Wastelands: “The End of the Whole Mess”

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As stated on Twitter, I recently picked up Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse an anthology of post-apocalyptic shorts. The series includes many notable authors, some of whom were recommended to me. With this series, I want to look at each story to get a better grasp on the plot, characters, and the apocalypse itself. This promises to be one of the few times The Rad-lands will be breaking away from specifically post-nuclear fiction.


134-stephen_kingOur first story is “The End of the Whole Mess” by Stephen King. Truthfully, this was the first time I read King. He didn’t disappoint; the prose has a nice flow and is both easy and pleasant to read aloud (so easy, they chose Matthew Broderick to narrate the audiobook).

So what kind of apocalypse is this anyway? Well, we only get hints about the outside world. The story is a cross between stream of consciousness writing and character establishing flashbacks. The apocalyptic setting is really just a framing device to carry the irony. That said, the cause of this apocalypse is Calmative, a water additive dispersed across the entire planet that first made humans docile and later resulted in dementia, cognitive failure, and death. That’s certainly a unique apocalyptic scenario, almost like a reverse Planet of the Apes.

It was certainly a bold editorial choice for the first story in an anthology titled “Wastelands” to recall the backstory of an apocalypse while simultaneously avoiding the portrayal of a traditional wasteland. The reader’s only insight into the present situation is something to the effect of “all the plants are dead.” The reader learns more about the events leading up to the apocalypse than the apocalypse itself. This is a stylistic move by King in which the narrator purposely spends too much time describing the foundational events, leaving little time to describe the actual apocalypse.

“The End of the Whole Mess” has a strong framing device in which the narrator, Howard, injects himself with the water additive, leaving a limited time to tell the story before he loses all cognitive function. From a writer’s perspective, it makes me wonder if King challenged himself to write this story along the time line or if each individual spelling mistake was placed with purpose. King refers to this device several times, giving the narrator opportunity to reflect on the last few pages of writing while describing how the chemical has taken hold of him. Thought this shows the reader the effects of the water additive, it raises two glaring questions.

Since the story is framed as a journal, who is it being written for? Apparently, the plants are all dead and every human infected with the virus eventually loses all mental function. The narrator addresses his story to you (if there are any “you” later on to read this), but it seems the planet is practically dead already. There’s no clear opportunity for a post-apocalyptic society to form as the entire atmosphere has been poisoned by Calmative. So why leave a record?

Second, and to me most confusing, why did Howard inject himself with the chemical? He claims “I never could work without a deadline,” but that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. We’re told this story could take up thousands of pages, yet the plot device of the drug causes a purposefully rushed ending. Surely, if all rain water is contaminated, the narrator must already be infected. Ultimately, the actual apocalyptic aspect of this story doesn’t matter, because this is really a character study of the narrator’s brother, Bobby.

Bobby is a child prodigy who eventually grows up to be a super-scientist in Texas. Personally, I found his archetype and character arc to be reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West: Reanimator.” Through flashbacks, Bobby is shown to be a child prodigy proficient in all realms of scientific discovery. As an adult, Bobby is confident, condescending, and most importantly insistent on the value of his research. Reading the text aloud, I found myself imagining Jeffery Combs reprising his role as Herbert West.

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How I imagined Bobby

I would have enjoyed seeing Bobby progress on his character arc throughout adulthood. The tension between brothers, with Howard as a reluctant accomplice, again calls back to Herbert West. Although it’s a stylistic choice to meet the demands of the framing device, I thought too much was missing from the ending.

The final part of the story feels like the Wikipedia plot summary from a larger novelette. We never know if Howard had second thoughts about deploying the Calmative or if he truly believed in it. The journey to the volcano and the construction of a delivery device are conveyed in a handful of paragraphs. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but it seems like there should have been a greater emphasis on character development before deploying a super weapon that would permanently alter the minds of every person on Earth. Instead, the framing device demands we rush toward the ending as Howard goes from a few spelling mistakes to complete incoherent gibberish within a page and a half.

