Entertaining 
disaster

121612_ls_earth_1c
QUICKREAD

NOVELS

“On the Beach” by Nevil Shute

How the world ends: with a bang. Literally. Nukes destroy life on Earth and a handful of people in Australia live out their final days as the radiation cloud approaches. The government even went so far as to hand out little black pills to its citizens.

But is there hope? Nope. Sorry.

“Lucifer’s Hammer” by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

How the world ends: A giant asteroid named, innocuously, Hamner-Brown strikes Earth, to dire effect. The world doesn’t end, necessarily, but man, things get bleak (we’re talking cannibalism bleak).

But is there hope? Sure! Especially if you manage to hook up with a bossy, rich senator and a scientist who thought to save books about building cisterns and windmills and stuff.

 

“The Last Man” by Mary Shelley

How the world ends: via political machinations and romantic intrigue. Oh, wait, no — that’s what might kill the reader. Actually, a mysterious plague and rumors of a black sun are the fatal things here.

But is there hope? Eh. The last man, Lionel Verney, manages not to drown in the Adriatic Sea and swims to shore, maybe to find other people elsewhere?

 

“Earth Abides” by George R. Stewart

How the world ends: A measles-like plague kills most people on Earth, and many of the few left are kind of weird. However, biologist Ish meets up with a band of decent types in San Francisco and watches them devolve back to Stone Age habits and superstitions in the ash of civilization.

But is there hope? Well, give it 10,000 years and humanity — and Earth — might rebound.

 

“Flood” by Stephen Baxter

How the world ends: Shifting plates on Earth’s crust open huge subterranean reservoirs, flooding the globe. A struggle for survival becomes, by novel’s end, fruitless and the best option is to get off the planet.

But is there hope? For Earth? No. It’s a wet and dead-end future.

 

“Robopocalypse” by Daniel H. Wilson

How the world ends: A robot named Archos becomes sentient and self-aware, and wants to destroy humans through a “precursor virus” that infects all networked electronics. Groups of people fight back, though some of them turn into robot-human zombies and some of the robots begin to identify as “freeborn” and help the humans.

But is there hope? Of course! Freeborn robots? That’s awesome!

 

“Alas, Babylon” by Pat Frank

How the world ends: nukes again. A missile accidentally hits an ammunition depot in Syria, and the Soviets interpret it as reason to attack, bombing the heck out of the U.S.A. So, the good citizens of Fort Repose, Fla., try to get by in a devastated world.

But is there hope? If you can believe that there’s anywhere safe from radiation in a state as flat as Florida, in which every major city was nuked, then yes.

 

“Life as We Knew It” by Susan Beth Pfeffer

How the world ends: A meteor hits the moon, knocking it closer to Earth and causing major worldwide catastrophe, including massive volcanic explosions that fill the entire atmosphere with ash. Sixteen-year-old Miranda must get by at her home in western Pennsylvania after the power goes out and the sun stops shining.

But is there hope? They’re alive, so that’s something, right? And there are rumors of better places.

 

“The Road” by Cormac McCarthy

How the world ends: The cause is never made clear, but holy cow, is it ever bleak afterward. A man and his son head south with their belongings in a shopping cart, witnessing horror after horror until you require several soothing minutes spent crouched in your closet, sucking your thumb.

But is there hope? Good grief. Maybe?

 

“The Death of Grass” by John Christopher

How the world ends: A virus attacks all grass on Earth, including rice and wheat, so people begin starving and civilization collapses. A band of survivors in England heads north to the group leader’s boyhood home in a secluded valley, but heartbreak ensues once they get there. Choices are brutal in a ruined world.

But is there hope? There’s survival, sure, but it’s unclear if hope includes a clear conscience or the moral high ground. If there’s even such a thing as morality anymore.

FILMS

“WALL-E”

How the world ends: in massive pollution and towers of garbage. Earth becomes uninhabitable, so people leave it and live on giant space ships, while robot WALL-E is left behind to clean up.

