The post-post-apocalyptic subgenre

The post-post-apocalyptic subgenre - with great portuguese exemples!

The post-post-apocalyptic subgenre (yes, you read it right, it’s not a typing error) doesn’t dwell on the aftermath of a big catastrophe where a few survivors fight to stay alive. It is set much later when humanity has been able to start anew and things have stabilized in pre-industrial or industrial societies. In a sense, the future becomes the past and, in these stories, past men are often regarded as superior beings but their hubris inevitably led them into the apocalypse. Sometimes, the end-of-the-world event is not man-made but of natural causes, asserting our small part in the universe.

Arthur C. Clarke’s third law dictates: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” [01]. If the setting of the narrative is pre-industrial (tribal or medieval), the few technological remnants from the past, such as weapons or other gadgets, are often seen as magical. The concept of superior ancestors is common in some world myths. The Greeks, for example, believed in Five Ages of Man (from the Golden Age to the Iron Age) where each generation of humans was inferior (except for the Age of Heroes) [02].

The post-post-apocalyptic is not so much a subgenre but more a kind of premise for what the story will unfold, therefore, this premise can be comfortably embedded in well known speculative fiction subgenres such as afrofuturism, alternate history, medieval futurism, prehistoric-sf, science fantasy, etc. All speculative fiction subgenres have the porous capacity to absorb or overlap other subgenres and genres. For the sake of argument, the post-post-apocalyptic category will be treated here as a speculative fiction subgenre and not just a thematic device.

To better understand the concept, a few examples will be conveyed in this article. In cinema, we have the classic “Planet of the Apes” (1968), where we find out that intelligent pongids rule the Earth and man has digressed into a quasi-animal state. This movie was an adaptation of a 1963 homonymous French novel, written by Pierre Boulle, and it started a successful franchise. The new streaming series (Apple TV) entitle “See” is a very interesting example of a civilization that has adapted after a catastrophe that rendered everyone blind. The lost sense is believed to be the reason for the downfall of Man and is considered taboo in this storyworld. After centuries of no eyesight, a few people are born with the ability to see and this will result in conflict.

In videogames, the best example is “Horizon Zero Dawn” (2017), developed by Guerrilla Games. This action role-playing game shows us a future where Man lives in small tribal communities with limited access to technology. Mechanical creatures resembling dinosaurs and other animals now dominate the planet, evoking a kind of primitive land where humans are not the apex predator. In literature, the “Broken Empire Trilogy” (2011-2013) is a wonderful example of how the remnants (architecture and other things) of older more sophisticated civilizations can mesmerize less refined cultures. Probably, the best-known literary sci-fi classic that can be filed under the post-post-apocalyptic category is “A Canticle for Leibowitz” (1959), by Walter M. Miller Jr. (a sequel has been written but I haven’t read it).

In comics, “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” (1982-1994), by the Japanese mangaka and director Hayao Miyazaki is an excellent example. The action takes place 1000 years after a cataclysmic war called the Seven Days of Fire, and the pollution and toxicity that resulted from this war is still a problem for the peoples that inhabit this storyworld. But, of course, life goes on and people have adapted to the new biome. The manga is mainly recognized by the fantastic (but incomplete) cinema adaptation.

There’s a lack of information about post-post-apocalyptic narratives and the definition of the subgenre online. What can be found are Reddit posts where people ask about this subgenre. Four years ago a Reddit user asked if there was a correct term for post-post-apocalyptic, or if it was simply post-apocalyptic or science fiction. The post is entitled “Post-post-apocalyptic? Is that right?” [03] and, as far as I know, it’s the first reference online to the new term. There is also a title of an e-book – “The City: Tales from the Post-Post-Apocalypse” – from 2014, written by Daniel Smallegange, collecting 14 short stories in the same storyworld (this can be found at the Amazon website).

In The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction online, the post-holocaust [04] concept is considered a cluster of themes that usually delves into the survival of humankind and its adaptation (evolution, devolution) to new circumstances. But when the stories take action long enough after the cataclysm, the appropriate subgenre label, according to this website, is ruined earth [05]. One can conclude that this is the official subgenre category name for the still academically ‘unbaptized’ post-post-apocalyptic. I, personally, find it more interesting the latter, because it better conveyes the concept of a group of people who were able to overcome a long-gone catastrophe that has been forgotten or mythologized. It’s a time long after a post-apocalyptic period. The subgenre ruined earth very much sounds like the apocalyptic period is still in full swing and people are not necessarily thriving.

Not trying to completely rebut my above-mentioned opinion but the ruined earth subgenre is often more appropriate to some stories: I can easily make a distinction between “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” and the streaming series “See”. In the first example the earth is still very much a toxic place (some places) but, in the second, as far as I can tell, the earth is a wonderfully pristine place and all it took to end the Anthropocene Era was an unknown catastrophe that withheld, from humans, the ability to see. One could argue that perhaps the post-post-apocalyptic and ruined earth subgenres are slightly different which makes it important to better define both (that’s not the goal of this small probing article).

In the Wikipedia website there is an interesting entry for the dying earth subgenre, another expression (not to be mistaken with ruined earth) that, according to the text “takes place in the far future at either the end of life on Earth or the end of time, when the laws of the universe themselves fail.” Unfortunately, and not unlike the post-post-apocalyptic subgenre, the dying earth category lacks an academic approach and proper definition besides this entry on Wikipedia. To give the subgenre some credit, I must say that on the website Goodreads they have a shelf exclusively for this type of literature [06].

The fact that I’m creating what I understand to be a post-post-apocalyptic graphic novel for my Ph.D. thesis, and the lack of information about the neologism, were the main reasons for the writing of this article where I try to better understand it. In the Portuguese context of graphic literature, I haven’t found any graphic novels or albums that use the trope of a far-future society such as the one in “See”. On the subject matter of post-apocalyptic stories though, the ongoing series “Ermal” (2017-), by Miguel Santos [07], is a good example.

In literature, the most important novel that can be considered for the post-post-apocalyptic subgenre (but not exclusively of course) is “Terrarium Redux” (2017), by João Barreiros and Luís Filipe Silva. The 2017 revised edition was published to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the book, considered to be, by many, the most important Portuguese sci-fi novel. Now that this Portuguese classic has been republished and the authors have revised it I hope an English version is made available in the next few years. More people should have access to this book.

[01] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarke%27s_three_laws

[02] http://www.thoughtco.com/the-five-ages-of-man-111776

[03] http://www.reddit.com/r/worldbuilding/comments/3b01i2/postpostapocalyptic_is_that_right

[04] http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/post-holocaust

[05] http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/ruined_earth

[06] https://www.goodreads.com/genres/dying-earth

[07] http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2994587.Miguel_Santos


  1. My book The City: Tales from the Post-Post Apocalypse is currently unavailable, but is being republished in print and ebook and will come out late fall or winter. Enjoyed your article. Cheers, Daniel Smallegange


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