2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Four

In many ways, the idea of a total annihilation of our civilization due to war is the most terrifying doomsday scenario. Imagine the horror of the initial nuclear strikes that will destroy entire cities, wipe out millions if not billions of people in mere seconds and leave behind an unlivable radioactive wasteland. What probably makes this scenario so chilling is that the possibility of this happening is very real. Sure the Cold War ended but the threat of an all-out nuclear war still exists.

Doomsday Scenario No. 9: Nuclear Armageddon and Aftermaths

We all fear using nuclear weapons because of the effects of just two atomic bombs used in Japan at the end of World War II. The horrific sights and looming radiation made many realize how devastating these weapons were. Many have come to the conclusion that a full-scale nuclear war would destroy our civilization and way of life. But there are some who think that a nuclear war would be survivable and winnable, though what kind of life is there to live after that event? Is it worth surviving?

The Nuclear Dawn

Since the dawn of the nuclear age, countless books, films and TV shows have explored the post-apocalyptic world left after the nuclear mushrooms have dissipated. There have been somber, intellectual works and outrageous parodies that covered this concept. With the former early notable films include Five, The World, The Flesh And The Devil, and On The Beach. These early works naturally got many details incorrect. For instance, with The World, The Flesh And The Devil, our hero (played by Harry Belafonte) is the sole survivor of World War III (at least for the first half of the film) and winds up in an abandoned New York City where all the buildings are intact and there aren’t any bodies anywhere. The film tried to explain it away with a silly line about radioactive isotopes that dissipated after five days. Despite its scientific inaccuracies, the film was an interesting look at how a person would cope after surviving the apocalypse. At least in the movie Five the dangers of radiation are shown, the same with On The Beach. The latter was more of a character study about how we would face our untimely end (the film and book took place in Australia where an American submarine crew took refuge from the fallout of World War III but radioactive winds will soon reach the continent, dooming everyone living there), while Five showed how we can try to carry on emotionally after a traumatic event. The TV series The Twilight Zone had several episodes dedicated to nuclear war, some of the better known ones included “Time Enough At Last ,” “Two,” “The Shelter,” and “The Old Man In The Cave.”

The Day After Wars

As we studied more the concept of nuclear war and film/TV effects budgets increased more graphic and accurate depictions came about. Probably the most famous one is the TV film The Day After. It started off with the typical daily routines among Kansas City residents then midway through it, the world was jarringly torn asunder as the city was reduced to rubble with corpses everywhere,  people succumbing to radiation and civilization collapsing.

The Day After was one of many emotionally draining presentations. Some of the best ones were Threads (a British film that also graphically depicted World War III and the end of humanity), When The Wind Blows (an animated piece about an old couple eventually dying from radiation following nuclear war) and Testament. Taking place in a small suburb outside of San Francisco, in Testament, its residents aren’t hit with any nukes but are affected by the radiation and being cut off from the outside world. It’s particularly gut wrenching to watch the main character-played by Jane Alexander-tenderly nurture her dying children.

Opposite The Day After and Testament, there some ludicrous presentations. They include Invasion U.S.A. This Is Not A Test and Panic In Year Zero. Wildly inaccurate and poorly executed these films from the ’50s and ’60s couldn’t convey what would really happen if the unthinkable happened. Two more recent efforts include a “comedy” that aired on Fox called Whoops! about nuclear war survivors and Jericho which aired on CBS. So much of what happens in the show is unbelievable. Here are a couple of examples: townspeople put out an open-air picnic after a radioactive rainfall (!); a spoiled rich girl throws a party because her parents are out of town and won’t give up her generator to the police-who stand idly by as she parties! In reality, the authorities would’ve taken the generator by gunpoint.

Aftermath

Then there are the films, books and stories that take place either shortly or long after a nuclear war. Too numerous to name here, these are just a sampling of books: The World Set Free by H.G. Wells (written in 1914, it correctly predicted the use of atomic weapons during war), Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank,  A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., The Long, Loud Silence by Wilson Tucker, The Last Ship by William Brinkley, The Postman (also made into a film starring Kevin Costner) by David Brin, Swan Song by Robert McCammon, Warday and Resurrection Day. With Warday, Whitley Strieber writes about a United States that has been crippled economically and spiritually by a “limited” nuclear exchange with the Soviets. Partly a travelogue, the main character goes around America that is struggling to recover years after a war. The same thing happens with Resurrection Day by Brendon DuBois, the twist is that it’s an alternate history novel that follows the U.S. a decade after the Cuban Missile Crisis led to war.

