Sean McLachlan on Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

Hey all! Today I welcome Sean to my blog as part of his book tour. If you’re looking for my IWSG post, it’s here.

Post-Apocalyptic fiction: what it is and what it isn’t.

There’s one thing a writer learns very quickly—the setting is not the story.

This is why I’ve written everything from westerns to post-apocalyptic tales, and as a reader I roam even further afield. I’m after the story. Sure, I have my favorite genres, and some plots seem to lend themselves better to some settings than others, but if a story is good I don’t care what genre it’s in.
(Except for romance because, well, I’m a guy and romance novels are written from the woman’s point of view. If a bodice is going to be ripped, I want to be the one doing the ripping.)

The current craze over post-apocalyptic fiction has been explained in many ways—fears over our deteriorating environment, the current economic crisis, international terrorism, etc. Whatever the reason, a grim future offers plenty of scope for storytelling. In the face of adversity, people have to pull together to survive, or become selfish and live off others. Civilization may have fallen but people still fall in love, have deep-seated jealousies, have grand dreams and petty insecurities. People, no matter what situation you put them in, are still people.

I saw a pie chart on Facebook a little while back called “What the Walking Dead is About.” It had various categories such as Loyalty, Friendship, Love, Parenting, etc. The smallest category, a tiny sliver on the pie chart, was titled “Zombies.”

The secret to the show is that the characters are compelling. We really love these people, or love to hate them. The zombies are there to get them into the situations that bring out the best and worst about them. They could just as easily been living on a space station invaded by aliens, or occupied France fighting the Nazis, or a Wild West town menaced by outlaws. In a different decade or a different country, the writers would have chosen one of those settings.

Back in 1901, M.P. Shiel wrote The Purple Cloud, one of the original “last man on Earth” scenarios. But, like Walking Dead a century later, it was about more than the fall of civilization. It was about humanity’s hubris.  People have been projecting their feelings onto apocalyptic novels for a long time now.
So if it’s all about the story, why do so many readers have a favorite genre? I suspect there are as many answers to that as there are readers. Some of it may be dictated by the zeitgeist or childhood memories, or a person may have been blown away by a particular book and that led to a permanent craving for more in that line.

What’s your favorite genre and why? Tell us what you think in the comments section. I’ll be hanging around here a while.


Sean McLachlan is an archaeologist turned writer who is the author of several books of fiction and history. Check him out on his blog Midlist Writer.


In a world shattered by war, pollution and disease. . . 
A gunslinging mother longs to find a safe refuge for her son. 
A frustrated revolutionary delivers water to villagers living on a toxic waste dump. 
The assistant mayor of humanity’s last city hopes he will never have to take command. 
One thing gives them the promise of a better future–Radio Hope, a mysterious station that broadcasts vital information about surviving in a blighted world. But when a mad prophet and his army of fanatics march out of the wildlands on a crusade to purify the land with blood and fire, all three will find their lives intertwining, and changing forever.

Buy it at Amazon
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11 thoughts on “Sean McLachlan on Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

  1. Misha: Thanks for having me!
    The cover is courtesy my brother-in-law, Andrés Alonso-Herrero. He's a very talented designer and cartoonist and works at one of the TV studios here in Spain.

  2. True, the zombies are just there to stir things up.
    I like science fiction and fantasy – both provide an escape while mirroring situations in our own world. It's like a safe way to deal with them.

  3. Congrats Sean! What a fun plot! I think the genre is popular because it's usually a regular person taking on a grim future. I think most people can really relate to that. If yours doesn't have zombies in it, I'll read it.

  4. M Pax: Radio Hope has no zombies, no alien invasion, just desperate people trying to deal with their grandparents' mistakes.

    I tried to find that Walking Dead pie chart to illustrate this post, but there are so many Walking Dead memes out there I gave up!

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