes, religious fundamentalists are on the rise throughout much of the world and women are viewed more and more as agents of sin. Soon, though, a group of scientists makes the shocking discovery: there is a disease that is causing the sexual and aggressive centers of the male brain to short-circuit, turning any sexual desire into a homicidal urge.
Despite the ending being one huge WTF moment, the rest of the episode manages to be utterly scary. You don’t know how the disease travels. You don’t know who’s infected. Any sign of anger could be a symptom, or just stress and nerves as the lead scientist, a devoted family, tries to find a cure. He’s quite, and painfully aware, that he is a potential killer.
Any man is a potential killer.
The scariest part, though, is the slow realization that those feelings that are being exploited to wipe out humanity are not some superbug. All it took was one chemical switch, and the men who kill every woman in sight aren’t blind, raving lunatics ala 28 Days Later. They are calm and rational about it. God, Allah, or whatever they believe in justifies it.
This is true horror. The horror of everyday life. It’s the horror of not knowing if your neighbor is going to kill you.
It’s the horror of knowing he’ll do it with a smile.
So there you go. Two apocalypses for your viewing and reading pleasure. One is a multiverse-spanning swath of destruction that leaves reality a cold, bleak cinder, and the other is a psychological romp through the dark corners in all our minds.