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How to Create a Plausible Postapocalyptic Dystopia

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How to Create a Plausible Postapocalyptic Dystopia

Postby Nexus » Sat Jan 30, 2010 6:13 pm



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What I will discuss in this essay is how to make a postapocalyptic world believable. Especially games, but also movies and to a lesser degree novels, tend to romanticize the postapocalyptic concept, thus making it less convincing and ultimately less important. In a real postapocalyptic world, people will suffer on a daily basis.

With a postapocalyptic world, I mean a seriously dysfunctional world. For a catastrophe to have a fatal impact on civilization it must be on a global (or at least continental) scale; if it’s regional, humanitarian aid from and migration to unaffected regions and neighbouring countries will reduce or even neutralize the effects. A global catastrophe can take many forms, and I’d say the following ones are most likely (or least unlikely) to occur:

  • Nuclear holocaust
  • Natural or man-made pandemic
  • Antibiotics resistant bacteria
  • Asteroid impact
  • Supervolcano eruption

There are of course other kinds of possible catastrophes, such as sentient machine rebellion and out-of-control nanotechnology, but they are arguably less plausible and deal with unique problems.

I’m not going discuss the plausibility of different potential catastrophes in this essay, though. I will only discuss the situation after the catastrophe and simply refer to this unspecified catastrophe as The Cataclysm. I should also point out that this essay mostly discusses the potential situation in Western countries, mainly because I know the Western World the best and as postapocalyptic stories usually take place in Western countries. Paradoxically, people in Third World countries will probably experience less severe problems, as they don’t rely on technology and comforts to the same extent as Westerners tend to do.

Finally, this essay assumes that The Cataclysm will happen in a near future and only discusses the following 5-15 years or so. Predictions farther into the future will become purely speculative, and that counters the purpose of this essay.

So, let’s get down to business. To make a postapocalyptic dystopia convincing, one has to take several factors into account. Here’s a list of factors I consider important; many of them tend to be neglected or ignored in postapocalyptic fiction.


Shortage of Food


The Cataclysm will most certainly be followed by famine. Vast areas of agrarian land might become contaminated or soiled and thus infertile; in case of nuclear or biological warfare, existing supplies of meat and crops may be contaminated as well.


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Even if the damage to agrarian lands and supplies is limited, the distribution systems would quickly stop functioning properly or even collapse; when you think about it, they are more complex and sensitive today than ever before in human history. Supermarkets and supply depots will soon be emptied, and the supplies of canned goods are limited; unless the population has been dramatically reduced by for instance a pandemic, I doubt they will last a years. The overwhelming majority doesn’t know how to hunt animals, gather food, or grow crops; people who do know don’t necessarily know how to process and preserve the food properly. In short, people will starve to death en masse.

Even if famine can be avoided in such a dire situation, it will probably be impossible to avoid malnutrition. Malnutrition will of course make the population more receptive to disease. Flues may suddenly become deadly diseases.


Shortage of Water


In case The Cataclysm takes massive proportions, shortage of water, and with that I mean shortage of drinkable water, may pose a problem. For instance, if The Cataclysm was a nuclear war, an asteroid impact, or a supervolcano eruption, the water will be contaminated by radioactivity or soiled by dust and ashes. The latter can be solved with filtration – common sand will do – but as water won’t be readily available, it will be more difficult to prepare food and people will have to plan their consumption. They will probably have to neglect their personal hygiene, which of course will make the population more receptive to disease.


Shortage of Energy


Even if power plants and grids don’t get seriously damaged or destroyed in The Cataclysm, there’s only a question of time before there will be shortage of energy. Personnel in power plants will probably abandon their posts as they no longer will receive payment and want to protect their homes and families. Even if they decide to stay on their posts, maintenance personnel will most probably not get out into the wilderness to keep the transmission systems running, which eventually will decay and malfunction.

Diesel-driven generators and appliances running on batteries are only temporary solutions; batteries will quickly become hard currency. Shortage of energy will entail serious problems; you only have to look at your own home. Without running stoves and refrigerators, it suddenly becomes more difficult to cook and store food. Running water will become a memory of the past, which will entail serious problem especially in dry regions. The results will be bad hygiene and increased receptiveness to disease, and dying fields and gardens which no longer can be used for agricultural production. Communications will break down when there’s no electricity for television sets, radio receivers, and computers. If The Cataclysm occurs in winter, people may freeze to death en masse.

There’s a joker in the deck that’s easily forgotten, though: small-scale energy production. Today, energy production is regulated by governments and dominated by corporations, but if the development towards more eco-friendly societies continues, this may change. If The Cataclysm occurs a couple of decades into the future, private energy production in communities and even households may dampen the effects of failing power grids. This may sound slightly utopian, but already today, there are buildings with solar panels that basically are self-sufficient.


Shortage of other items


Initially, there will be a shortage of gasoline, but this will become an irrelevant issue after 10-20 years. By then most vehicles, generators and other machines will no longer work; metal will rust, rubber will dry, and so on. It won’t matter if technically skilled people take care of them, as spare parts sooner or later will become scarce.


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Sorry, Max. No cars.


There will be no shortage of housing – in large cities, one may probably occupy a whole skyscraper without anyone objecting. There will, however, be shortage of suitable housing. Buildings which have multiple storeys, poor insulation, inflammable materials, need of maintenance, high ceilings, large windows and glass façades, and are located far from water, in urban areas, and in hostile climates will pose different kinds of problems and not be suitable homes. Some buildings will prove more suitable than others: different kinds of condominiums and collectives, solar panel and wind generator powered houses, old houses equipped with wood-burning stoves and barns, houses close to running water and hunting grounds, and so on. Wooden houses will initially prove suitable as they are easy to insulate and keep warm, but they will eventually decay when plank, paint, and wood finish become scarce. It should also be noted that there may be shortage of window glass, especially in areas directly affected by The Cataclysm. As proper housing may mean the difference between life and death, this shortage may give rise to conflicts.

