Phoenix from the Ashes: The Literature of the Remade World

By Carl B. Yoke | Go to book overview

4
DEATHS BY DROWNING

Joe Sanders

A worldwide flood is one of the most fascinating disasters imaginable. First of all, the flood is terrifying, for it shows normal routine being shattered by a familiar, life-giving element turned destructive; moreover, it plays on a fundamental human fear of being swept away from consciously beloved possessions into a formless, fluid existence. Yet it also is awe-inspiring, literally wonderful, as it reveals the power hidden in familiar objects. Finally, and most basic of all, the flood is an appealing disaster. It lifts the burden of past mistakes from the best of humanity and lets them find a new, more appropriate way to live.

In our culture, the archetype of the flood is the biblical story of Noah, which especially gratifies its audience. By its terror it reveals, and by its revelation it comforts. The biblical flood kills only people whom God has judged unworthy. The few people permitted and inspired to survive are given a clean world and shown a definite, healthy role in that world. The biblical flood is the basis of a covenant between God and Noah: God will not flood the earth again, and man will accept the role for which he was created. All other stories of floods must be measured against the appropriateness and satisfying resolution of this model.

Despite the fear, awe, and relief that make the flood such a fascinating disaster, however, it has not been utilized in science fiction until recently. Instead, it remained confined to the subgenre of the Atlantean romance because of the difficulty of imagining a sufficient cause for a worldwide flood after God's clear statement that he would never again drown the world. Moreover, much early science fiction was essentially tentative in its exploration of new ideas, reverting to the status quo at each story's climax; 1 such an attitude obviously was unsuited for considering the profound changes entailed by a flood, in particular the in

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