Ask The Experts : Pandemonium Pt 2

Welcome to part two of Ask the Experts with the Pandemonium authors. If you would like to read a whole bunch of awesome apocalypse stories by the Pandemonium Girls, one of who is one of our own Apocalypse Girls (looking at Lou) then the details are just below this and just before the rest of the interview. Enjoy.

Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse collects eighteen original stories of the end of the world, as inspired by the artist John Martin. From the terrifying to the comedic, Pandemonium presents the Apocalypse as you’ve never read it before. The ebook is available on Amazon and the very beautiful limited edition hardcover is available in Tate Britain’s shop.

What’s your favorite apocalypse scenario and why?

Chrysanthy Balis: My favorite scenario is the real one– at least for this world- when the sun dies out and becomes a cold black dwarf. Alien invasions, zombies– bring it! Life would certainly be a lot more interesting, despite being suddenly quite shortened. Plus, there’s always a chance you just might survive to begin a new civilization.  But there’s nothing more properly horrifying than the truth. There will indeed be an end to the world. As Allen Ginsberg once said, “The sun’s not eternal. That’s why there’s the blues.”

Kim Lakin-Smith: It has to be the rough ‘n’ tough apocolyptica of the wild west. A personal obsession with America’s landscapes of mountains, dust and tumbleweed means that I am naturally drawn to the spirit of the wild west. The image of the lone gunslinger up against the local outlaw gang is edge-of-the-world dangerous and desperately cool. Add in saloon girls with pistols in their garters, grizzled bar tenders, an alcoholic doc, tetchy pioneers and Timothy Olyphant as marshal, and, to my mind, there can be no finer way to live out those rootin’-tootin’ post-apocalypse days.

Sophia McDougall: I think my favourite scenario is probably the killer pandemic one. I got terrible, months-to-get-over-it flu around the time the reboot of Survivors came out, and I was stuck in bed vaguely wondering if I’d die and thinking of how annoyingly contrived most of the conflicts in the show were  and how no one was doing anything sensible like stealing a road tanker and a generator and making electricity. So I lay there planning the crops I’d sow and the library I’d build and the defenses my fortress would need. Possibly the idea of this happening against the backdrop of a pandemic was appealing mainly because it involved the flu happening to other people. And it has the advantage of leaving a lot of infrastructure intact, and the climate will still be fine, even if all those corpses will become extremely hazardous pretty quickly.

Name one thing everyone should do to be prepared for the end of the world.

Chrys: Die. That is, if the end of the world is actually in progress. Experts in survival say that in crisis situations it is she who can quickly come to terms with her imminent demise who stands the best chance of survival. Considering that I froze up and went into a resigned stupor the time my car broke down next to a mechanic’s shop,  I’m fairly certain I’ll never stand a chance.

Kim: Grow our crops and learn to forage. It terrifies me that in a potential future world where money means nothing and survival everything, I might not be able to tell my wild garlic from my deadly nightshade.

Sophia: WEAR LAYERS. Raid the best and hardest wearing natural-fibre clothes from shops. It’s going to be a while before the heating comes back on. If in Britain, drive or walk through the Channel Tunnel, unless it has collapsed. I’m buggered if I’m spending an apocalyptic winter here.

Which cultural institution would you die to defend?

Chrys: I’ll go with electricity. It’s not very clever of me, but it’s honest. And I have Ashton Kutcher to thank for that conviction. By God, the man’s right:

“And people are going to go, ‘That land’s not yours, prove that it’s yours,’ and the only thing you have to prove it’s yours is on an electric file. Then it’s like, ‘What’s the value of currency, and whose food is whose?’ People’s alarm systems at their homes will no longer work. Neither will our heating, our garbage disposals, hot-water heaters that run on gas but depend on electricity – what happens when all our modern conveniences fail? I’m going to be ready to take myself and my family to a safe place where they don’t have to worry.”

I’m not sure what place that would be, but there’s a very good chance it will be quite dark. And cold.

Kim: I would maybe, most likely, in all probability, die to defend rock music, given that the genre represents alienation and rebellion in glorious Technicolor, and is as dear to me as breath in my lungs. There are many reasons why rock could face censorship come Judgement Day – a leaning towards religious zeal; rejection of the scene’s darker imagery in favour of pop’s escapism; accusations of inciting hatred; a need to control the masses, especially men who like eyeliner…Rock has always been the surly bastard standing in the corner of music. But it is also born of expressed aka theatrical aggression, violence of viewpoint and intensely human sensuality. Take away our music, extricate our souls. Didn’t we learn anything from Footloose, man?