After a few years, most people will begin to look as ragged as homeless people look today. Most of the clothes and shoes we make today are meant for comfortable urban life and will not last long. Few people know how to make cloth and leather or have tailoring and shoemaking skills. In a postapocalyptic world, people will smell and look shabby as well. Deodorants, perfume, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, make up, hair products – they will all be vanities of the past.



Radioactive Fallout and Contamination


Actually, there may be serious radioactive contamination even without nuclear war; all it takes is failing power distribution. Nuclear plants and nuclear fuel storages rely on water cooling systems which of course require electricity to work; emergency generators will work for about a week before they run out of diesel. Eventually, there will be overheating and fires, and radioactive vapor will escape and travel with the winds. The plants and storages will be surrounded by dead lands, where nothing will live and unsuspecting wanderers will catch radiation sickness. As a comparison, the failing Chernobyl reactors contaminated an area the size of England; after The Cataclysm, there won’t be any containment or other kinds of damage control, so these dead zones will be larger. There’s also a joker in the deck: nuclear weapons. We can only speculate how long it will take before they start decaying and leaking radiation.

The prevalence of some diseases will skyrocket, most notably thyroid cancer and leukaemia, but also skin cancer and lung cancer. Exposure to radiation also weakens the immune system of all organisms. In other words, people will become more receptive to disease, and normal flues will spread quickly and claim many lives. Sensitive animals and plants may suddenly go extinct and possibly make whole ecosystems collapse.


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The prevalence of stillborn and disabled children will multiply. Genetic changes and mutations will pose a new and widespread problem; they may be hereditary and they may lead to discrimination, segregation, and in the worst-case scenario even pogroms and holocausts. Positive mutations (i.e. mutations that increase the mutant’s physical and mental capacities) may appear, but will be extremely rare, probably less than 1 ppm of all mutations.


Disease


When the supplies of antibiotics and penicillin dwindle and even the simplest forms of surgery become difficult or even impossible, several diseases will suddenly become very dangerous: appendicitis, pneumonia, kidney stones, syphilis, cardiac arrhythmia, high blood pressure, allergic shocks, etc. Giving birth will suddenly also become more hazardous and potentially deadly, with more stillborn children and mothers dying in childbed as a result. Dying of old age will become something rare and people will become accustomed to seeing people die around them on a monthly or possibly even weekly basis, just like in the Middle Ages. Death will no longer be as dramatic and traumatic as it is today.

People living in a post-apocalyptic world will also have to live with different kinds of pains which no longer can be easily treated: tooth ache, allergies, asthma, diabetes, ulcers, cataracts, rheumatism, badly healed fractures etc. It will be difficult or impossible to repair or replace glasses, dentures, pacemakers, and prostheses as well; there won’t even be simple pain killers or band aids. Without functioning healthcare systems, people will resort to trusting alternative medicine and pure charlatanry; they won’t have any choice, really.

Another problem that will affect people in everyday life is mental illnesses that no longer can be treated. Individuals behaving oddly and suffering from delusions will become more common; they will lead tragic lives as village idiots. The mass death and sense of doom will lead to “pandemics” of clinical depression, and there will be widespread apathetic behavior and waves of suicides. The most frightening aspect is that individuals suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and other potentially violent illnesses no longer will be institutionalized.

Only one thing will get better: people’s teeth. When they no longer consume as much sugar as in the past, it won’t really matter if they don’t have toothbrushes and toothpaste anymore. In the Middle Ages, nobles had bad teeth, but not necessarily peasants.


Demographics


Children, elders, and disabled will have to face hard times and sometimes also death. To a higher degree than other people, their survival depends on the level of civilization that can be maintained after The Cataclysm, and if the magnitude of The Cataclysm will allow for welfare and charity. The more severe The Cataclysm, the lesser people’s compassion will be.


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There will most likely be more men than women. Most women are not as physically strong as men and thus more likely to die in larger numbers than men during the hardships after The Cataclysm. Other factors that will reduce the number of women are that childbirth will become more dangerous and that women will be less protected from sexual violence than in our civilized societies.

It’s very likely that members from many ethnic minorities will die in larger numbers. Even today, in our supposedly civilized time, a member of such a minority is much more likely to live in poverty and misery, with a weaker health and a weaker immune system as inevitable results. Serious pandemics, radioactive fall-out, and post-cataclysm diseases will thus most probably strike harder at ethnic minorities.

A more than hypothetical risk is that a new Holocaust will occur; the horrors in former Yugoslavia show us that this isn’t impossible. A scary scenario is that right-wing militias will take the opportunity to exterminate “undesirable groups”: ethnic minorities, immigrants, Jews, homosexuals, political opponents, intellectuals, and what have you. A “comfort” is that it won’t be possible to do it in a systematic and industrialized fashion.


Migration


No matter the proportions of The Cataclysm, there will be massive migration, as people of course will try to escape affected areas for different reasons. It may be difficult to find water and food, there may be fires, collapsing ruins, radioactive fallout, chemical pollution, active plagues, looting, violence, dysentery, and so on. Urban areas will inevitably be depopulated even if they haven’t been directly affected by The Cataclysm, as the shortage of water and food will be more acute, basically as soon as all stores and supermarkets have been emptied. People will probably leave in haste, especially in case of radiation or plague, and thus be poorly equipped for survival.

Wherever the migrants move, crime rates will increase and disease will spread. Thus, migrants will most probably not be welcomed with open arms, no matter if the region they move to has been seriously affected by The Cataclysm or not, as the locals already have their own problems to deal with. If some level of civilization is maintained, there will be border guards and refugee camps – between nations, but also within nations! If The Cataclysm is a pandemic, migrants may possibly even be shot at sight.


