3 Things I Learned from the Apocalypse

The world ended not with a bang, but with a whimper... And then the giant alien bugs started eating everything and the survivors huddled to the remnants of civilization like children to a blanket! Ha! That wasn't in the poem, was it, Eliot?!

October 18, 2010

It’s amazing the things you learn when the world ends.

Well, not the real world. Any writers out there can back me up on this: when you write something in a genre or topic you’re unfamiliar with, research can be one of the most rewarding parts of the process. History, science, sociology, or whatever else you jump into can open new avenues of knowledge.

This isn’t really a writing project, but I’m running a post-apocalyptic RPG for some friends and I wanted to do a little research into survivalist tactics, how to rebuild society, and what to expect when aliens reduce human civilization to pre-industrial levels.

Spiny Leaf Insect 001. by ~JessKa88 on deviantART

For any fellow gamers out there, it’s partially based on the Plague World setting in the d20 Apocalypse handbook.

Nerds unite!

Anyway, I did some research to bring details into the narrative, give some color and originality to the world of 2172 CE, and otherwise make things more than just numbers on a sheet. Overall, I found out many interesting things I’d like to share.

Invasion by *Radojavor on deviantART

Are You Going to Eat That?

The first problem our heroes encountered was the lack of food in their bunker. After being frozen for 140 years, their rations, well, didn’t fare so well. One of the first things they found was a farming community in what was once South Bend, Indiana. What would these people, these survivors, grow?

It’s easy enough to find out that Indiana grows potatoes and corn, but I needed more crops that this new civilization would grow, so I looked up what kinds of food would give the most sustenance and give the most benefit in this forsaken landscape.

It turns out the French beat me to it.

A pair of French companies have put together a list for the European Space Agency on what astronauts should grow for a colony on Mars. Seeing as how this future Earth is almost barren, this made the best sense to use. So what do our humans eat and grow?

Rice, onions, tomatoes, soy, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, wheat, and spirulina. Meat would be scarce since it takes more energy and resources, and hunting’s not really an option since the wilderness is dominated by mutants. I figured with trade with other surviving cities throughout the region and the country, they could easily have a diet composed of these items.

And just what is spirulina, you may ask?

Why, it’s miracle food!

Actually, it’s an algae that contains massive amounts of protein and vitamins. It’s pretty versatile, although reports vary as to how good it tastes. I figured some alien algae brought by the invaders would make for a good substitute, and the image of getting paid in blue bread made from ground algae made for an interesting roleplaying moment. In the real world, dietary plans like this are actually starting to make more sense. With meat perhaps becoming a luxury in a few years, soy and algae-based substitutes may be a necessity.

Green Pie by *Qzxyntop on deviantART

We’ve got Shakespeare, Beethoven, and George Romero

Okay, so you’ve decided to put some records, personnel, and equipment on deep freeze in case the aliens win. You’re going to want them to rebuild society should the worst happen, so you want them to have records to do so. Maybe you want to go all out and, if you have the resources of an entire government, back-up all the data on Earth to just start over.

How many pen drives would that take?

Turns out, a lot more than I thought.

This article lays it out, but here’re the basic conclusions.

If you want to back up the Library of Congress, movies, audio, images, and all, get ready to use at least 3,000 terabytes.

That’s right. Terabytes. As in one thousand gigabytes.

As in 1.5 million USB drives like the one I use.

That’s 4 million CDs.

Of course, the story starts in 2030, and we’re not going to be using modern computer technology. By then, we could very well be using holographic memory storage, which is what I used to describe the computers in the bunker our heroes use as their base.

Holographic storage is pretty cool. Imagine writing a book and, instead of writing lines of text on the page, you could actually write over the original text over and over again and read different pages just by altering the angle at which you hold the paper. Okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor, but you get the idea. Holographic memory allows for high-density storage, up to tens of terabytes per square centimeter of memory area, and would be ideal for an end-of-the-world bunker.

It’s also good to store lots of other information like manuals, music, and film to preserve after the end of civilization. Hey, if we save Mozart, we’re saving Buffy the Vampire Slayer too.

I Think We Have a Problem by *Sylanya on deviantART

Remember: Short, Controlled Bursts

This one isn’t a science lesson so much as an observation. This is a role-playing game, after all, and my players are very immersed in the story. It’s also hitting them that civilization’s been destroyed. The alien invaders didn’t quite win since they’ve been reduced to scavenging on Earth as well.

