Before I began writing Dust and Shadow, book one in my post-apocalyptic, alternative history series, The Forgotten Lands, I had to do a little research--Victorian, the-end-is-neigh sort of research. I'm a history buff, so that's what I do. I research and get inspiration from things long ago. I already knew I wanted my new world to have some significant climatic shift that would send everyone who could survive into their own bubbles, struggling to thrive while oblivious to life beyond what they knew. I didn't, however, expect to find that Victorians were writing and reading about the end of the world long before all of us were born. Call it ignorance, but I didn't expect society as a whole would be so scientifically savvy when it came to issues we face today--global warming and pollution among them. Or, should I say some of them were environmentally aware while others simply consumed what seemed to be fascinating hypotheses and fictions. But I guess Mr. H.G. Wells had to get his ideas from somewhere, right?
Earlier literature, like After London by Richard Jefferies and The Last American by John Ames, were written long before we were born, speculating, like many other science fiction writers of the time who were "ecologically aware", that the end of the world was inevitable.
"Astronomy teaches that, just as our solar system had a beginning, so it must have an end." - Herbert C. Fyfe, Pearson's Magazine
Scientific writers have warned society since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution that natural catastrophes would be inevitable and linked to human activity (or inactivity in making the effort to change).
The strange happenings of the industrial world didn't help wandering "sensational" minds at all, either. In 1980, 2,000 Londoners died in a 3-week period, said to have suffocated by a "heavy mist supercharged with coal smoke...the result of the huge and reckless consumption of coal carried over the city, turned day into night and suffocated London's entire metropolitan population."
But it wasn't only a single incident that fed the questioning, scientific minds of the 18th and 19th centuries. Robert Barr, a Scottish writer in the mid-1800s, claimed that climate change would result from human activity and people's complacent ignorance, even if warned about lethal fogs (air pollution) that would hinder human health and longevity; Barr claimed warnings and historical proof would go unchecked, no matter how literate Victorians were. And, here we are in today's world, still talking about the same thing while watching the glaciers melt, the air quality worsen, and wondering how close we actually are to the end.
"Science, cold and calculating, has foretold the physical end of the world--has prophesied the destruction of the globe and it's content." - Herbert Fyfe
While writers all over the world were analyzing the scientific and social happenings during the Victorian era, the rise in literacy and education changed what their writings would achieve. An influx in creative minds began to wander, and consumer demands to escape real life and explore lands they'd only ever heard of or wondered about created opportunity and necessity. Short stories, novels, periodicals or magazines, it made no difference. Science fiction burst to life--genres readers in the twenty-first century devour without a second thought. World catastrophes, flying machines, both lost and future worlds, Utopians and dystopias...genres of the 1800 and 1900s have paved the way for the bookworms of our generation and history, social norms and tendencies, and science have becomes more and more fascinating to learn about every time I dig a little bit deeper.
Other resources and literature to ponder: