Robin Hanson recently posted about The Road and cannibals, which is great, because I think about this stuff all the time, and it’s good not to be alone.
The Road is a movie/book about a man and his son traveling south to reach the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in a post-apocalyptic world where the Sun is blocked out by huge dust clouds, and there are no plants or other life except for a few refugees and murderous cannibals. I thought the book was OK because it gave a sneak preview at what daily life could be like when or if the United States gets hit by a massive EMP attack. (The human conflict and desperate lack of food part, not the blocking out the Sun part.)
Prof. Hanson remarks how some reviewers called the movie “realistic”, when it absolutely is not. The story takes place more than seven years after apocalypse, but there are a couple occasions where the characters stumble on stored food supplies, which doesn’t make sense to Hanson. Second, he points out that traveling in such a world would be totally suicidal. Third, the pair doesn’t try to ally with others to boost their strength. They run across neutral people throughout the story, but never team up with them. Fourth, if the apocalypse really destroyed the biosphere and most food sources, Hanson considers it unrealistic that people living primarily on cannibalism could last more than the seven years it takes for the child character to grow up. According to his calculations, you’d have to eat about a person every 47 days to get adequate nutrition.
Shockingly, many of Hanson’s commenters don’t agree with his points.
A particular comment concerned me a bit, about another post-apocalyptic book that is popular right now, One Second After:
I recently finished the book One Second After which took place in a small town after a nuclear bomb releasing electromagnetism is set off in the United States. They somewhat resorted to cannibalism in the book, at one point choosing to use all stray dogs as the next food source, and moving on to humans who had died. In this case, I found the book to be pretty realistic and very well thought out.
I find this comment problematic because the book isn’t realistic. As far as I can tell, the only contemporary author that gets the basics of a post-apocalypse or economic disaster scenario right is James Wesley Rawles. For all I know, he may be the only storyteller that ever even tries to get it right, because the other popular ones — On the Beach, Mad Max, Terminator IV, Lucifer’s Hammer, The Matrix, and all your other post-apocalyptic favorites — are just terribly unrealistic. The common thread in all of them is that life after the so-called apocalypse is unrealistically easy. This even includes the non-Hollywood tales that are ostensibly trying to be grittier and more realistic, like The Road. (The movie is mostly a faithful rendition of the book.)
If you’re looking for post-apocalyptic fiction, the only book that made any sense to me was Patriots by James Wesley Rawles. Perhaps because Rawles is actually a genuine survivalist, he cares to put the thought towards what a post-collapse society would really be like, while many other authors address it from more of a detached position. Thankfully, Patriots is extremely popular, and is doing a great deal to sew the seeds of resilience so that at least 50% of the population might survive an EMP attack. To quote John Robb, “Localize production. Virtualize everything else.”
I’d like to write a full review of One Second After, but it will take me a second.