Recipe for a Post-Apocalyptic Novel
Apocalyptic Technology: Pick one. Any current ones could wipe us out, given the right combo of corporate, economic, and political forces. Margaret Atwood picked genetic engineering.
Protagonist: Anti-hero, to make his (usually his) salvation of humankind more literary. Atwood made three, so far, across these two books: A boy whose mother’s depression and abandonment gave him a Complex, a young woman who moved from an eco cult into pseudo-elite sex work for totally logical reasons, and an older woman who survived both her parents’ death and the deprivations of a horrifying rapist and torturer (even reviews by Noted Feminists tend not to call this dude a rapist).
Smug Scientific Genius (optional): But how optional is it, really, since the whole premise of the genre is that scientific hubris will do us in? Sometimes (I’m thinking of Butler’s xenogenesis trilogy) this role is played by an alien. In these books, he’s a lonely hacker resolved to engineer humans back to the state of animals, reversing much of what evolution gave us in terms of frontal lobe capabilities etc. Because human emotions are too painful. That sounds like a cliche when I type it, but it didn’t feel like one when I read it.
Impediment to Human Survival: Conflict, right? Something has to happen after the world has ended, because we’re too convinced of our own power as a species to really think that apocalypse is the end. In these books, there’s Blanco, that rapist/torturer/murderer/subhuman, and a few of his co-rapists. There are pigs with human brain tissue. They hold grudges and mourn their dead. There isn’t much food left.
But the biggest impediment to human survival is the potential inability of humans to override decades of programming by the corporate technocracy into creatures of pure consumption.