|What is Survival Fiction anyway?
I have been an avid reader of survival fiction (survfic) for over 30 years and have quite a collection of books and films in this unique genre. I am also writing my second novel, an adventures story titled Talon, which is also in the genre, so I have recently started my first blog, www.survivalfictionblog.com
So what exactly is survival fiction anyway? To me it's a story involving a catastrophic upheaval in a characters life or society as a whole, requiring the protagonist to resort to extreme and unusual methods to stay alive and deal with the problems at hand. There is a lot of overlap between survfic and action-adventure since both are heavy on the combat and chase scenes.
Books by Clive Cussler, Alistair Mclean, and James Rollins fall into the action-adventure category, as do most of the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal, and Jackie Chan. But a narrower sub-category of this genre would qualify as survival fiction: Films like First Blood and Predator have extensive scenes where the hero is forced to rely on primitive survival skills. Books like The Road by Cormac MacArthy, Patriots by James Wesley Rawles, and Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle all fall squarely in the the survfic category.
Other examples from film include Night of the Living Dead and its sequels, Independence Day, Tremors, and my personal favorite, Red Dawn. Love that movie! Other books include Children of Men by P. D. James, Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss, One Second After by William Forstchen, and World Made By Hand by James Kunstler. I will review all of these in the coming months.
So what exactly makes a survival fiction story different from an adventure story? It's more than a man pursued by bad guys story though that element is often there. It's not just a shoot-em-up, chases-and-explosions, a series of fights, or a guns-and-gadgets set up, though these are often there as well. To me, a survival story must have the added element of the main character or characters totally cut off from their normal support network and forced to cope and fight back with minimal help. This can be a ìman against the wildernessî type story such as Jerimiah Johnson, the ìcut off from outside helpî story such as Deliverence or Tremors, or a partial or total collapse of society along the lines of Children of Men, Patriots, or Alas, Babylon. The protagonist is forced to survive by his wits and guts, and eventually fight back, often with little more than the weapons he can scrounge and his own steely resolve.
The survival element elevates a standard action story to a higher level. It forces the hero to dig deep inside himself for the courage and persistence to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. This is why the standard detective story does not qualify; the hero has the support of a network of brother officers and does not have to contend with a complete collapse of social order. Kung fu movies and most western novels don't fit the bill either, since most of the time they take place in a world of some basic order. Sure, some westerns feature the lone gunman out to defeat the evil rancher or rail baron, but he's in his normal element, it is not unusual for him to be in this position so it doesn't really count as a survival situation for him. Same with the young martial artist out to avenge the death of a family member, or the cop who swears revenge on the thugs who killed his partner. While these characters may be traumatized, the world around them goes on as usual and they often have a support network to call on for help. But in a survival scenario this help is not available. This is what separates a "survival" story from the broader "adventure" category.
So, please take a moment to check out my blog. Again the address is www.survivalfictionblog.com. Feel free to comment on my posts, or suggest a survfic story to add to my growing list of books, flims, and TV shows in in the fascinating genre.