Interplay Productions, Wasteland, Electronic Arts (1988).
Entry by Ryan Maclennan
The original cover art on the 1988 release of Wasteland
In 1998, following an international diplomatic dispute, both the United States and the Soviet Union launched ninety percent of their nuclear arsenals, realizing the Cold War potential for mutually assured destruction. Cities were leveled, farmland was poisoned, and populations were decimated. Yet despite the massive attacks, some life survived. The year is now 2087 and you are a member of an elite squadron of rangers—one of the last groups of survivors. Your faction is tasked with preventing a new cyborg menace from destroying the last vestiges of humanity.
Thus begins the acclaimed 1988 computer game Wasteland. The game immerses the player in the midst of post-nuclear Nevada, allowing them to explore the long-term societal and physical implications of an all out nuclear war. Computer games in the 1980s were a relatively new medium. The technology at the time was limited and the gameplay of Wasteland feels more like a board game than a contemporary video game. If you purchase the game, it comes with a 30-page booklet of paragraphs that are referenced throughout gameplay, adding depth to the story, making it more like an interactive book than a videogame. Still, Wasteland is an innovative and—at the time—unique opportunity to engage with the post-nuclear world, to partake in a fascinating, but unthinkable, setting. It allowed individuals to engage with hypothetical realities in firsthand interactive ways by moving their 2D sprite through the apocalyptic landscape. Importantly, Wasteland is not a game about nuclear war—it is set 90 years after any nuclear bombs are used—but is rather about survival and the long-term societal and biological implications of nuclear fallout.
Briggs, Raymond. When the Wind Blows. Great Britain: Publisher, 1982. Graphic Novel.
Entry by Anonymous
When the Wind Blows is the story of a retired couple, James and Hilda Bloggs, living in an isolated cottage in the English countryside during the Cold War. Although James often misunderstands information broadcasted by radio news, he is fully aware of the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union on the horizon. When he hears that an outbreak of hostilities may only be three days away, James follows the guidance of nuclear preparation booklets and immediately begins to build a fallout shelter inside their home.
Although they survive the initial blast from the bomb, the Bloggs are both woefully unprepared for the aftermath. It quickly becomes apparent that the two do not understand the seriousness of their situation. They reminisce fondly on their childhood during World War II, time having colored their memories rosy. The Bloggs still believe that they will survive this war just as they did the last and that the Soviets will surely be defeated.
Gerstell, R. (1950, January 7). How You Can Survive an A-bomb Blast. The Saturday Evening Post. p.23, 73-76.
Entry by Olivia Abbate
Throughout the early 20th century, the study of radioactivity had risen to the forefront of scientific discovery and public discourse. Radiation research projects ranged from curing cancer to nuclear fission, while the media romanticized ideas of cosmic forces. The public’s fantasized ideas of atomic energy were fully realized during the Second World War, when two atomic bombs were dropped over Japanese soil. As nuclear fear plagued the United States, scientists and politicians worked to protect civilians from potential attacks. In 1950, Navy lieutenant commander Richard Gerstell published the article, “How You Can Survive an A-bomb Blast”, in an American magazine, The Saturday Evening Post. His piece provided civilians with numerous ways to lessen the physical impact and long-term health effects of radiation in the event of an attack. By analyzing this piece we see how little civilians understood about radioactivity, and how great the fear of the unknown had become. Gertrell’s article provided society with new insight into radiation safety at a time when many believed atomic bomb meant automatic death.
Asimov, Isaac. Foundation. New York: Bantam Books, 2004.
Entry by Garrett Morton
Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, published in various forms in the 1940s and ‘50s, presents a vision of far-future human civilization that has spread across the galaxy. The Galactic Empire rules of millions of inhabited planets and trillions of people, and for twelve thousand years it has been the unifying political force in the human universe. But when Hari Seldon, the founder of the field of psychohistory—the science of prediction the behavior of crowds—predicts the fall of the Empire and a dark age lasting thirty thousand years, he creates a Foundation on the edge of the Empire to preserve humanity’s scientific and cultural heritage and shorten the dark age to only one millennium. Foundation follows the Foundation through its first hundred and fifty years of existence, charting its passage through several crises and the men who led it through them.
Foundation is a story of grand proportions, told over epic time scales. Set far enough into the future that the origins of humanity and Earth’s status as its birthplace are lost to the ravages of time, the technology of the story is in some ways as advanced as one might expect. Faster-than-light interstellar travel and instantaneous communications devices make a galaxy-spanning empire logistically possible, and even teleportation makes a brief appearance, as if to remind the reader that this is the future. Yet, Foundation is also very much the technological product of its time, and in many ways it is at its heart a novel about nuclear technology and the transformative effect it has had on human society.
Sirota, Lyubov. “Radiophobia” in “Chernobyl Poems,” http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/chernobyl_poems/chernobyl_poems.html, edited by Paul Brians. Pullman: Washington State, 1995.
Entry by Samuel Dodge
On April 26, 1986 the nuclear power station in Chernobyl, Ukraine was destroyed during a systems test due to a power surge. Radioactive material was released into the air and would lead to significant consequences for many in the surrounding areas. Lyubov Sirota, an inhabitant of Pripyat, was one of those affected by the disaster. Paul Brians wrote, “…on April 25th, 1986 she was seeking a breath of fresh air in the middle of that night, and went out on to her balcony in the city of Pripyat and watched the Chernobyl nuclear reactor explode in front of her” (Brians 1). The explosion released large amounts of radioactive material into the air.
Sirota and her son were exposed to radioactive material in the air that night and suffered long lasting health effects that had a significant impact on their lives – and particularly Sirota’s writings. Lyubov Sirota began to compose poems after the disaster, and many have been collected and translated into English. Her emotion is palpable through her writing, and close analysis of her work offers excellent insight into the history of radioactivity, its effect on its victims, and government decisions. It also raises questions, which receive much attention in discussion on radioactivity. Given Sirota’s long-standing emotions, the psychological effects of disasters such as this may be an interesting topic of study. The poem also illuminates the standard discussion on government – How does one respond? How open is the government with the public? What are the moral considerations? Paul Brians wrote, “Sirota’s most fervent hope is that her poems will continue to remind people of the need to prevent further tragedies like Chernobyl” (Brians 1).