Every time someone gushes over Mad Max: Fury Road’s inclusion of strong female characters in a post-apoc setting, part of me wants to say, “But I wrote that several years ago!” And I gotta shut that voice up, because first, being a nigh-invisible indie author I have a lot more leeway to ignore the status quo than a $150 million movie, and second, because this ain’t a competition. Also, much as sections of my brain would like to believe otherwise, everything is not about me. (Though I wouldn’t complain if my book sales got a bump, either.)
In fact, it’s kind of a happy place to be in. I loved the Mad Max series when I was younger (well to be honest I found the original kind of slow-paced and not that interesting, but the second and third installments rocked) (come to think of it, that’s how I feel about the Alien series, too, if you swap Alien3 for Resurrection SHUT UP DON’T JUDGE ME), and when I decided to create my own post-apoc world and populate it, many of my decisions were definitely informed by what I had and hadn’t seen in The Road Warrior. In some ways, I couldn’t find the post-apoc story that I wanted, so I wrote it—and now someone else has come along and made another one a lot like it.
The thought flickers across my mind that if Fury Road had come out ten, fifteen years ago, I might not have bothered to write Empty Cradle.
What? Really? Nah, that’s not true, is it? No, it probably isn’t, I’m just full of a lot of Fury Road-love right now. My world’s a lot different from the world of Mad Max. In some ways, though, it’s very much the same. Director/writer Miller’s envisioned an amazing, compelling crapsack of a world, 45 years after the apocalypse, that’s populated by violent warlords and the people they prey on. And here’s the thing: Empty Cradle’s world went through the same thing. My stories are taking place a few generations farther along, about 150 years after things get broken, and it’s…more stable. There was definitely a period of road warrioring, but over time, in many places, that settled down.
Granted, things calming down and reassembling to an extent is possible in Empty Cradle where it might not be in Mad Max, because the holocaust in The Road Warrior is a nuclear one, and Empty Cradle’s isn’t. Mad Max’s world gives every indicator of one that’s slowly winding down and grinding down till there’s nothing left, while EC is a world that’s been/is being rebuilt on the bones of the old, with the possibility of a brighter future. (I never was a fan of no-future post-apoc.)
For a more thorough explanation, we turn to Empty Cradle’s resident terrible historian, Marcus McEvoy: “It’s a common misconception that North America’s a wasteland full of bandit-king warlords keeping harems of women as baby machines. The truth is, and has been for a long time, that this social system just doesn’t work in the long run. Immediately after the Colony Conflict, it’s true that many such bands of marauders sprang up, some of them quite large. But at the same time this was happening, communities were also rebuilding themselves. The Conflict caused a great loss of life and damage to the infrastructure, but the land itself was intact, unlike with a nuclear bombing or chemical warfare. Once the dust settled, those who knew how didn’t have trouble securing the bare necessities of life, and from there improving. It was quickly established, especially in the northern part of the country, that a stable agricultural town had a much better chance of surviving the winter than a roving band of raiders—all they had to do was wall themselves and their assets away and wait out the siege. The same was true in the longer, historical scheme: eventually even the savviest raiders die of old age, and are less likely to leave heirs, or competent ones in any case. Meanwhile, even the most beleaguered towns are better-equipped to raise children and attract defenders. Over the course of generations, the warlords (those who did not found towns and, essentially, become dwellers themselves) simply died off.
“In many cases towns hastened this degradation by actually recruiting defenders (leading to the colloquial term, ‘fender’) from the very bands that were attacking them. “Join us and we will feed, clothe and house you,” I imagine the pitch went. “We’ll tend your wounds and give you clean water, if you’ll just stop murdering us.” A persuasive argument indeed, for the records show that it was successful much more often than it went badly for the village.
“As for the women, the scenario most people imagine is equally unsustainable, in the long run: how long do you imagine that you could keep half of the population—or more!—forcibly enslaved, regardless of how many weapons you had? Such a scenario assumes a level of passive acquiescence on the part of not only the fertile women, but all of the women in the society, for they’ll all start out as slaves, that’s just nonexistent, especially with the rather headstrong and individualistic tendencies of North Americans. It works for a short time, but eventually—in two generations, or less—it breaks down, and the order falls apart.
“Little Rock is the example for sustaining such a system: it requires the buy-in of the female population—that is, the women themselves have to support and believe the system. In Little Rock as well as many other similar enclaves in North America, this is accomplished with religious beliefs rather than coercion or violence (though some could say they amount to the same). And it still only tends to remain stable on a small scale. In Little Rock, I learned that dissension among women is fairly common, and those who show signs of nonconformity to the belief system are forced to bear children if they are fertile, and simply exiled (or in extreme cases, executed) if not. “Exile” may be a harsh term; there is a complicated process of excommunication that gives the victim the impression of having been “free to go” all along, if she does not agree with the system. Of course, there is the specter of eternal damnation offered as well. But Little Rock has proved very adept at preemptively removing or silencing potential dissidents from its midst before the system can be threatened. The city’s poor reputation among travelers has affected trade, however, and it remains to be seen how long the center will hold.”
Thanks, Marcus; that brings me right back to Fury Road. Spoiler alert—the movie ends with our protagonists taking over the Immortan Joe’s Citadel—which is the source of fresh water and seems to be the only place that’s currently growing food. While Joe had his cadres of expendable Warboys to defend the place while he treated the ordinary folks like shit, it’s not hard to imagine that, given a stake in the place, the mutants and peasants that Joe trod upon would be happy to help defend the Citadel from any who might threaten it. In fact, with Joe’s cronies from the Bullet Farm and Gas Town also gone, it’s entirely possible that new allegiances with these places could be formed, continuing the trade that Joe had already established. Empty Cradle’s walled cities work similarly. It mainly depends on the new leadership’s commitment to allowing people to live well. But that’s a question for the sequels…