For movies as with books there are too many to list. They include Damnation Alley (based on a Roger Zelazny book and is complete with giant killer roaches!), Def-Con 4, the Mad Max films, Radioactive Dreams, the 1960 film version of The Time Machine (it featured London destroyed by atomic bombs) and Peace On Earth-an MGM animated short release in 1939 featuring a world devoid of humans, who killed themselves off in a final war.

At The Precipice

Everyone knows about how close we came to war with the Cuban Missile Crisis and are now finding out about accidental close calls and near wars that happened before and since that crisis. As recently as 1995, Russia mistakenly believed a rocket launch by the U.S. was the beginning of a pre-emptive strike and almost retaliated. In 2001, India and Pakistan nearly went to war with each other and were prepared to use their nuclear stockpiles against each other.

Today we lose sleep over rogue nations like Iran developing nuclear bombs. It seems as if we are at the dawn of a new arms race where everyone seems to want to have their own nuclear stockpiles. Then of course there is the specter of terrorist groups and nut jobs getting their hands on a nuclear weapon. One thing that prevented all-out war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was the concept of M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) which kept generals and leaders from losing their cool and automatically launching missiles for any reason. It’s unlikely many of these nations and terrorists will hesitate to use a nuclear weapon.

 

What is disturbing about this scenario isn’t the possibility of it happening but that it’s something that can be prevented. Some point out that nuclear weapons have to date kept the world out of full-scale wars like the First and Second World Wars. In a way they are right, the devastating nature of these weapons reminded world leaders not to brazenly use them…to date. But the reality is that the genie is out of the bottle. Trying to wish away nuclear weapons and reduce stockpiles may be a pipe dream. The capacity for war will exist within us for a very long time and so is the will to develop deadlier weapons. Perhaps one day, when humanity has matured past the point of war will it be feasible to put aside this nightmare.

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Sports’ Violent Future

 

While The Hunger Games is captivating audiences and readers with its storyline about teenagers forced to partake in a deadly competition, the concept of futuristic blood sports isn’t anything new.

There are a few other films and books that dealt with a sport where the prize for winning was life itself. One of the more famous examples is The Running Man. Written by Richard Bachman (actually Stephen King using a pseudonym) and later adapted into a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the game took place in a dystopian U.S. and is a show broadcast in the Games Network. The game contestant is forced to evade hunters. The longer the player stays alive the more money is earned. There was another well-known deadly game book also written by Bachman called The Long Walk, where teenage boys participate in a national marathon. The contest begins with one hundred contestants who have to walk nonstop. Anyone who stops or stumbles is killed by nearby soldiers. The winner, who is actually the last boy still walking, not only wins life but any prize he desires.

Two films from the ’70s that featured violent competitive sports were Death Race 2000 and Rollerball. In Death Race 2000 the U.S. has been replaced by the United Provinces (sound familiar?) and brutal gladiatorial games are used to mollify the masses. One of the most popular games is the Annual Transcontinental Road Race, a.k.a. the Death Race. A twist to the road race is that points are earned by killing pedestrians. The idea of deadly car races has been utilized in many video games. Some examples include Roadwar 2000 and Carmageddon.

Rollerball takes place in a future world overtly controlled by corporations and war is banned. In its place the competition of Rollerball is used. Part roller derby, part football, it’s a vicious combat sport where players bash opposing teams with spiked gloves as they try to gain possession of a metallic ball and score points. While both films are cult classics they were drearily remade not too long ago. Fortunately those remakes have been all but forgotten while the originals’ legacies endures.

Part of Rollerball’s popularity is the violent, close-quarter nature of the sport, which correlates with the popularity of football. A couple of sci-fi books have extrapolated on football’s evolution. In Killerball by Gary K. Wolf, football has turned into a vicious combat sport using martial arts and weapons. Meanwhile, football is still enjoyed hundreds of years from now in The Rookie (Part of the Galactic Football League book series) by Scott Sigler and is played by aliens and humans.

