In his new book, The Great Bay: Chronicles of Collapse, author Dale Pendell has created a future that is alternately frightening and inspiring. Imagine for a moment that a global pandemic has decimated the worldâ€™s population, and the pillars of our society have begun to fall apart. Government, infrastructure, and laws have no value. Technology and money are useless, and all the ways in which we have abused the earth are finally catching up with us. This is the reality Pendell has constructed in The Great Bay: a world of failing societies and social norms and rising temperatures and ocean levels. The book focuses on the area formerly known as California and the great bay that forms in the stateâ€™s Central Valley. Spanning decades, centuries and millennia, Pendell tells the story of how the human spirit grows and evolves in the face of radical change.
Here’s a sneak peek at an excerpt from The Great Bay (scroll to the bottom for information on how to win a FREE copy of this book!):
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Believed to be the last issue of the New York Times, dated August 18, 2021, from the papers of Janet Conway, Archives of the Scholar’s Guild, Berkeley.
The First Decade of the Collapse
For a while they buried the bodies in mass graves with bulldozers. The National Guard had been deployed since the imposition of martial law. When the disease spread and the bodies became too many, they just burned them in houses, sometimes a whole block at a time. The electricity failed in August. In a week the gasoline supplies ran out and the smell of carrion in the cities was overpowering. Corpses lined the streets where people had carried them out of their houses and apartments, while there were still enough people who wanted to do that. Occasional helicopters flew over the cities telling people to stay in their homes. Nobody had any better idea. Dogs ate at the corpses and some people shot at the dogs; others, in frustration, shot at the helicopters.
2021 had been the hottest summer on record, even topping 2020. The power grid had been stretched to the breaking point for weeks. The â€śstrategic oil reservesâ€ť had been depleted the year beforeâ€”an election yearâ€”though the election was never held. The government had imposed rationing, though it didnâ€™t extend to private jets or to the air force. The stock market closed. Paper wealth disappeared overnight.
The disease struck the National Guard as hard as everyone else in the cities. Actually, the guardsmen stayed on the job longer than the corporate security armies protecting the wealthy suburbs, who equaled them in numbers. The guardsmen had a sense, at least a little sense, of legitimacy and loyalty to a cause beyond themselves. In the twenty-first century no one looked upon the corporation as the East India Company, as the spearhead of progress for whom the noble were willing to die. Nonetheless, by the end of August most of the guardsmen had deserted to escape the cities or to try to find their families.
One by one the power plants went dark, another kind of funeral pyre with no one to light it and keep it burning.
Nobody agreed on the precise nature of the pandemic. The government blamed an Asian influenza. Doctors said it was a new kind of chicken pox, or smallpox. There was a rumor that the disease was an army bug, a genetically engineered biological weapon that had back-fired, perhaps brought back by soldiers returning from the oil fields in Central Asia. The disease certainly spread with an engineered efficiencyâ€”two hundred million died in the United States in the first month.
Most agreed the power outage started in the Southwest, and that the blackout had spread from there.
In California the pumping stations went down. Los Angeles was without water, as was San Diego and most other large cities. The pandemic showed no signs of abating. People were still getting sick. The cities were the worst. Dysentery was widespread. There were rumors of typhus. Nobody wanted to risk infection. Nobody wanted to be around other people. In Central California the owner of a forty thousand acre ranch tried to protect the sovereignty of private property by shooting two trespassers and was killed by the third.
By October the population of the United States was about fifty million. Many had survived the disease, if crippled or blindedâ€”but the disruption was complete. People camped out in the country, alone, or in small groups. Sometimes whole families had escaped the infection; sometimes whole families had died together. Mostly, the world had become widows, widowers, and orphans.
There were no workers. Small groups of police operated as armed bands for their own benefit, pillaging and killing those who resisted. Regiments of the regular army were still functioning, but without electricity or fuel they had no clear objective. They couldnâ€™t find the people needed to bring back the power grid. Central leadership disintegrated, or was ignored. Entire regiments went AWOL.
