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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 06.05.18] post apocalyptic scifi

There's no question that, at its worst, social media divides people. But at its best it brings people together over common interests who may otherwise may have never met. It's how all of us here at Quiet Earth came together for instance, and how I met Evan, a post-apocalyptic enthusiast who has been sharing his passion for the genre for years online.

Evan is a QE zombie from way back and also runs two blogs, From the Wastes..., where he interviews authors and enthusiasts, and The Last Librarian where he shares his massive book collection.

I decided to change things up and, instead of tracking down a writer or director, to sit down with a fellow wasteland traveler.

If anyone out there thinks it's a good idea to bring fan voices to QE, let me know and I may continue this series.


Tell me a bit about yourself and what your mission is with From The Wastes?

Well, my name is Evan and I am a curator of post-apocalyptic and dystopian media. I have a blog, From the Wastes, with which I chat with creators and fans within the genre. I've always had a desire to spread the word about things I enjoy and when I finally got comfortable with the thought of being on social media, I figured what better way to utilize it then to scream into the void, "Read this! Watch this! Listen to this!". I tend to spend most of my time on Twitter, but I also have a Facebook Page, a Tumblr, and have just started a podcast.

I have no illusions as to how large my audience is, but I've always said that if I can get just one person to enjoy something that I do, mission accomplished.

Some call you "The Last Librarian". Are you a big book collector?

You could say that. I've been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was a kid, I've surrounded myself with books like some sort of security blanket. There have been times where I've weened the collection down by either selling it off or just giving books away, but I always end up just re-buying them. It's a sickness ;)

It wouldn't be until 2013, when I joined Twitter, that I would create this "Last Librarian" thing... curating PA media for future generations. Safely tucked away in my atmosphere-controlled bunker and lending them out to wandering bibliophiles.

Only now, the late fee for an overdue book is a bit more extreme than what it once was. Let's just say it's a good thing folks got ten fingers.

How big if your collection?

Back when I was using WinME (2003-ish), I created a database of all of my books. At that time, it numbered right around 6,000.

I've since continued to collect and would estimate that the number is currently somewhere around 9,000. One of the first things I do when moving to a new place is find all of the used book stores. When I met my wife in 2006, she worked in a bookstore (imagine that!) and had her own book hoard. She brought in at least another 1,000, so between the two of us, we're looking at something around 10,000 books. My wife is the real librarian in the family.

They're not all postapoc/dystopian as I'm a big fan of just good old science fiction as well. I'm a huge fan of "Dune", reading it for the first time when I was around 10 years old-- didn't understand a thing, so it became a yearly exercise for me to read it until I "got it". Started to make sense somewhere around the age of 13. [editor's note: this is exactly my experience as well.]

I like to collect older paperbacks from the 60's and 70's. I was never much of a fantasy reader (Tolkien and Brooks was about all I'd read), but my wife was a big fan of R.A. Salvatore. She expanded my horizons and I read anything and everything I could when it came to our favorite Dark Elf, Drizz't. Then she showed me Dragonlance and I got hooked on that as well. Maybe not "High Fantasy", but is was certainly "Fun Fantasy".

She also introduced me to the world of YA postapoc and dystopian tales. I'd no idea there was such a thing. In my day, Deathlands and Outrider were what us kids read. So when I found City of Ember, The Last Book in the World, and Mortal Engines, I was hooked. I'd spent about 3 years reading nothing but YA books. They get kind of a bad rap among adults, but I tend to like them. They're generally action-packed (gotta keep us youngsters engaged, ya know?).

In any case, I haven't had the gumption to create another database (the great WinME crash of '04 had dumped a years' worth of work). I have however, been posting my collection to my The Last Librarian blog. I figure that's about as close to a real list as I'll ever get.

What hooked you on the PA genre?

It's hard to nail down one specific "A-HA!" moment, but I do recall watching the movie Things to Come on TV when I was very young-- quite possible the first memory of television I have (other than the rerun of the b&w pilot of Lost in Space).

Saturday morning television brought me Thundarr the Barbarian and Ark II, which I think both are to blame for my initial fascination with the "end-of-the-world".

The advent of the VCR would be the thing that finally allowed me to fully explore the genre. Right around 1982, my dad got a JVC Vidstar Plus (weighed 40 pounds, nothin' but dials and levers, and a woodgrain finish!). A video store had just opened up in town and I was now able to watch The Road Warrior, After the Fall of New York, Exterminators of the Year 3000, and all of the wonderfully awful Italian Mad Max rip-off's during the 1980's.

I would discover Gold Eagle Books and "James Axler" -- the pen-name behind Deathlands and Earth Blood. Our bi-monthly trek into town would yield me such awesome books as Outrider, The Last Ranger, Endworld, Blade...

