The End: Surviving the World Through Imagined Disasters by Katie Goh

Part of 404 Ink’s Inklings series, The End is a look at disasters in fiction, how they work, and why we return to them, whether in times of crisis or not. Katie Goh starts with her own fears of apocalypse in the introduction and then explores four kinds of disasters in fiction—pandemic, climate, extraterrestrial, and social—to see what these stories say about us and consider why they work (or don’t work, in some cases).

This book is a fascinating chance to think about why ‘the end of the world’ is such a feature in fiction and why it matters what kinds of things the story is saying about the apocalypse. Though it’s about disaster fiction, especially films and books, The End also feels like it is sharing tools for critiquing disaster fiction and what we get from it, and thinking about using these stories as ways of presenting brighter futures rather than falling back on the same old narratives. I particularly enjoyed the part that questions superhero films and where they can go when the stakes are always to save the world/universe/etc, in contrast to films that use these kinds of stakes and disasters to tell more interesting stories.

As warned at the start of the book and maybe obvious from the premise, The End is a book full of spoilers about various kinds of ‘ends’ in fiction, exploring what stories are told and why they might be popular. By necessity it covers the COVID-19 pandemic, but also emphasises that these stories (and seeming apocalypses) have been going on for much, much longer, and what our current disaster fiction ‘go-to’ stories are might say a lot about us. I enjoyed its accessible style and combination of ideas and analysis of media within a small space, making for a very readable book that will definitely come to mind when I consume disaster media in the future.