For the last few years a number of commentators have been speculating on whether we’ve hit “peak-zombie”: a moment when the number of zombie movies being released has reached its apex, and can only decline (see ForbesSpinoff, i09, and, if you don’t mind boosting the hit count of the vulgar rag, the Daily Mail). While I have my reservations (does anyone really expect the return of The Walking Dead this fall to suffer in the ratings?) the change in the tone of recent zombie films could support this idea.

2014 saw several zombie releases such as Life After Beth, Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead, Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, Burying the Ex, Zombeavers, and I Survived a Zombie Holocaust. All comedies, all tongue-in-cheek homages to a genre whose glory days may arguably be in the past. Besides the bleak Maggie, 2015 was a similar story, with the zombie comedies (zom coms? zomedies?) Night of the Living Deb, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, and Me and My Mates vs. the Zombie Apocalypse.

Instead, in the territory of science fiction, 2015 was very much the year of the reboot, remake, sequel, and adaptation: prominent titles included Mad Max: Fury Road, Terminator: Genisys, Jurassic World, The Fantastic Four, Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. With the zombie film seemingly developing rigor mortis (sorry), movies needed a new wave of villains, a fresh stand-in for their heroes’ Other. It appears they have found this in a revival of the alien invasion narrative, a revival which suggests something about the contemporary national mood.

The teaser trailer for The 5th Wave, a film currently in theaters, illustrates this perfectly. A white, nuclear family stands together in front of their suburban home, looking up at the imposing sight of an alien spacecraft, as a voice-over tells us: “we called them the Others.” The metaphor could hardly be any more transparent. White, middle-class, suburban America is shown as being besieged by an unfamiliar, alien horde, which wants nothing more than the entirety of “Earth. … They need the Earth.” The film even employs the word familiar to academic and cultural studies, “Other,” used to refer to minorities who are marginalized and excluded from the dominant narrative of a society.

With these almost too on-the-nose indicators in mind, a look at the other big releases set for this year shows a pattern emerging: in Story of Your Life a linguist is employed to translate for the visiting aliens, in order to determine if they threaten humanity; the aliens of Spectral take over New York City, the historic port-of-entry for immigrants into the United States; and the film sequel Independence Day: Resurgence, the video game XCOM 2, and the TV show Colony all show humanity trying to resist aliens who wish to claim Earth for their own.

One could jump to any of several conclusions about the anxieties reflected in the proliferation of mysterious, insidious Others in this year’s popular culture. In the 1950s, a great many science fiction films depicting the invasion of an indistinguishable alien threat were released, with Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) the quintessential example. The critical consensus on these films for decades was that these films represented the fear of communist ideology taking hold of seemingly “ordinary” Americans. As Mark Jancovich’s excellent Rational Fears (1996) demonstrates, however, this is an oversimplification which excludes “a great many films which simply do not fit with this subgenre,” and “even the 1950s invasion narratives are often markedly different from one another” (2). Trying to establish a theory which explains the invasion scare narratives of today, therefore, is an endeavor which ought to, likewise, be approached with caution. Taking The 5th Wave as an example, however, there are some starting points I would like to posit.

The 5th Wave‘s trailer describes the assault on humanity as follows: “First they took our power, throwing the world into chaos. Then, they took our cities, laying everything to waste. Next they took our lives, with an unstoppable airborne virus. Worst of all, they took control. The Others were already among us…” The antagonists arrive in large numbers on their (space)ship, put a strain on the societal resources, they engulf the urban centers, they bring contagious illness, and, eventually, prevent humanity from controlling its own destiny.


The “Others” arrive aboard their intergalactic ship

I would suggest these ideas match, unnervingly closely, some of the bombastic but rather widespread rhetoric one can hear in America, Britain, and Europe around the topic of immigration. Immigration has been an especially contentious issue since 2008’s financial crash, when certain politicians connected with big money interests rather cleverly spun the narrative away from banks and towards immigrants (as Sigmund Freud perceived, “It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness” [98]). In America, a recent Gallup Poll shows immigration as an issue of above average importance for Republicans, though a less important issue for Democrats. Late last year a YouGov poll found three quarters of those polled believed immigration into Britain over the last decade was “too high,” and for the “Leave” side of the Europe referendum debate immigration is proving to be a primary motivating issue.

