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Stack Overflow: Certain Doom

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“Game over, man! Game over!” There are a lot of moments in stories where doom seems all but certain, and the characters are sure that the end is imminent. In some cases, they’re right (see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) but at other times it’s simply an opportunity for an against-all-odds survival story. So, on that note, here are a bunch of stories about certain doom. Just be glad it’s not you.

We’ll start with this: an asteroid is heading to earth. How do people respond?

This isn’t a new scenario, of course. It’s been a fairly popular topic for movies, and it’s easy to see why; see Armageddon, Deep Impact, and Seeking a Friend a Friend for the End of the World–I highly recommend this last one, by the way. When you need an end-of-the-world scenario that doesn’t involve sentient computers, invading aliens, zombies, an oncoming asteroid is a plausible premise that doesn’t require quite as much hand-waving. It’s happened before–and it’s probably just a matter of time. Here are a few stories that all hinge on a giant rock hurtling in space. Will the characters face the end with dignity? Will they find a way to survive? You’ll have to read the books to find out.

We All Looked UpWe All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

I came across We All Looked Up at the bookstore in the young adult section, and since I’d been collecting books about The End, I decided to give it a shot. In this one, an asteroid nicknamed Ardor is headed toward Earth, with about 8 weeks until potential impact. At the beginning, the odds are against an actual collision, which gives us time to get to know the characters and establish the setting. But as the book progresses, the odds of survival get slimmer, and that’s where things get interesting.

The book focuses on four high school seniors in Seattle, a couple months away from graduation. In a way, it almost echoes the kids from The Breakfast Club: there’s the jock, the overachiever, the slut, the slacker. (The “good girl” and “nerd” are sort of combined into one character, and instead of the crazy girl there’s the promiscuous photographer.) The book is told in third-person, but each chapter follows a different character, often overlapping somewhat with the chapter before it, showing how the lives of these four teens intersect. The oncoming asteroid serves as a crucible, burning away anything unimportant, and each teen has to struggle with what that means.

Despite the somewhat cliched cast, I found the story pretty compelling. Being a high school senior can be a terrifying time, even without the end of the world looming over you. But what do you do if you suddenly learn that you may have only two months left to live? Do you keep on living with the label you’ve been given, or can you change who you are?

The Last PolicemanThe Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Okay, I’ll admit I haven’t read this one yet, but I couldn’t write about oncoming asteroid stories without at least a mention. It’s been on my list ever since Jim Kelly reviewed it a few years back, and I picked up a copy for myself recently, so I’m planning to read it soon.

The world is ending in six months because–you guessed it–an asteroid is on its way. The economy is falling apart because, hey, why keep doing your job when the world’s going to end in 6 months anyway? But detective Hank Palace is investigating a death. It looks like a suicide, but there’s something suspicious about it.

With six months before impact, this one definitely allows the most time for things to play out, and there’s actually an entire trilogy. I’m excited to see how things turn out.

All We Have Is NowAll We Have Is Now by Lisa Schroeder

Assuming the world hasn’t ended by then, you’ll get to read this one in at the end of July. All We Have Is Now covers the last 28 hours before a meteor is expected to hit North America. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s going to put a big dent in the US and Canada, for sure. The story takes place in Portland, Oregon, with two homeless kids wandering the city. Many people were able to leave the country, or at least travel to be with family in their final hours.

As Emerson and Vince make their way through downtown, they encounter a few other people, each dealing with the impending disaster in their own way. We meet Carl, who was about to throw himself off a bridge but changed his mind when he found he could help Em and Vince, and the book follows his story as well. Every few chapters there’s a short poem, often telling a little more of Em’s backstory and filling in her background.

This one caught my attention mostly because (aside from the oncoming meteor) it’s set in Portland, so I recognized a lot of the locations described in the story. As the story progresses, you piece together more of the characters’ backgrounds, and it’s interesting to see the way that everyone is spending their last day on earth. There’s not necessarily a lot of action here; it’s more about the mood and particularly Emerson’s internal journey. But you do want to find out how it turns out, and even when you think you can figure out how it’ll end, the book’s message is that what matters most is the journey.

And now, for a story about a different sort of big rock in space–although this one isn’t headed toward Earth.

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

In case you haven’t read it already, The Martian is an amazing book that GeekDad Jim Kelly described as “Mars Meets MacGyver.” It was published last year, and is being made into a film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, to be released this fall. Astronaut Mark Watney is stranded alone on Mars–there was an accident, and he was presumed dead and the rest of his team left without him. He lost communication with Earth, and has supplies meant to last for a month, but the next Mars mission is 4 years away.

Seems like a great example of certain doom.

But Mark doesn’t give up. He’s a botanist and an engineer, and he’s got ideas. The story is told partly through his logs, and partly in third person detailing what’s happening on Earth and on the Hermes, the ship carrying his team back to Earth. It’s a fascinating story that doesn’t just rely on explosive action sequences (though there are a few of those), but really digs into the science of survival. Mark is definitely a geek hero, and I’m excited to see how the movie turns out. Since the movie has been moved up to October, the movie tie-in paperback version of The Martian has been moved up to an August release.

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