Romance of the Wasteland and the Call of the Ruins
by Walter Phippeny
Born in 1976, I was a child of the 80s, and when I was growing up, the Post-Apocalyptic genre found a lot of popularity in the shadow of the Cold War. We had the Mad Max films, Zelazny’s Damnation Alley, Interplay’s video game “Wasteland” which I played on my Commodore 64, the TSR roleplaying setting “Gamma World”, not to mention the hundreds of knock-offs and cash-grabs that tried to profit from the trend.
Patton Oswalt, in his book Zombie Spaceship Wasteland carves up the youthful Science-Fiction fandom into three types: each alienated from modern society and drawn to one of the three settings where the world has been destroyed or left behind. These types are: the Zombie who is enthralled with a scourge of undead; the Spaceship who is drawn to space opera and distant worlds; and the Wasteland. Here’s his description of the Wasteland:
Post-nuke, post–meteor strike, or simply a million years into the future—that’s the perfect environment for the Wasteland’s imagination to gallop through. The wasteland is inhabited by people or, for variety, mutants. At least mutants are outgrowths of humans. Mutants—the main inhabitants of postapocalyptic environments—are more familiar. Variations of the human species grown amok—isn’t that how some teenage outcasts already feel? Mutants bring comfort. You don’t have to figure out alien biology or exotic, inhuman cultures or religions. At the most, mutants will have weird mental powers or practice cannibalism. The heroes are unmutated humans, wandering across deserts (always, weirdly, wearing leather or tattered overcoats—suburban teens are accustomed to air-conditioning, so it’s not until they’re older that they learn the importance of fabrics that breathe) and carrying what they need. Wastelands are great at stocking belt pouches, backpacks, and pockets. At any time, Wastelands suspect they’re going to need to grab whatever’s at hand and head for the horizon.