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I have a setting I'm trying to get started on where the vast majority of mankind has been killed off, and all that is left is a speckling of small villages pieced together from the wreckage of society.

The grown-ups in the setting were alive for the apocalypse. Most of them are pretty broken from PTSD, major depression, and/or crippling drug abuse thanks to the trauma caused by what was literally the most devastating event in human history... contrasting this older generation, the few children born since then have had things pretty easy. They have had peaceful and generally unremarkable lives. None of the pressures of modern society, but enough remanent tech to give them modernish luxuries (commercial grade farm equipment, refrigeration, air-conditioning, indoor lighting, etc.) which together have made them almost pathologically innocent and positive.

The thing is that there are many different kinds of Apocalypses, but all of what I can think of are poor fits for one reason or another: A nuclear/asteroid/global warming apocalypse would leave massive environmental damage that would last for many generations. Zombies, Killbots, etc. would not just disappear over night without a strong central paramilitary organization rising in the aftermath which is not consistent with small, scattered, peaceful villages. I can't just say some god snapped his fingers and a bunch of people turned to dust because that would not be traumatizing enough for the survivors.

I need something so horrible as to kill off nearly everyone and be able to break down the psyches of the collective adult population in the process, and then suddenly be so completely recovered that just 1 generation latter, everything is easy, peaceful, and positive for thier children. The central theme focuses on the diametric contrast between the traumatized and innocent mind; so, the best answer will not just meet these two goals, it will maximize this contrast.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Worldbuilding Meta, or in Worldbuilding Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ Who is raising the children? Forget the apocalypse entirely for a moment. "Well adjusted children" and "parents crippled by PTSD and drug abuse" are not compatible situations. (edit: this comment could also be interpreted as a question: is it permissible that the children are somehow principally raised by some group other than the traumatized survivors? Perhaps robot assistants?) $\endgroup$ Commented May 17, 2023 at 20:41

22 Answers 22

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Zombie scenario works

Assume that "zombies" are created by some technological process - virus, nanotechnology, invasive meme, whatever. Read Glasshouse by Charles Stross and/or Implied Spaces by Walter Jon Williams for some ideas. (This is not a spoiler, the censorship wars and Seraphim meme war are the respective "historic" backgrounds for the novels, not events that occur within them.)

The survivors are the few people who avoided infection, but they had to fight and/or abandon their infected friends and loved ones to continue to avoid infection. This definitely qualifies as deeply traumatic for the survivors.

The "zombies" that do not suffer violent deaths still die in a matter of days or weeks from dehydration, exposure and/or starvation, lacking the mental faculties to look after themselves. (Do some basic maths on how many people can survive for how long in any city once the supply chain has broken down. Making them highly aggressive and mindless reduces their ability to survive down to zero - humans simply cannot digest most uncooked food. Virus-based zombies make no sense as a persistent threat.) So the threat burns itself out within a few weeks of the surviving humans managing to achieve quarantine - contrary to the assumption in the question, there is no need for a strong military to take the fight to the zombies, they self-destruct on their own.

However, this will not be a post-apocalyptic utopia - lots of things have limited shelf life, from electric batteries to fuel to medicine. If only a tiny percentage of people survived then they will be able to loot the ruins for ample consumables to keep themselves going for a few years, but unless they can re-establish manufacturing capacity there will be a lot of things that will be a distant memory within 2-10 years. Nonetheless, the children growing up in this world will not have the traumatising zombie threat to deal with as long as some basic precautions are taken, while their parents will have much more trouble dealing with the trauma they suffered.

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  • $\begingroup$ My first thought as well. It could also instead include a paramilitary, in which every individual was called to serve, with massive casualties across the board. The remnants are the people who lived and settled down elsewhere wanting a more peaceful life after the fact to rebuild. $\endgroup$
    – Anoplexian
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ This is the fundamental flaw of basically all post-apocalyptic scenarios--things decay pretty quickly. $\endgroup$ Commented May 17, 2023 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ If the zombie event killed off, say, 60% of humanity, that surely leaves a large enough population to plausibly re-establish and maintain a functionally modern society afterwards, while still being devastatingly traumatic for those who live through it. $\endgroup$ Commented May 17, 2023 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine No, if 60% of humanity were do die, the whole society would collapse. $\endgroup$
    – Negdo
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 8:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Negdo Yes it would, but it could also be restructured and rebuilt quickly if the infrastructure is still in place. There is no important job in the world that isn't currently already being done by thousands if not millions of people. That means that even if individual businesses, governments, and economies collapse: the knowledge base and skill sets required to restructure are still there. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 14:20
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If I understand, you want those happy children as a foil to investigate the traumatized mind, but if I were to read such a story I'd perceive it as offputtingly misinforming on a crucial dimension of the theme. Children of trauma survivors don't get to have truly peaceful and positive lives, even if their troubles may seem low-key, by society's (under-cognized) standards. This is serious stuff. They get an extent of any combination of being:

turned into caregivers
kept dependent
put down
burdened with hopes
emotionally misdirected
mentally unstimulated
left to fantasize
indoctrinated
rejected
misfed
beaten
raped
neglected...

