I remember two books, among others, that I read when I was a child. On The Beach was an apocalyptic vision of the end of the world. Everyone dies in the end as the creeping radiation advances on Down Under. Some die in the pursuit of an adrenaline rush, crashing in fast moving vehicles during the planet’s last race. Others commit suicide, injecting themselves and their families with cyanide. Alas Babylon only killed off half the population of the planet. The featured cast struggled to survive in my home State of Florida. And survive they did. I thought both books were very good. I liked Alas Babylon much better than On The Beach for one basic reason. On The Beach was a downer. The human race, and every other species of animal on the planet, dies. Not really the feel good story of the year. In Alas Babylon there are survivors, and they maintain civilization. On The Beach was the more critically acclaimed of the two (something about downer endings seems to attract the critics like flies to a corpse). It even spawned a movie. I feel that Alas Babylon was the more enjoyable work. And, if modern scientists are to be believed, the more accurate. Sure, it’s a bummer when half or more of the human race is wiped out, but it’s not even in the same category as extinction.
Even though we realize that mankind probably couldn’t have wiped itself out in the Twentieth Century, there are always more destructive forces on the horizon. Dinosaur killer asteroids, universally fatal bioweapons, aliens intent on taking our planet for things they could get just as easily in space, even more and more destructive nukes and antimatter weapons. Two movies that came out in the last year come to mind when it comes to alien invasion. Skyline presented an alien invasion where our brains are the prize (which seems kind of silly when you think of it. Surely a race which can navigate between the stars can come up with computers better than our poor gray matter). The aliens win and all of our cities are turned in abattoirs. In Battle Los Angeles the Marines kick ass and beat the aliens, whose body armor can’t seem to stop an M16. I came out of the movies with different feelings. Skyline made me feel dejected. The effects were good, it had a lot of action, and we lost. Battle LA also had a lot of problems as a movie, but I felt better walking out of the the theater. We won. The good guys won. And yes, I am biased, but I am also human.
The Road would seem to be the ultimate downer story. The world is almost dead. There is ash everywhere, bands of roving cannibals prowl the countryside, even the oceans are dead. The little kid’s dad dies at the end. What saves the movie, and makes it a story of hope, is the family that finds the child at the end, rescues him from hopelessness. They’re disgustingly dirty, but they care. They even have a cute dog, for God’s sake. We are left with a story of hope. I believe we all are looking for hope in the stories we read. I will never write a novel that ends with “and they all died.” There may be some bummer endings, especially in series. Evil must triumph at times to allow the story, and the conflict, to go forward. As said above, the critics seem to love these endings. They seem to feel that they put us in touch with what it’s like to be human. Maybe, but to me they are simply not enjoyable. I write for enjoyment. My own, and hopefully that of my readers. So I may not become a critically acclaimed writer. I’m cool with that. As long as the books are fun.