The cold war was at its height and we were destined for nuclear Armageddon at any second. The Day After played that fateful night of November, 1983 and the next day we all were freaking out on the playground, thinking it was totally gonna happen. Tony Carey released his "Planet P Project: Pink World" album... THE quintessential concept album for PA dudes like myself.

Flash forward to 1990/1991 and I find myself armpit-deep in an Iraqi desert, wondering if this is "it". I honest-to-God thought that this was gonna be the end of things, but such wasn't to be the case. The prophets were wrong.

This would begin the breaking of the fantasy and the realization that all of this end-of-the-world thing was complete bunk. Since then, it's all been duck soup. The media tries like hell to keep up in fear of annihilation 24/7, but it ain't workin' on this guy. I've discovered that fine line between paranoid and prepared.

What are the elements of a great PA story in your opinion?

I'm a big fan of the anti-hero, a main character doing what he needs to, to survive. Sometimes what he has to do is pretty awful, but he does it because his sense of survival trumps everything else. You know, a guy like Max.

Also, there has to be a sense of hope. Without hope, what use is there for putting one foot in front of the other, day in and day out? What's over that next rise? What's behind that buried fallout shelter's bunker door? Is there a better place than this out there somewhere?

They say hope is the only emotion that is stronger than fear.

There's gotta be a something more than blindly trudging through the wasteland simply for the sake of trudging. It can't all be mutants and cannibalistic dirtbags.

What have you seen or read recently that you think really got it right?

My PA reading for the past few years has been pretty much only from indie authors. I honestly can't recall the last "mainstream" author I've read. Probably S.M. Stirling and his "Emberverse" series. For a while now, postapoc and dystopian fiction has been all the rage, so it's been a target rich environment for me. It can be a bit of a slog wading through the myriad of kindle offerings, but I've found some bright shining examples during that slog.

"All the Elders Orphans" by Melissa Dykes, the "American Rebirth" series from Evan Pickering, "The Commune" series from Joshua Gayou, "The Swallowed World" series from Tyler Bumpus, the "Uroboros Saga" from Arthur Walker, "Making Monsters" from Joe Turk... these are just a few of my favorite PA stories from the last couple of years.

Why do you think PA continues to be so popular? What is it about end of the world stories that you think people respond to?

I'm not really sure. Perhaps it's a sense that "the end" could come at any moment via a nuclear exchange with a rogue nation, or Yellowstone deciding to wake up.

Truth be told, we're living in an amazing time. We have computers in our pockets and enough materialistic crap to fill in the Valles Marineris. There's a Starbucks on every corner and we have cars that freaking drive themselves. We have the ability to speak with anyone in the world without delay and can watch any TV show, any movie, at a moment's notice.

But I guess there's always that nagging voice in the back of our brain that suggests maybe it could all be sucked up into a mushroom cloud, buried under six feet of ash, or frozen underneath a darkened sky.

Or aliens.

Or zombies.

I'm not really sure what folks respond to when it comes to the apocalypse. For me, I guess it's a sense of wiping the slate clean. No more taxes, no more worrying about being late to work, no more dealing with jackapples on the highway... 'course, on the flip side, there's the downright peskiness of wondering where I'm gonna find my next meal and who I might have to battle to the death to get it.

Look at the popularity of Wasteland Weekend! People show up en masse to LARP "Wasteland Warrior" and they have a helluva time doing it... but afterwards they get to go back home to their showers, microwaves, and Netflix.

It's fantasy, and fantasy is fun... until it isn't ;)

For anyone just dipping their toes in the genre, where would you recommend they start.

I suppose it's always good to start of with the classics. Book-wise, there's "On the Beach", "Alas Babylon", "Warday", "Earth Abides", "A Canticle for Leibowitz", Dark December, and The Sheep Look Up.

For movies, it's tough to beat The Road, Threads, The Day After, The Road Warrior, The Book of Eli, Le Dernier Combat and the film version of On the Beach.

Some of my favorite PA video games are the Fallout series. There was a Mad Max tie-in with Fury Road that was very good. The grandfather of PA video games was Wasteland and there's a current sequel for today's consoles, Wasteland 2, that is quite good.

There's lots of good PA on the old boob tube these days. I've become quite a fan of Into the Badlands. It's done an amazing job at bringing us into a post-apocalyptic world without revealing exactly how the current world ended. There are little teases here and there, but they're leaving it up to the viewer to speculate as to just what broke the world.

Of course there's The Walking Dead and the spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead (of which the current season has me glued to the TV screen). Lots of good PA series on Netflix, but alas, we don't get Netflix here in the bunker. Some older PA television series I enjoyed were Jericho, Falling Skies, Revolution, and the older BBC series, Survivors.

All good places to start for sure. Listen, thanks for your time, Evan!

You bet. Anytime.

Follow Christopher Webster on Twitter.

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