Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Big Picture: Why I Don't Like Post-Apocalyptic Novels

When I read a story, I don’t care about the small stuff. Personally, I don’t care if the hero and the heroine end up together or if they’re forever kept apart. I don’t care if a couple characters in an isolated situation live or die. What I want is the big picture: what is the government doing? What’s going on at a global level? If the conflict of a story affects less than, say, fifty people, I’m normally not that interested.

A lot of people feel exactly the opposite; they’d rather read about a couple characters struggling for happiness than a whole world on the brink of disaster. That’s great. I love how everyone has different tastes. But for myself, while I love well-crafted characters, what I want from a story is a mass conflict.

This is why I dislike post apocalyptic stories. Because they promise me a global plot (after all, a catastrophe has just occurred which could destroy the entire earth) and what they deliver is a usually the story of just a couple characters trying to survive.

Take Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts. It’s by far my favourite post apocalyptic novel because the characters are so well crafted, but the story was just about the four characters surviving. Same with The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which centers on a girl leaving her insular community and venturing into a world of zombies. Same with Life as We Knew It, which concentrates on a single family coping after the moon crashes into the earth. The Eleventh Plague is a little broader, but still stays within one community. Right now I’m reading Ashfall, and that’s just about one boy trying to find his family. Basically, all of these novels are about a single individual/family/community coping with a global catastrophe.

I hate to say it, but I found most of these novels somewhat boring. My mind automatically goes to the big picture. How can the world be saved? If thousands of people are dying, why should I care about one character? Why am I reading about someone nearly starving in a shed when I could be reading about the people trying to save millions?

In this way, post apocalyptic novels infuriate me. The point of the story is so small, basically on the individual level, when I personally feel like it should be so much bigger, on a global level. I can handle reading a romance novel occasionally because there’s no bigger conflict looming on the horizon; it’s all light reading. But when there’s a huge catastrophe, I want to be reading about the people solving that, not the individuals slogging around trying to find food.

I have to add: what I’ve said here is completely personal taste. Every single one of the books listed above has plenty of fantastic reviews on Goodreads. Obviously, some people like it when their books follow just a couple characters rather than looking at the big picture. However, that’s not for me. For now, I’m done with anything calling itself post apocalyptic that concentrates on a single character. It’s just not my thing.

Now… over to you! I’m curious, which sort of reader are you? Do you want the big picture, or would you rather focus on just a couple characters? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 


  1. It's a well documented phenomenon that people will feel a stronger attachment to a sole protagonist than a huge number. For example a picture of one person starving in a poor country is more effective than a statistic of a million people starving. In the same way a novel will follow a small group because it is easier and for the above mentioned reason.

    Saying that I prefer big picture. To my knowledge only Game of Thrones has successfully done this which is why I love it so much. Also stuff made by Michael Bay. But that might be due to my ADHD and over fondness for explosions.

  2. Steven is right. The whole literature community is right. 4 years of English college courses are right. Readers are attached to characters...not the government or world.

    I understand your curiosity of the big picture, but I believe your definition of the big picture is somewhat different than the rest of the world. Fallen Skies follows a band of characters. The Walking Dead follows a small band of characters, but the big picture is that the world is destroyed and needs to be rebuilt. Following the characters helps the reader believe this is what's going to happen.

    Just sayin, there's a reason authors and film writers do this.