[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
Love In the midst of apocalypse…whether it be an apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic scenario, or a dystopian one, such as in The Hunger Games, or just amidst things blowing up, etc, our need to find a partner to share the angst is still a strong one. So, we asked our panel…
Here’s what they said…
Love during the apocalypse is powerful because it is the ultimate act of hope. It’s such an optimistic emotion, isn’t it? When the world’s gone to hell, when you don’t know if you’ll live another hour or week or month or, God willing, years, it takes an enormous amount of courage to open your heart when the risk of it breaking is so great.
Dystopia and post-apocalypse fiction also explores the idea that love in all forms takes on more weight when society has fallen apart. Whether it’s romantic love or the love a mother has for her child or the circumstantial love strangers create from nothing simply through the act of going through hell together. Everything takes on more meaning when future isn’t guaranteed.
In my novella, MERIDIAN SIX, a woman who has only the memory of love–that of her mother, long dead–finds a new kind of family in a group of complete strangers. It’s a dysfunctional family to be sure, but it’s better than the early death of complete isolation in an unforgiving world.
Um, as a geek, I would say Han Solo and Princess Leia would be my favorite “love under pressure” couple. They’re trying to defeat the evil empire, people and she has really complicated hair, so there’s a LOT going on there. I think the draw of love in dire circumstances is that in those darkest moments of our lives, we don’t want to be alone. It’s in our nature as humans to share our feelings and fears. Plus, heroes can look so cute running and covered in blood. I think I read a statistic where those kinds of “under pressure” relationships didn’t last in real life once the danger was lifted, but who cares? I write books, I don’t concern myself with reality.
Love amidst chaos is a trope that’s often seen in fantasy, action/adventure, and apocalyptic stories alike. Whether it’s the adrenaline-infused high or the threat of death, romance blossoms at an accelerated pace when you’re living day-to-day in dangerous situations not knowing when your number might be up. And with the popularity of screen adaptations of novels and graphic novels such as The Walking Dead, and World War Z, and The Hunger Games, it’s obvious that we’re crazy for end of the world scenarios and the complicated relationships that come along with life in a post-apocalyptic or dystopian society.
Love in extreme situations is something that romance novelists have been writing for decades. A hero and heroine are thrown together in the midst of action, they’re forced to rely on each other to get through a life-or-death situation alive, and they form an instant trust that leads to attraction and eventually some smokin’ hot smexy times, and finally, love. The idea of a love that hits hard and fast in spite of danger and peril has always been popular. To me, it goes hand in hand with love at first site, or the concept of having a soul mate. Finding an instant connection with someone that you can neither explain nor understand is something that calls to our human emotions, the knowledge that there is someone for everyone no matter if you’re strolling through the grocery store or chopping the heads off of zombies as you fight your way to your stronghold.
Whether it’s a natural disaster, zombie outbreak, electro-magnetic pulse, or super virus, in any situation where massive casualties occur, a feeling of loneliness is inescapable. We’re programmed in our DNA to pair off, to find a partner, someone who can offer solace. The coming of a second Ice Age or the fact that our neighbor now wants to snack on our brains isn’t going to change that part of us. Even Sarah Connor, entrenched in an obsessive battle to save man-kind, found the time for a little action on the side, and the result was her son, the future savior of all humanity.
In NBC’s Revolution, Charlie is fighting a path across territory controlled by the Monroe Militia in search of her uncle, her brother, and eventually her mother. She’s being hunted by Monroe’s men, and finds herself in one life or death situation after another. Yet, she can’t deny her attraction to a member of the militia who has orders to take her into custody. And not only is Jason technically the enemy, he happens to be the son of Major Tom Neville, one of the highest ranking members of the militia. Jason is drawn to Charlie. He admires her, respects her, is attracted to her and finds himself disobeying orders so that he can protect Charlie and help her. Likewise, Charlie’s need for stability and someone she can trust draws her closer to Jason and eventually they give in to their feelings for one another. In Jason she gets a comrade, a fighter, and a boyfriend. It’s the perfect post-apocalyptic relationship.