Adding to this is the fact that countries globally are deeply divided over how to respond to both the protracted Syrian refugee crisis and the continued economic migration of populations from the Middle East. British Prime Minister David Cameron has referred to “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean,” and right-wing groups have grown across Europe in opposition to efforts to grant refugees asylum, particularly in major cities. The refugee camp termed the “jungle” (bringing to mind Bob Marley’s song “Concrete Jungle,” with its lyrics “no chains around my feet, but I’m not free. I know I am bounded in captivity”), near the port city of Calais, France, was aggressively demolished by French authorities in an attempt to prevent what has been seen as an illegitimate city from gaining some permanence.


Human beings imperiled by the necessity of seeking asylum abroad. Already this year more than 2000 people have died crossing the Mediterranean

Opinion is also deeply divided in the US, with many elected officials resisting the resettlement of refugees, and projections suggesting that refugees are likely to primarily settle in major cities. In the 2016 Republican primary race, candidate Donald Trump’s proposals to ban Muslims from entering the US and to build a wall to prevent immigration from Mexico have proven surprisingly popular with voters, who have ensured his presumptive nomination. With misinformation and hyperbole making immigration a divisive issue in the minds of particularly urban populations in Britain and America it seems no coincidence that 2016 should see a resurgence of alien invasion narratives, in which a “swarm” of Others threatens to descend on the city.


A manifestation of the extreme end of the immigration anxiety spectrum

While the presence of these anxieties and their amplified rhetoric should certainly bolster the potency of such invasion scare texts, whether these are conscious attempts to channel the issues of today into marketable media or whether this is simply a subconscious manifestation of these issues is not immediately clear. Certainly, I would argue (while still suggesting caution at proposing too over-arching an explanation) this seems to be a compelling correlation.

Is this a correlation others have noted? Have I missed a potential explanation? As usual please do take me to task in the comments section below!


Looking over the stats for the posts I’ve made on here, I notice that, besides the Video Games, New Media, and the City post (which I think gets most traffic for the Fallout 3 map), the post on Motorcycle Culture and Post-Apocalyptic Film has been the most popular. This seems like a good excuse for me to spend a bit longer on this topic.

Adding new material to the database, I keep finding that posters for movies and covers for books and games released in the 1980s feature motorcycles and other vehicles prominently, and that they and the availability of gasoline constitute major elements of the plots. Frequently in these texts gangs of motorcyclists or dirt track racers compete for fuel or other commodities, or else just battle each other for dominance. In no other decade is this the case to the degree that it is the 1980s. So, as I’ve been working through these texts, I’ve been thinking about how this might have come about.

Mad Max

Mad Max

Setting the stage for many of these 1980s post-apocalyptic petrol-head movies, and I’m sure the series of this genre we are all most familiar with, is Mad Max. In the movies Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2The Road Warrior (1981), and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), motorcycles, cars, gangs, and the availability of gasoline all play central roles in the plot and generally in the makeup of the post-apocalyptic world. Incidentally, Mad Max: Fury Road is set to be released at some point in the near future, with Tom Hardy as Max. For those interested in the series I would recommend Paul Williams’s “Beyond Mad Max III: Race, Empire, and Heroism on Post-Apocalyptic Terrain” (2005).

Here are some other examples. As I mentioned in my previous post, No Blade of Grass (1970) draws on early biker movies by featuring roaming biker gangs as the principal antagonists of a post-apocalyptic England. Judge Dredd, of 2000 AD (1977-present), often rides a motorcycle in his enforcement of the law in a future city in post-apocalyptic America. The film The Last Chase (1981) in set in a dystopian future where all vehicles with combustion engines have been outlawed, but where one ex-race car driver retains his freedom by keeping a hidden Porsche roadster. The comics series Akira (1982-1990) and the film Akira (1988) follow a motorcycle gang in a world in which Tokyo has been destroyed in a nuclear attack, and “Neo-Tokyo” has been built beside the ruins. Warlords of the 21st Century (a.k.a. Battletruck; 1982) is set after “The Oil Wars” and centers around mechanics, motorcycles, the discovery of a supply of diesel fuel, and the eponymous truck. 2020 Freedom Fighters (Italian title: Anno 2020 – I gladiatori del futuro; 1982) features motorcycles and off-road cars, and survivalist types who work to fend off a fascistic government. 1990: The Bronx Warriors (Italian title I guerrieri del Bronx; 1982) depicts a ruined Bronx in a dystopian future featuring a motorcycle gang and a rollerskating gang. Stryker (1983) is also centered around motorcycle gangs in the Mad Max vein. In the film Le dernier combat (1983) cars are left to decay but are used by one entrepreneurial man to cobble-together an airplane. In The New Barbarians (a.k.a. Warriors of the Wasteland; Italian title I nuovi barbari; 1983) mercenaries defend wandering caravans against biker gangs. In Warrior of the Lost World (a.k.a. Mad Rider; Italian title Il Giustiziere della terra perduta; 1983) a lone motorcyclist helps bring down an evil government in a post-apocalyptic world. The four issue comics series Car Warriors (1991) features marauding biker gangs and “autoduelling.” The Sega Genesis game Outlander (1992) involves driving through a post-apocalyptic wasteland while being assaulted by biker gangs and trucks. Much more recently, but I have to include it as it consumed so many hours of my childhood, the video game Interstate ’76 (1997) is set in an alternate history in which the ’73 oil crisis is still ongoing, and involves attaching weapons to and battling cars against one another.