But is there hope? Yes. Yes! That tiny, hopeful green plant! This movie is so good.

 

“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”

How the world ends: a giant asteroid hits it. The people of Eearth have about two weeks to anticipate impact so they spend it in rioting, debauchery or, in the case of Steve Carell’s character, seeking out a high school sweetheart with the help of a kooky neighbor (Keira Knightley).

But is there hope? Survival-wise? Not really. But love sure is grand!

 

“I Am Legend”

How the world ends: thanks to a man-made virus that either kills people or turns them into a creepy albino zombie-vampires. Military virologist Robert Neville (Will Smith) is working on a cure, but he’s very lonely.

But is there hope? Well, not for Robert, but humanity doesn’t seem totally doomed.

 

“The Day After Tomorrow”

How the world ends: with climate change and super-storms that bring on a worldwide neo-Ice Age within a matter of hours. A scientist and proven-right climate prognosticator (Dennis Quaid) must trek to New York City to save his nerdy son (Jake Gyllenhaal).

But is there hope? You bet. Plus, an unlimited supply of free ice cubes!

 

“Independence Day”

How the world ends: mean ol’ aliens intent on mayhem and blowing stuff up. A military pilot (Will Smith) must save everyone by attacking the alien space crafts and punching one of them in the ... face? Do aliens have faces?

But is there hope? Duh. Will Smith is in control. Everything’s going to be fine.

 

“The Day the Earth Caught Fire”

How the world ends: Earth hurls toward the sun, knocked out of orbit when the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. detonated nuclear bombs. Scientists decide the only way to knock it back into orbit is to detonate more bombs in western Siberia.

But is there hope? Who knows? This movie has the most frustratingly ambiguous ending this side of “The Lady or the Tiger.”

 

“Melancholia”

How the world ends: it collides with another planet called Melancholia, possibly to shut up an entire cast of unlikable people. So, yeah: blah blah unhappy bride cheats on her husband on her wedding night blah blah sophisticated ennui blah blah crash boom.

But is there hope? No. Thankfully.

 

“Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”

How the world ends: Bombs, obviously. Oh, the leaders of the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. try to stop the annihilation, but things never go right in a satire. So, Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers) suggests that U.S. President Merkin Muffley (also Peter Sellers) send several hundred thousand people into mine shafts to wait out the radiation.

But is there hope? Does it matter? Everyone will die laughing, anyway, because this movie is hilarious.

 

“Last Night”

How the world ends: not clear, but it will happen in a mere six hours, though people have known about it for two months. Some characters just want to be alone, some want to celebrate with family, some finally perform a piano recital, some keep calm and carry on.

But is there hope? If heartbreaking humanity = hope, then yes. Otherwise, so long, it’s been good to know you.

 

“Children of Men”

How the world ends: Human beings have become infertile, meaning people have to face the reality of extinction. Society is collapsing, but then a young refugee named Kee turns up pregnant and a cynical bureaucrat (Clive Owen) helps get her to safety on a ship named Tomorrow.

But is there hope? The ship is named Tomorrow. So, obviously, yes.

 

 

SONGS

“The Earth Died Screaming” by Tom Waits

How the world ends: “There was thunder, there was lightning, then the stars went out and the moon fell from the sky. It rained mackerel, it rained trout.”

But is there hope? Guess not. Yikes, Tom Waits. At least it ended “while I lay dreaming of you.”

 

“Apocalypse Please” by Muse

How the world ends: not clear, but it’s frantic — “Declare this an emergency, come on and spread a sense of urgency. And pull us through and pull us through and this is the end, yeah, this is the end of the world.”

But is there hope? Perhaps, if skinny British musicians are to be believed.

 

“The Day the Whole World Went Away” by Nine Inch Nails

How the world ends: with Trent Reznor screaming at everyone, apparently.

But is there hope? Who even knows. There will be a lot of self-pity and nihilism at the end, though.