Our heroes have dozens of guns and thousand of rounds of ammunition, but something else is hitting them.

They’re alone. Very alone.

America is gone. Everyone they left behind has been dead for more than a hundred years. There is nothing in the world, they believe, that resembles a society beyond the few cities and towns scattered over a blighted continent. This is very much unlike every other RPG they’ve played or any other situation they’ve ever had to roleplay.

There is no support. No back-up. The weapons they have and the training they’ve accumulated are all they have.

They are alone.

For a few minutes this week, they really just stopped and asked, “What’s the point? What are we doing? What are our goals?!”

It was too big for them. Mind you, they’ve roleplayed fantasy heroes trying to save the multiverse from dark elves, demons, and whatnot, but this hit them hard. I like to think I’m pretty good at running RPGs, but the level of detail I gave them helped put their characters in the right state of mind. It’s bordering on horror in some areas.

And that’s why you research for everything from an RPG to a short story. The details, everything from blue bread to the kinds of guns these pre-Industrial humans are now using, make it real and make it that much more interesting. Nothing beats an internet connection or a trip to the library to bring your work to life.

Post Apocalyptic City by ~Amartia on deviantART

And now for some slightly less apocalyptic things. Sort of.

  • When the world ends, which city will help repopulate the world? If this study is any indication, the high sexual satisfaction in Indianapolis, Indiana may make it the future center of a rebuilt empire. Well, not really. The study just tried to find the most sexually satisfied city. Go, Indiana!
  • The Angry Video Game Nerd is a bit of an internet sensation, but here, sans Angry Nerd character, he explores the Night of the Living Dead cemetery and finds some very interesting things. It’s a must for any Romero fan!
  • Ever wanted to make money just sitting around? You can! No, really. I’m not selling pyramid schemes. If you’re willing to let drug companies test their products on you, you can actually make a killing. Of course, the downside is that you’re letting drug companies test their drugs on you… but hey, you get to sit around! Who wants to be a human lab rat? Think they give you one of those running wheels?
  • And finally, I got this from reader Jeremy Jones and had to share it. If you are against gay marriage, you’re really against gay love. Check it out. Warning: NSFW.

Learning How To Spell: Part 4

...and then you can pretend you matter.

September 13, 2010

Writing is a lonely job. I’m updating my resume to reflect recent jobs and see that, in most cases, I rarely have to interact with others. Even my current job, filled with phone calls galore, usually finds me sitting alone as I work on something. My job at the university allowed me to interact with people on a daily basis, but a full-time writer doesn’t have that luxury.

Our jobs demand focus and attention.

We are keyboard monkeys.

How do you develop the discipline needed to sit and work with nothing and no one reminded you that you have a deadline?

Alone by *loLO-o on deviantART

Personally, I find that looking at your bank account once in a while is a good push to write faster and finish on time without checking Facebook. It’s depressing, yes, but it gets the job. Think of it as a financial splash of cold water to the privates. As much as some people think that “writing” isn’t a job, that you can get any intern to do it for you, it’s a difficult profession. And yes, we deserve to be paid more than minimum wage for the right services.

Another motivator is music. I like to keep a good mix of various genres and artists on as I type. When I start getting used to punk cabaret, the playlist switches to classic rock. At least for me, the noise helps me focus. I may not be singing along since it would make typing difficult as I sing one thing and write another, but the combination of different types of music keeps me alert since I don’t get accustomed to it. That’s also why I try not to listen to the same playlist too much, or I put it on shuffle.

As weird as it sounds, just continually telling yourself to write one more sentence, go through one more page of edits, or do one more anything, helps. Say it out loud. Actually say, “Come on. You can do one more.”

voice by ~lizjaa on deviantART

Hearing your voice, or any voice, is a powerful motivator. It’s even a reminder that you’re not a robot. I’ve gone some days without saying anything until the evening. No phone calls. Didn’t see anyone. No reason to talk. Speaking felt and sounded weird, like I’d just woken up.

It’s easy to get lost in the work. It’s even easier to forgot you’re a person.

And I’m not trying to be poetic here. I’m serious. If you’re underpaid, isolated, or writing something micromanaged by your boss, you really do feel like an office tool. The isolation is the one you can control, though. Keep things interesting. Use music. Go outside. Meet friends for lunch. If you can interact with others do it.

The deadline’s not going anywhere.

peace by ~Barbusz on deviantART

Now let’s distract ourselves with some links…