Sophia:  Electricity and the internet are very nice but I find it hard it hard to imagine a scenario where heroically sacrificing myself for them would help. The physics of making electricity won’t go away, we can work it out again later. Anyway, you don’t die to defend utilities. You die to defend principles, such as the freedom to live in peace  and harmony in your little agricultural fortress/commune without any post-apocalyptic warlords coming along to enslave/rape/kill you. So I guess I die to protect the principle that humans have certain rights not to be messed with, but I’d try very hard not to die for that first.

What three things will you most miss about modern society?


a. Long distance communication. We’re very used to being able to find the people we care about, even if they’re on the other side of the world. I’ve made lifelong friends over the internet and I’ve often thought how little it would take to cut those ties irrevocably. And you’d go the rest of your life never knowing if your friends were alive or dead.

b. Variety of foods, and being able to refrigerate it. We’ll probably only be able to have meat occasionally and we won’t be able to rely on imported spices and condiments. We’ll probably go weeks living on nothing but potatoes and nettles and desperate for chicken curry.

c. The tea is going to go stale and run out and then there will never be any more, at least not here. Walking through the Channel Tunnel might not be enough — we’d better make for India.

How do you make sure you aren’t caught short when the day comes?

Chrys: Don’t think I haven’t already seriously thought this through. I’m obsessed with survival kits, bomb shelters and Mormon food storage habits. Unfortunately I have been forbidden to stockpile weapons or dig in the backyard, so that leaves me with just an emergency kit and my sharp wits.

I’m reminded of the time when said kit, which lives in the trunk of my car and is quite large, once had its contents destroyed by flood. One of the survival water pouches inside it leaked on all my mini-solar panel chargers, walkie-talkies and beef jerky. I choose to think of it as an important dress rehearsal discovery– have survival kits everywhere you go so if one is either destroyed or inaccessible, you have another handy. And keep your water stored elsewhere.

Always having a kit handy allows you to collect all sorts of wonderful multi-use survival gadgets to keep in one’s home, car, boat and mountain top camp in Bugarach. I currently carry around one the size and shape of a credit-card. But it’s best used for surviving, say, a day at the mall.  Recently, however, I’ve discovered a nifty little item that’s shaped like a sardine can. It’s “pocket-sized, it floats, you can cook in it, bail water with it and drink from it.” It contains a “compass, whistle, matches, fist aid instructions, a razor blade, pencil, and non-aspirin pain reliever, fire starter cube, adhesive bandages, energy nugget, wire clip, tea, safety pin, reflective signal surface, fish hook, fishing line and spool, duct tape, note paper, sugar, salt, gum, reclosable bag, antibiotic ointment, and an alcohol prep pad.” Hot damn! It may not carry you through to repopulating a wasted earth like my dream bunker would, but it’ll keep you going long enough to say, “Oh! So this is what a post-apocalyptic world looks like!”

What person or thing would you try to save, even if you had to break all the “rules” of apocalypse survival to do so?

Kim: So, I am a mother and a wife. I can take the easy way out and say I’d save both my eight year old daughter, Scarlet, and my husband, Del, but doesn’t that seem kind of cheating? The challenge here is to force myself to choose between the two – because that’s what happens in the movies, right? And the winner is…my husband, Del.

Surprising, I know, but hear me out here. Scarlet is a child. That gives her extra brownie points in terms of apocalypse survival. Think Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, War of the Worlds (according to Spielberg), The City of Embers, Terminator 2, The Tribe…She has also been raised on a diet of bad sci-fi and self-survival code. Dora the Explorer knows the value of a well-stocked backpack. While her peers have stayed baby-soft thanks to their obsession with High School Musical, Justin Bieber and Sylvanian Families, Scarlet has built space rockets from household debris, designed robots, and channelled her inner Indiana. Come apocalypse, my money is on her evolution into Sarah Connor’s true spawn as opposed to Edward Furlong’s mop-haired wiener.

Del, on the other hand, is apocalyptic cannon-fodder. Not only is he an IT worker – T2’s Miles Dyson anybody? – but he’s the honourable type à la Sarah Connor’s squeeze, Kyle Reese. Chances are, he’s going to need a human shield when the world ends. Luckily for him, I’m his wife – and everyone knows that, in accordance with apocalyptic movie law, it’s the writer who always saves the day.


Chrysanthy Balis is an award-winning screenwriter, best known for her adaptation of Asylum, starring Natasha Richardson and Ian McKellen.

Kim Lakin-Smith’s latest book, Cyber Circus, was released in September 2011 from NewCon Press. Her next book, Queen Rat will be the first release in Murky Depths’ new line of young adult fiction.

Sophia McDougall is the author of the writer of the Romanitas trilogy, published by Orion and Gollancz. The final volume, Savage City, was released in May 2011. Meanwhile she’s pondering various new projects that may or may not involve cavemen, a barge floating down the Thames with angels on board, post-apocalyptic England, the Book of Genesis, aliens and flying American blue-eyed fish-robots.

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