A lot of people who have never read Mortal Engines have found cause to mention it on the internet just lately, and while I'm always glad of free publicity it's mildly disconcerting to see that it's being bracketed as a 'post-apocalyptic' story. The same was true at the ALA in Boston last week; lots of nice people seemed keen to hear about Fever Crumb, but they all described it as being set in a 'post apocalyptic world'.
Well, clearly the WOME* is post-apocalyptic, but I never really thought of it in those terms; to me, 'post-apocalyptic' means Mad Max, or Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer-winning gloom-fest The Road: stories set in the aftermath of armegeddon, where men are men and sets are cheap and people reduced to the level of savages are grubbing about in the ruins. The Mortal Engines books weren't meant to be like that at all. I wanted to write about a rich and strange new world, but I felt it important to keep it connected to our own world so that, however strange it got, it would still have familiar place-names and references to anchor it to reality**. The simplest way to do that was to say that this was the far future and that that our own civilization was over and gone. And the simplest way of getting our civilization out of the way was to say that there had been a big old war. But the war happens so long before the events of the books, and so much else has happened in the intervening ages, that it's not something which my characters tend to fret about much***. It's just a past event which helped to shape their world, in much the same way as ours was shaped by, say, the last ice age.
But I guess you can't give a snappy summing-up of a book by calling it 'post-post-post-post-post apocalyptic'. Besides, it's a bit of a boom-time for the apocalypse at the mo, so perhaps I shouldn't complain about being dragged onto the bandwagon. There's The Road, (Now a Major Motion Picture, for anyone who wasn't quite depressed enough by the book) and a forthcoming Hughes Brothers movie called The Book of Eli, which looks like Mad Max with a side-order of that ol' time religion. Then there all those CGI disaster-porn efforts like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow, and the endless, shuffling parade of zombie movies. The dear old BBC has recently revisited The Day of the Triffids where the world is laid waste by mass-blindness and man-eating plants (catastrophes being like buses, apparently: you wait ages for one and then two come along at once), and is now squandering the licence fee on a second series of a lugubrious thing called Survivors, in which a Scary Virus wipes out everybody's acting ability.
The truth is, we never get tired of seeing the world destroyed. I suspect on some deep level most people secretly look forward to armageddon. We feel we deserve it. Christianity has long been warning us to expect the End of Days any day now, and for the godless amongst us the message has been re-packaged by modern religions like CND and the Green movement, which enjoy telling us all that we've been Very, Very Bad and if we don't mend our ways then we'll be Punished.
In fact The End Of The World is actually rather a comforting idea; a wish-fulfillment fantasy which appeals to some of our most infantile needs. We seldom imagine it ending entirely, of course; we just dream of our own complicated society being swept away and replaced (eventually) with something simpler, cleaner, purer. But in all probability, the world won't be ending anytime soon; we ourselves will die, balances of power will shift, wars and calamities will come and go, and it will all keep trundling on and on and on...
And that, I suspect, is a much more unsettling idea.
*World Of Mortal Engines. Oh yes.
**Besides, if you set things in completely made-up worlds you have to use completely made-up names and, unless you're an expert in languages like Professor Tolkein, that's almost certain to end in gibberish. (Mace Windu, anyone?)
***Except, of course, when some dire 21st Century weapon-system gets dug up or reactivated, which admittedly seems to happen on a fairly regular basis...