Collapsing Civilization?


Even a minor catastrophe may have a large impact on society; we have seen many examples of how a hurricane or earthquake can lead to anarchy. Considering how complex our societies have become, I think it’s totally unlikely that they will be able to function properly after a major catastrophe. Even if The Cataclysm takes nightmarish proportions, civilization will not necessarily collapse, though; at least not as long as mankind isn’t reduced to a mere remnant and people lose all hope.

Perhaps most importantly, the overwhelming majority wants civilization, not anarchy. People have spouses, children, relatives, and friends, and they will stay together. (Unless, of course, The Cataclysm is a pandemic that strikes more or less randomly.) They have modest desires, such as food, housing, some comfort, and a little entertainment – not the freedom to pillage, burn, rape, and kill. They will form communities and they will defend them. That marauders suddenly will get free reign is quite unlikely, in my opinion.

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Furthermore, ancient civilizations had poor communications and primitive technology, but nevertheless, they lasted for centuries; they were often surprisingly well organized, actually. Hence, I think it’s possible to maintain a rather high level of civilization in most cases, as long as there is hope and will.

Finally, one shouldn’t underestimate people’s sense of duty. Catastrophes in our own time show that police squads, trauma teams, and military units don’t not necessarily leave their posts, but tend to do their duty until they have been given orders to leave. Many countries also have home guard/territorial defense forces which may be ordered by their governments to help the police in emergency situations. Thus, there may be order long enough for people to organize provisional governments and self-sufficient communities.


Economy


Even if civilization doesn’t collapse, it will be difficult to keep a currency. Most of the money today only exists in digital form and will simply cease to exist; in case of nuclear war, it may happen instantly due to EMP.


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If some kind of government can guarantee the value of coins and bills and if people still trust them as means of payment, it will entail another problem: stagflation, the opposite of inflation, i.e. there will be shortage of money and its value will rise dramatically.

No matter if a currency survives or not, bartering will become very common. Items of survival will become hard currency: canned food, hunting rifles, ammunition, lighters, matches, candles, paraffin lamps, wood-burning stoves, tools, gasoline. Some items we regard as trivial will become sought-after luxuries: alcohol, tobacco, candy, spices, perfume.

People in deep despair, especially migrants, will be forced to find alternative means of payment to survive, e.g. manual labour, contract murder, prostitution, serfdom, and possibly even outright slavery.


The Age of Ignorance


After The Cataclysm, the world will shrink in people’s minds. As telecommunications break down and travelling becomes more difficult and dangerous, news will begin to travel more slowly. Remember that when Abraham Lincoln was shot, it took two weeks before the news reached Europe! People may become more or less oblivious of what’s happening only 100-200 kilometres from their homes, just like in the Middle Ages. Needless to say, people will become more inclined to believe in rumours, conspiracy theories, and myths.

What we consider to be basic knowledge will become considerably scarcer. Enormous amounts of information will be lost when energy transmission fails and computers shut down – forever. Books will start to rot in libraries and homes when heating and ventilation fail. It will become difficult or impossible to print new books. Schools will have to close and illiteracy will begin to spread. Children will no longer have basic knowledge of e.g. geography and history. The postapocalyptic future will be an age of ignorance.


Crime


I think it’s unavoidable that there will be more crime after The Cataclysm; telecommunications may collapse, police forces may be dissolved etc. We only have to look at Third World slums and warzones of our own time to get a picture of what may come. In desperate times, there will be desperate people. There will most probably be a dramatic rise in prevalence of theft, robbery, assault, rape, and murder.

I think it’s unavoidable that the nature of crime will be more gruesome as well. Dangerous people will be wandering the wastelands: professional criminals that suddenly can act more openly, prisoners and mental patients on the loose, individuals suffering from posttraumatic stress after The Cataclysm, serial killers on the prowl etc.

However, crime doesn’t have to increase dramatically, for the reasons I’ve presented above. As long as there’s some level of civilization, there will be some kind of law as well. Law enforcement may change dramatically, though. It may be difficult or even impossible to maintain police forces and judicial institutions, especially in rural areas. The void will probably be filled by vigilantes, “people’s courts”, bounty hunters, and death squads; some of these new law enforcers may try to follow the old laws, others will write their own.

It should also be noted that The Cataclysm will lead to “unemployment” among criminals. For instance, narcotics will become difficult to obtain, and no one may care any longer that they are being sold and used; the same thing applies to gambling, prostitution, and other traditional cash cows for criminals. The only really lucrative kind of organized crime will probably be “protection”. If money loses its worth and barter trade becomes the norm, it will also become more difficult to benefit from crimes such as theft and robbery; cash is vital for criminals.


Firearms


The importance of having firearms is most probably exaggerated in post-apocalyptic fiction. In developed countries, most people don’t have access to firearms, don’t know how to use them, and don’t want to use them. Furthermore, most firearms are hunting rifles owned by law-abiding, middle-aged men, who aren’t likely to use them except in self-defence. Hunting rifles aren’t well suited for fire fights, and hunters are not likely to waste their bullets on human targets; with shortage of food, they will be needed for hunting.

In countries with liberal gun laws, the situation might become dangerous, though. The more liberal the gun laws, the more weapons in circulation, and the more weapons in circulation, the more well armed the criminals.


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Military supplies will be a factor of uncertainty. Due to secrecy, we don’t know how large and accessible they are. Who will take possession of them? Will it be G.I. Joe, Average Joe, or Criminal Joe? Heavy equipment like tanks and howitzer will quickly become obsolete when fuel becomes scarce, but machine pistols and rocket-propelled grenades may remain operational for decades if properly kept.


Man vs Nature


After The Cataclysm, man will no longer master Nature; Nature will master Man again.