The comics series Car Warriors

There are a few questions raised by this selection of works. The first is, naturally, why there is such a spike in fiction featuring automobiles and gasoline as central elements of the storyline from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. The second is why the “warrior” or “barbarian” trope keeps coming up (alongside the warriors-fighting-for-gasoline stories there is also a large number of warriors-fighting-for-water stories from this era), and why they are so often set in the deserts of Texas, Nevada, etc. The third I would ask is why in particular there are so many Italian B-movies on this list (there are a number of others from this era too, which didn’t quite fit the parameters of this post, but nonetheless are very much concerned with “warriors,” gangs, and overthrowing corrupt governments).

Many of these works overtly draw on the Mad Max series. In some cases those involved in the production stated publicly that they were to be spiritual successors to the series, and in some cases the works were even named after Mad Max (Outlander, for instance, was originally to be called “Max Mad“). Certainly the dustiness of the desert wastelands, the retrofitting of technology, and the barbaric violence all draw to some degree from the Mad Max series as well, and these qualities (along with the “Road Warrior” name) can go some way to explaining the frequency of the word “warrior” and the survivalist aesthetic in these works.

The trend in video games may be explained as part of the “vehicular combat” genre, which emerged with the first commercial arcade machines in the late 1970s and continue to be popular today. The two games I remember playing most of these are Road Rash (1991) and Destruction Derby (1995), both of which were immensely fun. There are a few films here that seem to effectively represent the film version of this car-beat-em-up genre, and these could be placed in the larger history of watching vehicular carnage such as would later gain popularity with the Robot Wars series.

Demolition derby

To properly situate this trend it is worth going back a bit to earlier post-apocalyptic fiction of the twentieth century. As cars and motorcycles become part of everyday life, they increasingly work their way into post-apocalyptic fiction. Cars provide the means of escape from a cataclysmic event in Jules Verne’s “The Eternal Adam” (published posthumously in 1910). They enable something akin to a fairground ride through the spectacle of post-apocalyptic London in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt (1913). In Richard Matheson’s suburban horror I Am Legend (1954) and the film adaptation The Last Man on Earth (1964) cars are essential to the day-to-day chores (the killing and cremation of vampires) of protagonist Robert Neville (Morgan in the film). Each of these texts is emblematic of the role of the automobile in a particular era: as modern technology that provides its owner a position of privilege, as conduit for exploration and adventure, and as tool of a regular routine. Accordingly, post-apocalyptic stories of cars and motorcycles in the 1980s bear the contemporary concerns of the decade. In particular we could identify the peak of popularity of demolition derby events in the 1970s and ’80s and the “last golden age” of motorsports in the 1980s , as well as the legacy of the oil crises of 1973 and 1979.

Here is a bit of background on the 1970s oil crises. The first major oil shock came to America in 1973 as foreign policy during the Yom Kippur War led to an oil embargo by Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The impact of the embargo both indicated to oil exporting countries in the Middle East their potential influence over the US in holding this precious commodity, and also showed how far the US had come from the self-sufficient era of US based oil production. Rather than America supplying the world with oil products as it had with the kerosene exports of the 1870s, it was now at the mercy of the availability of oil in the world market, a power shift that would ultimately bear profound influence on foreign policy. This reliance on oil imports rather than home-produced oil led also to the crisis of 1979, when the Iranian Revolution destabilized the consistency and quantity of imports. You can see from the graph below the significant effect these two events had on oil prices, and the extreme peak at the start of the decade we are looking at here, the 1980s.

