Future Hell: Nuclear Fiction in Pursuit of History

By Doherty, Trevor | Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Future Hell: Nuclear Fiction in Pursuit of History


Doherty, Trevor, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge


I. Introduction

The concept of a detonating atomic bomb can be quite unassuming; the image itself can be found on coffee mugs, t-shirts, and has come to represent in popular culture a metaphor for when things get completely out of control, usually in a highly comic fashion. (Think of the little mushroom clouds that erupt from the top of Daffy Duck's head when he is confounded by that pernicious Bronx tongued rabbit.) It is profligate in song and poetry: Inspectah Deck of the popular group Wu-Tang Clan colloquially touting his masterful ability to rhyme as "bombing atomically, (1)" stretching the limits of nuclear discourse to describe his lyrical play and metaphorical dexterity. It represents the limits of destruction, and for many, the crowning scientific achievement of humanity.

From within our little academic blast bunkers, the ubiquitous symbol of annihilation has the tendency to become a quaint point of discussion, a postcard from a historically and politically isolated reality. No matter how trivialized, the foreboding dome of toxic death elegantly rising upwards into the atmosphere, infusing the biosphere with vast quantities of radioactive poison, has to be taken as seriously as possible. When considering the natural (design or form) of the atom, it is one of cohesion and unity, a balance of huge unseen energies in the most compact of units. To destroy this article of matter is to rip apart the fabric of the cosmos and unleash sub lime forces; that once unveiled cannot realistically be contained by any invention or intention of humanity. The science and related literature of atomic industry is as terrifying as it is beautiful.

Luckily, a dedicated and imaginative group of literary artists and philosophical masterminds have stopped to wonder what forces are at work in our current society that could enable the guaranteed destruction of all civilization on earth. Through essays and novels that record the future history of a civilization felled by self induced nuclear warfare, these reflective critics of society are able to thoughtfully examine not only the society in which we live, but also what it is about human nature that could possibly be compelled to recreate such devastating manifestations of technology and culture after the terminal blast.

II. Overview of Literature

It is easy to laugh at the conclusion of Stanley Kubrick's timeless film Dr. Strangelove. (2) Indeed, by the time Major T.J. 'King' Kong is hooting excitedly while he rides the warhead into the heart of Asia, the audience should want the bombs to fall on the heads of the absorbed political animals scuttling among various secret government offices. While this film chronicles one of the many unique ways in which full scale nuclear war can come about the most curious scene in the film shows the heads of state trying to figure out how to endure once the biosphere of earth will be forever altered by the ominous isotope "Bal thorium G." (Best if said aloud in a deep and menacing Soviet accent.) The dark comedic energy of this scene gains density as the Western protagonists assume that life on earth could be relatively the same following a world wide nuclear conflict. The last laugh of the film isn't for them so much, as it is the chuckling relief that comes when the credits roll, the final lyrical melody 'We'll meet again/ Don't know where, Don't know when...," foreshadowing that if civilization manages to survive the great war, there is a possibility that this slapstick drama of intercontinental destruction could receive a second billing.

There exists today a body of literature known as 'post nuclear fiction' that attempts to realistically address what kinds of issues will face humanity following a world wide nuclear conflict. Because these works of fiction tackle the entire history of our own culture through the lens of futuristic characters, the concept of history itself is invented as means to construct the plots of these novels. …

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