That question of character development aside, “The End of the Whole Mess” succeeds because of an interesting concept, a good message, and effective use of an untraditional writing style. While I felt that the story stumbles in a few places, it was obviously chosen as the first anthology in “Wastelands” for a reason. I believe that reason is the fantastic character development we see as a maturing super-scientist is overcome with the grief of a world gone mad. Overall, this is a strong introduction to what promises to be an insightful post-apocalyptic anthology.

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Ron Livingston as Howard

Why did Howard inject himself with Calmative? Tell us in the comments!

 

Police State

“Two weeks hard labor.”

That was the sentence given to me by “his honor” the Judge. Geeze. I can still see that fat sluggish tongue scraping the cheese dust from his bloated lips. Guy looks like a bullfrog with a mustache. And the smell… his whole courtroom smells like a plate of steaming hot puke with a glass of skunked beer.

After my “trial” (if you can call it that), I was shackled, beaten again, and hauled off to the blacksmiths. Saul Fore wouldn’t get me out of this one. For two weeks, he just glanced at me and shook his head. When I called out to him, he said that I was beyond helping. Those words hit a lot harder than the police batons, even if they didn’t leave me covered in purple splotches.

For the past two weeks I’ve been lighting forges, assembling weapons, and handloading fresh bullets. My fingers have turned grey, but it hasn’t been so bad. I’ve actually learned a lot about how guns work. Plus, all this gave me some time to clear my head and think about everything that’s happened in the past few weeks. Besides, hard labor is a lot better than getting thrown out in the wasteland…again.

You’re probably wondering: How did that idiot Joe Junkman get into this mess?

Well, I had just entered the BLVD with Saul Fore our food caravan. It had been a long, but uneventful journey from Abundance. Almost immediately, I spotted a crowd gathered round a band playing on a rusting pickup truck. Then the music hit me. All I could hear was the wonderful strumming of a finely tuned guitar. I ignored Saul Fore’s warning and followed the string of notes drifting through the air. I caught myself nodding my head and shaking my hips. I was in a trance, comfortably numb to the world around me.

That’s partially why I didn’t hear the curfew siren. The other reason is that I had no idea the BLVD had a curfew in the first place. At first, I didn’t even notice the “counselor’s” approached wearing their fancy suits and armed with nightsticks and hand crank sirens. The crowd quickly dispersed, but I had no idea what was happening. Nobody told me anything! Of course the Judge croaked out that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Seems pretty stupid to me.

It wasn’t long before I was the last person on the street. The counselors boxed me in. One shouted something at me through a megaphone, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I didn’t want any trouble, so I shot my hands up and slowly walked toward the suit with the megaphone. He didn’t like that.

Something slammed into the back of my head. I hit the ground hard. A padded knee rested on top of me as my arms were roughly placed behind my back. I tried to use the old Junkman charm, but that just got me a steel-toed kick to the guts. Bruises. Just what I needed. I’m sure someone will find that attractive.

After all that, I was hauled off to the courthouse to await my trial the following morning. Of course, I had to defend myself in court so it didn’t go well. But all this got me thinking. What if someone were to put an official list of the BLVD’s laws on paper? And what if they sold that list for a few tags? And what if that someone was me?

On the Road Again

On the road again…

A week has passed since I’ve been in the hospital. With Saul’s dog-tags, I was able to get my arm fixed and receive anti-radiation medicine. Saul Fore is up and about. His skin looks like melted plastic and his fingers are fused together, but otherwise he’s doing fine.

This morning, Saul told me that he has to get back to the Boulevard and invited me to accompany him. The way I see it, going back to that horrible place can’t be any worse than being stuck in this dustbowl. I just hope I don’t get imprisoned, again.

After receiving our discharge papers, we made a pit stop at the fortress armory. I got a canteen, a pistol, and a new backpack, complete with a sleeping bag. Hopefully I won’t have to use the last two.

I thought we were just going to charge into the wasteland. Instead, we waited by a crumbling overpass for hours. I don’t know if you’ve ever stared out into a barren desert for hours at a time, but it’s really really boring.

Finally, a caravan pulled up. The cart was drawn by a handful of strange armadillo creature with trunk noses. Each of these beasts the size of a dog. Accompanying the cart was a handful of guards dressed in maroon fatigues and reflective black armor. I guess Saul wasn’t taking any chances this time.