Real and nominal oil prices

I wonder if the significant evolution of motorsports and the growth in popularity of demolition derby may be connected with these figures, and in the process have been an inspiration to the Mad Max style of films. For instance, with the extreme rise in costs of gasoline, automobiles themselves become comparatively of little value–if you cannot afford to refuel it, the car becomes a useless piece of metal. The coveted quality of gasoline in these films, as well as the state of decay the vehicles are in, seems to support this. As well this could help explain the growing popularity of the demolition derby–with cars deprived of gasoline they may as well be junked, and an appeal for the audience may have been to see their frustrations with automobile transportation enacted in spectacular vehicular carnage. When the price of oil began to fall the 1980s, suddenly the automobile was back on as a viable investment, and this is when motorsports received huge investments from automobile manufacturing companies. As Jonathan Moore writes,

there was a glut of technological innovation: fuel injection, electronic ignition and engine management systems were allied to much improved disc brakes and materials, and front wheel drive emerged as the standard configuration. The petrol crisis had also ended: the massive spike in prices at the end of the ’70s was followed by a dramatic market crash and a flood of cheap petrol arrived in the first half of the 1980s. By this time car manufacturers had already been forced to direct R&D at fuel economy more than just trim levels and power, which meant that new cars were introduced that were small, fast and frugal. So what could you do with that?

The innovation of automobile manufacturing displayed in road and motorsport vehicles during this decade seems to directly speak to the theme of retrofitting and jury rigging of vehicles in the texts looked at here.

The reason there is such a concentration of Italian B-movies set in post-apocalyptic America during this decade may have some answer in the Italian film scene of the time. Critics such as Gian Piero Brunetta cite the 1980s as a period of “crisis” in Italian film making, a time when Italian cinema was increasingly unpopular and films from the international market swamped cinemas in Italy (281). These two events coinciding, Brunetta suggests that Italian cinema was more influenced from the world film scene (and particularly American cinema) while in something of an identity crisis itself. The Australian (but clearly American Western influenced) Mad Max was released in Italy January 17, 1980, and this seems to have triggered the run of Italian movies rooted in that kind of post-apocalyptic world.

Largely it seems that many of these texts, Italian and American, were triggered by the beginning of the Mad Max series, which spoke to anxieties of the time regarding oil availability, and to the recreational fascination with automobiles and, in particular, destructive automobile sports.


The trend certainly hasn’t gone away since the 1980s. In fact, it seems to be undergoing something of a revival. Take, for example, the 2011 video game Rage, a combination first-person shooter and third-person driving game, set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and heavily centered around retrofitting and upgrading weaponized cars. The game Borderlands 2 (2012) features similar elements of post-apocalyptic vehicular combat and first-person shooting as well, though set on an alien planet. Post Apocalyptic Mayhem (a.k.a. PAM; 2011) is one of many recent racing games that exclusively uses post-apocalyptic tracks, and featured heavily on Steam around its release date. Is the popularity of these games (and the fact that now seems a suitable time to reboot the Mad Max series) an indication that recent concern over peak oil and global warming is creating a similar context for creative works to that of the 1980s?

As usual please let me know below if you’ve further questions/suggestions!

Something which comes up frequently in dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction is the use of music by the Ink Spots to evoke feelings of melancholy, and particularly to signal lost innocence and hope. Here are some examples of what I mean.

The trend seems to begin with the film Blade Runner (1982). In the original theatrical trailer, “If I Didn’t Care” by the Ink Spots appears at about the 2.09 mark:

Reportedly, Ridley Scott had used “If I Didn’t Care” in early cuts of the film, but this was ultimately replaced in the theatrical release by Vangelis’s “One More Kiss, Dear.” I seem to recall reading somewhere that this was because Scott was unable to secure the rights to the song, or at least was reluctant to pay for it. Here is this song by Vangelis, clearly inspired by the Ink Spots:

The song appears briefly in the film after Rick guns down replicant Zhora, and stops at a bar to buy a bottle of Tsingtao (beginning at 55.21 in the Final Cut version of the film):


In the video game of the movie, Blade Runner (1997), the China Bar location features this background music, titled “One More Time, Love,” clearly drawing on both the Vangelis and Ink Spots tracks:

I have mentioned this video in a post before, but here is the opening sequence from the post-apocalyptic video game Fallout, like the Blade Runner game also released in 1997, which features the Ink Spots’s song “Maybe”:

In the spirit of the Fallout opening, the teaser for Fallout 3 (2008) features the Ink Spots’s song “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire”:

Further recordings by the Ink Spots also appear in the series: “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall” and “Maybe” are included in the Fallout 3 soundtrack; “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” is featured on the Fallout: New Vegas (2010) soundtrack.

In other series, the Ink Spots recordings “If I Didn’t Care” and “The Best Things in Life are Free” feature in the dystopian video game Bioshock (2007), and “We Three” and “Memories of You” appear in Bioshock 2 (2010). The Bioshock series has been rightly praised for the iconic aesthetic and themes it employs, but a clear debt is owed by Bioshock and Bioshock 2 to the Fallout series.