Pretty much none of those items are mutually exclusive, across time and contacts. But some degree of impaired relational development always follows just from traumatized caregivers' attention being powerfully otherwise occupied as they're not snapping out of fending for survival. Along with that goes a sense that life is like that and you gotta be tough, and must intentionally get further progeny used to getting hurt. Not to mention the drain of attendant sickness and irrational choices. Also, in belated response to the comment that trauma sometimes produces meaning-seekers instead of brutes, several mentioned modes of messing up are quite available to seekers.

Yet relationality is the soil of cooperation, which is a prime determiner of group performance and wellbeing. One might say this is human-condition stuff, but your setup doesn't reflect it. I like the Sterility answer's point about children being highly cherished, but one still needs psychological capacity to do that.

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    $\begingroup$ Excessive self-actualization is common symptom of post traumatic stress. While PTSD often falls into the realm of destructive behaviors (it certainly will for many characters), there are many people who respond to trauma the opposite way by becoming obsessed with their place in the world, finding higher meanings in things, convincing themselves things are better than they really are, etc. They will still not be "normal" parents, but such people tend to put thier childrens' needs first... even if it means ignoring thier own needs. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ Fair enough. Perhaps what you need is the Apocalypse, since that selects for people of the spirit? $\endgroup$
    – ariola
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 21:07
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    $\begingroup$ @ariola lol That's actually the answer I think. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen Perhaps, but I can't write it. Run with it if you like. I do seem to remember stories of adjusting to paradise exist. $\endgroup$
    – ariola
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 8:46
  • $\begingroup$ @TheDaleks: Your edit did make the enumeration less muddy but, I feel, also sapped all impact by inviting a fragmented manner of reading. So I densified a bit. $\endgroup$
    – ariola
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 20:15
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Make the kids invulnerable. Or simply not explain at all.

enter image description here

George Lucas made a great mistake explaining the magic of The Force

You say: "None of the pressures of modern society"

Oh, dear... you are vastly underestimating pressures of non-modern society.

Modern society removes the following pressures...

  • Lack of food
  • Illnesses and other medical conditions causing everything from persistent tooth ache to acute death
  • Lack of energy to provide you with heat, cold, mechanical labour assistance.
  • Inability to communicate
  • Being forced work 12+ hour days before you have pubes

...and a whole host of other things we today take for granted and would throw an absolute fit if they remain unavailable for, anything from days to down to a few minutes.

In order to not re-introduce these pressures, you need to make the children essentially...

  • invulnerable
  • able to eat grass

...or there is no way that you will be able to give a realistically credible explanation to how children and adolescents can have a life that is "easy, peaceful, and positive" in just 1 generation after the downfall.

Starting from the contemporary world as it is today, simply will not work, because the children will face hardships that are quite terrible.


So, what are the possible solutions?

  • Use magic / science fiction technology. You introduce something that feeds and protects the children. Be it a robot community, aliens, benevolent grey goo, ancient spirits... anything of the sort that is able to provide sustenance and health care, and that loves kids.

  • Limit the setting to a few regions. Make the setting be something like the American mid-west, the equator and/or savannah, some place where food is abundant and dangers are few.

    Globally, you will not able to create these pockets of paradise. Any place where kids cannot survive the elements, will be depopulated. As a side note: all the abandoned chemical / waste / industrial sites will cause plenty of polluted hotspots.

    A paradise on Earth can only work if you deliberately make the setting small.

  • A new human species. Some pathogen was spread silently, that caused a change such that when the children were born, they were essentially no longer Homo Sapiens, but a new and vastly improved species.

    The disaster that happened was when old Homo Sapiens came to blows on what to do with these "new" humans. Parents — of course — wanted to protect their children, while others wanted to eradicate them, when they realised they would be replaced by these superior humans. In a twist of irony, these attempts at protecting Homo Sapiens, led to its downfall.

...or, perhaps...

  • Do not explain it at all. This is one of those situations where too much exposition and explanation may actually hurt the credibility of the setting. This is because the logic leaps you have to perform to have this make sense is just too great.

    So do not bother, just let the setting be as it is with nearly no explanation at all.


So, how can you create an apocalypse that kills adults, leaves kids alone, and lets the children adolescents have a paradise on Earth in just one generation?

You postulate it, and leave out the details.

You can hint at symptoms that afflicted the adults, but unless you introduce some magical factor, or limit the setting to really small regions, or make the protagonists be something other than plain old humans, then you do best to not over-explain it, because this will make the reader less willing to suspend their disbelief.

