REVIEWED BY LYNNE WEISS
David S. Atkinson’s Apocalypse All The Time opens with an earthquake, and proceeds from there through a series of apocalyptic events, including floods, droughts, power outages, zombies, threatened annihilation through an exploding sun, alien invasions, an ice age, clouds of radiation, spontaneous combustion—it’s just one damn thing after another for the people of this world that is apparently our own Earth set in the unspecified future.
Each successive threat is handled by the Apocalypse Amelioration Agency, which manages to trigger a new problem each time it solves an existing problem, and Malcolm, the wizard-of-Oz like head of government who is projected into the sky to instruct and reassure the populace as each new apocalypse emerges. The remedies can be elaborate—at one point, every single person is transported to another planet and when that doesn’t work out so well, they are transported back to their original home. Later, to escape the spontaneous combustion apocalypse, people are outfitted with gills and moved to underwater environments where they gradually construct elaborate cities.
Marshall and Bonnie, however, are skeptical. Marshall is disgusted by the behavior of his fellow citizens who fly into a frenzy of copulation and drunkenness at each anticipated apocalypse. Bonnie collects and is fascinated by outmoded technologies. Their skepticism and skills eventually allow them to escape the cycle of apocalypse.
Written as a tongue-in-cheek science fiction novel (it is dedicated to “all those left behind on May 21, 2011,” which refers to the date that one Harold Camping predicted for the Rapture—an event in which the Righteous would supposedly be sucked up into heaven), Atkinson’s book explores the psychology of a population under constant threat as well as the reality of a world in which constant environmental manipulation leads to one problem after another.
I found nothing on Atkinson’s website to indicate that he might have a Buddhist perspective, yet it is tempting to read the book as a comic allegory for the Buddhist wheel of life—the endless cycle of life, death, rebirth and suffering—which we can escape only through enlightenment.
I saw another analogy in the book as well. Although Atkinson presumably wrote the book before we knew who would take control of the executive branch of our government (I’m intentionally not using his name), it’s worth noting the parallels between Atkinson’s imagined world and the situation we are in today. Who is more prone to apocalyptic thinking? The people who are trying to convince us that people of a particular religious and ethnic group threaten our safety? Or those of us who struggle against the efforts to roll back the rule of law? It’s important for those of us on the side of resistance to avoid the feelings of panic and hopelessness that afflict the general population in Atkinson’s novel. Such feelings lead to ineffectiveness. Ultimately, it’s Bonnie and Marshall’s curiosity and courage that allow them to escape the hellish world in which they find themselves. May we all overcome as well.
Lynne Weiss’s work has appeared in Circa: A Journal of Historical Fiction; Black Warrior Review; and Brain, Child; as well as the blogs of The Common, Ploughshares, and PANK. She has received grants and residency awards from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Millay Colony, the Vermont Studio Center, and Yaddo.
READ MORE WORK BY LYNNE WEISS:
- One More Request
- Eat More Kale? Buy More Books
- Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen
- A House Made of Stars by Tawnysha Greene