What does one pack for the end of the world? The writers of Fiction Unbound sought expert advice from the intrepid panelists of Lighthouse Writers Workshop's upcoming Lit Fest Salon: The Resurrection of Dystopian Lit. We asked Alexander Lumans, Thao Le, Mark Springer, Claire Vaye Watkins, and Paolo Bacigalupi*:
In the event of an apocalypse, what's in your bug-out bag?
Check out their replies and leave us a comment to tell us how you would pack to survive a post-apocalyptic future. Then, join us Saturday, June 11th 6:00-7:30 p.m. at Lighthouse Writer's Workshop for the Salon! Tickets are $20 for members and $30 for non-members.
No question: I'm bringing my carbon-steel machete. That was the first thing my mind went to. Defense, defense, defense. But what do I have to protect, besides my own thin skin? After that, I start to draw a blank. Because so much else begins to vie for equal concern (see: very minor concern). And because I'm a nostalgia monster, my urge is to bring every little thing that will remind me of the human world I've left behind. Like, say, all of my Magic: the Gathering cards (Oversized Planeswalkers, EDH decks, and extra Mana included). In addition to blood, there will be games in the apocalypse! Are you not entertained?!
That's probably where I first understood what the apocalypse was about: Magic. Every set has cards with world-collapsing effects: the eponymous Apocalypse, Wrath of God, Zombie Apocalypse, Displacement Wave, and my personal favorite: Jokulhaups. How else does a depressed middle-class white kid learn what the end of the world feels like than when a gigantic glacier-wave destroys all the fattie creatures he's cast and the dual lands he's played and his last hopes of winning this PTQ game? With even a little imagination, you can actually picture the destructive effects of a Wrath of God on a trio of helpless Leery Fogbeasts. In Magic, you get every kind of possible apocalypse. Snakes, Undead, Undead Snakes, Earthquake-Tsunamis, Oblivion Stones, even Doors to Nothingness. Now that would be an apocalypse. Someone opens a door and everyone else dies. Boom. So yeah--thank you, MtG, for embalming me in middle school (see: and now) with endgame cognitions.
And there's my bugout bag: 1) My machete, 2) My Zedruu the Greathearted Commander Deck.
Alexander Lumans was the Spring 2014 Philip Roth Creative Writing Resident and a 2015 Arctic Circle Residency Fellow. He’s co-editor of Apocalypse Now, an anthology of dystopian fiction and poetry. He has received fellowships to MacDowell, Yaddo, and VCCA as well as scholarships to Bread Loaf and Sewanee writer conferences. He is currently at work on a dystopian novel set in the Arctic Circle.
I want to say one of those fancy Swiss army knives, but in all honestly I wouldn’t know how to use it. I would definitely bring toilet paper. It would be absolute GOLD in the apocalypse. I bet you could trade it for some good stuff. Maybe a bunch of over the counter medication. An apocalypse is terrible, but what would make it even more terrible is allergies from all the dust and debris flying around. Imagine running around with zombies after you and your eyes are red and itchy and you’re having a sneezing attack. It’d be horrible.
Thao Le is an agent with Dijkstra Literary Agency. She is currently looking for young adult, middle grade, picture books illustrated by the author, sci-fi/fantasy, and romance. She enjoys stories rooted in mythology, fairy tales, and legends with atmospheric settings and strong world building. She loves magical realism, beautiful literary writing with a commercial hook and is always on the lookout for more diversity and LGBTQ stories. Thao’s recent sales include: Kathryn Tanquary's middle grade debut The Night Parade (Sourcebooks), Roshani Chokshi's YA fantasy The Star Touched Queen (St. Martin’s), author-illustrator Jessie Sima's picture book debut Not Quite Narwhal (S&S), and Elle Katharine White's fantasy of manners Heartstone (Harper Voyager).
Claire Vaye Watkins
I wouldn't have a bug out bag. I'm not a survivor. I am a total quitter. I'm like a red shirt of the apocalypse. I'd just give up. I barely survive living a comfortable middle-class existence in Ann Arbor, Michigan, so I don't have any designs on surviving the apocalypse.
Let’s be clear: If the proverbial shit hits the existential fan, I’m not long for this world—and neither are you. It’s a prerequisite of extinction: everybody dies. Post-apocalyptic adventures, however popular, are the stuff of fantasy.
But the fantastic has its place in life as much as in literature, so let’s indulge for a moment and imagine I could survive an unspecified apocalypse by taking shelter in a pneumatically actuated deployable structure (PADS). The PADS prototype won’t fit into a standard-issue duffel bag, but this is fantasy, so I’ll stash it in a bag of holding along with a lifetime supply of canned food and filtered water.
I’d have a problem, though: the creators of PADS only made a single prototype, and it’s only big enough for one person. Any other survivors—friends and family included—would be left to fend for themselves. Without PADS to protect them, they won’t last long (see: extinction). After a while, I’ll be the last man, a fate too lonely to contemplate, let alone endure. What a bummer. Even in this fantasy I’m back where I started: everybody dies.
Mark Springer is a freelance writer and editor, and a Fiction Unbound contributing editor. He will moderate the panel.
So candidly I hate the concept of the Bug Out Bag and I feel like this is precisely what is wrong with a specific strain of literature and that’s apocalyptic literature. It’s not dystopian in the classic sense. It’s not a broken future. I think of myself as writing accidental futures. I think there’s a strong layer of the pornographic in apocalyptic literature, the deep desire to see everyone wiped out so that a plucky band of deserving people can restart the fucking world. And somewhere in there they’ll battle motorcycle gangs.
The zombie apocalypse is going to look exactly like the drought apocalypse and there’s no specificity to why any of those things exist except to give us the excuse to run around and shoot at bad people. I despise that trope because it leads to this idea that only if you bottle yourself up in a shed with a bunch of guns and canned food will you actually survive. And I do feel like - talking about toxic tropes and talking about weird templates - I see preppers, see these people living inside a false narrative about what human survival is. Bugging out is not a survival tactic. Solving the problem now is a survival tactic. Looking at our bad decisions now and not being dysfunctional is a survival tactic.
We’re in this together. Why wait until everything falls apart? Maybe we should just stop the fucking apocalypse. By the time you’re talking about a bug out bag you’re already dead - you already failed. You failed as a species and you’ve also failed as a person. There’s that repetitive “epic adventure” quality and the ego of saying “I’ve got my plan! Look at me, I’m the clever one.” Well, no, you’re not - you’re toast. You let your society burn around you. It’s not an adventure, it’s a big fail. So I think by the time you’re talking about bug out bags it’s too late. The fact that we do talk about them, says so much about our current abdication of our responsibilities for our society and our world.
There’s my very bitter take on that.
Paolo Bacigalupi is the author of two novels--TheWater Knife and The Windup Girl, which won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Compton Crook and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards.
Lit Fest is Lighthouse Writers Workshop's annual celebration of the literary arts and is mere weeks away. Workshops are filling up; meetings with agents are getting scheduled (if you haven't already, get your tickets here).
*At press time we were notified that Paolo Bacigalupi had to cancel his appearance for personal reasons. He will be missed but we loved hearing from him.