Romance and love in times of hardship remind us that there’s something more than the pain and suffering of the moment. It fosters kindness, compassion, tenderness, and empathy. It is essential to any doomsday story because without love, we truly would be lost. And if one central theme connects all apocalypse stories together it’s that despite the chaos, the violence, and death that surrounds us, there’s always hope. And nothing gives us more hope than the promise of love.
I’ve written a series of six books–The Envy Chronicles–about this very topic. The setting is western United States, specifically Las Vegas, fifty years after the earth has been destroyed by a combination of man-man atrocities that spurred devastating natural disasters. Five men are accidentally transported in time from June 2010 to June 2050, into this dystopian world, and they walk out of a cave to find…everything is gone.
When I decided to try my hand at a dystopian novel with romance, I realized right away I couldn’t imagine writing a love story set during apocalyptic events. It would be just too dark and unpleasant–with all the children and puppies dying…I couldn’t imagine anyone falling in love–or at least, a reader believing two people could fall in love. I’m sure it would happen. I just didn’t want to try and do it–especially with all of the depressing elements I’d have to include.
So that’s why I had the five men travel through time. Yes, they had to deal with the shock (and PTSD) of finding the world destroyed, but each story picks up at least six months after they realize what happened. But these are men who do need to find, and cling to, someone to love in this new world. Someone to make them feel like they have found “home” again–because everything they ever knew was gone.
And I think this is a deeply humanistic need–to find and love a life partner. So these men, who are strong and capable each in their own right, still need something else to support them and love them in order to make their lives feel whole and complete.
Because this is such a basic human need, that’s why these types of stories are so popular.
Most dystopian, and especially post-apocalyptic, stories revolve around the reduction or elimination of choice. Whether it’s lost to an oppressive collective culture or replaced by the essential value scale of survival. A lot of people can relate to that on a certain level, or can imagine it when faced with pressures to conform to expectations that don’t jive with their own ambitions or sense of self.
Love is the opposite of these forces. It’s intensely private (individual) and tenderly hopeful (ambitious). It’s a luxury, providing a million rewards that belong solely to the lovers, not to the group or family or any kind of collective. But it also depends on another person, on their survival, and on exactly how far they’re willing to go for you. Allowing the group to guide you is the safer bet in dystopian societies, and in a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction (even if the end result is the annihilation of the species, at least you’re not rousing the fear and anger of the hive right then by trying to move in an opposite direction).
In trying to think of my favorite “end-times” couples, I came up with virtually none. Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series and Karina Cooper’s Dark Mission stories fit this bill, and are excellent. But most of the dystopian and post-apocalyptic characters I’ve read haven’t fallen in love, but rather have become enamored or obsessed with the idea of love. With having the choice to love. Characters stand against authority or walk away from the only safety they’ve ever known for a chance at love. Not even for a guarantee of it, but just the chance. What about that isn’t compelling?
Alex Adam’s White Horse is one of my favorite examples of the strength contained in the idea of love. It’s set during the apocalypse. A plague is unleashed, killing and mutating people. And some of the survivors not directly affected by the disease are disintegrating into horrifying creatures themselves due to the fallout.
Inside this recognizable world that’s reeled to a stop, the main character, Zoe, goes in search of her boyfriend. He went to Europe before the full effects of the plague hit, and Zoe’s been tucked away in a military compound in the U.S., watching people change and die around her. She’s pregnant, and the safe bet would be to stay at home in relative safety and wait until somebody else does…something.
Instead she embarks on a journey to find him. They haven’t been together all that long. Their relationship started in an odd way. There’s no certainty that, even if she found him alive, he would be the same. But she has to try. His understanding and love are, for her, the counterpoints to the new horrors of the world. This novel is lyrical and unexpected, but it’s Zoe’s choice to pursue this ideal love that drives this story. I think it appeals to a dream that many of us have, to find a cause we’d be willing to risk everything for, or to find a love that’s bigger than the end of the world.
Dystopias don’t make for happy endings. My favourite—if you can call it that—couple during a dystopia is Winston and Julia from 1984. The part near the end, where they meet and Julia’s waist has thickened, just breaks my heart each time. The lesson that it is quite possible to be made to betray your deepest love, your very self, has stuck with me, and given me quite a lot of thought over the years.