But football isn’t the final word on violent sports. Just look at hockey, rugby, boxing and other combative games. In a little-known film that deserves more attention called The Blood Of Heroes one of the only forms of entertainment in a post-apocalyptic wasteland is a sport known as The Game. In it armored teams try to score points at goalposts with a dog skull. One of the objectives by individual players is to get recognized for their skills and be rewarded with a luxurious lifestyle.

In our future there may be a movement to use surrogates in combat sports for safety reasons. The most recent example seen of this in the movies was Real Steel, where huge robots are used in boxing matches. It should be noted that the popular film was a remake of a Twilight Zone episode written by Richard Matheson, based on his short story. A more obscure example is the film Robot Jox. In this scenario, humans from opposing countries get into gigantic robots and battle each other. What is interesting to note with these films is that even though humans have been removed from the equation, the games still have spirit and heart, which makes them endearing to watch.

Before The Hunger Games came along there was another book and film dealing with teenagers forced to fight each other. That property is Battle Royale, a controversial Japanese book and film where teenage contestants are placed on a remote island and wear explosive neck collars that will detonate if they try to escape. Like The Hunger Games, the contests are to the death and monitored by the government.

While outwardly we as readers or viewers may be repulsed by some of these extrapolations, one has to admit they cater to our morbid curious nature.  This goes back to ancient history with the lethal gladiator games. These works point out that their violent games serve a greater good in keeping order and maintaining the peace. And with the popularity of today’s violent sports-that seem to be growing increasingly violent, maybe some of these future sports aren’t as implausible as we care to admit.

José Soto

The Dark Tower Returns

It’s been eight years since the final installment of The Dark Tower was released. For those who haven’t read them, Stephen King’s seven-book epic of The Dark Tower told a fantasy-science fiction saga with horror elements of a mythical gunslinger named Roland Deschain in the far future and his interdimensional quest to save reality from falling into chaos. Since the last book fans have been clamoring for more visits to the world of Roland and his ka-tet (or band of apprentice gunslingers). Based on the way the final book The Dark Tower ended it seemed as if the final word was written. But the ending, without giving anything away, had a cyclical nature. Fans pondered if there were more books or stories coming. In fact, King said back in 2009 regarding the series that “It’s not really done yet. Those seven books are really sections of one uber-long novel.” Well, now there is a brand new Dark Tower book to devour. The Wind Through The Keyhole has finally arrived and devotees can add this volume to King’s masterworks.

Many of the beloved characters from the saga are featured in this volume like Eddie and Susannah Dean, Jake Chambers, Oy the billy-bumbler and of course, Roland Deschain the last gunslinger. According to promos and samples released, The Wind Through The Keyhole takes place between the fourth and fifth volume of The Dark Tower saga. What is interesting is that while the book is promoted as a Dark Tower novel, it almost seems as if this novel can stand on its own while still taking place in the that universe.

When it begins, Roland and his ka-tet are on their way from the Emerald City (where the fourth book ended) to Calla Bryn Sturgis (where the fifth book takes place) but have to take refuge from a storm. While in their shelter, Roland recounts a tale to his friends that took place when he was much younger. In that story, young Roland is sent on a mission to investigate a killer shape shifter and meets a young boy. Hoping to calm him, Roland tells him a bedtime story-a story within a story. So in many ways, The Wind Through The Keyhole is like Wizard And Glass where that book went into Roland’s early days as well while using modern Roland and his ka-tet as a framing device. While the novel may not add anything to the overall story of The Dark Tower it promises to provide a fascinating look at Roland’s world.

Regardless of the book’s narrative, its release is a cause of celebration for many readers. Probably the biggest question they have is will there be more lost tales? Stephen King teased many with the idea that the entire saga hasn’t been revealed yet. Then again, he could’ve been alluding to the comic books released by Marvel that dwelled on his younger days. At this point there isn’t any way to know for certain if we’ve heard the last of Roland Deschain. Hopefully we haven’t.

Lewis T. Grove

The Feasibility Of Space Prisons

The premise in the movie Lockout has to do with the hero breaking into an orbital prison facility to rescue the president’s daughter. It sounds like a winner especially for movie executives out to make a quick buck; take an existing story plot about a high-security prison and shoehorn it into a science fiction world by having it take place in space or the future, etc. “It’s Escape From Alcatraz in space or Papillon in space!” they may cry out in excitement. Space prisons have popped up in science fiction books and movies and can be fun. However, the problem is that when examined the premise doesn’t make much sense.

