Guest Post by Hayley Stone
Something you will immediately notice about the following list is that the majority of my influences are not, in fact, books.
It’s not because I don’t find books inspiring, or because there aren’t amazing post-apocalyptic books out there (hello, Alas, Babylon and On the Beach), but mostly due to the fact that I digest books in a way that is different from the way I digest other media. With a focus on technique and structure, my inner editor kicks in, and I sometimes lose the forest for the trees while reading. Movies, shows, and video games are more likely to stick with me due to the visual component, and because I’m less obsessed with the method of delivery.
Speaking of video games, I am a huge proponent of their storytelling capacity; they immerse you in a unique and interactive way that no other fictional medium does. When you feel you are part of the story, how can that not leave a lasting impression?
So here are my top 5 influences, in no particular order:
1. The Hunger Games series
This was the book series that not only brought me back into the YA fold for a time, but also inspired my switch from writing third person to first. I loved the subtlety of the world-building, with the dystopian elements remaining crucial to the plot but never seeming shoehorned in. The characters are the stars more than the premise, as they should be—and this is something I always try to keep in mind with my own writing, too. A lot of series tried to accomplish what Suzanne Collins did with THG, but I don’t think any of them managed to do what she did.
BioShock nails the chilling ambiance of a ruined civilization—it just happens to take place in a secret underwater city, while the rest of the world above remains fine. The isolated dystopian/post-apocalyptic experience was something that stuck with me. And in hindsight, I wonder now if my instinct to set Machinations and its sequel in an underground base was inspired by the city of Rapture. If so… good call, subconscious! Good call.
3. The Walking Dead
This is perhaps one of the most well-known examples of a post-apocalyptic setting to date, and had a lot of influence on me since the show came out right as I was first experimenting with a post-apocalyptic story (also a zombie apocalypse, by total coincidence). The Walking Dead showcases humanity and inhumanity in equal measure, and while overall I find it a little too cynical, it has undeniably influenced my perception of what the end of the world might look like.
4. The Fallout series
In addition to being two of my all-time favorite games, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas further inspired my love of the post-apocalyptic genre, and gave me a lot to consider when crafting my own post-apocalyptic world. Unlike the others on the list (with the exception of BioShock), the Fallout games can be fairly lonely as you wander the wasteland, scavenging and getting into fights. The emptiness of the landscape combined with all the hints of former civilization serve as both warning and hope; what was could be again.
5. The Handmaid’s Tale
Last, but certainly not least, Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian tale completely altered the way I viewed the genre and literature as a whole. It’s certainly one of the most affecting pieces of fiction I’ve ever read—disturbing and entirely too possible, especially when you hear the views of certain political extremists today. While my work does not parallel hers in any obvious way, I hope that the emotion resonates just as clearly.
At the end of the day, post-apocalyptic fiction appeals to our base instinct to survive while dystopian asks, at what cost? How far are we willing to go down the rabbit hole, how many freedoms are we willing to trade, all for some perceived safety? It’s an idea as relevant today as it was in the 50s, when nuclear fears were part of everyday life, and I look forward to exploring more of the same themes in the future.