People will have to start planning ahead. Most importantly, they must prepare for winter or risk starving or freezing to death. Notice that a nuclear war, asteroid impact, or supervolcano eruption will be followed by harsh winters – in the worst-case scenario all-year-round winter – due to the increased concentration of particles in the atmosphere.

The effects of extreme weather will be severe. Houses will decay and become more vulnerable; rescue operations will not be possible; destroyed property will not be repaired. Regions suffering from extreme weather – e.g. hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods – may be depopulated, possibly completely deserted.

A potential threat against survivors of The Cataclysm will be predatory animals. As large areas become depopulated, human populations shrink, and supplies of ammunition and fuel run out, there will be fewer and fewer reasons for animals to fear human beings. Bears and wolf packs will suddenly become threats, just like in old times; dogs which have lost their masters will also form packs. To make things even worse, they will grow in numbers when urban areas get depopulated and hunters run out of ammunition. Communities will of course be able to fend them off, but for the first time in two centuries, man will have to adapt their lives to dangerous animals.


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After The Cataclysm, mankind will have to get used to vermin again. Rats will grow big and may even become threats to infants and pets. There will be cockroaches and other kinds of insects in all homes, as it will become more difficult to isolate houses and there will be no production of insecticides.

Finally, the world after The Cataclysm will be a dark world – literally. Few people master the skills of making candles or lamp oil, so there will be few light sources. Just like in the Middle Ages, people will have to adjust their lives to the availability of daylight. In summer, days will be long; in winter, they will be short. Going outside will suddenly be a potentially dangerous activity; there will be no lights as far as one can see, and both human and animal predators may lurk in the dark. Once twilight falls, the only thing to do is to go to bed and contemplate the nightmarish state of the world.

"The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it." – Morpheus

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Re: How to Create a Plausible Postapocalyptic Dystopia

Postby Stevemata » Tue Feb 02, 2010 8:55 pm

Great Essay, I have a few suggestions before you post it on the site.

Weapons:
Hunting rifles are ideal for fire fights, they were the primary weapons of both world wars and they are significantly more effective than bows and knifes and often more powerful than modern assault rifles. I think you are also drastically underestimating the scale of government ammunition reserves, it think it's likely that the guns and the bullets will rust away long before the reserves are exhausted. Modern Howitzers and field guns are larger and more rust resistant, they will be around for centuries to come even if they are no longer firing their original projectiles. Brass cartridges with copper or lead bullets will be viable for centuries, even if they loose potency. Also consider that gun powder is simple to make and that quality brass can be reloaded dozens of times.

Cars & Fuel:
Lack of fuel would be a regional thing. The California countryside is covered with small functioning privately owned hundred year old oil Derricks. Grain Alcohols can be mass produced easily, if crops still grow than fuel will still be produced.

It would be centuries before cars disappeared in areas where fuel was still being produced. Car's without electronic ignitions with older big block engines and automatic transmissions have been functioning without maintenance for half a century now. Cars are very valuable for moving goods and people, they wouldn't disappear, cars as we know them would change.

Time Scale and Technology
As long as mechanical technology exists it can be reverse engineered. Modern machining tools and dyes if housed indoors will last for centuries, especially in arid climates.

Skills
Skills such as hunting, candle making and machining would be elevated to great importance, they would be taught, learned and valued by many people.

Future Cities
Ancient people the world over built city walls of wood brick and stone. A few hundred people in a year can build a tall wall with a large circumference in very little time using only muscle. Law and Order wouldn't die, they would just surrender to the areas in between cities, a condition that arguably exists for a great number of the worlds population. The Greeks documented the growth of the city states and the ending of banditry and lawlessness in only a generation for the majority of ancient Greece.

Food & Reproduction
Contaminated food is bad, but if it's the only food you have and the only food you can grow, then it will be the only food you eat. Contaminated food make lives shorter, but each woman can make a new person once a year, assuming a life span of twenty years, a woman could comfortably make five people, 200% growth assuming half the children born die and half that are boys.

In Conclusion
Most importantly, people who don't remember or who were born after the cataclysm will know no other way of life. They will hunt, fish and cultivate without knowing any better or worse. And, keep in mind that the third world already drinks polluted water, eats contaminated food, suffers from unparalleled epidemics and yet the third world remains the fastest growing population on Earth.
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Re: How to Create a Plausible Postapocalyptic Dystopia

Postby Theo_Faron » Tue Feb 02, 2010 10:34 pm

Excellent essay! Very interesting, very sad and very frightening... Feels like my "urge" for post-apocalyptic fiction has somewhat diminished... At least for a couple of days.

I recommend the BBC production "Threads" (BBC, television play, 1984). There you have a "real scenario", similar to your essay..

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090163/

It is scary.
No children. No future. No hope.
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Re: How to Create a Plausible Postapocalyptic Dystopia

Postby Nexus » Fri Feb 05, 2010 1:40 pm

Stevemata wrote:Great Essay, I have a few suggestions before you post it on the site.


Actually, I don't publish anything on the site nowadays. I focus entirely on the forum as I like to get more direct input and feedback from others; I want dialogue, not monologue. The original idea was that longer posts, together with appendices by other posters, would be published on the forum as articles. Obviously, this hasn't happened.

The problem is that I don't really have time for both the site and the forum, and that the simple HTML editor I used in the past no longer is available. (My computer skills are purely functional, I'm afraid.) The arrangement is that Nightwalker willd help me update the site, but we never seem to get down to business; to complicate matters, he's a busy student and doesn't seem to have much spare-time either. Furthermore, I really should get a own domain, because my web hotel's frame is horribly large. I'll see what Nightwalker has to say about this.

Stevemata wrote:Weapons:
Hunting rifles are ideal for fire fights, they were the primary weapons of both world wars and they are significantly more effective than bows and knifes and often more powerful than modern assault rifles.


