Procrastinate Better

Apocalypse Not: Disasters You Don’t Need To Worry About

  From time to time, a Slate staffer or critic offers up a favorite cultural pick for Procrastinate Better readers. Today’s endorsement is from political writer David Weigel.

What are Americans agreeing on this month? Our politics are fairly apocalyptic: If a Muslim community center near Ground Zero doesn’t end civilization, the double-dip recession will. Our art is apocalyptic, too, with Justin Cronin’s excellent vampire novel The Passage selling quickly, and AMC’s zombie drama The Walking Dead set to premiere when this season of Mad Men wraps. Aren’t there any disaster scenarios we shouldn’t be worried about? Yes, and here are five of them:

1) The Red Napoleon (1929): Early into the reign of Stalin, before the rise of Mao, reporter Floyd Gibbons penned this fable of a manly Asian communist, Karakhan, who conquers most of the civilized world. The dialogue is of the sort that has characters calling one another “yellow-skinned mustard plasters.” Karakhan is defeated in his attempt to conquer the United States, but when the narrative ends, he’s only 41 and “age has not yet taken a tuck in his six feet one of slim erectness.” Humanity survives … but for how long ?

2) Nature’s End (1987): In 1984, Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka wrote Warday , a horrifying novel in which they cast themselves as characters living in America after a nuclear exchange with the USSR. It sold well enough to inspire this quasi-sequel, in which journalists living in the 2020s battle a charismatic cult leader who has started a campaign to depopulate the planet, voluntarily, by one-third. The tone is set by the opening action sequence in which a boy is killed by a fast-moving smog cloud.

3) World War Z (2006): I hardly need to recommend this one, which was optioned by Hollywood more or less immediately. But who knew that the guy who wrote the jokey Zombie Survival Guide had this in him? Max Brooks handles the unlikely scenario of a zombie uprising with exquisite detail, from the fad placebo that becomes popular before the epidemic spreads to the truly horrifying (and detailed) doomsday plans that Brooks’ characters develop when they cede most of the planet to zombies.

4) Marching Through Georgia (1988): S.M. Stirling presents us with a frightening premise: What if all of history’s racist populations got together in South Africa and built one powerful xenophobic empire? Actual answer: It would collapse. Fictional answer: Their nation, the Domination of the Draka, wins World War II with its daring military tactics and slave labor, and sets about conquering the entire planet and putting people into camps.

5) Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995): A manga and anime series that is not what it appears to be. Pick up the cover of a DVD and you think you’re getting a jovial, explosive story about kids and their giant robot pals. Start playing it, and you’re watching a harrowing psychological drama about the last days of humankind (in 2015-16), brought about by a secretive cabal in which people are given the choice to abandon their individuality and join in one consciousness. If you’re not sold, keep in mind: There’s an extended fight scene between robots and angels to the strains of ” Air on the G String .”

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