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A pandemic, but more brutality and fewer deaths

Confused? So pandemics generally have a scarring impact on populations by nature of their associated quarantines, fear factors, and so forth. Consider that COVID-19 has no doubt had an impact on the global citizenry, while also, broadly construed, keeping most of society intact.

What you need is a particularly brutal illness - one whose prognosis is terrible, with horrifying symptoms (you can look them up yourself... epidemiology is no short of the most repulsive symptoms known to humankind), but overall, not particularly lethal if one survives it. In other words, it must be torturous, and transmittable, but not particularly lethal (adjust as necessary). Those who have lived through such a pandemic would be terrifyingly scarred of the symptomology (imagine if teratomas (Warning: images are highly disturbing) could be transmitted). However, those who come afterwards, even if its the next generation, would be less exposed to the dangers and horrors of this disease, fulfilling your criterion.

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    $\begingroup$ OP stipulates that the apocalypse killed most of the human population, so it needs to be pretty lethal. Also, growing up with parents suffering from horrible disease symptoms may be pretty traumatising. What might work better is if the disease is very lethal, but the people who survived were the ones that were immune to it for some reason. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2023 at 12:22
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There's actually a whole subgenre of fiction that deals with this, sometimes called "Cozy Apocalypse Fiction" the general premise is that the Apocalypse was such that areas of denser populations such as major cities were more devastated than areas with a significantly less dense population. Typically, these genres rely on an apocalypse that is deadly to humans in close proximity to each other, such as war devastation, pandemic events, or Zombie Apocalypses, but it could be the Apocalypse had a large local devistation, but a global less immediate concern (such as a devestation of a breadbasket region, which has a devastating effect on food sources.).

One series example was the Mid-Late 2000s American Drama Series Jericho, which was centered around a rural farming town in the state of Kansas by the same name. The towns folk find themselves thrust into an immediate black out (media and power) and see a Mushroom Cloud in the direction of the nearest major city, Denver, CO, which is several hours away, though it becomes clear that it's not just a single city that was nuked. The story is how the towns people must come together and work together to survive the upcoming winter and figure out what happens next, with the major focus being on the mayor and his grown children's families, though other members of the community are focused on.

As with Jericho, the focus of this genre is the survival with little to no ability to rely on assistance from the outside world. For example, Jericho has plenty of food, but has to quickly find a means of storing enough of the food to last the winter without relying on modern electronic appliances or convivences, as well as how they handle relations with survivors from outside the community (since there is a very real threat that the outsiders are scouts for bands of looters.).

This is actually a very realistic story setting, as it was observed during 2020 that people who had the ability to do so, left their homes in urban city centers for suburban and rural communities to reduce the risk and that large cities were more likely to see larger spreads of those who did not leave.

In other examples, the event is absolutely devastating to a local area, and leaves larger world alive and well... but still has far reaching global effects. One hypothetical example is a single eruption event of the Yellowstone Volcano in Wyoming State. If it erupts in a single devestating explosion the devestation of the initial blast would be contained to some of the least populated states in the continental U.S and Canada. However, the resulting dust released into the atmosphere would result in a global cooling, the worst of which would almost certainly result in much of the Midwest of the U.S. to have widespread crop failure. In fact, the U.S. produces enough food to feed 1/4 of the global population. This would likely cause economic hardship on the survivors as global famine sets in and nations struggling to survive vie for power. Again, this has a basis in historical fact. When Krakatoa erupted in 1883, the vocanic winter that followed cooled the globe for the next four years. The eruption is largely blamed for the devastating winter of 1887-1888 which killed so many cattle in the U.S., it lead to the collapse of the American Beef industry, which never recovered to the power it had pre-87. The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora resulted in 1816 being labled "the year without a summer" and early winters resulted in global crop failures. In New York, a midsummer frost resulted in the failure of the corn crop and states north of that experienced had June snow falls to blame. In Europe, coming off of the heels of the Napoleonic Wars, it's estimated that twice as many people died in 1816 than the annual average (and this was the first year of peace following a 12 year continent wide period of War). Food riots occurred in the UK, France, and Switzerland (where they got to such a point that the government declared a national emergency).

And it bears repeating, if the Yellow Stone Caldera erupts with the full force in one single blast, will have nothing on Krakatoa or Tambora, two of the largest eruptions in the modern era. To give you an idea, Krakatoa's devestation was because it launched about 20 cubic kilometers of material into the atmosphere. A Yellow Stone Supervocanic event would launch 1,000 cubic kilometers of ash into the atmosphere.

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Another planet

Humans have found a Goldilocks planet to colonize. They start by sending automated ships to establish the basic utilities for them: solar panels, water treatment plants, and farms. Maybe there are some robots to do the work or maybe just all the pieces are there, it's up to you.

