The fantasy is always that one can stave off tragedy through preparation: if only one has enough lead time and enough resources, and a place to hide out with one’s loved ones, one can stay safe while the world goes up in flames.
“Jeevan’s understanding of disaster preparedness was based entirely on action movies, but on the other hand, he’d seen a lot of action movies. He started with water, filled one of the oversized shopping carts with as many cases and bottles as he could fit….Another case of water–Jeevan was under the impression that one can never have too much–and then cans and cans of food, all the tuna and beans and soup on the shelf, pasta, anything that looked like it might last a while….The next cart was all toilet paper. The cart after that was more canned goods, also frozen meat and aspirin, garbage bags, bleach, duct tape.”
It’s a practical shopping list for any prepper, but a few pages later, the author includes an incomplete list of things that no longer exist, and one realizes that many of these that have been lost one cannot actually prepare against, or forestall alone. No dedicated shopper can continue to keep planes in the air, when all the pilots and engineers and maintenance crew have vanished, not to mention the entire fuel industry. No well-stocked basement can bring back concerts, or the internet; and there will be no more pictures of concert stages and babies in costume.
In Carla Buckley‘s The Things that Keep Us Here (2010), Ann is a divorced mother of two. Even though her former husband Paul is a scientist studying avian flu, and the community had been under the threat of a pandemic for a while, Ann had made no major preparations until she is greeted by the news that schools have been closed because the ongoing pandemic has reached Phase Five. It is only then that she and her friend Libby go to the shopping center, where she is surprised at how much competition she is facing. She makes creative choices in the grocery by sourcing her supplies from the less populated sections but she loses her water haul to more aggressive shoppers who do not hesitate to wrestle her for the contents of her cart. When she gets home, she is surprised by the presence of Paul and his graduate student, Shazia, with whom she suspects he’s having an affair. Since they have no place to stay, on an impulse, she invites them to stay at her house, with its “four bedrooms and a pull-out sofa in the basement” and the book then traces how Ann’s stock, calibrated for one grownup and two children, is demolished faster than she had intended by five, then six people and a dog.
In The Road (2006), Cormac McCarthy‘s grim apocalypse novel about a man and a boy and their long walk, one of the most disturbing scenes was when they left the well-stocked bunker they had stumbled upon to wander around some more, without a clear direction or destination, instead of staying there where there was food and supplies.
Robert Neville in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954) may face down zombie vampires while trying to find a cure, but he doesn’t have to fear starving to death. An early chapter of the book has him going over his pantry and making himself a hearty meal.
“His jaded eyes moved over the stacks of meats down to the frozen vegetables, down to the breads and pastries, the fruits and ice cream. He picked out two lamb chops, string beans, and a small box of orange sherbet. He picked the boxes from the freezer and pushed shut the door with his elbow, Next he moved over to the uneven stacks of cans piled to the ceiling. He took down a can of tomato juice, then left the room that had once belonged to Kathy and now belonged to his stomach.”
And even though he is the only one left alive in the city, much of the book talks about how he spends his days going through the stores and stocking up on supplies. In other words, shopping.
After a series of novels that one can use as a shopping list in preparation for the apocalypse, one would need a nice palate cleanser. Highly recommended for this is Ben H. Winter‘s The Last Policeman trilogy, one of the few apocalypse books where the protagonist doesn’t spend his time preparing his bunker. Instead of stocking up against the inevitable future, the last policeman spends the few remaining months before an asteroid is scheduled to hit the earth, solving a murder, doing his job.