In post-war British science fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction seems to be broadly divided into two distinct types; the so-called ‘cosy catastrophe’ fiction, in which pockets of humanity survive some destructive event and are able to pull together and survive relatively unchanged, while the other type of post-apocalyptic fiction takes a much more nihilistic strain, in which the psychology of humanity is transformed, and which raises questions about the malleability of the human psyche.
|The Drowned World|
Special Collections (Uni of Leeds)
Throughout the novel, the central characters are forced to confront the reality of the need for survival that their changed environment has forced upon them. Much of the tension derives from whether the characters can continue to maintain a sense of civility and humanity, or whether they will succumb to the survival-of-the-fittest laws of nature that they witness around them. Christopher’s post-apocalyptic landscape is one in which barbarism quickly replaces civility, suggesting that, for Christopher, the instinct for survival is stronger in man than the impulse to act morally. Indeed, a turning point in the novel occurs when the protagonists, having run out of food, kill a family just for their bread. In crossing this line the protagonists leave behind any semblance of their previous morality; their need to survive changes their psychology from the civilised and human to the instinctive and animal. In this respect the apocalypse, as with The Drowned World, becomes a psychological event, in which humanity is placed in a cycle of de-evolution.