We set out just when the sun was directly overhead. This should be a smooth ride. Our guards are armed to the teeth.

I just hope that the Boulevard is kind to me.

-Joe Junkman

What is MUTATION: The Wasteland Survival Guide?

MUTATION: The Wasteland Survival guide is a six episode long series exploring the quirky and unusual world of MUTATION, as seen in The Journal of Joe Junkman. The show itself documents the writing of the Mo-Javi Wasteland’s very first survival guide. Charged with writing this book is wasteland legend James Gray and local shyster Joe Junkman. Throughout their journey, our heroes will struggle with radioactive dust storms, water scarcity, and each other.


I want to break character for a moment to say how excited I am to be moving forward with this project. The world of MUTATION has gone through a lot of change since its conception. What originally began as a pen and paper RPG has transformed into serial fiction, a website, and a show. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

To make a long story short, Ben and I got together in the summer of 2015 and began brainstorming ideas for this short series. Although we have all the footage, brainstorming was about as far as it got. It seems embarrassing now, but we didn’t have a script or anything. Essentially, we had a concept for each episode and a location. For better or worse, almost every scene is improvisational.

When I first established this website, I had no idea what the response would be. These past few months, I’ve been consistently amazed at the hospitality and support I’ve received from the online post-apocalyptic tribe. Thank you for giving us a chance and following our stories week after week.

I’d also like to announce at this time that Ben and I are planning to attend Wasteland Weekend this year! I’ll be in character as James Gray and I believe Ben will appear as Joe Junkman.

We hope to see some of you there! The Rad-Lands wouldn’t be here without you.

-Ron Welch

Living Legends: General Kass

Few know the reason for the war. Fewer are willing to speak of it.

Forming a technological powerhouse with Australia, the Aztec-Roman Empire (ARE) produced 99 legions to seize the United States. Rising above the rest was the 47th legion, stationed in the state of Southern California. After the horrific siege of Los Angeles, the 47th earned a fearsome reputation due to the sheer number of sacrifices collected by General Morris Kass. After the battle, the Aztec-Romans continued into the high desert, leaving a trail of blood soaked skyscrapers in their wake. From that day forward LA would be known as “The City of Angels.”

At the end of the war, Kass found himself in the relative safety of the Mo-Javi valley. While fiery mushroom clouds illuminated the valley walls, the General ordered the construction of bunkers to survive the incoming nuclear winter. Over the years, the 47th legion’s shelters grew in size and number until they combined into a fortress with electricity, running water (when available), paved streets, and thick concrete wall meant to keep out the wasteland’s unwashed masses.

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A VERY early sketch drawn in 2011 (Credit to Ben Wright)

As the world around him deteriorated and society devolved into tribes and guilds, Kass maintained military discipline and the traditions of his people. Everyone in the Mo-Javi knew of “The 47” who lived behind ivory walls and refused to help those in need. Realizing that he was at an increased risk of attack from unorganized wastelanders and that the rations in his legion’s hypercube would eventually run out, General Kass founded the town of Abundance. Skilled workers from the Guilds of Academia were hired to train settlers in the arts of farming and animal husbandry. In exchange for food, the General provided the townsfolk protection and established trade routes.

Though many fear the old man, Kass truly cares for all of his subordinates. After every battle, the General ritually repents for each soldier lost under his command. Although General Kass will take educated or experienced wastelanders into his ranks, he cannot feel the same connection that he does for his original ARE veterans.

Though the General is often perceived as a hero of law and order, every action the old man takes is for the gain of his legion. Abundance provides him food. Trading routes provide him steel and gunpowder. The people’s trust provides him an army who is willing to fight and die so that ARE veterans might live.

Though he would never admit it, Kass hopes that the ARE’s capital city survived nuclear annihilation and will be sending a rescue party as soon as they are able. In another life, the General had a daughter, but was forced to leave her in the spire city of Tenochtitlan.

Judge Minty: A Judge Dredd Fan Film

Previously, we looked at Judge Dredd: Superfiend, a fan film that had a lot of comic influence, but put a wacky twist on the story and sound design. Inversely, the Judge Minty fan film stays true to the comics, but gives it a realistic twist similar to Dredd 3D. Fitting with The Rad-Land’s theme of post-nuclear fiction, the majority of the film takes place in the radioactive wastelands of the Cursed Earth.