1984 makes a bookend with Alexandra Kollontai’s Love of Worker Bees, where you can see Kollontai struggling against old habits and the new Soviet state; you can see the dystopia blooming despite her faithfulness to the revolution.
When it comes to postapocalyptic love, I rather like Esther and the alien from Tanith Lee’s Days of Grass, or Lee’s Day and Night and Eva Fairdeath. The post-apocalyptic setting really makes for an incredibly rich way to peer into the depths of people. I also think Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series—especially the initial first three books, the Berlin Noir trilogy—gives a scorching view of love in the wreckage. In this case, though, it’s Berlin right after WWII, which could qualify as post-apocalyptic. For another view of the city during that time, there’s the anonymous A Woman in Berlin; the movie made from the book was a love story in a way, but the book is a true account and as such, very much less a love than a survival story.
As for love during an apocalypse, well. That’s hard to do, because during such an event one generally has other concerns, and in a book there are so many ways to weave the love story in that just don’t work. Movies often do better. The original Terminator comes to mind here, as well as some of the subplots in Defiance, which is based on a true account of Byelorussian Jews hiding in the forests after the Nazis invaded—an apocalypse indeed. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Shaun of the Dead here too, because it’s one of the few times a love story sits very comfortably inside the world falling apart.
There is, of course, Stephen King’s The Stand, but I don’t generally find King’s female characters very believable, though I enjoy reading him intensely and Frannie and Stu are the closest thing to a good couple during a worldwide disaster that you can find. I suppose the best apocalypse love story I’ve read is Garth Nix’s Shade’s Children. Ella and Drum are both very believable, and their relationship is utterly heartbreaking and wonderful. Then there’s one of Tanith Lee’s Books of Paradys novellas, the one with the Black Plague in the medieval city and Jehane the girl-dressed-as-boy, which is pretty much one of the greatest things I’ve ever read.
An apocalypse doesn’t have to have zombies or radiation. It can even be private, an internal event, but I suspect I’ve babbled on long enough. It’s hard to find a good apocalypse love story. I find so much of the emphasis on romantic love in our media and art to be misplaced, which is probably why I like Tanith Lee’s takes on disasters and what happens during them so much. They’re hard to write, hard to structure, just generally difficult to write at all. Anyone who can pull off a good one is to be commended, and any love story inside one that works is a rare and wonderful thing.
For a moment, after first reading today’s question and seeing it was about apocalypses, I was bummed because most of my storyworlds haven’t fallen THAT far apart. But then I saw the part about “just amidst things blowing up” and I brightened. Oh yeah, stuff just blows up in my storyworlds all the time!
Because I find there’s nothing quite like an explosion to remind us what’s really important. With our very lives on the line, we think first of our loved ones.
Us human-y types—whether “normal” or supernatural or superheroic—long for connection, mind, body and soul. It’s exactly when the world is falling apart that we most need a partner to watch our back. Sure, our “real” worlds aren’t always being ravaged by zombies, usually we’re just being eaten alive by day jobs and housework, and maybe we don’t ACTUALLY need someone to watch out back, maybe we want someone to rub our feet. But that level of trust and dedication requires more than trudge-the-breadth-of-Middle-earth camaraderie; that is love.
One of my favorite examples of such “til the world ends” love is the Pixar movie WALL-E. It’s everything a post-apocalyptic story should be: sweet, funny and romantically hopeful. Also, there is trash compacting, laser pew-pews and destructo-bots, so that’s good. Our hero, WALL-E finds a passion to lift him from his earthbound loneliness, while EVE rejects the cold programming in her heart to make room for a new future. On a technical note, their love story is told with an absolute minimum of words, which awes my writer self.
In an ideal world, of course, we wouldn’t need the shaking up of an explosion to remind us to say “I love you.” But I think we’ll always love reading about or watching our brave if beleaguered heroes and heroines saying it for us.
