Friday, March 16, 2012

“Guns Aren't Lawful; Nooses Give; Gas Smells Awful; You Might As Well Live” – Dorothy Parker

Suffering the fate of so many near-future scifi novels, Gore Vidal’s 1978 Kalki has been overtaken by the actual future. The darkly funny apocalyptic tale is still an enjoyable read, however – nowadays as an alternative history. The central character Teddy Ottinger is an aviatrix (despite Teddy’s feminist principles, she likes the word too much to give it up) who narrates the novel in first person. The character is heavily influenced by Amelia Earhart, who in fact was a Vidal family friend. The plot: James K. Kelly, a former soldier at a secret U.S. bio-weapons facility in Saigon, declares himself to be Kalki, the final incarnation of Vishnu. He starts a cult and announces the end of the world. He pulls it off, killing every human on the planet except for five whom he inoculated: himself, his wife Lakshmi, and three “Perfect Masters” (including Ottinger), whom he has chosen partly for their useful skills and partly for their sterility. He and Lakshmi intend to repopulate the world themselves. The 1978 hardcover is still on my shelf, and is due for a dust-off and re-read.

This is a special year for apocalyptic tales, what with the world ending on December 21 and all. (Mine, by the way, is titled Slog and is posted at my Richard’s Novel Ideas blogsite.) Such stories are popular in any year though. It is an old and persistent genre. The oldest stories tend to be religious, and plenty of this type still crop up, but fictional doomsdays appeal to secularists, too, e.g. Terminator, The Road, Dr. Strangelove, War of the Worlds, etc.

Why is the genre so enduringly popular? Perhaps in part it is because so many of our everyday interactions with other people are quite frankly unpleasant. Auto drivers cut us off, sellers demand payment, customers complain, bosses yell, co-workers gossip, governments harass us with taxes and petty regulations, kids scream, lovers cheat, neighbors are rude, and so forth. It’s no wonder we sometimes fantasize about making them all go away and leave us alone. Well, nearly all of them: in most of these fantasies we allow ourselves a companion or two, often of a romantic nature.

Some folks don’t stop at the fantasy. They eagerly anticipate the end. Harold Camping and his followers, who predicted the end of the world in 1988, 1994, and 2011, are among the latest. History is full of such cults. A few cults actively try to jumpstart the end, such as Aum Shinrikyo, members of which carried out sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in 1995. Still others are suicidal, such as the Heaven’s Gate sect members in their sneakers (what was with the Nikes?). The Shakers didn’t kill themselves, but their belief in lifelong celibacy nevertheless doomed the cult for obvious reasons.

One of the most idiosyncratic doomsday cults is the strongly pro-environment Church of Euthanasia. The founder, Reverend Chris Korda explains that “the four pillars of the Church of Euthanasia are suicide, abortion, cannibalism and sodomy. The Church only has one commandment: Thou Shall Not Procreate. All four pillars help reduce the population.” Korda adds, “We're only tangentially interested in the fate of the human species, but we're most interested in the fate of the planet we happen to inhabit and dominate... so our support of those pillars is both symbolic and actual.” The church’s website used to list painless methods of suicide, but, because of civil litigation concerns, these have been removed.

When asked why the church members don’t follow their own advice and commit suicide, Korda answers with some logic that somebody has to stick around to spread the word.

I frequently sympathize with the “leave me alone” feeling, but I don’t really wish for the end of civilization. As it happens, I do think global population is too high, but lower birthrates are the best way to deal with that. I don’t begrudge anyone already here. As for that “leave me alone” sensation, a weekend of solitude is usually enough to dispel it. If one day that’s not enough, I’m thinking beachside in Panama. According to US News and World Report, a comfortable home in Las Tablas rents for under $300 per month. That should be a pleasant and affordable place to be a hermit. The Church of Euthanasia will have to do without me.

Church of Euthanasia Rally

Rude but Funny SNL faux Commercial for Keds Sneakers after the Heaven's Gate Event



  1. Caught "Deathrace 2000" last weekend and still had a blast with it. Corman's satirical take on distopia and the televising of mass murder all wrapped up in a exploitative bow still holds true. And in light of the current popularity of "The Hunger Games", seems to point to this type of story always being popular.

    Since I'm an '80s fan, "The Running Man" will always be my hunted human in a distopia film of choice. But I'm curious to see the Japanese film "Battle Royale".

  2. Deathrace 2000 is undeniable fun.

    I haven't seen either yet, but I understand there are similarities between The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, though Collins claims not to have been familiar with the latter.