I’d never read this person’s blog before yesterday. (Cleaning out my google reader and filling it with relevant blogs is gonna happen Real Soon Now.) I don’t know how they respond to other questions, to other issues, but this post, this moment of time and words, is pretty much perfect to me.
The Rejectionist – Dear Superior Person
“I want us to be so loud and so angry and so visible and so terrifying that we cannot be mistaken for anything other than the future, a future that looks like us. In all our kinds of bodies, in all our kinds of love. Waiting for the time when none of us are angry anymore because the only thing left is the world we want to live in. When the hardest thing any of us will know is teaching ourselves how to live without anger altogether.”
Naturally, I’m stealing the best lines, but the entire post is well worth your time. They’re talking about current events, about Jonathan Franzen, and how ridiculous it is to tell someone else what they “should” be angry about. I, being of a less profound bent, am using it as a jumping off point to talk about writing an unexpected apocalypse.
Part of the reason I’ve always staunchly believed I don’t enjoy the post-apocalyptic genre is that there is no happy ending. Nothing good will happen that eclipses the very big bad that has already been. When I started writing my current book, nobody was more surprised than me to find it set after a war and a plague, in the middle of a wasteland that used to be the United States.
The change for me was that I finally understood that the story I wanted to see wasn’t about fixing the world that had been, but making the new one better. It was about creating a future when the past failed, and yes, anger. Taking the kind of anger that could sustain someone through the death of family and friends, through the repeated assaults of the world around them, and turning that into fuel to keep going in the face of near-overwhelming odds.
There’s a certain conditioning, at least the way I was raised, to believe that anger is always bad. A flare of temper is okay, but sustained anger weakens you. I actually agree with that to a point; I think sustained, long-term anger with no outlet tends to seek one, and will almost inevitably turn back on you if you can’t find one. But I don’t think that’s the kind of anger the Rejectionist is talking about, and it’s not the kind of anger that DOES something. That kind of anger makes you feel like there is no point in fighting, because you can’t win. It’s impotent and ultimately defeating.
I think the anger in many post-apocalyptic and dystopian works, and one of the underlying reasons that we’re seeing more of them lately, is the kind of focused, productive anger that reminds us that the same people who want you to believe you’re powerless are the ones who are taking your power from you. Particularly in dystopian fiction, that overwhelming, almost omniscient governor (be it fear, consequence, or actual government) is nearly as important a character as the protagonist. What makes the protagonist fight? What brings her to the point where “enough” is both not, and more than? Anger. Anger, and love, and many times, the realization that his anger is the only thing that will make the world into one where love can hope to exist.
Once I understood that what I wanted out of post-apocalyptic fiction wasn’t about unmaking the problems of the past, but taking what was left and using the fire of anger to forge something new, something better, the apocalypse wasn’t so unexpected anymore. And maybe it wasn’t before, either. I think I looked at it, and mistook the power of a future created from anger for a future where only anger could survive. There’s a balance between the two, and a reminder in there that anger is worth more to my characters if it’s fuel for a bomb that remakes the world into one where their struggle becomes the need to adapt to a life where it isn’t vital for survival.