I don’t think I’ve gone a single Mind Meld without dredging up Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, and there’s a reason for that. The romance that unfolds between Kate Daniels and the Beast King isn’t an easy road—and in a city where magic and technology are trying to claim the world, tearing it apart in the process, it’s not a particularly straight road, either. There’s no “Girl meets boy, girl and boy get together” here. One of my favorite parts about this series is that Kate actually allows herself to admit that she’s lonely—even to the point that she dates a fellow by no means “right” for her, just so she can let herself dream a little of the life she “could have had”. When Curran comes along—a man who doesn’t just match her expectations but blows them out of the water and lays down a few of his own—it’s like magic. In the same vein, Kalayna Price’s Alex Craft series is very similar: the world has had to deal with an infusion of magic that’s pretty much set everything on its ear, and Necro City isn’t kind to the wayward. Alex’s love interests are particularly interesting to me because, unlike Kate, Alex is a woman who’s perfectly okay with sharing her body—and less okay with dreaming about the future. Both series offer two sides of an argument that women legitimately have (though aren’t at all the only sides), and both show how each begins to find love in a totally different future—and all the reasons why they should or shouldn’t.
I’ve been told that my Dark Mission series is an excellent example of couples who list all the reasons why they shouldn’t get together—it ranges from “I’m a cold-blooded murderer,” to “Too many people are depending on me, I can’t show any weakness,” because that always works—and then finding out that all the reasons they shouldn’t get together pales under the joy, strength and support of finding love in dark and dangerous times. I think that’s why the style of story is so very popular: it’s all about allowing yourself to reach out in really untenable circumstances and actually find somebody who is reaching out to you at the same time. It’s not exactly the happiest of beginnings, what with death lurking around the corner, but I think that adds a frenetic pace that takes love and makes it sharper, edgier, even hungrier. When the fate of the world rests on your shoulders, it adds a level of angst that makes a read so much more juicy. As a reader, I love it when I can understand why a character won’t fall in love, or can’t afford to, or can’t risk it, and it makes me all the happier when love sidles in beneath a character’s guard and nails him or her anyway. In a way, it’s an indication that life finds a way—that even in our darkest hour, we can find someone who not only “gets it”, but inevitably supports us in the things we have to do. Whether facing down immortals (such as in Joss Ware’s Envy chronicles), trying to survive as cast-outs (such as in Anne Aguirre’s Enclave series) or more, the promise of finding love when all else seems hopeless is enough to keep a lot of us going.
So there are 7 billion people on the planet and 20 million people on eHarmony. And yet I have friends who are intelligent, cool, funny, and probably not axe murders who STILL can’t get a decent date. Considering how many people are single and watching romantic comedies and sighing into their single serving Chunky Monkey, it’s understood that finding someone to love and/or sex out of the available billions of people can be really freaking hard.
Now take away the internet, your car, bars, deodorant, and that annoying girl at work who always wants to hook you up with her friends. And then add zombies. Boom! Finding someone with whom to connect is suddenly infinitely more difficult. And dangerous. And, if you can manage it, infinitely more epic. And that’s why we like watching it and reading about it.
Personally, I don’t consider The Hunger Games a love story or even, really, a love triangle, but no one wants to hear my thoughts on how a powerful woman shouldn’t have to choose from the only two boys she’s ever known who lived for more than two pages. And when I think about the post-apocalyptic relationships that really affected me, they were between parents/parental figures and children. Sarah and John Connor in Terminator 2, Ripley and Newt in Alien, Rick Grimes and the ever-naughty Carl in The Walking Dead. Even Katniss and her protective love for her sister, Prim. In fact, the only real post-apocalyptic romance with heart and soul that comes to mind is Zoe and Wash from Firefly and Serenity, and they were way past the first bloom of love and into a steady partnership from the very first episode.
I feel like I’m striking out on this question, but the more I think about it, the more I have to consider why. I read tons of YA, and plenty of it is post-apocalyptic, from Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies to Veronica Roth’s Divergent to Ann Aguirre’s Enclave, Lauren DeStefano’s Wither, Allie Condie’s Matched, Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, and the completely terrifying FEED by MT Anderson. But what I remember most about those books are the complex worldbuilding and the strong female protagonists who stood up to systems that weren’t serving their populations. So I guess that’s my answer: what interests me most in a post-apocalyptic story isn’t the possibility of finding love– it’s the strength to fight for what’s right in a world gone wrong. In short, a love of freedom. We all like to hope that when we’re stripped down to nothing and facing impossible odds, we’ll still be fighting. But if there’s someone fighting by your side, all the better.