 

“(I’ll Love You Till) The End of the World” by Nick Cave

How the world ends: in some kind of explosion — “The whole third floor of the hotel gutted by the blast and the street below showered in shards of broken glass,/and all the drunks pouring out of the dance halls staring up at the smoke and the flames.”

But is there hope? Hard to say. But this: “Thank you, girl. Thank you, girl. I’ll love you till the end of the world.” *sigh*

 

“The End” by The Doors

How the world ends: drowned by Jim Morrison’s bloated, overwrought lyrics.

But is there hope? Only if someone changes the station.

 

“The End of the World” by Skeeter Davis

How the world ends: with BROKEN HEARTS and MEN WHO STOP LOVING YOU. Sheesh.

But is there hope? No. “Why does the sun go on shining? Why does the sea rush to shore? Don’t they know it’s the end of the world? ‘Cause you don’t love me anymore.” WHAT SORT OF HOUND DOG LEFT THIS POOR WOMAN???

 

“Until the End of the World” by U2

How the world ends: humph. Not in regret for treating a woman shabbily, Bono. So, it ends in relationship drama.

But is there hope? Not for these two, but everyone else will be fine.

 

“It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by REM

How the world ends: in a flurry of words and images, with cars on fire and cheesecake and the Furies. And Lenny Bruce will have a hand in it?

But is there hope? Hard to tell, on account of most people are belting out the absolute wrong lyrics when this song comes on the radio.

 

“Waiting for the End of the World” by Elvis Costello

How the world ends: in a way that involves trains, possibly, a drowning wedding party and futile, somewhat cynical prayers.

But is there hope? With this amount of world-weary exhaustion? Probably not.

 

“Till the World Ends” by Britney Spears

How the world ends: with the world’s biggest dance party! Woooooo! Or rather, “Whoa oh oh oh oh oh oh oh.”

But is there hope? Heck, is there a DJ? Is there a beat? Then “see the sunlight, we ain’t stopping, keep on dancing till the world ends.”



If the Mayan calendar is correct — and really, what inexplicable, cyclical, pictographic, dubiously translated calendar could be more accurate? — we’re all toast Friday. The world is ending.

The Mayans didn’t say how, exactly, perhaps as their final revenge for being eradicated off the planet themselves by invading Europeans. But the Internet is foaming at the mouth with rumors: asteroid strike! Another whole planet strike! Viruses! The Rapture! Wars and rumors of wars! The sun going supernova! Super volcanoes!

Those sticks in the mud at NASA, however, with their insistence on, you know, facts and logic (yawn) insist that we’ll be fine. For now.

On a web page established especially to address the rumors and fears, and tens of thousands of calls and e-mails, NASA scientists had this to say, basically: Not gonna happen.

“For any claims of disaster or dramatic changes in 2012, where is the science? Where is the evidence?” NASA scientists wrote on the website. “There is none, and for all the fictional assertions, whether they are made in books, movies, documentaries or over the Internet, we cannot change that simple fact. There is no credible evidence for any of the assertions made in support of unusual events taking place in December 2012.”

But they make a good point, that the end of the world has been a favorite theme for artists throughout time. Heronymous Bosch couldn’t get enough of it. Mary Shelley was writing about it way back in 1826. And since then, there has been a flood of books and movies and songs and comics about how we’ll meet our end. Why, just this fall, NBC offered “Revolution,” a post-apocalyptic weekly drama in which everyone’s hair always looks clean and fabulous and their clothes look new and machine-made, despite having no electricity for a decade.

Anyway!

The reasons for creating end-of-the-world visions are inscrutable, though the fact that it is simply good entertainment certainly is a factor. And maybe it’s easier to think about the epic ways we could meet our end — a super tsunami, say, or the apes taking over — than the ways we actually will: old age, accidents, inevitable disease. How mundane. How hopeless.

Because the rub of life is that it ends, for all living things. And that’s the hardest thing to face. So, write a book about alien invasion instead! (And, it must be mentioned, pride of species or just mammoth hubris leads so many writers and movie makers to imply that if humans end, the world ends.)

Here are some highlights from the end of the world:



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