That's a good point indeed. What I should have written is that hunting rifles aren't as effective as assault rifles and machine pistols, and that there won't be as many or as elaborate fire fights as some dystopian works like to suggest.

Stevemata wrote:I think you are also drastically underestimating the scale of government ammunition reserves, it think it's likely that the guns and the bullets will rust away long before the reserves are exhausted.


I probably do. It is, not very surprisingly, difficult to find any reliable figures.

Stevemata wrote:Modern Howitzers and field guns are larger and more rust resistant, they will be around for centuries to come even if they are no longer firing their original projectiles.


The problem with such heavy weaponry is that it may be extremely difficult to move due to shortage of fuel. Thus, it will probably not be very useful in mobile combat, but quite possibly in static combat. Communities could use such weapons for defence - given that there's someone who knows how to use them!

Stevemata wrote:Brass cartridges with copper or lead bullets will be viable for centuries, even if they loose potency.


I've never thought of this, actually. The question is how long weapons which can fire them will last? I'm not exactly an expert on firearms, but I assume that they will malfunction without proper storage and maintanence. The cartridges could of course be used in home-made weapons, but they are neither easy to make nor use.

Stevemata wrote:Also consider that gun powder is simple to make and that quality brass can be reloaded dozens of times.


Yes, it's rather simple to make - if you have the proper ingridients! There are probably quite large supplies of sulfur and salpetre, and definitely large supplies of charchoal. But where? Will the ingridients be of the right purity and concentration? Will they become impure or even destroyed if eventually exposed to weather? You can of course produce these ingridients yourself: Sulfur can be found in nature in some parts of the world, charcoal is easy to produce, although requiring some effort, and saltpetre is also comparatively easy to produce, although requiring more knowledge and skill. All in all, I agree with you that there might be production of gunpowder even quite long after The Cataclysm, but not every hillbilly hick will be able produce it.

Stevemata wrote:Cars & Fuel:
Lack of fuel would be a regional thing. The California countryside is covered with small functioning privately owned hundred year old oil Derricks.


Interesting! I didn't know about these old oil derricks; sounds charming, actually. Oil mining is almost invariably large-scale in Europe, and the oil fields are not easily accessible; they are either in the far east or offshore.

Unfortunately, these oil derricks may be of limited use. Oil isn't gasoline. Refining seems to require rather advanced equipment, which in turn requires electricity.

Stevemata wrote:Grain Alcohols can be mass produced easily, if crops still grow than fuel will still be produced.


Good point! I assume that an ordinary moonshining apparatus will do for destilling. Ethanol (and even methanol) can be used to fuel gasoline engines; they can also be mixed with gasoline to make it last longer.

However, ethanol doesn't lubricate gasoline car engines as well as gasoline and wears them down rather quickly. This is of course not a problem with biofuel cars, but they are not many over here and they will probably be even fewer in the future. (In Sweden, where I happen to live, less than 5 % drive biofuel cars, and if I remember correctly, this is the highest percentage in Europe.)

Stevemata wrote:It would be centuries before cars disappeared in areas where fuel was still being produced. Car's without electronic ignitions with older big block engines and automatic transmissions have been functioning without maintenance for half a century now.


Indeed, "classic" cars will probably function longer, but they are few and they will become even fewer. New cars won't last as long without maintanence, especially if they are exposed to weather.

As a car owner, I notice that cars need repairs quite often, even quality cars. In a postapocalyptic world, there will eventually be shortage of spare parts which will make repairs difficult or impossible.

Stevemata wrote:Cars are very valuable for moving goods and people, they wouldn't disappear, cars as we know them would change.


I'm not sure I agree. Cars are quite complex constructions and would have been an impossibility before the industrialisation.

Cars are valuable, but not necessary for maintaining civilisation, which many of our Third World countries today are proof of.

Stevemata wrote:Time Scale and Technology
As long as mechanical technology exists it can be reverse engineered. Modern machining tools and dyes if housed indoors will last for centuries, especially in arid climates.


Good points which I haven't thought of. It seems most resonable that some technologies will be revived by means of reverse engineering; the problem will be to manufacture precision compontents. You are definitely right about tools; they are designed to be durable. We should also remember that stainless steel tools will last for centuries, possibly even millennia.

Stevemata wrote:Skills
Skills such as hunting, candle making and machining would be elevated to great importance, they would be taught, learned and valued by many people.


I thought briefly of this, but never included it. I guess that in a longer perspective, almost all skills that were highly valued before the industrialisation will also be highly valued in a postapocalyptic world.

Stevemata wrote:Future Cities
Ancient people the world over built city walls of wood brick and stone. A few hundred people in a year can build a tall wall with a large circumference in very little time using only muscle. Law and Order wouldn't die, they would just surrender to the areas in between cities, a condition that arguably exists for a great number of the worlds population. The Greeks documented the growth of the city states and the ending of banditry and lawlessness in only a generation for the majority of ancient Greece.


An interesting topic that I didn't even think of. In temperate regions, another simple way to wall and foritfy cities is to eract wooden palisades, and build houses of timber, insulated with moss. I like your parallel to ancient Greek; it makes much sense.

Stevemata wrote:Food & Reproduction
Contaminated food is bad, but if it's the only food you have and the only food you can grow, then it will be the only food you eat. Contaminated food make lives shorter, but each woman can make a new person once a year, assuming a life span of twenty years, a woman could comfortably make five people, 200% growth assuming half the children born die and half that are boys.


If the contamination is radiation, I think people rather would starve than eat it. As it's invisible and unpredictable, people tend not to think rationally about it, and will hardly think more rationally about it after a nuclear war.

As for reproduction rates, I think you may be right. Population growth in undeveloped countries such as India speaks for it.

