‘‘By the Waters of Babylon’’ is considered science fiction by most definitions of the genre. Science fiction is literature that focuses on how science and technology affect humanity and the world around us. Although no single definition is widely accepted, science fiction in general depicts a world different from our own, but different in ways that do not violate basic laws of nature. In this way, science fiction is different from fantasy. Very often science fiction stories are set in the future, which allows writers to show the long-term results of certain scientific or social developments on a grand historic scale.
The first known piece of literature generally acknowledged as science fiction is Lucian of Samosata’s True History , written in the second century . This humorous work tells of a journey into outer space and encounters with alien life-forms. The development of modern science fiction is generally credited to three men: Edgar Allan Poe, some of whose stories relied upon the application of scientific principles to reach a resolution; Jules Verne, who used a rigorous scientific viewpoint to lend authenticity to his fantastical adventures; and H. G. Wells, who created the first modern examples of story types now fundamental to the genre, including tales of time travel ( The Time Machine , 1895) and alien invasion ( The War of the Worlds , 1898).
‘‘By the Waters of Babylon’’ is an example of postapocalyptic fiction. This type of fiction is usually concerned with describing humanity’s place in the world following some sort of devastating setback to civilization and the human species. This setback might come in the form of war, plague, forces of nature, technological accident, or even alien invasion. The term post-apocalyptic is derived from the biblical Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse of John, which offers a vision of humanity’s last days on Earth—though the term apocalypse has a broader meaning in religious studies. There is also a sub-genre of literature referred to as apocalyptic fiction, which depicts the actual catastrophes that befall humanity. These tales include both the catastrophic event and its aftermath.
Post-apocalyptic fiction was not widely seen until the aftermath of World War II, in which the power of nuclear devastation was shown to be not only possible but all too real. Some of the most popular examples of post-apocalyptic fiction include the novels When Worlds Collide (1933) and After Worlds Collide (1934) by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer, and the novel the Beach (1957) by Nevil Shute. More recently, the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Road (2006) by Cormac McCarthy and The Matrix film trilogy (1999–2003) by Larry and Andy Wachowski are examples of post-apocalyptic storytelling.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Published by Gale Group, 2010