Dale Bailey

About “The End of the World as We Know It”

Dale Bailey’s story for Wastelands, “The End of the World as We Know It,” was inspired by his love for the “cozy catastrophe” stories of the sort that John Wyndham and John Christopher used to write, he said. “Those stories in which some mysterious outside force kills off the vast majority of human beings, leaving a handful of hardy survivors to rebuild civilization.”

The story was long in conception, Bailey said. “I literally spent years playing with the idea of how to tell an end-of-the-world story that was also a story about how end-of-the-world stories actually work. It took me a long time to discover the braided structure of three narrative threads that occasionally interpenetrate one another — Wyndham’s reality, the description of real catastrophes from myth and history, and the narrator’s commentary on the conventions of the sub-genre.”

The actual writing went very quickly, however. “Most of it [was] done in a single twenty-four hour stint at the keyboard under the immediate duress of having to complete a story for the 2003 Sycamore Hill writers workshop. This is something of a land speed record for me, since I normally take months to write a story,” Bailey said. “I don’t think I could have done the piece nearly as quickly in a pre-Internet era when I would have had to spend days–and maybe weeks–in the library tracking down historical details. Thank God for Google.”

Bailey continued: “I think the story also captures a real and ongoing personal dilemma — the question of how to seek meaning and purpose in a universe that seems utterly indifferent to our survival as individuals or as a species. Traditionally human beings have sought solace in their belief in a loving God. But how can any thinking person sustain such a belief in light of the Holocaust or the genocide in Darfur or the disaster in Iraq–pick your own catastrophe? I hope to reach a more life-sustaining and healthy conclusion about these issues than Wyndham is able to–but every time I think I’m coming close I wake up to a fresh batch of horrific headlines in the morning newspapers and think maybe Wyndham is right.”

The Appeal of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

The appeal, Bailey said, is in wiping clean the slate of human failure and starting fresh — an appeal reinforced by our nrcissistic but probably unavoidable certainty that we’d be among the survivors in such a situation. “That’s one of the assumptions such stories make that ‘The End of the World as We Know It’ seeks to challenge.”

Favorite Examples of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

For Bailey, naming his favorite example is easy. “I love Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids because–well, because it’s about killer plants,” he said. “That’s just so cool.”

Bailey added: “Also, Ward Moore’s sequence of stories, ‘Lot’ and ‘Lot’s Daughter,’ for the way they expose the illusions so many apocalyptic stories trade in.  Damon Knight’s ‘Not With a Bang,’ because it does the same thing in a totally different way.  Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for its beautiful prose and its unflinching brutality–until, literally, the final two or three pages, where I think the book flinches in a way that undermines the achievement of everything that comes before it.  Level 7 by Mordecai Roshwald.  The Death of Grass by John Christopher.  Matheson’s I Am Legend. And then there are the movies:  Romero’s Living Dead sequence, especially, and The Road Warrior.  Great great films.”