Lastly, “Maybe” also appears in the opening to an episode from season 4 of the zombie TV show The Walking Dead (2010-present):

This clip I think is especially revealing. The pot on the stove, the ingredients of a meal laid out on the counter tops, the crackle of the record, and the laughter of the little girl outside all evoke the idyllic suburban America imagined in the post-war years. As the whistle from the kettle reaches a higher pitch, however, the music begins to fade in preparation for the eerie theme music to begin, and you can realize by increments that it is not two children playing outside, but rather a child playing with a blood-thirsty zombie. Slowly but relentlessly, the suburban idyll is inverted and parodied, and the viewer realizes they have entered not a pleasant dream, but rather a horrifying nightmare.

Certainly, the music of the Ink Spots is not unique in its use in this kind of context. The Bioshock series, Fallout series, Blade Runner franchise and The Walking Dead use music by other groups and artists to similar effect, and names like Cole Porter, Billie Holiday, and Bing Crosby appear with some frequency. More broadly, music of the past is often used in conjunction with creating an unsettling experience. Think about the use of the jolly ditty “Jeepers Creepers” in the 2001 horror movie of the same name, and how the song is used to defamiliarize when it is suggested that it could have had a sinister meaning all along. However, the use of the Ink Spots is especially prominent, not just in the high number of times it is used but also its placement in trailers, establishing their music in particular as exemplary of the mode.

Bill Kenny

So why do these kinds of texts focus on using music by the Ink Spots? For a bit of background, the Ink Spots was a vocal group popular in the 1930s and 1940s, that recorded many original songs as well as standards by the likes of Hoagy Carmichael and Eubie Blake. The lead vocals of tenor Bill Kenny, or “Mr. Ink Spot,” were powerfully expressive, and could lend themselves as easily to euphoric love ballads as to sorrowful, bittersweet melodies, and are largely attributed to the group’s success. The repurposing of these recordings to the futuristic dystopias looked at here, places the mood of the song in contrast with the mood of a broken or disfigured world.

William Gibbons, writing about the use of Django Rheinhardt’s “La Mer” in Bioshock, writes of a similar use for the optimism of music from the past: “the piece … creates a mood, conveying a sense of optimism with its spry violin and jazz-inflected guitar chords[.] … This optimism, however, soon reveals itself to be painfully ironic, as the utopian promises made by the song have long since dissipated.” Later in the game, he writes that

“(How Much is) That Doggie in the Window” emerges from a jukebox as the player explores Fort Frolic, a shopping and entertainment district that is basically Rapture’s equivalent of a suburban shopping mall. Shops purveying the latest in fashionable clothes or gadgets designed to make life simpler lay in ruins, the formerly vibrant area now filled only with smashed storefronts and wandering lunatics. To find such a saccharine tune juxtaposed with the scenes of destruction the player encounters here and elsewhere in Rapture highlights both the naïveté of the utopian ideal and the grotesqueness of its dystopian inversion.

A similar dynamic is at play with the use of the Ink Spots. Scott Bukatman’s ‘retrofuturism,’ or a fascination with past imaginings of the future, likely has some importance here, and the pairing of their music with the “Corvega” automobile commercial in the Fallout intro and the antiquated record player in The Walking Dead resonate with this. The hopeful love songs of the past sit uncomfortably within the world of nuclear or zombie apocalypse, showing how far society has fallen and how the most important values of the past have lost all meaning. In Blade Runner, the killing of Zora leaves Deckard feeling emotionally hollowed out, and the love and longing expressed in Vangelis’s song creates a contrast that highlights this. It may just be that the hopeful tones of these kinds of songs, with the Ink Spots as a prime example, figure as ironic contrast to the reality the viewer/reader/player is presented with.

But could there be significance to the use of the Ink Spots beyond this? For instance, the fact that in the context of the songs’ original releases the world was gearing up for horrors of the Second World War? Are there issues of race here, particularly in the Bioshock series which overtly deals with the exploitation of black entertainers? Is there significance that copycat groups bearing the 1930s and 1940s sound of the Ink Spots still perform today under the same name (in a sense causing the musical style to be locked in time and to become a living relic of retrofuturism)? Do drop a comment in the box below if you think there’s anything I am overlooking!

