The science fiction novel from the early ‘70s, Lucifer’s Hammer, has been on our List of All Things for some time. Will it keep its spot permanently? Who knows? But it’s got staying power. Why? Because it’s a very real world exploration of survival and disaster preparation. It answers the question: What if a comet hits and half the world is wiped out? That’s the one piece of science fiction in the whole story, the rest is focused imagination on real world circumstances based on existing tech at the time … a fantasy about what to do.
The novel is replete with specific scenes that could help a person think through a disaster setting, but we’ll spend one moment on a spoiler, specific to community-based self defense. If you’re tempted to pick up the book, you can skip the summary below:
A community of survivors, including a scientist, are attempting to protect themselves from the marauding hordes. The scientist had prepared for this type of scenario in advance, and had hidden the instructions to create lethal weapons such as mustard gas in multiple secret locations. He hoped these “recipes” would never be needed, but as the bandits encroach, they must make a decision: Reintroduce these man-made horrors, or watch as the horde takes over.
They decide to send parties out to brave the anarchy to collect the instruction manuals, but only one retrieval party makes it back with the recipe for mustard gas.
We leave the moral judgments for others to make, but the novel set up the choices well. Not everyone agreed with the plan, but most did. Nobody was all that eager to face the low odds of survival by going out to retrieve the sunken drums, but many did and died. We won’t say what happened to the scientist who saved them all in the end.
The Permanent Stay
If you want to hunker down in a place that has enough supplies to keep you watered and fed, it better be hidden, defended, or both. Even then, will it become a trap? Once you bunker up, if there are no secret escapes, you should be ready for the long haul.
Are there friends around? If things have gotten desperate enough to require tiger traps and swinging pungies, you don’t want to end up finding a beloved ally impaled in something you built to keep the bad guys out. If you’re interested in this route, here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid while mounting your defense. Of course, these are such extreme examples, which doesn’t make them any less realistic for being improbable. So as always, consider them thought experiments. A mental exercise that gets you thinking, by pretending at an extreme where you might never go, if you prefer...in the mental exploration of whether to stay, or go.
You have a water supply. Can it be cut? Poisoned? If so, how do you protect it? Are there enough allies about to keep a watch, 24/7/365? People on watch need to be fed, too, and when they’re guarding they aren’t working any crops, or going on salvage runs. Or can the source be hidden, such that only you know where the pipe goes? Crops and livestock bring the same problems, with greater complexity.
The Temporary Stay
There’s also the medium term interim option. One of the most creative, interesting aspects of prepping is the concept of a survival bunker. During the Cold War, these were almost as common as they would have been useless against an actual bomb impact. But for those outside the blast radius, they could have kept their family alive long enough for civilization to reorder itself.
It’s the difference between zombie fiction like The Walking Dead, which really isn’t about survival in the physical sense, and actually making it through a truly devastating, but impermanent disaster.
We’ve mentioned it before, but one of our favorite examples of a survival bunker built for the medium-term was in Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road. No spoiler this time, but suffice it to say that even though the Cold War ended, our fellow preppers kept on with the theories of how to bridge the time between disaster and rebuilding enough to be self-sufficient again, and they kept on with the practice, too.
There are pre-constructed survival shelters ready to install on the market now, and if you have the space and the budget for one, well, what are you waiting for? They come with chemical toilets, cots, options for refrigeration and generator and solar connections, space to store MRE’s and other necessities, retractable antennas for shortwave communications, and are generally designed to fit as much of your survival gear in as small and efficient a space as possible. They can be hidden, invisible, for longer than you’ll own your property.
And if you’re like most of us and can’t afford a pre-fab structure, or just prefer to build it yourself custom to your own imagination, browse them anyway, for all the latest in ideas, equipment, and options.
We could go on about survival bunkers, dugouts, small, hidden caches of supplies, well, for the length of any of the great novels that contain such concepts. Read Swiss Family Robinson, which is also on The List. They had to build in the trees instead of underground, but the imagination is the same. You're matching your current situation and resources to the potentialities of the future. You are navigating the extremes in your imagination to be ready for if and when they are a harsh reality.