While building their human transports, something awful happens. Depending on how traumatized you want the adults to be, it could be any of the standard apocalypse situations from zombies to plague to nuclear war. However it works, only a few thousand people manage to flee to the transports and make it to the new world. Whatever happened on Earth has thoroughly decimated the planet and destroyed any chance that others will be able to follow. These are the last humans full of scars from the incident and the emotional toll of being the last survivors.

For an extra bit of separation between the adults and children, you could have the children grown in a lab on the new planet by the early preparation robots. The messed up adults might not be ready for children, but they have no choice because the children are there when they land.

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  • $\begingroup$ Few thousands is not enough to maintain a high-tech society, if Earth has fallen, there'll be no spare parts coming for high-end stuff -- no CPU, notably. This is not necessarily a problem, but it does mean that the society level will quickly regress to Middle-Age/Far-West level with only a few thousands. It could still be a Utopia. $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2023 at 7:42
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    $\begingroup$ OP can go any way they want with it. If regressing to a middle-age level works for their tale, they could do so. Maintaining a high-tech society would be possible provided those automated ships carry some sort of fabricator/3D printer along with some mining robots, which seems expected for an automated robot crew prepping a new planet for humans. Its just the setup to get to the traumatized adults raising innocent children, I think it all can be glossed over fairly easily. $\endgroup$ Commented May 23, 2023 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ Right, I was thinking of creating a new planet too ;) $\endgroup$
    – m4n0
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 10:54
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Sterility

See the story/movie "Children of Men". People just stop having kids. You can explain it (virus that causes a mutation, or something else) or leave it unexplained. If this effects only humans, all other animals are fine. Structures and technology are still in place (at least anything that survives possible wars).

However, some people are immune to the issue. They can still have kids, but the number of people for this is very small (relative to the population of the Earth). Maybe only a few thousand of the billions of people on Earth can still have children. The rest of the population is just aging out. The parents that can still have children may have been isolated from the rest of society. The kids have grown up in communities that were protected by the governments of the world, as a way to preserve the future of humanity. Everyone in these areas would probably be extremely thankful for the children they were able to have. This would lead to the children probably growing up in a very loving and caring environment (while everything outside of these protected communities has progressed to whatever level of chaos you want).

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  • $\begingroup$ Also Handmaid's Tale. A lot of the trauma of this event would be the effects of the first sharply reduced generation that experienced it seeing their parents and grandparents killed or euthanized as the few non-elderly adults are forced to care for themselves and unable to support a demographically top-heavy population. By the next generation, the few children born would have been spared these horrors and aside from growing up in a world largely without old people would have things easy. Although dated, the book Our Stolen Future presents the science for this possibility. $\endgroup$
    – Kirt
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 23:33
  • $\begingroup$ Joined the network to upvote this very answer after viewing all of them. This is the only answer that makes sense to me. You are a genius! $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 20:25
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Frame challenge: your premise is ignorantly nonsensical.

The whole point of an apocalypse is that it's apocalyptic. Just because there's a whole bunch of pre-apocalypse tech left over doesn't mean that you can just resume from right before the apocalypse started. Without the supply chains for food, medicine, fuel, and every other consumable under the sun (let alone services) that have enabled modern society to grow to its current extent, and have thus become a prerequisite for it - you can't have modern society.

The commercial-grade farming equipment you claim your post-apocalyptic children have - where do they get fuel for it? What about spares? Who do they turn to when the onboard computer throws a trouble code and tells them they have to take it to a dealer?

Refrigeration and aircon - where does replacement refrigerant gas come from? When a compressor fails, who furnishes a new one and swaps it out?

Most importantly, what is supplying the electricity to run all of this? Wind turbines and solar panels need their output to be properly balanced and conditioned or they'll just blow up any battery they're connected to. And the computers that do that are made of microchips, which exist at the very end of arguably the most complex and specialised supply chain in human history.

Not to mention that you need batteries, which are also incredibly complex to manufacture.

Your post-apocalyptic children aren't going to be frolicking in the fields, they're going to be dying of bacterial infections, or dysentery, or childbirth, or literally thousands of other things that modern society and medicine shields us from. And if they aren't dying from those causes, they're going to be spending the entirety of their days tending their meagre crops so that their entire settlement doesn't die of starvation. One flood, one drought, one hailstorm, one pest invasion, and they're all goners.

In fact, these children are probably not going to even exist, because their parents are going to be so busy with the day-to-day business of not dying, and there will be so few resources to go around, that having another mouth to feed could be the end of the family as it currently exists. Heck, parents with younger kids at the start of the apocalypse are probably going to have to make some hard decisions about whether to leave the kids behind to save themselves.

And no, the people who are "prepared for an apocalypse" with their silly bunkers are not going to fare any better than the rest of us. All they accomplish is to live a little bit longer due to their supplies, because at the end of the day they're still dependent on the same vanished supply chains and they still die from the same easily-treatable diseases.