Sitting here eating peaches from a can, I’m set to wondering about the prevalence of canned peaches in post-apocalyptic fiction. To cite a few examples, I recently encountered this trope in Season 2 of the video-game The Walking Dead (2014), in which the player-character Clementine is handed a can of peaches:


In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), the man and the boy discover a cache of supplies, in which canned peaches are a notable delicacy, marking a respite and return to normality amongst the carnage of the new world. They also mark out those who had been the fruit-eating “good guys,” as opposed to the carnivorous, cannibalistic “bad guys”:

  He pulled one of the boxes down and clawed it open and held up a can of peaches. It’s here because someone thought it might be needed.

  But they didn’t get to use it.

  No. They didnt.

  They died.


  Is it okay for us to take it?

  Yes. It is. They would want us to. Just like we would want them to.

  They were the good guys?

  Yes. They were.

  Like us.

  Like us. Yes.

  So it’s okay.

  Yes. It’s okay.

  they ate a can of peaches. They licked the spoons and tipped the bowls and drank the rich sweet syrup. (147-9)

In John Hilcoat’s film adaptation (2009) Viggo Mortensen’s character likewise makes a beeline for the stacks of Dole brand canned fruit.

And in Def-Con 4 (1985), a post-apocalyptic community jails an old woman, Mrs. Boyd (Florence Paterson, on the left of this image), for stealing a can of peaches:

can of peaches

“A can of peaches,” she says, “can you believe it?”

Well, can we? As much as cans of food are the most sought-after items post-apocalypse, peaches nonetheless seem to be the most valuable in multiple instances. See, for instance, A Boy and His Dog (1975), in which Vic (Don Johnson) uses canned food to buy entrance to a pornographic movie, and passes off a can of beets to the illiterate doorman as the more desirable can of peaches. I don’t think there’d be much resistance to the idea that fruit is in general more desirable than beets, but the fact that it is peaches in particular contributes to the idea that this is a recurring motif. In fact it recurs so often that it even seems to have become an in-joke, with canned peaches often being the most abundantly available food, to the point where characters are sick of them: “‘Peaches’ she groaned. ‘Why do I always get peaches?'” (Justin Cronin, The Passage, 2010).

There is a GoodReads thread discussing this very issue, with some interesting ideas put forward, such as that peaches are the canned food typically neglected at the back of the cupboard (and so consequently the last to be taken when residents are evacuating or when looters come by to collect supplies). They are not just forgotten, however, but a forgotten luxury–they require an infrastructure to grow, pick, and can the peaches, and then to fly and truck these across the world to be sold in stores. In the post-apocalyptic world what had been an everyday, forgotten luxury is now something that would be impossible to reproduce. Peaches have a history as a luxury food item. Clemson University’s website states that peaches first reached North America via Spanish missionaries in 1571, and Wikipedia states that peaches first reached England and France in the 17th century. At these times peaches were not widely available, and were therefore coveted, luxurious fruits. Their exoticism and their relative youth in the English-speaking and Western world may therefore have some bearing on their appearance in post-apocalyptic fiction.

Spanish missionaries–are they transporting peaches?

The food itself is also a significant departure from the cold, grey, post-apocalyptic world, a food that is yellow-orange, sweet, and fresh. Novelist Sarah Lyons Fleming suggests that canned peaches are “inextricably linked to summer, to warmth, to juices running down our chins, to swimming and being a kid and not having to board the windows against things alive and/or dead. So maybe, when the world is gray and destroyed, when we’re fighting for survival and eating things that we may have turned our noses up at before it all went south, the bright sweetness of peaches will be like coming home.”

Why it is so often peaches, however, and not canned cherries, apricots, pineapple, etc. is hard to determine. It may simply be that a few fiction writers started with peaches, and that the motif took off from there as homage upon homage.

Lastly, what are we to make of an episode from the most recent (fourth) season of The Walking Dead (2010-present) in which Beth (Emily Kinney), looking to have her first drink of alcohol, finds only peach schnapps left at a golf resort bar? Is this a reference to the same motif?

If anyone reading this has any suggestions, please do let me know in the comments section below. Thanks!

For other post-apocalypse works featuring canned peaches, see the TV show Jericho (2006-8), the movie Hell (2011), the video-game The Last of Us (2013), etc. etc.

Works Cited

A Boy and His Dog. Dir: L. Q. Jones, 1975. Film.

Def-Con 4. Dir: Paul Donovan, 1985. Film.

Fleming, Sarah Lyons. “Canned Peaches and the Apocalypse.” Writing, Zombies and Whatnot. Oct. 7, 2013. Web. Apr. 21, 2014.

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. London: Picador-Pan Macmillan, 2010. Print.

The Road. Dir. John Hillcoat, 2009. Film.

The Walking Dead: Season 2. Telltale Games, 2014. PC game.

