Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for Y: The Last Man (and Other Post-Apocalypse Stories)

Briak K. Vaughan's Y: The Last Man is but one of many high-concept post-apocalyptic stories that I have devoured in the last few years. The elevator pitch for the series is that some mysterious phenomena kills every mammal on earth with a Y chromosome except for one young man and his monkey.  It's a grand through experiment that is well executed and immediately makes me think of gaming (as well making me think that I need to get off my but and order the last volumes of the series...).

I'm a sucker for "big idea" apocalyptic tales. And I'm not just talking about novel ways to end civilization. No, I'm more interested in seeing how the post-apocalyptic medium can be used to establish dramatically different challenges and societal constraints in the aftermath. Y: The Last Man does that brilliantly. First, there is the inevitable apocalypse itself. If 50% of the human race is suddenly killed, you can imagine the carnage. Just think of all the cars and aircraft that would suddenly crash. But a world without men is beset with all sort of challenges, not the least of which being a kind of hopeless fatalism that the race is doomed when all the current people die off. As Yorick (the sole male survivor) travels this ruined world, it's interesting to see how different communities of women are adjusting to life in a world without men.

A sampling of other "big idea" post-apocalyptic stories that have been on my mind as of late:

  • S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire series: A mysterious event renders explosive combustion (engines and firearms), high-pressure steam engines, and electronics inoperable. Society is rebuild using a variety of pre-modern models, though many modern developments are still made to function in the new world (like bicycles, gliders, and push-cart railcars). 
  • John Birmingham's Without Warning: A mysterious event kills most everyone in the continental Unites States and forces the world to adjust to the power vacuum. 
  • Justin Cronin's The Passage: The best vampire apocalypse that I've ever read. It deals with the apocalypse itself, as well as events 100 years later.
My own "big idea" apocalypse that I've been mulling is a catastrophic return of magic. I'm sure it's been done before, but that doesn't mean I don't want to do it. I started working in elements into the Microscope game that I played with C'nor but I still hope to develop something on my own. Yet one more hanging thread to pick up when I can free up some time...


Anonymous said...

I liked it until they actually explain WHY (almost) all males are dead.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Wow. With the exception of the monkey, this story reminds me of an episode of Justice League. I'll have to think about whether or not I'll check this out.

Risus Monkey said...

@Anonymous: I suspect that I'll feel the same way once I get there. But it works much the same in most ongoing series in which there is a bug question hanging over everything (*cough* Lost *cough*). I'll accept that and try to enjoy it much as I can anyway.

@Jeffrey: Oo, haven't seen that Justice League episode. I've only caught bits and pieces of that show (mostly on youtube), but I really should consider picking up the whole thing on DVD or something. It's really well done and I love my DC comics (also helps that I can watch it with my sons).