In short, there's no conceivable way in which your happy post-apocalyptic world can exist, nor any amount of suspension of disbelief that will allow it to.

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    $\begingroup$ The 99% of us that don't already have the knowledge and resources to survive will be among the dead nope, sorry, that's not how survival works. Just because you've prepared for an apocalypse doesn't mean you'll automatically survive it (e.g. if you're at work when the apocalypse happens and you can't get to your bunker at home), nor does that imply you're prepared for everything that happens afterwards. Statistically there are almost certainly going to be far more "unprepared" ordinary people who "accidentally" survive the apocalypse, than people who are "ready" for it. $\endgroup$
    – Ian Kemp
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ There are still plenty of machinists in this world who can build pumps, motors, turbines, and basic electronics in thier own garages. There are farmers and gardeners who understand WAY more about crop succession, fertility, and pest control than any medieval farmer ever did thanks to modern trade schools or 1000s of hours on YouTube. The list goes on. Yes, there will be a lot of "random" survivors, but they will be the people who surrounded themselves with skilled people and learned those skills. People without survival skills or access to them don't just luck thier way into making it. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Those machinists use tools made by other people with materials refined by other people. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki But they do wear out, especially the consumables. You might be able to grind a traditional lathe or shaper tool in a garage, but you're going to have trouble replacing that grinding wheel, or drills, endmills, or taps is a different story. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 20:31
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    $\begingroup$ Not to mention that one generation later, after being so busy making it through the apocalypse, I doubt anyone has enough time to teach things sufficiently to the next generation to prevent the decline. It's unlikely enough equipment and knowledge will survive to be able pass it on quickly enough to replicate what already exists to prevent a rapid decline. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 20:31
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First, frameshift:

Post-apocalyptic societies don't work. The tech base can't be maintained. Spares age even when they're not in use--some things will last for a long time but most contain components that break down fairly quickly.

Therefore, we need to look elsewhere--we need a self-sustaining tech base. You'll need to run the technology clock forward to the point the machines can supply human needs without anyone at the controls and you can't destroy that technology with the apocalypse. This basically limits you to pandemics.

However, what can sweep the world before it's discovered and quarantine measures are put in place--even if it spreads fast there will be people in what amounts to quarantine all the time (space missions, Antarctic research stations etc.) And why doesn't it stick around and harm the children? How can we breach the quarantines?

Your pandemic is not biological in the first place. Rather, some nefarious actor got the signing certificates for the neural implants everyone has and put out a very malicious update--since you're not limited by biology you can do pretty much anything with it.

The survivors are those who didn't have their implants yet. The computers have been taking care of them and have enough intelligence to understand that the implants are not to be used.

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The apocalypse, if that is even the right word to describe the last six years, simmered more than it flashed. The technology had been developing so quickly. Replacing cashiers and cab drivers with machines was a matter of convenience. When farmers and truckers gave way to automation, it became apparent that convenience was just a waypoint towards our utopia. Soon there was plenty for everyone -- food, transportation, then shelter and even medical care, were all free and abundant.

Most people didn't have to work anymore. Liberated from the 9 to 5, they were free to eat, drink, and merrymake as they pleased. Thank goodness for us few who saw that there was still work to be done. The children, those blessed gifts that no AI can fabricate or truly raise, needed us.

They call us the Teachers. We are all parents, but not all parents were called to be Teachers. Many parents forgot their children. Instead, they left physically or mentally, in search of a greater thrill to exceed their last high or a deeper stupor to numb the passage of time. We were called by the eyes of those abandoned children, and we brought them in to Teach them alongside our own.

By the third year, the simmer of the apocalypse began to roll. Years of unchecked indulgence stripped you of your inhibitions. There were horrible rumors: the Thrilled had started harvesting the Stupored for their twisted pleasures. If the rumors were true, we Teachers knew that the Stupored wouldn't last forever. So we acted quickly. We took the children before they could see or understand what was happening. We left to start this village where they would be safe.

It was another two years until the Thrilled found us, but we were prepared. No Thrilled who discovers our village has ever left alive. Teachers have sacrificed themselves to make sure that the children never see the Thrilled here.

With each attack, the Teachers witness the awful fate that we must be willing to accept. We are breaking and cannot last. But the Thrilled are coming less frequently. They are dying off. We will last long enough for the children to know only innocence and safety, and then we will succumb.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sounds a lot like a Behavioral Sink apocalypse... not quite sure if it would follow the timeline I am looking for, but I really love your idea of a Teacher's encampment, I'll defiantly include it as a place in my setting, even if I go with a different actual apocalypse. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 14:59
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What about a rogue AI? It could either have barely been killed (maybe a solar flare affected all of earth's electronics at once) or remains dormant since humanity does not pose a threat to it any more. It could have caused a sudden collapse of essentially all technology while pushing us to civil war through misinformation. The adults would be left with trauma from the wars and lack of necessities and with a deep distrust for each other and technology.