Stevemata wrote:In Conclusion
Most importantly, people who don't remember or who were born after the cataclysm will know no other way of life. They will hunt, fish and cultivate without knowing any better or worse. And, keep in mind that the third world already drinks polluted water, eats contaminated food, suffers from unparalleled epidemics and yet the third world remains the fastest growing population on Earth.


Strong arguments indeed. People who have lived most of their lives before The Cataclysm will probably suffer the most in a postapocalyptic world, as they will remember how much better lives they lead once upon a time.

Thanks for the input, Stevemata. Enjoyable reading and solid arguments; quality stuff.

"The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it." – Morpheus

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Re: How to Create a Plausible Postapocalyptic Dystopia

Postby Nexus » Fri Feb 05, 2010 1:44 pm

Theo_Faron wrote:Excellent essay! Very interesting, very sad and very frightening...


You're too kind, sir.

Theo_Faron wrote:Feels like my "urge" for post-apocalyptic fiction has somewhat diminished... At least for a couple of days.


He he. You'll soon need a new fix and you know it...

Theo_Faron wrote:I recommend the BBC production "Threads" (BBC, television play, 1984). There you have a "real scenario", similar to your essay.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090163/

It is scary.


Damn, I really, really, really want to see Threads. May I ask where you bought it? (I assume it's an online store.)

"The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it." – Morpheus

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Re: How to Create a Plausible Postapocalyptic Dystopia

Postby Neuromancer » Fri Feb 05, 2010 3:53 pm

Theo_Faron wrote:Excellent essay! Very interesting, very sad and very frightening... Feels like my "urge" for post-apocalyptic fiction has somewhat diminished... At least for a couple of days.

I recommend the BBC production "Threads" (BBC, television play, 1984). There you have a "real scenario", similar to your essay..

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090163/

It is scary.


Image
The Day After:
Peacenik Propaganda or Legitimate Dystopian Fiction?



Call me a ghoul, but stories likes this, I love. I remember seeing this Nuclear Winter where the people were dying of radiation poisoning and trying to plant crops under the UV Light.
This is in very similar vein to the movie The Day After (also a TV movie)... around the same time, circa early 80's. Threads for the UK audiences whereas the The Day After was for the American audiences.


In the context of the Cold War, and the Peace Movement, it was to argue for Disarmament in the West (SALT I, SALT II and Mutually-Assured-Destruction or MAD), given that the possibility of a Peacenik Movement would not exist in the Soviet Union, it would give The Soviets actual nuclear superiority (Soviet Military Keynesianism till the economy was exhausted). So a discourse to make a hardline stance unpopular would have to be made to push the emotional survival buttons (Maslow's Hierarchy) in the Western Audiences by the Leftwing aligned artistic circles. I say, please make more it is so addictive!

It was necessary, then to produce literary and artistic works (The Watchmen's Doomsday Clock comes to mind again in the 1980's alternative setting) to scare people into supporting the disarmament concept, at the time, from Nixon, Ford, Carter and then Ronald Reagan with Y Andropov and L Brezhniev leading to the election of Gorbachev were engaged in ongoing talks, which led to the symbolic fall of the Berlin Wall.
Which leads us to the present Status Quo of Gorbachev leading Green Cross International Presidency, new lies for old, but I digress here.
What was missing was the scorched Statue of Liberty burnt to cinders as mandatory homage to the Planet of the Apes, but that'd send the " wrong political signals" if you get my drift. :twisted:

The Day After... "The Attack", get your dystopian jollies off!

Threads: The Attack *

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Threads
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Day_After
* At the time a children's cartoon storybook was circulating around the UK, it was called "When the Wind Blows", similar scenario to nuclear attack and post apocalyptic slow death from radiation poisoning, our characters did not seem to know much about nuclear fallout :twisted:
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Re: How to Create a Plausible Postapocalyptic Dystopia

Postby Stevemata » Fri Feb 05, 2010 7:38 pm

Well, like in the world wars, Artillery can be horse drawn. Also keep in mind that people used such weapons without massive industrial production for centuries into the past. Firearms in general were also used in mass long before industrial manufacturing, during the first world war the parts for French firearms weren't interchangeable; they were manufactured in mass, but the certainly weren't mass produced.

Those who refuse to eat radioactive food will die much faster than those who choose not to eat. Yes plants are more resilient when it comes to radiation, but if the plants are alive then they aren't the source of the radiation, the plant is unlikely to be kill a person quickly (if at all), and also plants can only transfer so much radiation and that most metals and minerals in plants will be passed by the human body anyway.

Flex Fuel (Gasoline or Ethanol) cars are becoming very common in the United States, the Federal Government mandates that x% a year be Flex Fuel. Right now 85% ethanol is the requirement, in the next few years Flex Fuel will have to support 100% ethanol. Regular gasoline engines can also be converted to run on Ethanol, but you can't mix or interchange fuels without Flex Fuel type technologies.

Distilling ethanol is similar to oil, the liquid is heated to separate out the different constituent liquids and then each layer is siphoned off and the process is repeated to improve the purity of the fuel.

Something else that I don't think I have ever seen discussed in post apocalyptic fiction or theory is railroads (yes, some post apocalyptic movies have had trains, but the were for action purposes). The tracks will last centuries and steam engines are common and can be built or maintained with the simplest of tools. Fuel can be just about anything that burns, coal comes out of the ground and wood grows along the tracks. The steam engines can also be used for power generation.
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Re: How to Create a Plausible Postapocalyptic Dystopia

Postby Theo_Faron » Fri Feb 05, 2010 10:18 pm

Nexus wrote:
Theo_Faron wrote:Feels like my "urge" for post-apocalyptic fiction has somewhat diminished... At least for a couple of days.


He he. You'll soon need a new fix and you know it...

Theo_Faron wrote:I recommend the BBC production "Threads" (BBC, television play, 1984). There you have a "real scenario", similar to your essay.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090163/

It is scary.


Damn, I really, really, really want to see Threads. May I ask where you bought it? (I assume it's an online store.)