Story: The film concerns Bill Minty, an aging Judge who was severely wounded in the line of duty. Minty rejects a teaching position at the Academy of Law and instead decides to take the Long Walk, exiling himself to the Cursed Earth to bring law to the lawless. What’s interesting about this film is that Judge Minty was actually a character who briefly appeared in Judge Dredd (and was recalled just before Necropolis). The film knows this and mirrors the story exactly as it occurred in the comics. The camera angles and dialogue match up perfectly. The film’s opening act is truly a Judge Dredd comic come to life. Once Minty has entered the Cursed Earth, the story picks up speed as he is hunted by a war party of mutants led by Aquila, an extremely powerful psyker.

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The establishing shots in Judge Minty are great wallpapers!

Establishing Shots: I believe every fan film does at least one thing exceedingly well. For Superfiend it was sound design. For Judge Minty it is establishing shots. Each act of the story opens with an establishing shot: First of Mega-City One, then of the Cursed Earth, and finally the village of Fairville. The film opens with the voice of a lone dispatcher, but quickly builds up to dozens of voices reporting crimes at the same time. Immediately, the audience gets a sense for the chaos of Mega-City One, which juxtaposes well with the lawless Cursed Earth. The wasteland itself is given a lengthy introduction, but one that serves to better the tone, establishing that the Cursed Earth is a nearly lifeless place where only near-human mutants and other monstrosities remain.

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The costumes are exactly as they are in the comics

Characters: Although the set design in Judge Minty is top-notch, the characters themselves are lacking a bit. Judge Dredd characters are generally straight forward lawful neutral archetypes, but after the first act, Judge Minty is essentially one long action scene with less characterization than Dredd 3D. The main villain doesn’t speak. Any change in Minty’s character is internal, without dialogue. Unfortunately, although the film excels in many areas, the acting is the weakest link. Some of Aquila’s soldiers are borderline cringey.

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Aquila the Psyker

Mutant antagonists with visible faces more often look silly than intimidating. Luckily, the mutant leader conceals his face and acts only with body. That having been said, the actor playing Aquila (the mutant leader), does a good job of appearing both intimidating and mysterious as he uses only his hands and a wide eyed expression. The mutant’s costume design is excellent and his war party invokes a variety of Mad Max-esque marauders, each of which has a costume cobbled together from scrap. The antagonists’ costumes look properly wastelandish while the framing and editing creates a tone similar to The Purge.

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Dredd’s brief appearance

The Judge costumes are also true to the source material: black zip-up jumpsuits. green padding, and gold pauldrons. Even the famous Cursed Earth cloak makes an appearance.  The actor playing Minty is effective at being stern and gritty, but I couldn’t help noticing that the Judge helmet flattens his nose. Judge Dredd briefly appears (as he does in the comics), but he doesn’t feel quite right. His gruff voice feels forced and his jaw line doesn’t live up to the nickname of “old stony face”. However, these are nitpicky and ultimately shouldn’t distract from the action scenes and impressive tone setting.

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Attention to Detail: Like Superfiend, Judge Minty’s background static is heavily influenced by comic references. In an interesting story telling decision, Mega-City One’s radio is heard throughout the first act and is shown to be originating from Minty’s helmet. The exposition fades properly when the Judge removes his headgear. Background radio chatter references Otto Sump’s first appearance, the banning of Umpty candy, Robot Wars, skysurfing, and much more. What’s most impressive is that the film is consistent with the comic’s timeline. Minty’s Long Walk was relatively early in the Judge Dredd story line, but the references to the Robot Wars and Otto Sump are well placed within the context of the story. Someone did their homework.

Despite its length, the film is surprisingly dense, full of inside references, good set design, internal consistency, backstories, a fun villain, and a fair amount of set up and pay off. Plus, it explores the often underappreciated Cursed Earth and does so beautifully. Overall, Judge Minty is another half hour fan film that is a must see for any Judge Dredd fan.

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Mad Minty: Beyond Cursed Earth