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Plague

There is a plague that wipes out 99.99% of the population. Everyone in the cities dies since illness spreads faster.

The safest people are those in undeveloped countries that do subsistence farming and gathering. These societies do not collapse as heavily since they don't have complex supply chains or import goods from thousands of miles away.

Only 90% of these people die. But then the plague goes away and the remaining 10% pick up the plough or the fishing rod and life goes on.

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Actually the WW2 sort of did this for Europe. The young generation born during the post war baby-boom (yes, boomers) had a very positive outlook on life. This was not for everyone, some of the traumatized parents had traumatized children.

It is not the apocalypse that is relevant, but what comes after. The rebuilding of society and the progress that was made possible with outside help (Marshall plan) made the new generation thrive. Either your Apocalypse is not global, or it is and aliens help out afterwards.

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Best solution that comes to mind for me is a pandemic. Design the pathogen how you see fit with whatever symptoms / affects that align with the outcomes you see fit.

Almost any occurrence can be explained though how the bug manifests itself, demonstrated from stories like Walking Dead, The Last of Us, or even highly complex genetic expression like in Larry Nevins Pak Protectors .

Though, I can't help but note that I disagree with your time line of, collapse > loss of functional adults in society > rebirth to peaceful reorganization in a Lord of the Flies world.

Humans don't accept change well, we in general resist and cling to it, even violently especially if survival is at stake. I would expect upheavals and conflict when means of sustenance change. Such as when means of acquiring resources goes from scavenging what is left from the remains of civilization where the dwindling useful resources are hoarded by a few, then when production of new resources emerges protection and nurturing of the emerging skills and those resources.

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  • $\begingroup$ could it perhaps be a pathogen that initially appears like a flu, but causes brain damage immediately that makes people forget how bad it is and lose their risk tolerance, and AIDS 10 years later? Because we may have some real world precedent for that... $\endgroup$ Commented May 16, 2023 at 15:47
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Disease

A disease sweeps the world that kills off anyone who is infected by it. They die slowly, and it hurts the whole time they are dying. Flick through the symptoms you can unlock on a game like plague inc and pick a combination that seems suitably horrifying. A personal choice might be delirium and dementia: seeing your family members rapidly lose their minds and forget who you, they, and everyone around them are would probably mess me up pretty bad.

But it doesn't affect everyone, some people are genetically immune to it or are less affected by it. Perhaps for them, the symptoms are temporary and non-lethal or leave them traumatised and struggling to think straight but alive. Those who survive are wary of gathering in large cities due to a combination of fears of a new disease mutating or spreading in cramped quarters, and because who wants to run and clean a skyscraper when there's only a dozen of you and nowhere to farm food? So, they spread to the countryside where they can be self-sufficient, and the survivors have children who, as both of their parents were immune, are also immune

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A highly virulent and deadly pandemic.

Consider a highly infectious airborne virus with a long incubation period during which carriers are asymptomatic yet highly contagious. This would allow the virus to spread extensively before it's even detected. The virus could also have a very high mortality rate. It would spread through cities like wildfire, wiping out a large percentage of the population before effective containment measures could be implemented.

The world would watch in horror as city after city fell to the virus. Panic and fear would be rampant. Governments would collapse. The global economy would be in ruins. Those who survived would be left in a world filled with grief and loss, their psyches scarred by the horror they'd witnessed.

But here's the twist: the virus has a unique trait. After a person is infected, whether they survive or die, the virus goes dormant and embeds itself in their genetic code, like some forms of herpes or HIV do in real life. In this dormant state, the virus is harmless, and can even be passed on to offspring. But it confers immunity to the original strain of the virus.

So the children born to the survivors would grow up in a world that's been wiped clean of the virus. They would carry the virus in their genes, but it would never harm them. They'd grow up hearing stories of the time before, of the world that was lost, but they themselves would never experience the horror that their parents did.

This world could have all the trappings of a post-apocalyptic setting, with remnants of the old world scattered around, but without the constant life-or-death struggle that characterises many such settings. These children would grow up in a world at peace, a world where they could afford to be innocent, even naive.

The contrast between the traumatised older generation and the innocent younger one would be stark. The parents would carry the psychological scars of the pandemic, the grief of lost loved ones, the guilt of surviving when so many others didn't. They'd look at the world their children were growing up in, so different from the one they knew, and they'd feel a complex mix of relief, envy, and perhaps even resentment.

Meanwhile, the children would grow up in a world full of promise and potential. They'd be free to dream, to explore, to make the world their own. But they'd also have to grapple with the legacy of the pandemic, with the knowledge that the world they knew was built on the ashes of the old one. They'd have to find a way to honour the past without being bound by it, to learn from their parents experiences without letting those experiences define them.