Rumors of a refugee camp at the Vandenberg Air Force Base sparked a mass emigration from Santa Maria, thousands streaming twenty-five miles down Highway One through Casmalia onto the base. A colonel ordered his command to fire on the crowds to keep them out. No one obeyed his orders. The crowds swamped the base and refused to leave. After ten days they were too weak to leave.
In Lompoc two hundred forgotten prisoners in lockdown died in their cells. In other prisons it was worse.
Nuclear ships of the worldâ€™s navies cruised around the world, looking for a safe place to go. No one knew how the disease got onto the ships. Some suspected mosquitoes.
In Texas, the few surviving workers at a large game reserve released the animals, rather than watch them starve. Most of them starved anyway. Thousands of large cats were releasedâ€” there were more tigers in Texas than in the wildâ€”but most of them were too inbred to be able to feed themselves.
The disease moved around the world, mutated, and went around again. Communities at high elevations seemed to escape the worst of the disease, but they couldnâ€™t escape the shortages. Many died in the winter. The next summer the disease came through again, more sporadically if with no less virulence. In the United States, as much as that still existed by the autumn of 2022, the population was about fifteen million.
Groups began to form, and communities. Armed gangs would take over warehouses of food or other supplies, until some other armed gang took it away from them. There was no harvest in the fall of 2022â€”no one had planted anything. That winter the survivors ate up whatever was left of the stored food, and any odd- or even-toed ungulates they could find, and dogs and cats, and sometimes each other. Fishermen did better than many othersâ€”at least those with skiffs that could be rowed.
Vigilance committees formed. Sometimes there were trials.
Occasionally someone would find a stash of gasoline or diesel. There were still untapped gas tanks in abandoned vehicles and depots and buried tanks. The problem was that if you got too much, others would try to take it away from you. By the spring of 2023, those with any sense, and there were many, planted gardens. In the summer the disease made one more attack, but its virulence was somewhat attenuated. Children and those already weakened by malnutrition suffered the worst.
People who knew how to do things found each other. One group boot-strapped some hydroelectric power from a small dam on the Feather River, hoping to build off the local grid to gradually reconstruct an infrastructure. In the mountains anyone with gasoline saved it for their generators and the chainsaw, and then just for the chainsaw.
In Richmond, experienced workers were trying to get a refinery operating, but it was always catch-22: â€śWe need gasoline, so that we can make some gasoline.â€ť Some were saying that steam engines made more sense, but there werenâ€™t any steam engines. Food was a bigger and bigger problem. Urban fires were common and they burned until they burned themselves out.
People were working together because they wanted to help and because thatâ€™s what people do. No one worked for money because nobody cared about money. What there was there was lots of and it was free. What was scarce had to be bartered for with something else that was scarce. Paper currency was useful only for fires. In Oroville a turbine failed and the incipient electrical grid once again went black.
2022 and 2023 were the Hunger Years. People can endure near starvation for long periods of time while awaiting rescue or deliverance. But there were no deliverers, no rescuersâ€” there were no relief expeditions. People starved, quietly, and died quietly, and, like any animal who starves to death, with the dignity of acceptance.
In the autumn of 2023 some people in California were smart enough to gather acorns. In many parts of the world starvation was widespread. The last resort, the eating of the dead, became common. In some places no one survived who had not consumed the forbidden flesh. By spring of 2024 the population of the U.S. was eight million and still declining. People lost faith that the system of the old world would ever return and began to plan for the next yearâ€™s winter.
There were plenty of firearms and weaponry for everyone and everyone was armed, but the roving armed gangs had mostly self-destructedâ€”there was nothing left to steal. A lot of rural people were sorry they had eaten their horses. That fall the salmon were plentiful all up and down the west coast. Ships with sails were making a comeback. Acoustic music was all the rage.
Rural communities banded together for self-defense. The cities were ghost towns. Local governments took on an astonishing array of forms: democracies, consensus confederations, fiefdoms, bandit armies.
