Ancient Apocalypse: How the Netflix Hit Proves There is Still Uncharted Territory for Fiction
Updated: Jan 17
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Maybe it Hasn't All Been Done Before in Speculative Fiction.
In the age of streaming services, we are overwhelmed with an endless selection of new and old shows. But sometimes, we come across something completely unexpected and unique. Such is the case with Netflix's Ancient Apocalypse, a show that proves to me, regardless of what you think of its claims, that there is still unexplored terrain available for speculative writers.
There are a few things that speculative fiction writers can learn from Graham Hancock's Ancient Apocalypse.
Looking at something old with new eyes.
Adopting a childlike wonder.
Questioning/testing the accepted truths of society.
A Brief Summary of the Netflix Hit, Ancient Apocalypse.
Ancient Apocalypse follows Graham Hancock as he travels the world to present viewers with a story of history. This story posits that what we have been told about the beginning of civilization up until now is incomplete.
Whether you like Hancock or not or think he is out to lunch makes no difference here. I like him, though I don't necessarily agree with everything he says. But no one can deny (at least no creative person) that the ideas presented in the show are...well... cool.
I happen to know a lot about this topic so let's review it quickly. In the show, the basic idea (for which I found the breadth of supporting evidence to be strangely missing from the show) is that there was a terrible catastrophe between 13,000 and 11,600-ish years ago that wiped out most of humanity. After this is when the "civilization" we know from the history books starts. As Graham likes to say, we are a species with amnesia.
I'm not here to debate the validity of these claims. If you are determined to argue (or learn more), go to The Cosmic Tusk or watch the Kosmographia podcast on Youtube and let Santa Claus tell you more.
But we are all about fiction here.
I read a lot of everything out of necessity for my work, but I really love fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. Tell you something you don't know, why don't I...?
So when I first encountered the ideas in the show (actually, when I first read Graham's books many years ago - click the images below and use our affiliate links to his books), I was ecstatic. Not just because it opened my mind to the possibility of there still being so much to learn about history, specifically pre-history, which has always interested me, but because it proved to me that there was still uncharted territory in speculative fiction.
Overview of Speculative Fiction.
Speculative fiction deals with imaginative and futuristic (or alternative past) concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, parallel universes, magic, etc. It often explores the potential consequences of scientific, social, and technological innovations.
The term "speculative fiction" was first used in the early 20th century by writer and editor Hugo Gernsback (Hugo Awards? You know it).
Since then, the genre has come to encompass a wide range of works, including novels, short stories, films, television series, video games, and comic books.
Speculative fiction can be divided into 3 wide sub-genres: science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Some people add supernatural to this. I don't. Supernatural, to me, is just a form of one of the others, depending on the story. Science fiction deals with themes of science and technology, while fantasy revolves around magic and otherworldly creatures. Horror focuses on scares and suspense.
Now, I don't know why I am preaching to the choir. Most anyone reading this already knows what speculative fiction is, or you probably wouldn't be here.
But I bring it up because after reading, editing, and writing so much speculative fiction...it's hard not to feel like there are no more ideas. Nothing that hasn't already been done before. Sure, you might have a unique individual take on old ideas, but they are still old ideas.
When I came across the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis, it changed something for me. I suddenly became very optimistic about the future of fiction. And not because the ideas were somehow new or unique for fiction. I mean, a lost civilization of the past, yadda yadda, we've all read that book before.
But because those ideas could only be made or accepted by people willing to look at something that we all agreed had an established history with new eyes. Something totally taken for granted, like the pyramids, and reinvent the wheel, as it were.
Like you were the first person to see them and had no previous knowledge of any research that had come before. Where would you start looking? What would you look at? What conclusions might you reach?
Now imagine for a second that this string of new conclusions has led to further research and even more new ideas leading to a whole paradigm about the pyramids. Give that as much time as current archeology has had, and what do you get? Do the two streams of research end up in the same place? Do they paint the same picture of history? Or do they look vastly different?
If you think they would look the same, then you are very optimistic about the institution of science's ability to uncover the truth...
If you think they would be very different...you're probably a science fiction writer.
Unless I'm right.
So now, what does this have to do with fiction writing?
In a world where every idea seems to be played out, we must be able to wow readers to be remembered. But it's an arduous task, and most authors won't do it.
We must take it beyond merely retelling old ideas with a personal twist. We must start reinventing the wheel.
My conditioning makes me cringe at saying that, actually. Because we have all heard that you should not do that since we were little peoples. But Ancient Apocalypse and its ideas proved that it might only be good advice in some situations.
Writing isn't one of them.
Stop trying to see fiction as done. Look at a topic from the beginning with the eyes of a child. Like no one has ever looked at society, people, places, etc., before you. Drop all the preconceived ideas about what a book should look like, what a particular technology will do, and so on.
Fantasy writers write new worlds, usually basing them off of ones that we know have existed in the past but with magic dropped in. But what if you could take that culture you are working off of and look at it as if everything you know about it is wrong? What does the new history of that world look like?
I'm rambling here, and what I say may not make sense. But even though it seems like there are no new stories to tell, no new topics to explore, that is wrong. I bet the ancient Greeks thought that same thing and could not even fathom the stories we have come up with in our era.
The moral of this post, if I had to put my finger on it, is to stop settling for just another speculative fiction novel. Start discovering new truths that readers couldn't have ever imagined. Then convince them of the possibility you are right.
Something that changes the paradigm of reality forever. Even if it's just for one person.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tessa Barron is the Editor-in-Chief at Foul Fantasy Fiction and Bear Hill Publishing. She specializes in developmental editing and writes Fantasy and Science Fiction when she is able to find the time under the pen name Turi T. Armstrong.