This scenario has the advantage of being quite realistic, which is something I prefer personally, and of all the potential causes, is the most likely to actually happen. We've seen the devastation that pandemics can cause, both in terms of lives lost and societal disruption. A pandemic on the scale described here is certainly within the realm of possibility, given the right (or wrong) combination of virus traits. And the psychological and societal effects of such a pandemic would be profound, providing ample material for exploring the themes you're interested in.

I like personally like the idea you're going for, as some have mentioned there's a genre called cosy catastrophe in which such a story would fall in to. This pandemic scenario should provide you with a solid foundation that you can build on, somewhat similar to the scenario that people who lived through WW2 experienced, with their children not knowing the horrors of what their parents endured.

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Something like medieval black death

A fitting historical reference would be the "Black Death", the plague epidemic in late medieval Europe. This killed half the continent's population in a few years, but left the existing means of production intact for the time being (these were only destroyed later by non-use, lack of population, lack of demand). In fact, the "Black Death" - or rather the sharp decline in population - caused social changes that made the age of renaissance possible. The apocalypse thus brought progress.

Unlike in the desired scenario and mentioned by most respondents here, however, it was not the rural areas but the cities that were the best place for long-term survival. While important cities such as Venice or Florence (although they had far above-average death rates) were important cities again after only a few years, many rural areas were almost completely depopulated for decades (or even completely extinct, such as the European settlements on Greenland).

On the one hand, this has to do with genetic diversity: Where there are more people, there are more survivors. The chance is much higher that those who have the genetic make-up for long-term survival (e.g. resistance to the pathogen) can meet and ensure healthy offspring.

On the other hand, this has to do with the accessibility of means of production: If, for example, the plough was broken and there was only one blacksmith in the neighbouring village to repair it, who then died of the plague - then replacement was almost impossible for the entire region. In the larger towns, on the other hand, there were several blacksmiths, most of whom died - but not all of them. Likewise, in the cities there were simply many more supplies (empty houses of dead inhabitants ...) that could be looted to ensure short-term survival.

The struggle for survival in the cities affected by the plague was certainly extremely traumatic for all survivors (as far as I know, the cultural concept of the apocalypse in Western cultures stems from the experiences of this very period). The at least temporary breakdown of the usual social order, severe illness and deaths in every family, the need to literally clear away piles of corpses. Enough to give an entire population post-traumatic stress disorder.

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  • $\begingroup$ FYI: The Western Civilization concept of the apocalypse originated at least 3500 years ago in the the Zoroastrian religion. It was called the Frashokereti. This then went on to inspire a wide range of other apocalypse beliefs including the Judeo-Christin Armageddon, the Norris Ragnarok, the Hindu Kali Yuga, etc. The Western Concept of the Armageddon was already a deeply engrained belief by the 1300s, but became a central focus for a lot of art and literature in response to the black death. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ Also, most sources say that cities were hit worse than the rural areas. Do you have a source that claims the opposite? $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jun 2, 2023 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ About a year ago, an interesting study was published that used fossil pollen to investigate the impact of the Black Death on agriculture at that time and the demographic changes that accompanied it. It was probably highly variable from region to region: nature.com/articles/s41559-021-01652-4 In Germany, there are still countless traces of so-called "Wüstungen". The sources assume a higher five-digit number of settlements that were abandoned during this period - among them were no larger towns. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abandoned_village#Germany $\endgroup$
    – domai2312
    Commented Jun 3, 2023 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ It was meant in such a way that one has to distinguish between the direct consequence of the epidemic (fatalities) and the indirect consequences (continuation of the economic foundations) if one wants to look at the state of affairs a generation later. Of course, there were many more deaths in the cities directly. But: while it happened that in rural areas economic activity ceased completely after a short time and these were abandoned, this has not been handed down from a single late medieval town in Europe. $\endgroup$
    – domai2312
    Commented Jun 3, 2023 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ Oh I see, you were referring to the continued exitance of settlements, not individual people. Yes, that makes since. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jun 5, 2023 at 15:30
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So. Here's my idea. You could have a pathogen or whatever, some sort of virus, that affects pregnant women, (well, their babies' brains.) It causes them to live in a sort of dream world, free of troubles because they're not aware of them. However, most don't survive this thing invading their brain, and when they're born, they're still-born and horrifying, so you have the trauma of a miscarriage, a horrifying sight, and rapid population decay. (This is what I came up with as a writer, if anyone can help explain it, please do.)

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First there was an extremely high-tech interstellar civilization.

Among the planets being terraformed was New Eden. A bunch of bio-engineers decided to go all-out and create ecosystems entirely out of species we'd like to be around, designing them from scratch if necessary.

Something went wrong. Left vague what. Possibly involving heavily networked technology being subverted. Or maybe plain-old civil war. Those involved in New Eden gathered whom they could and fled there, first destroying all records of the place's existance.