Yes, my "white days" are already over :grin:

I bought my copy of Threads at Amazon.co.uk

Here you have it:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Threads-DVD-Karen-Meagher/dp/B0009S9LNK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1265400771&sr=8-1
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Re: How to Create a Plausible Postapocalyptic Dystopia

Postby NightWalker » Sat Feb 06, 2010 12:10 am

Nexus wrote:The problem is that I don't really have time for both the site and the forum, and that the simple HTML editor I used in the past no longer is available. (My computer skills are purely functional, I'm afraid.) The arrangement is that Nightwalker willd help me update the site, but we never seem to get down to business; to complicate matters, he's a busy student and doesn't seem to have much spare-time either. Furthermore, I really should get a own domain, because my web hotel's frame is horribly large. I'll see what Nightwalker has to say about this.

As for the frame, that's something that they add later. There's nothing for it in the source code, it all gets added after it's been uploaded to the server. Therefor, not sure if I can remove it.
However, I haven't forgotten about the site. I'm working on it when the time is given, but at the moment I'm afraid it'll be difficult to find the time. It's on some week-ends, but even them are usually packed at the moment (with school work).
But whenever I find time for it, I'll work at it. Trust me!
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Re: How to Create a Plausible Postapocalyptic Dystopia

Postby Nexus » Tue Feb 09, 2010 11:12 am

Neuromancer wrote:The Day After: Peacenik Propaganda or Legitimate Dystopian Fiction?


I'd say that if something might threaten to extinct mankind, it's quite legitimate.

Neuromancer wrote:In the context of the Cold War, and the Peace Movement, it was to argue for Disarmament in the West (SALT I, SALT II and Mutually-Assured-Destruction or MAD), given that the possibility of a Peacenik Movement would not exist in the Soviet Union, it would give The Soviets actual nuclear superiority (Soviet Military Keynesianism till the economy was exhausted). So a discourse to make a hardline stance unpopular would have to be made to push the emotional survival buttons (Maslow's Hierarchy) in the Western Audiences by the Leftwing aligned artistic circles. I say, please make more it is so addictive!

It was necessary, then to produce literary and artistic works (The Watchmen's Doomsday Clock comes to mind again in the 1980's alternative setting) to scare people into supporting the disarmament concept, at the time, from Nixon, Ford, Carter and then Ronald Reagan with Y Andropov and L Brezhniev leading to the election of Gorbachev were engaged in ongoing talks, which led to the symbolic fall of the Berlin Wall.
Which leads us to the present Status Quo of Gorbachev leading Green Cross International Presidency, new lies for old, but I digress here.
What was missing was the scorched Statue of Liberty burnt to cinders as mandatory homage to the Planet of the Apes, but that'd send the " wrong political signals" if you get my drift. :twisted:


Interestingly enough, The Day After actually made a difference. Say what you want about Reagan, but even he realised what a danger nuclear weapons constitute.

The argument that the peace movement in the USA would give the USSR nuclear superiority was incredibly clever propaganda. First, the total destructive power of the USA's and the USSR's nuclear arsenals made the whole question academic. Second, the USSR already had a larger nuclear arsenal than the USA in the mid-1970s. Third, it was actually the USA that started the nuclear arms race and was the most aggressive part during the 1950s and 1960s. Fourth, the dysfunctional Soviet system would not be able to keep pace with the American one. It was indeed successful, because the military nuclear industry kept getting - and keep getting! - fat contracts, paid with tax money as always.

"The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it." – Morpheus

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Re: How to Create a Plausible Postapocalyptic Dystopia

Postby Nexus » Tue Feb 09, 2010 12:01 pm

Stevemata wrote:Well, like in the world wars, Artillery can be horse drawn. Also keep in mind that people used such weapons without massive industrial production for centuries into the past.


Rock-solid arguments. Artillery may actually be used in conflicts after The Cataclysm, then.

Stevemata wrote:Firearms in general were also used in mass long before industrial manufacturing, during the first world war the parts for French firearms weren't interchangeable; they were manufactured in mass, but the certainly weren't mass produced.


Strong arguments indeed. My only question is enough people possess the right skills; we do after all rely heavily on machines for manufacture nowadays.

Stevemata wrote:Those who refuse to eat radioactive food will die much faster than those who choose not to eat. Yes plants are more resilient when it comes to radiation, but if the plants are alive then they aren't the source of the radiation, the plant is unlikely to be kill a person quickly (if at all), and also plants can only transfer so much radiation and that most metals and minerals in plants will be passed by the human body anyway.


True. Most people don't know this, though. I'd say that it's more likely they'd starve while trying to escape the radiation, hoping to find uncontaminated food later. I'm not sure I'd dare to eat contaminated food, even if it would be the rational thing to do.

Stevemata wrote:Flex Fuel (Gasoline or Ethanol) cars are becoming very common in the United States, the Federal Government mandates that x% a year be Flex Fuel. Right now 85% ethanol is the requirement, in the next few years Flex Fuel will have to support 100% ethanol. Regular gasoline engines can also be converted to run on Ethanol, but you can't mix or interchange fuels without Flex Fuel type technologies.

Distilling ethanol is similar to oil, the liquid is heated to separate out the different constituent liquids and then each layer is siphoned off and the process is repeated to improve the purity of the fuel.


The development has been similar over here, but it starting to come to a halt. The reason is that people have become more aware of how biofuel production disrupts food production. You present a strong case, though, and I it's safe to say that biofuel cars will be extensively used after The Cataclysm. Eventually, they will break down and be impossible to repair too, but that may take a decade or two.

I've been thinking of another option: wood gas. It's comparatively simple for a handy man to construct a crude gasifier actually; they were common in Sweden during World War 2 when there was acute shortage of oil. Believe it or not, but the energy conversion efficiency is actually higher for wood gas than gasoline! However, crude gasifiers are only a temporary solution, as they wear down car engines; more engine-friendly designs are more complex to construct.