The heart of the problem with a space prison is that of resources. Building and maintaining an orbital prison would be such a cost prohibitive drain of resources that it probably won’t happen. Imagine the public outcry when the costs of maintaining such a prison are revealed. Many today complain when they hear that inmates get “luxury” items like cable TV. People would argue that prisoners don’t deserve to have necessities like air, food and water. Never mind if a way is found to have those necessities replenish themselves on a station.  Our civilization has to be a lot more advanced than depicted in Lockout and other films like Fortress 2: Re-entry to provide these things, let alone effective and practical security measures. Another thing to consider is the safety of the planet. During Lockout, the prisoners take control of the station. At one point, there is the danger of the prison’s orbit decaying which poses the risk of re-entry. That’s tantamount to putting a prison complex within a nuclear power plant today. That is a recipe for disaster. It just wouldn’t be done.

Now once a civilization becomes a true space-faring one, then a space prison is feasible. Take the prison facility seen in the Star Trek: Voyager episode “The Chute.” The alien society that kept the characters Tom Paris and Harry Kim captive routinely traveled between planets and most likely were able to easily produce the bare elements needed for survival in such a place. Another twist is the prison asteroid, one of which was presented in The Twilight Zone episode “The Lonely.” In that episode Jack Warden plays a prisoner held in solitary confinement and literally has the world to himself.  One caveat with the asteroid is that in the episode it looked like a desert with an atmosphere. This begs the question of using resources to construct such a place for one prisoner given that in the show, the space-faring tech wasn’t very advanced. Then there is the notion of using entire planets as a penal colony as shown in the series Earth 2. Once again, why waste an entire planet as a prison? This makes little sense since in that show Earth was dying and the characters were trying to set up a viable colony on the penal planet.

As for us, don’t expect to be reading about orbital prisons anytime this century. Probably when we have regular transport between the planets in our solar system with viable, self-sustaining colonies will this idea come to fruition. Cool-looking prison breaks and with nifty effects and explosions will remain in books and films. The bottom line is that it is way cheaper and easier to just keep prisoners down on Earth.

José Soto

New Essential Guide For A Star Wars Library

After some delay Del Rey finally released Star Wars: The Essential Guide To Warfare by Jason Fry this April. I went by my local book store today and saw the book. Browsing through it, I’ll have to say it was definitely worth the wait, IOW it looks good. As the title suggests, the book covers the conflicts in the Star Wars universe in chronological order starting with before the time of the Galactic Republic. The first conflict covered is with the Hutts fighting on a planet. For each conflict there are a few beautifully detailed drawings, along with a map of the galaxy showing where the conflict took place.

It also has profiles on the major characters that fought in the wars and details on the weapons used (i.e. blasters and lightsabers) and the ships used as well. Afterwards, the book goes on to describe a particular conflict and it seems to be told from the perspective of a historian or researcher living in the Star Wars universe.

Art by Darren Tan

A lot of space is devoted to the Clone Wars and the famous Galactic Civil War covered in the films. These parts of the book are in the middle while the first third covers the early years of the pre-Republic and the last third goes into the post-Return Of The Jedi period in other words the expanded universe. Characters and races seen in these sections include Admiral Thrawn and the Yuzhan Vong.

Star Wars: The Essential Guide To Warfare reminded me of the book The Illustrated Star Wars Universe that covers the different planets in the galaxy which is also from the viewpoint of someone living in that universe.

Art by Dave Seeley

Overall, it seems like a good history of the Star Wars universe with a good timeline and provides good reference material as well. My favorite topics were, of course, from the movies like the Battle of Endor or the Battle of Coruscant because I finally got to see the battle from the POV of a cockpit fighter. The art by several artists are well done and bring the storylines to life. One thing that was amusing was the depiction of the Ewoks, they look more like savages instead of teddy bears. Too bad George Lucas didn’t go with this idea when they were depicted on screen.

My only complaint about the book is that there aren’t as many drawings as I expected. There was a lot of text, which is fine, but I wish more space was devoted to big splashy artwork. But Jason Fry does a good job with the book and it would make a solid addition to the library of any true Star Wars fan.

C. S. Link