Maybe because Californians were more used to eccentric religious cults than the rest of the country, the wave of revivalism and zealotry that followed the pestilence was less virulent there. In Texas religious warfare involved firearms. There were lynchings in the South. Jews were killed. In the impoverished hills of New Hampshire and Vermont the petty small town bigotries and envies and animosities, never far beneath the surface, burst forth with an old-fashioned stoning. Mostly, though, pragmatism won out and the witches were needed as doctors.
In California, if anything, the sheer variety and diversity of the cults discouraged lethal rivalries. There were fundamentalist cults, Pentecostal cultsâ€”even the Methodists returned to the tents. There were antinomian Ranters, free-love Diggers, and all manner of communes: Eastern, New Age, prophetic, and libertine. There were pagan earth cults, death cults, Gnostic cults, Goddess cults, tantric cults. There was a cult that believed ingesting hallucinogenic mushrooms conferred immunity to the â€śWhite Plague.â€ť There was an all-womenâ€™s collective in Santa Cruz. Penitentes returned, hemp-smoking saddhus carrying heavy crosses to the glorious apocalyptic wedding of Jesus and Kali.
Christians who had been expecting the Rapture set new dates. The dates passed and they set new dates. Those dates passed and the groups split, and split again. Hundreds of new and revived heresies appeared: Arians who denied the Trinity, Cainites who preached that God was evil, New Cathars practicing coitus reservatus, Monophysites denying the humanity of Christ, Swedenborgians with their angels. Several Jewish millenarian sects appeared and flourished, devoted to asceticism and constant prayer.
A charismatic preacher in Hollywood received a vision that the Second Coming could be achieved only by destroying everything that was left of the sinful world before the Collapse. His powers of oration were able to pull together a band of several hundred desperate souls who burned books and warehouses throughout Los Angeles. The libraries at UCLA were ransacked. The group moved through Cahuenga Pass and started fires in the San Fernando Valley, scavenging food as they went. After several months the group dispersed, but like groups appeared around the country for another decade.
In 2025, on a rural commune in the Sacramento Valley, someone heard a short wave broadcast in an unknown language from some part of the world that still had a functioning infrastructure. Someone else heard a call from a Russian submarine. Otherwise, all the news was local. Two more years passed and the population began to stabilize at about four million, 1/80th of what it had been five years before. About a quarter of the children were still being taught to read by their parents, but fewer and fewer young people showed any interest. Snaring rabbits and small rodents was a popular pastime.
A clever machinist was building steam engines from old oil barrels and salvaged pistons. Somebody made a hot air balloon. Distillation was common wherever people could grow corn. Mechanics who remembered carburetors adapted some engines to ethanol. Old tractors that could be converted became precious, as did antique automobiles. Groups of youths would make forays into the cities to hunt rats. No one knew what the rats ate.
Ships occasionally arrived on the east coast from Europe, vainly hoping that things might be better in America. The pandemic had spread across Europe as had the Black Plague, but at jet speed and with a designed lethality. Mortality in the cities had been over ninety percent.
But the Collapse had been piecemeal in Europeâ€”some pockets survived with a functioning infrastructure for over a year. France kept their nuclear generators going for months. But no oil or coal was moving anywhere, and by 2023 even the frugal ran out of fuel and had to turn off their lights. Much of Northern Europe could have survived on coal, if theyâ€™d had any food. But they didnâ€™t. Eastern Europe might have acceded to some cultural dominanceâ€”they had the most farmers who could function without machineryâ€”had they not started fighting each other. Around the Mediterranean the coastal fishing peoples avoided the worst of the famines.
The pandemic kept bouncing across Europe and Asia like a wave in a box. High density areas were hit the worst. Depopulation of the lowlands of China was almost complete. In India, isolated rural communities did better than the cities. Lapps survived as well as anyone. And Chukchis.
Africans, like everyone else, died in heaps. It wasnâ€™t a fast enough decline to save the chimpanzees, or the gorillas, but it was enough to save the elephants, and the antelope, at least for a while. In South America the highest survival rate was in the Amazon.
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Want more? Answer the question “What’s in your post-apocalyptic knapsack?” on the discussion board of The Great Bay Facebook fan page and you could win a free copy of the book!