18 July 2014

Squalid Worlds and Afterlives

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People were, historically, more prone to believe in a Heaven after death when their living standards and life expectancy were poorer. It is appropriate that in a speculated post-apocalyptic or dystopian world, characters should be very prone to such belief.

Also, the despair of living in a squalid and unfair world usually leads to strange theories about how things got that way, and some ideal alternative is often imagined to exist elsewhere or at some point in the future. Hardline, cultic and extremist behavior flourishes when humans are perceived to be facing an existential threat. Religious traditions positing an afterlife as certain and assured are inherently hardline, because the existential threat addressed by them is death itself – that ticking clock from which none of us will escape. When other existential threats surface, the number of hardline and fanatical ideas increases exponentially.

To consider this subject, I used it to shape themes in my first full-length novel The Traveller and Pandemonium, authored with great care from 2011-2014. In the fictional world of the book, humanity is under much more nightmarish pressure than it is on Earth, and this pressure results in a plague of unlimited conflict and fanaticism tearing civilization apart. Rather than humans controlling and threatening the natural world, the natural world is encroaching on humans and threatening them. Humans are forced to cage themselves away for protection from the hostile aliens inhabiting the world in which they have found themselves, producing the surreal image of cities contained in bird-cage-like domes to shield them from the roaming creatures outside.

In a sense, the world I created for this story does not abide by the anthropic principle – a principle of cosmology which states that the world must include coincidences that support the evolution and existence of the people observing it, or there would be no such observers. Due to this principle not functioning in the world of the story, the alien setting of the story is threatening the human inhabitants with extinction rather than supporting them.

Faced with such a deadly situation from the outset, the main character, nicknamed “the Traveler”, is searching for the answer. How could humans exist in a world that fundamentally does not support or give any illusions of meaning to their existence?

By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

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