Ask the Experts: Alasdair Stuart
This issue of Ask the Experts we present genre-fiction expert and culture blogger Alasdair Stuart.
Alasdair is a freelance journalist who first found out about the end of the world from the seminal BBC drama Edge of Darkness and family discussions about the best ways to deal with nuclear fallout. This instilled a healthy respect for doom in him, which grew into a fascination with horror and genre fiction. He has unleashed countless Armageddons upon us all as the host of Pseudopod, the Parsec-Award winning weekly horror podcast. He’s preparing for the end of the world by climbing, cycling, swimming and studying several martial arts.
What’s your favorite apocalypse scenario and why?
I have two. I always rather liked a New Zealand movie called The Quiet Earth where everyone bar a few people simply disappear. The world is intact, everything’s there it’s just most people… aren’t. That’d be interesting, in a very Twilight Zone-ish sort of a way. It’s a lonely apocalypse rather than a noisy one but it’s an apocalypse nonetheless.
My other favorite has been and always will be the ‘Earth gets knocked off orbit and plummets towards sun’ premise of The Day The Earth Caught Fire. Aside from having one of the best endings in movie history, it’s a fascinating, unflinching look at what we do to survive, to cope, when everything else is falling apart around us. Plus, the arid, barren wasteland much of the Earth would become does lead to unlimited Mad Max cosplay opportunities.
Name one thing everyone should do to be prepared for the end of the world?
In the immortal words of Rockhound, ‘Embrace the horror!’. The world’s ended. You are not okay. No one is okay. That’s okay. Which may of course be the title of my Post-Apocalypse Therapy Book. Get safe first, if you can, get some provisions, get some heat and then take your brain off the hook. Everything’s over, and you, lucky or unlucky, are still here. That means you have stuff to do. That means you’re going to be working, hard, for the rest of your life. That also means that you need to take some you time because it may be the last time you get it. So freak out. Trust me, you’ll get bored and come back to the world way sooner than you think.
Where’s the line between being prepared and obsessing over uncontrollable future events?
The point where you find yourself watching the news 24 hours a day.
-Climbing harness, shoes, and watermelon helmet. Which is a helmet that looks like a watermelon not a helmet made of watermelon. That would be weird.
-MMA gloves. Not because I’m planning on stepping into the cage post-Armageddon, although let’s face it, somewhere in Australia, Tina Turner will already be building the Thunderdome. I’d go with these because they’re warm, they’re tough, they’ve got near total finger mobility and if I do get into it, I’m much less likely to break my hands on a zombie’s face if they’re wrapped.
-Water purification tablets.
-A windup torch.
-A windup radio. The BBC will, let’s face it, be one of the last things to go so as long as I have access to them, I’ll know how bad things are.
-Glow sticks or road flares.
-A map marking the nearest high ground, and routes out of the city. If possible, and let’s face it this is doubtful, it would also map out gas stations, supermarket warehouses and reservoirs.
-A silver foil emergency blanket, because sometimes you just have to.
What three things will you most miss about modern society?
The constant stream of information. I live in America, without cable, as I write this and even now I’m swimming in signal. Internet TV, podcasts, radio, social media, newspapers, TV and music all bounce around me and that sense of being deep in a pool of signal, and potential, is something I love. I’ll miss that the most, so I suspect I’ll be one of the people helping build oral histories.
Tea. I know, I know it’s terribly Arthur Dent but I love tea, nothing else gives you that weird combination of wakefulness and relaxation. So there will be regular raids on supermarket warehouses or I’ll just learn to make nettle tea or something.
Really good bread. I know we’re going to end up with bread again, pretty quickly in fact, but I’ve seen The Hunger Games, I know how inexact a science that is. Give me paninis or… give me paninis later when we can make them again.
Which cultural institution would you die to defend? Electricity, the internet, printed books, etc.
Cinema. Doesn’t matter what either, but somehow there has to be a way to project stories on a big wall and take people away. Escapism isn’t just a luxury it’s a necessity and at every single bad time in my life, cinema has helped me get out of my head for a couple of hours and escape. Plus, post apocalypse, cinema has an added educational element to it, one which a couple of post-apocalyptic movies, like Reign of Fire and The Postman, have addressed. Cinema takes us out of our heads and teaches us how to live with each other and crucially, does that as a group. It’s entertainment, history, escapism and community building all in one.
What’s the most important thing the survivors have to remember above day to day survival?
Patience. Hell isn’t just other people, it’s the only other people you’ll ever know, so try and be patient with your fellow refugees. One of the best ways to do this is be honest, tell people when they’re irritating you and tell them to do the same. The group might splinter, there may be fights, but it’s better to get it done now rather than six, seven months down the line. Society is rebooting itself at every level all at once so the good news is you don’t have to be polite about the guy in the SUV’s flatulence, but the bad news is he doesn’t have to be polite about you making stirring speeches all the time. Work it out, bleed if you have to, but work it out because your lives depend on these people.
When do you open the door, i.e. how to you pick and choose between refugees, or do you leave them to their fate?
Someone once pointed out that inside ten feet, a knife will beat a gun in most fights. Adrenalin cuts off higher motor functions once you get above 170 heartbeats per minute so in the time it takes you to warn the knife wielder that you’ll shoot them they’ve closed with you and suddenly it’s their ballgame. Outside ten feet, the knife wielder has other options, the most important of which is running the hell away.
That’s a good maxim to work with. If the zombies/robots/zombie robots/time displaced zombie robot pirates/delete as applicable are under ten feet away from the door, keep it closed. However, let’s face it, no plan survives contact with the enemy, and the cold, hard decisions are the ones we tend to be pretty bad at. So, very aware as I am the consequences of this, I’d open the door for anyone who could get to it and wasn’t part of why the reason for the apocalypse. It’s the flawed, dangerous, human thing to do.
How do you make sure you aren’t caught short when the day comes, i.e. avoiding “I left my apocalypse kit in another car”?
Keep a list of what you need, and know where you can get it if you don’t have it on you.
Keep, at the very least, your phone with you and have a message, detailing where you are and where you’ll be, pre-written to send to your loved ones just before the networks drop.
Keep moving towards your destination, and be prepared to go around if through isn’t an option.
For what person or thing would you break all the rules and go back anyway?
I’m going to Kobyashi Maru this question, twice, no less. Firstly, my girlfriend, I strongly suspect, is the lady driving the tank I’m about to jump INTO so I have no worries about having to go back for her. My family live far enough away that they’ll either be fine and we’ll meet up further down the line or it will already be too late and in terms of stuff? I travel pretty light these days.
So I’m going to say my iPhone, because I figure it’s going to take at worst, three to four weeks for the communications grid to drop all the way. Even then, hopefully, we’ll have met up with a couple of grizzled First Responders who can give us access to their encoded networks which means we can jury-rig a transmitter of sorts, leave recorded messages for any survivors and post regular bulletins about what’s happened, where’s safe, that kind of thing. Throw in a windup charger and I’m good to go.
Keep Your Powder Dry,