The following are screenshots of the Omeka exhibit of the post-apocalyptic cities database, which is currently under construction. The exhibit will be the most user-friendly component of the project, for people interested in searching for or browsing through works of apocalyptic fiction. The exhibit will operate in conjunction with a timeline for visualizing apocalyptic fiction through time, and a downloadable .csv file of the data for direct entry into visualization programs.

The first two images show the behind the scenes list and an entry populated with data:


And in preview mode, these images show the outward facing exhibit. First the front page:


Different methods of browsing, by tag and collection:



Scrolling through the entries:



And part of a page for a single entry:

Screenshot-Post-Apocalyptic Cities _ The Time Machine_ An Invention - Mozilla Firefox

The theme at the moment is one of the stock Omeka themes for this version, and perhaps isn’t the most pleasing to the eye, but its simplicity at this stage is most important, and it can be improved later.

One of the interesting qualities of post-apocalyptic cities in video games is, to me, the focus on exploration of recognizable, ruined environments. Games such as Fallout 3 & New Vegas,  and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, in particular, encourage exploration through quests that incorporate visiting recognizable landmarks such as the ruined Capitol Building and Chernobyl’s Reactor No 4 Sarcophagus. With the simultaneous growing popularity of urban exploration and dark tourism, there is an increasing availability of material documenting ghost towns and abandoned urban regions. Here are a few pictures and links to three of the biggest and, in my opinion, most fascinating examples of built space left to ruinous decline.

Hashima Island/Gunkanjima/Battleship Island, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan

One of 505 abandoned islands in Nagasaki Prefecture, Hashima Island was once a densely populated site housing a coal mining operation. The operation closed in 1974 and the island quickly emptied.

(Image from Wikipedia)

(Image from

English designer Bryan James created a website utilizing Google’s Chrome and Streetview technology to allow you to virtually tour the island. Clicking on the locations on the right allow you to visit specific places and read further about what the images depict. Check out the website here.

Shicheng Underwater City, China

Shicheng, or Lion City, was built during the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25 – 200). It was submerged in 1959, when the man-made Qiandao Lake was created by construction of the Xin’an River hydroelectric station. The city now lies at a depth of 26-40m.

(Image from

(Image from

SCUBA company Big Blue runs tours of the city, and is currently exploring the site. Details of this exploration can be found here.

Pripyat, Ukraine

Perhaps the most well-known, and certainly one of the largest abandoned cities, is Pripyat, now part of the Zone of Alienation in the Ukraine. Following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 the city was largely deserted, but tourists can now take guided tours. Though much of the physical structure remains, the buildings have been thoroughly looted and so older photographs offer a more realistic depiction of how the city was left after the accident.

(Images from Wikipedia)

Paul Dobraszczyk visited the site and wrote about his experience, which he says “incorporated elements of both dark tourism and urban exploration,” in the journal City. The article, “Petrified ruin: Chernobyl, Pripyat and the death of the city” can be found here.

Of the many photographers to visit Pripyat, David McMillan’s photographs stand out to me as particularly comprehensive. They can be found at his website.

Additional links feature 31 images of abandoned buildings and towns at this webpage.

This page offers a list of the “10 Most Amazing Ghost Towns.”

This page shows a Cold War underground home, built for its inhabitants to outlive nuclear fallout. It was recently offered for sale, for a mere $1.7 million.

This video shows urban exploration in the subways of New York City.

Early progenitors of science fiction, from Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe to Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, found that to work in an emerging and as yet undefined genre, conventions had to be broken down and reassembled. As the genre began to find its feet, it became a Frankenstein’s monster of various forms such as the detective, adventure and gothic narratives, but with a new focus on scientific and historical authority which reflected the growing prominence of Marxist, Freudian, and Darwinian thinking. The destruction of convention involved in the creation of science fiction was reflected in the form of these works, often composed of fragmented and unreliable narrative sections, and in their subject matter, which often featured the destruction of a familiar world to create the defamiliarized settings required of their fantastical plots.

