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Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell, review: Meet the oddballs getting ready for Armageddon

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Prepper: Robert Vicino has built many underground complexes
Prepper: Robert Vicino has built many underground complexes Credit: John B. Carnett

Mark O’Connell might quietly be thinking that there is a silver lining to coronavirus. It may have stopped ordinary life in its tracks and be forcing us into a dry run for Doomsday, but it certainly gives a topical feel to his new book, Notes from an Apocalypse.

三级成人视频In it, he sets out to meet the “preppers”, the bands of eccentrics around the globe who are preparing themselves for society’s end. They range from heavily armed survivalists in the US through to tech billionaires building emergency bolt-holes. And boy, do they take “self-isolation” seriously. Not for them a few extra tins of baked beans and hand gel. Instead it’s vast, bombproof bunkers and armed guards, located in the empty vastness of South Dakota or the further outreaches of New Zealand.

For those already weary of publishing’s Armageddon trend – recent years have seen a glut of books on capitalism’s crisis or AI’s takeover – this may sound like altogether too much of a bad thing. But O’Connell, a Dublin-based journalist with a brilliantly wry style, seeks to entertain rather than scare. This is, instead, a light-hearted look around the World’s End; the Book of Revelation with a Bill Bryson touch.

三级成人视频For a start, O’Connell lets us laugh at him as much as at his subjects. A socialist-leaning liberal, he’s deeply worried about the threats that climate change pose for his young son’s future. Yet he’s equally appalled by his own hypocrisy. He steps over beggars in Dublin while listening to Left-wing podcasts. And he’s addicted to the fruits of globalisation, be it imported sushi or his smartphone, despite it being made it from pollution-inducing rare earth minerals. As he puts it: “If polar bears are going to be starving to death due to habitat destruction, I want to be able to watch deeply upsetting YouTube videos about it.”

三级成人视频He also admits that climate change, as apocalypse scenarios go, is a bit dull. Nuclear war, with its Bond-style goodies and baddies, was at least pretty “gripping”. The melting of the ice caps, by contrast, is something that by definition, only happens at glacial pace. It is, he laments, both “terrifying and boring” at the same time.

An air purification system at a model shelter house sold in Japan for nuclear war

P三级成人视频erhaps for that reason, the survivalists he meets in South Dakota boast a “lavish prospectus” of sexier end-time scenarios. These include a catastrophic computer hack, nuclear showdown with North Korea, and a repeat of the “Carrington Event”, a solar storm in 1859 that wrought havoc with early telegraph systems. And these are the more realistic ones. Robert Vicino, a local prepper who has purchased a disused Second World War base full of bombproof bunkers, warns him of Nibiru, a free-ranging Jupiter-sized planet that may one day hit us. At which point, you have to wonder if prepping would make any difference.

三级成人视频Even if did, though, Vicino is the last person O’Connell would want to be left holding the torch for civilisation. A 22-stone behemoth in beige cargo shorts, he jokes about installing “a titty bar in one of the bunkers”. Nor does O’Connell just dismiss the preppers as harmless cranks doing souped-up man-shedding. Many, he notes, are far-Right fanatics. And in their Doomsday plans to fend off looters from urban areas, he detects an agenda for wiping out America’s black underclass. “Preppers are not prepping for their fears,” he says. “They are prepping for their fantasies.”

He feels equally uneasy at a Mars Society Convention in Los Angeles, devoted to settling the Red Planet. Enthusiasts for this include Elon Musk, the Tesla magnate whose SpaceX venture is trying to crack the transport challenges. But O’Connell sees this as just colonialism for the 25th century, an excuse for America to relive the glories of the Sixties space race. Besides, he adds, being bereft of oxygen and water, Mars is already far more hostile to life than Earth is ever likely to be. It’s a fair point, although I couldn’t help thinking that if mankind in general was as full of self-doubt as O’Connell, we’d probably never even have reached the Moon.

三级成人视频He also visits New Zealand, where wealthy Silicon Valley types are buying up land in anticipation of civilisation’s fall (US inquiries about Kiwi citizenship went up 14-fold after Trump’s election). Its remoteness, space and abundant clean water has made it “the ark of nation states”, although not all the new arrivals are cuddly Bill Gates types. They include Peter Thiel, the PayPal billionaire, a libertarian Trump-bankroller, who’s also paid to be cryogenically frozen. O’Connell feels only a “visceral revulsion” towards him, made even worse by the idea that in his young son’s lifetime, Thiel might one day be defrosted.

For all his light touch, O’Connell does wear his politics slightly heavily. Much as I sniggered, I yearned at times for proper grillings of his subjects, rather than just sketches of comedy Right-wing villains. And he is rather less harsh about those more on his wavelength, such as the eco-types with whom he spends a week-long retreat in the Scottish Highlands.

Robert Vicino shows a model that shows the layout of his survival complex  Credit: Kansas City Star

Convinced that the planet is beyond redemption, and nostalgic for the pre-industrial era, these folks make Greta Thunberg sound cheery. One woman even has a homemade iPhone case, fashioned, she says, “as a Neolithic craftsperson” would have done it. This stuff is surely ripe for O’Connell’s considerable satirical powers, yet beyond pointing out that Neolithics didn’t have iPhones, he reins it in. He even buys her claim that with her knowledge of fungi, she could survive in the wild if she had to. My money would be on the survivalists with their guns.

三级成人视频In the end, O’Connell does cheer up, reminding himself that the miracle of life itself is an “outrageous repudiation of the odds”. There is, therefore, more reason to think our luck will continue than run out. But if coronavirus does prove to be the apocalypse, buy this book first (if your shops are still open). At least you’ll die laughing.

Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell, Granta, £14.99

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