Last week, Rice University professor Brent Houchens spent seven days living in a self-contained, portable shelter that was designed by his students. He tasked the class with putting together a working habitat that could be assembled quickly in the event of a natural disaster. When Professor Houchens told his students "natural disaster," did he really mean "nuclear disaster?" Probably not, but this handy-dandy fallout shelter got us thinking about the inevitable alien/germ/nuclear/robot invasion and how some of the awesomest post-apocalyptic scenarios in pop-culture history may actually be coming true.
The Stand, book by Stephen King
King's monumental book about the rampant destruction by "Captain Trips," a superflu, oddly reminds us of last year's H1N1. Unlike our swine flu, King's virus took out an estimated 99 percent of the population. Left with little but the clothes on their backs, various groupings of survivors band together to take on a wicked overlord that resides in Las Vegas. Yup, that sounds about right. Post-apocalyptic or not, if you've ever found yourself wide awake at 4 a.m. at the Sahara, plopping your last dollar into the slot machine so that you can request another free apple martini, learning that "sin city" is really a haven of pure evil is not a huge stretch.
Waterworld, movie In this universally panned film staring Kevin Costner, when Hollywood still thought he could do no wrong, the polar ice caps have completely melted, and the sea level has risen covering virtually all the land. Life exists on ships and jet skis and the antagonist of the movie is the captain of a dilapidated tanker called the Exxon Valdez. So, in short, water covers the earth and the gas industry is evil? Believe it or not, according to the EPA by 2080, a rise in sea levels could convert as much as 33 percent of the world's coastal wetlands into water. The gas industry thing is open to personal interpretation.
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Fallout, video game
The Fallout series are computer RPGs about a post-apocalyptic world in the mid-22nd century, featuring an alternate history some time after the second World War. In these games you run around with a gun killing crazed ghouls and trying to survive a nuclear holocaust. Since this takes place in the future, but also the past, nuclear-powered cars, robots and other futuristic items appear along with 1950's throwback accoutrements. A nuclear crisis with fear of rising radiation levels because of an antiquated power plant? Robot workers cleaning up the demolition? Nah, that would never happen any time soon!
Woops!, TV show This show, which aired briefly in the fall season of 1992, focused around six survivors of a nuclear explosion forced to live together in a farmhouse. Hilarity and drama ensued due to the characters' wildly different personalities. Despite it's horrific scenario, the gist of the show was about six strangers, picked to live in a "farmhouse" to find out what happens when people stop being polite ("get your hands off of my giant, radioactive turkey!") and start getting real.
The Postman, book by David Brin Written in 1986 as a two-part novella, Brin's award-winning story tells the tale of a post-apocalyptic world where the main character puts on a postal uniform initially for warmth and finds himself as a self-sacrificing mail carrier. This postman is a saint, fighting for his life, to bring hope to the world in the form of mail and weekly circulars. This heroic letter hauler is not that far off from the one who brings Houston its daily reads. Just last week Houston was ranked the number one city in the country for dog attacks on postal workers. Neither rain, nor snow, nor the breakdown of human civilization, nor... dogs! Robots in general From pretending to be your kid sister on TV's "Small Wonder" to going back in time to kill and/or save your life a la "The Terminator Series" to fighting crime like "Robocop," we are desperately afraid of and in love with robots and what they will mean for our post-apocalyptic future. Will they be our friends like in "Short Circuit" or will they become self-aware and take over the world? Robots are no longer the wet-dream of science nerds. They are here and they are taking over our jobs as waiters and baristas, watching our children and even competing with our homeless in begging for money on the streets.