My post-apocalyptic novel occurs in 2122. In canon events, around the year 2018, after many years of global war, a chain reaction caused the launching of all the world's nuclear missiles and after many years of nuclear winter, less than 5% of the world's population has survived.

These details are never actually mentioned in the book.

My MC, during internal dialogue, mentions "wars of forgotten ages", and lives in an unnamed urban area, where some buildings are shown to be completely crumbled, some half-standing, and a few still intact. Ambient radiation is a cause of death among animals and plants and strange abilities among humans. The reader can easily infer that a nuclear holocaust caused this.

My question is: is the whole "nuclear apocalypse" premise overdone? Will the mention/implication of this tire out a reader or seem lazy or boring?

  • I have personally seen a lot fewer post nuclear holocaust stories than I have vampire stories, of which I've seen a lot fewer than zombie stories, of which I've seen a lot fewer than no real shtick simple dating stories featuring Fabio on the cover. That's just what I've seen, of course.
    – Ed Grimm
    Feb 16 '19 at 3:46
  • That said, it is my impression that the biggest obstacle to your post apocalyptic novel is just that we know a lot more about how radiation afflicts living organisms than we did in the heyday of nuclear holocaust stories. Most stories trying to continue in their spirit use different causes or unspecified causes, and if they have radiation, they just describe it rather than name it. You might want to talk about this on worldbuilding.stackexchange.com, but I'd recommend searching first to see if similar stuff has been discussed already.
    – Ed Grimm
    Feb 16 '19 at 3:50

Is it overdone? Yes, but so are many scenarios. The question is, do you bring something fresh and interesting to the story? Canon is the right word to use as there is a lot out there.

Watch a movie called After Humans. It is rather enlightening. The question it asks and, to some extent tries to answer, is how long would traces of human civilization last were man disappeared? Nature takes back the world quite quickly.

Many years of nuclear winter and five percent of man survived? How? With nothing to eat for so many years, such intense cold - might only be preppers who might survive and not a nuclear winter.

If you want to have a small handful of survivors, a global epidemic would work as natural immunities exist. Some few might become ill while the rest die or might not even become ill at all. A BBC series Suvivors dealt with the aftermath of a plague and the handful of survivors, mourning their lost, move on to try and rebuild.

If ambient radiation killed the plants and the animals - how did any of your super powered survivors live? How did any survive? The utter destruction of the food chain would destroy the apex predator (us) along with it. No plants, so no agriculture, no animals so no animal husbandry. Are they cannibals?

Regarding the reader’s inference of nuclear holocaust causing super powers and destroying all life but man - not quite. In the Mad Max franchise, we are shown a world after the end of civilization and what happened is left unclear - until a later film when a child recounts the history of his tribe.

One thing I have noticed regarding films is that if a particular amount of time passes - a decade, sometimes two - remakes that are nothing compared to the original are made to introduce the story to a new generation. Much the same happens with books.

My nephew watched Avatar - touted to be so original - and saw it as a retelling of the Song of Hiawatha.

A more likely scenario regarding the effect of radiation is a reduced lifespan due to increased incidence of cancer combined with the lack of medical knowledge and skill to treat it.

Japan is the only nation to be bombed with nuclear devices and those were much weaker than what are in current arsenals. Look at some of the images of the survivors.

You need a scenario that will leave nature more or less intact and destroy most of Man. Pandemic can do that. Long term drought in the wrong places can be devastating.


is the whole "nuclear apocalypse" premise overdone? Will the mention/implication of this tire out a reader or seem lazy or boring?

It does not sound imaginative.

That is me being thoughtful about the word I choose. It does not "spark the imagination".

My thought is not "lazy", but it feels carbon dated. The "joke" of the Fallout video game franchise is that the world ended in nuclear apocalypse in the 1950s.

Maybe the part where it was "a chain reaction" is a little lazy. "We don't know what happened," is ok if you really don't want to bother coming up with a pretext for global war.

There are interesting branches of science going on currently: the search for sub-atomic particles at CERN, the creation of artificial viruses with CRISPR, the impending collapse of our ecosystem, or the overdue flipping of the Earth's magnetic polarity. A few months ago a large pancake-shaped asteroid whizzed past our sun from another solar system – meteor impacts have caused problems on Earth before.

I just gave 5 apocalyptic scenarios which are "no fault/no conflict", so they don't really need a backstory. You could get up to speed on some current science with a few video lectures. Some could be tweaked to include "exotic" side effects: sub-particles could damage chromosomes in strange ways. A viral medication could have mutated. An asteroid from another star might be created from, idk, negaverse star material.

See, the problem with nuclear fallout causing super powers is that we dropped a lot of nukes back in the 1950s-60s. That's when this trope began. It's now (checks watch) many generations later and we still don't have super powers. That possibility that we are all potential X-Men seems to be a bust. Chernobyl still exists, people go there and post pics online (also no super powers).

If I want to read an old-timey apocalypse, it should be a retro or satire story. A science-fiction setting begs for fresh ideas, pick something that hasn't expired – it's not as though it's crucial to your worldbuilding. Look through some science articles for inspiration. You don't need a science degree any more than you needed to understand nuclear physics.

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