I've also been thinking about a factor that I've forgotten to include: EMP. If The Cataclysm is a nuclear war, EMP can potentially make all cars, except old cars (made before 1970?) and some military vechicles useless.


Image


Stevemata wrote:Something else that I don't think I have ever seen discussed in post apocalyptic fiction or theory is railroads (yes, some post apocalyptic movies have had trains, but the were for action purposes). The tracks will last centuries and steam engines are common and can be built or maintained with the simplest of tools. Fuel can be just about anything that burns, coal comes out of the ground and wood grows along the tracks. The steam engines can also be used for power generation.


Interesting point. I agree that the tracks will last very long, but if they are too last for centuries, they'll have to be maintained. Judging from what I've seen myself, railroads in woods may become unusable within a decade or two. This does of course depend on climate and terrain; in e.g. desert and permafrost regions, they may indeed last for centuries,

"The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it." – Morpheus

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Re: How to Create a Plausible Postapocalyptic Dystopia

Postby Nexus » Tue Feb 09, 2010 12:03 pm

NightWalker wrote:As for the frame, that's something that they add later. There's nothing for it in the source code, it all gets added after it's been uploaded to the server. Therefor, not sure if I can remove it.


I suspected that nothing could be done about it. It used to be so simple: ?noframe.

NightWalker wrote:However, I haven't forgotten about the site. I'm working on it when the time is given, but at the moment I'm afraid it'll be difficult to find the time. It's on some week-ends, but even them are usually packed at the moment (with school work).
But whenever I find time for it, I'll work at it. Trust me!


Sounds good. Maybe we should spend a couple of summer days rewamping the site?

"The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it." – Morpheus

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Re: How to Create a Plausible Postapocalyptic Dystopia

Postby NightWalker » Sun Feb 14, 2010 3:24 pm

Nexus wrote:
NightWalker wrote:As for the frame, that's something that they add later. There's nothing for it in the source code, it all gets added after it's been uploaded to the server. Therefor, not sure if I can remove it.


I suspected that nothing could be done about it. It used to be so simple: ?noframe.

Yes, the ?noframe works at the moment. What it does is that it removes the frame when you hit the link to this forum. Without it, that bug, ugly frame would have been there when going here if you came from the link on the web page.
But they are smart. Since it's a free web host, why not add some adds?

Nexus wrote:
NightWalker wrote:However, I haven't forgotten about the site. I'm working on it when the time is given, but at the moment I'm afraid it'll be difficult to find the time. It's on some week-ends, but even them are usually packed at the moment (with school work).
But whenever I find time for it, I'll work at it. Trust me!


Sounds good. Maybe we should spend a couple of summer days rewamping the site?

Sounds very good. I think I can squeeze that in in my "oh so busy schedule". ;)

I actually do have some source code on my external hard drive, I have been updating the code quite a lot. No tables here anymore, sir!

Also, I saw in an earlier that you need a HTML-editor. Dreamweaver works very good, but as for WYSIWYG-editors I must give you a warning. It can easily be ugly code that's not easy to maintain without an WYSIWYG-editor.
I'd recommend NotePad++, a great text editor with syntax highlighting. It doesn't help you code though, so you must know how to code...
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Re: How to Create a Plausible Postapocalyptic Dystopia

Postby Neuromancer » Sun Feb 14, 2010 4:49 pm

I think we are missing a very premise of Societal Collapse:

A Global Financial Crisis worse than the Great Depression, beyond 25% Unemployment, a collapse of the national currency, a non-working financial system and a government teetering on the Failed State Status.
Sometimes the highly improbable comes last after highly probable in our " Ratings Scale (%) for Societal Collapse". We remove Nuclear war Scenario and we are left with....the next in line.
Without a System of Finance there is no functioning Capitalist Economy with neither governments, agricultural (food production) and manufacturing sectors (goods) can work outside the circular flow of income, mixed economy or otherwise.

The Key to disruption and chaos is to collapse the Food Supply first (farmers can't get basic finance to plant crops), the rest follows like dominoes; this can be achieved by a number of ways, but we concentrate on a more current factor if less 'sexy' than Nuclear War.

For example what would happen if there was catastrophic financial collapse of our Globalist Financial System? How long can the Capitalist Industrial System go for without the Financial Capitalists doing what they do?

We have established that Governments can wage war for several years with conventional weapons, how long they fight it with a dwindling Food Supply, 30 days at most?
Urban Populations would become unsustainable under this scenario.


Then there is the highly improbable: Mass Extinction Event, in the span of several millions of years. The reasons for Nuclear War were political and ideological clashing of empires at standoff.
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Re: How to Create a Plausible Postapocalyptic Dystopia

Postby Nexus » Mon Feb 15, 2010 3:24 pm

NightWalker wrote:But they are smart. Since it's a free web host, why not add some adds?


Right. I will consider purchasing an own domain for ED, though.

NightWalker wrote:I actually do have some source code on my external hard drive, I have been updating the code quite a lot. No tables here anymore, sir!


You're the man, NW!

NightWalker wrote:Also, I saw in an earlier that you need a HTML-editor. Dreamweaver works very good, but as for WYSIWYG-editors I must give you a warning. It can easily be ugly code that's not easy to maintain without an WYSIWYG-editor.


I've tried the new Dreamweaver editor, but it's a tad too difficult for an amateur like yours truly. The old editor was simpler to use, somehow. As for ugly code, I wouldn't know the difference. :P

NightWalker wrote:I'd recommend NotePad++, a great text editor with syntax highlighting. It doesn't help you code though, so you must know how to code...


Well, I know the basics of HTML coding, but using NotePad would take forever.

"The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it." – Morpheus

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