Monday, November 11, 2013

Starting the Slowpocalypse

Behind the Story of Critical Contingencies (Part 1)

Warning: this post contains spoilers for Critical Contingencies (formerly Certain Hypothetical) though hopefully not for future books in the series, and I recommend reading the book first.

Also be warned that this shows the ‘sausage-making’ aspect of writing the novel, which some of you may not want to know about.

The initial premise started with this question – what if modern civilization crumbles not in one big implosion because of a single major disaster but slowly, as a number of smaller disasters gradually overwhelm the capacity to respond and deal with them?

This ‘slowpocalypse’ presupposes an eroding of the foundations of modern society, those the world relies on in times of crisis.

What if the government wasn’t capable of dealing with threats to national security? What if the police and firefighters and EMTs were unable to cope with how bad things were getting?

What if the economy couldn’t support the population or the infrastructure anymore? What if people could no longer depend on the energy or the transportation or the communications the modern world requires to function?

So Critical Contingencies starts in a world that has been gradually losing the battle with the forces weakening and damaging modern civilization, with each new calamity adding to the burdens of a system already crumbling.

Although these effects are being seen throughout the world, this story focuses on the United States. And this ‘slowpocalypse’ is prolonged and painful in part because of the heroic efforts to fight the rising tide of destruction. Not a bad thing in itself, but at some point it becomes (or has become) futile.

That’s another aspect of the premise, that there’s a turning point beyond which all the things people try to do to reverse the decline of civilization become useless because the decay has already spread too deep, when the collapse of modern society has become inevitable and any efforts from then on only serve to delay it.

Of course the trouble is this – how would anyone know when that point has been passed, that the world can no longer be saved? Unaware or unsure that a line has been crossed, people would try to do something. (Perhaps they still would even if they knew it would do no good.)

But what if some people chose to fight not to rescue a civilization that is crumbling, but to start building a new, stronger society?

Not knowing if or when it may be too late to stem the tide of destruction, plans are laid and preparations made for the worst-case scenario – that it all falls apart. So people are ready to start building anew. But before they can do that, they’ll have to survive the passing away of the old.

That’s a key part of the actual premise for the story, that took it from vague musings about a potential apocalypse to something a little more definite, but it was still barely the beginning of an idea.

It was enough to be my starting point.
Next week: Part 2 – The Government Boondoggle

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