I’m just starting out on writing an “end of the world “ thriller and have been thinking about how these will compare to my dark fantasy adventure novels. The term apocalypse for me has always brought up great heavenly battles, four horsemen (updated to persons these days of course) racing across the sky, the world gathering at Megiddo and such like. So are the apocalyptic tales in the pandemic / zombie / EMP / natural disaster genres really any different.
One thing that comes straight to mind is that the old magical / fantastical element is gone. The days of a learned genius waving his hands and opening portals or creating hellfire will have to go and more pragmatic solutions will have to be found. This causes a greater emphasis on tactical or mechanical solutions, or simple butchering in the case of zombies. Transformations of people may have to be kept to a low variety instead of the many magical forms that characters take.
Another point spotted while reading these genres is the technical detail, sometimes far and beyond the grasp of many characters: you need to be an expert to survive. How far this is the case and how far the human spirit and determination will get you is another question but certainly the science (or at times pseudo-science) needs to be to the fore and loaded with the best bullets.
But overall this one thing remains although it has been lost in a few tales from the genre I have read. The character remains the thing. The human conflicts, the dreams hopes and aspirations and then the devices that thwart these goals, must not be simply there but must drive the tale. As I read across many genres, the best stories always resonate around the person whether it’s a woman stuck at a train station in the middle of nowhere (Absent in the Spring, Agatha Christie written as Mary Westmacott), a captain of the guard holding together a magical and manic city (Feet of Clay, Terry Pratchett) or a woman fighting to reunite her family after a nuclear holocaust (Point of Impact, Kyla Stone).
So whatever I come up with, it will certainly take my characters and break them as ever, only to have them claw their way back. But this time it will be in the midst of a pandemic, lawlessness and a country falling apart. It almost feels like home! My writing home that is, the Outer Hebrides hasn’t got to that stage yet!