Brian W. Aldiss and David Wingrove in Trillion Year Spree, Kingsley Amis in “Starting Points,” and Mike Ashley in The Time Machines credit Mary Shelley as being a foundational figure in the construction of science fiction. The simultaneous rise of the seminal Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine leads Ashley to claim that science fiction and the magazines grew together, “albeit slowly” and that science fiction found expression in the marriage of experimental narrative content and form (4). The fragmented form of serialized magazine publication and the myriad composition of the individual issues became an ideal place to house a genre that was still indistinct and finding its identity. Released the same year as Shelley’s The Last Man (1826), the March issue of Blackwood’s featured a short story titled “The Last Man” that was signed just “X B.” The story is very short and gives just a glimpse of a world where mankind has perished but for one solitary observer. Several aspects of the story, such as its reliance on Romantic descriptions of nature, are very reminiscent of Shelley’s novel. It may be that this short piece was intended to increase interest in apocalyptic stories to boost sales of Shelley’s novel, released in February of that year to bad reviews and soon to go out of print for well over a century. The parallel publication of these two works show a kind of writing that seems uncertain of its place, both in venue and content. In the lead up to the creation of a venue specifically for science fiction, Amazing Stories (first released in 1926), early science fiction had a close connection to magazines, with works by Robert Barr, E. M. Forster, Jack London and Wells, among many others, appearing first in magazines as disparate as the serious, educated The Oxford and Cambridge Review to the daily, ephemeral Pall Mall Gazette.

war-of-the-worlds-tripodWells’s The Time Machine represents an interesting case study of early science fiction stories that struggled to find a suitable place among contemporary writing. Five versions of this story precede its final publication by Heinemann, although the simultaneous London and New York editions of the book form (both published in 1895) also contain several differences. Bernard Bergonzi tracks these differences in ‘The Publication of The Time Machine 1894-5” (1960). Serialized in the Science School’s Journal (1893), National Observer (1894), and The New Review (1895), the narrative underwent several fundamental changes, reflecting the changing contexts of its publications. The content of the story itself also reflects the difficulty of this new form in establishing its place, as Wells relies for narration on various characters from scientific and professional spheres to interpret the fantastical claims of “the Time Traveler.” The depiction of a ruined London in the story, and the re-purposing of the ruins to suit the needs of the Eloi and Morlocks, adds to feeling that established ideas and conventions were being disassembled and reassembled to reflect the dawning of a new age of civilization and artistic forms. The earlier publication in the Pall Mall Gazette of Wells’s “The Man of the Year Million” (1893), which contains many similarities to The Time Machine in its content, reinforces this issue. Appearing alongside letters and articles, and professing itself to be a “Scientific Forecast” in its subtitle, the essay borrows and manipulates the codes of non-fiction writing in fashioning a new mode that is still in its formative stages. Orson Welles would go on to adapt Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1898) in 1938 using a similar process of disrupting established modes, this time structuring the story through the new media of radio with fictionalized news reports and commentary. In each case these works use the foundation of scientific research and theories to speculate about fantastical events in the future.

Also emblematic of the patchwork assembly of science fiction is its utilization of conventional or more established genres. Verne’s The Eternal Adam (1910) and H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” (1928) both use aspects of the detective story in relaying their narratives; Wells’s “The Empire of the Ants” (1905) begins in a very similar manner to Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” (1899), and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt (1913) tells an end-of-the-world narrative as part of a trilogy of adventure stories; and Poe’s “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” (1839), “The Colloquy of Monos and Una” (1841) and “The Masque of the Red Death” (1842), as well as Shelley’s The Last Man, all emerge from the gothic mode. Likewise, Robert Barr’s “The Doom of London” (1892), Wells’s The War of the Worlds and The War in the Air (1907), and Jack London’s “The Unparalleled Invasion” (1910) all draw heavily on the invasion-scare genre to tell tales of widespread destruction in alternate futures. Each of these works uses established modes and genres to devise new ways of thinking about the possibilities of the future, and focus principally on scenes of destruction and apocalypse to do so.

HG_Wells__c1890_524_355Each of these primary texts sits at a crucial point in the formation of science fiction. As modernity and the fast-paced, industrialized city disrupted tradition and established conventions, literature reflected this transition in the reassembling of genres for a new fiction that focused on fantastic futures. With the advent of Greenwich Mean Time, railway schedules, industrial workdays, and new technology like the wristwatch, temporality became of crucial interest in fiction concerned with alternate presents and futures. Only the narratives enabled by Time Traveler’s time machine or the future historians of London’s and Verne’s stories, therefore, could reassemble the fragmented histories of a modernity still being understood. As novels and stories of science fiction struggled to negotiate a place for themselves, established modes had to be compromised and pieced back together in new ways, to allow a new mode of speculative writing. As a consequence of this, many of these works feature worlds that are literally fragmented, with the defamiliarized ruins of cities such as London and New York standing for the crumbling establishment, with emergent civilizations rising in their place like a phoenix from the ashes. Apocalypse, as with the genre of science fiction, allows for a literature of a remade order, reflecting the shockwaves caused by a transition to a new age of civilization.