They arrived there by ballistics and aero-breaking. Not much survived of the ships and they didn't try to keep around what did.

So they have a neo-lithic tech level at a low population density in a gorgeous environment with no diseases that can affect them, no large predators, nothing poisonous... It's quite pleasant.

If you don't remember what you lost.

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Climate change

Climate change is a hot topic. Even if you do not believe in it, there is a tipping point in nature. It goes all rught up to a point, and suddenly it breaks down catastrophically.

Let's imagine a two or three year scenario. I read yesterday we had a water surface temperature 5° higher than normal in an incredibly large area. If this heat also spreads to lower it can wreak havoc. A singke degree might be laughable for us, but deeper in the sea it's different. With less light and high water pressure the temperatures is incredibly stable. Changes here can impact the ecosystem enormously. This has a knockdown effect, where many species of fush can get decimated in a year or two. This creates a shortage of food from the sea.

A second ecological disaster can be insects, like bees. We already see in many areas of the real world that insect counts have been decimated. If many suddenly go extinct or get decimated further thanks to more extreme climates, our land based ecosystem can be decimated as well.

Add in that in some areas a drought can last for weeks where normally this never hapoens, or floods, or does both in a single year, and everything from large ancient trees to simple bushes can die.

World hunger

This is a recipe for a world hunger event. People will get traumatised, as they were absolutely helpless to do anything about it (at the time it started). They will have watched friends and family die of hunger or aggression to get food. They might barely have survived themselves. They watched cities becime ghost towns, full with dead.

Nature also has the potential to bounce back. It can take a bit to find new balance with less species and changing environments. But the strongest have survived. Better against drought or hunger or whatever was wrong. Maybe just migrated to a new better suited area. Nature returns in force, giving humanity another chance.

Climate change can still endure, but for now the world has adapted. It is idyllic, as the food is now more than enough for the survivers and their children. Technology hasn't changed, though the amount of people isn't enough for the many factories. Knowledge is lost and some things cannot be produced any more. You can still have high quality double glazing or GPS coordinated farm equipment, while some other technology is lost.

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I'd suggest a solar storm which caused immense havoc on technology. Most people nowadays live in cities, and large cities can only store enough food for maybe 3 days or so. With technology failing, so does the intricate global transportation network. The modern world is so interconnected, and no nation is capable of supporting itself without international trade anymore, so this would cause modern society to collapse.

This leads to the darkest aspects of humanity coming to the forefront as people tend to act like beasts during such times; riots, violence, rape, etc. That explains the trauma of the survivors. At the same time, the desperate attempts to get tech working again explains why they still have some technology in the future; most of it is pieced together from salvaged parts, or was turned off/unplugged when the solar storm hit.

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Seemingly, based on the answers above(&below) a perfect storm of events might suit.

Solar Flares causing planet wide EMP like blackouts on technology. With communications down, information blocked, people will fall into anarchy.

This in turn means no way to communicate that the 'seals' of Disease Labs are now failed, and the flares caused some way for the diseases to escape, pandemic occurs, but only in patches and only for population centres.

Possibly the military manages to contain the issues, clear the diseases, and re-establish comms, but not before half of the population has succumbed.

BUT, the eletromagnetic effect on the populace is to decrease the negative/angry population, to the point that some passives are just too passive to care, this angers some people, but not enough to do much about it.

People have devolvled society into communities, everyone knows everyone, and those miscreants that used to thrive in a anayonmous world, can't. without their phones, their cash, their electronic skills, they fail to contribute, and can't earn. swathes of teens starve without the ability to tiktok and influence for cash.

All digital storage is gone, all websites are gone, BUT the physical machines are still able to be re-installed from physical discs, It might take 10 years to rebuild PCs to be usable, and networks to be workable, but in that time, people have had nothing to do but breed, AND they know that staying reliant on tech was/is a bad idea. Do it for real, becomes the mantra.

People revert to 1950s thinking, building machines to last, not to fail and get replaced. engineers build things to survive, last 100s of years, because only those 1950s-1908s machines are still properly working, every thing else has gone into disrepair if it wasn't quickly re-established and rebuilt.

The surviving 30-somethings can't handle the world, they are in PTSD, missing their convienience. Karens can't survive, the 40-50s have it better, as they kinda remember these times, and 60yr olds are left running society for a while as their grandkids are the future. The generation of under 12s run in feilds, play in trees, go home for 'video conference school's for a few hours , and physical schooling on their farms or in their small towns.

There is no TV, because all the shows are gone, and the physical ones that survived are yet to be "uploaded", so only local cinemas can show 'some' movies. Who has time for that, if they spend 10 hours a day farming / working out how to get the equipment working again.

It won't last.. in another 10 years, they'll have figured out how to pull a git copy of youtube from a sealed server somewhere, and society will begin its decent once again.

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