Apocalyptic Logistics

Gangs roamed the streets like characters in a Road Warrior rip-off, only to discover it was impossible to maintain their gas-guzzling vehicles without a massive support infrastructure.
Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space

In Real Life, a lot is needed to produce, distribute, and maintain much of what we take for granted. Cars need someone to mine and process the materials for the parts, someone to pump the oil, and so on. Guns need someone to produce the weapon materials, ammo, and someone to put it together. Refined foods need a large base in order to be accessible to a large number of people. Even an object simple as a wooden pencil needs all sorts of industry and resources to bring it together. (Someone has to get the wood, someone has to mine or manufacture the graphite, someone has to get the rubber for the eraser, etc.) And of course for all of these, someone needs to ship the finished product from one end of the world to another.

In short, if something were to happen to upset the system behind much of what we use in the modern world, production of and access to such things would be very difficult, if not impossible.

However, After the End, the loss of the infrastructure that allows for all of this seems to be only an inconvenience for the characters, rather than the huge game changer it would be. While vehicles, weapons, and other goods tend to be rusted out and made from all sorts of scrap, they are only marginally less effective than their pre-apocalypse counter-parts, and finding the resources to maintain them is only a mild inconvenience at worst, or not even a thought at best. Sometimes, the work will even ignore the rusted out part, and pre-apocalypse goods will look no worse for wear than they were before the bombs fell and the dead rose from their graves. Simply digging them out might even be the key to victory. This can be even more jarring if the work is set generations after the fall, and the world is still at rock-bottom, yet finding functional pre-apocalypse goods isn't too much of a hassle, and/or making post-apocalypse equivalents still isn't that difficult, nor are they that worse off compared to the former.

In many cases, an Acceptable Break from Reality, because unless the main focus of the work is to look at the hardships the people in the aftermath face in getting modern necessities; it would be quite slowing on the pacing of the story to have to have segments that simply feature resource gathering and production. Can be Handwaved in having it happen off-screen, or having the characters have access to an untouched remnant of civilization. Can be justified in the early years of The Plague stories, in which the population was decimated enough to keep the infrastructure intact, along with any supplies therein. Of course, production of new resources would be another matter.

Compare and contrast with Scavenger World. Compare with Apocalypse Not. Sister tropes to Cosy Catastrophe, as the ability to enjoy the now empty planet would involve not having to worry about obtaining resources to live, however, unlike CC, this trope isn't necessarily enjoyable for the characters.

Examples

Comic Books
  • The second book of Axa scripted by Donne Avenell and drawn by Enrique Romero has some cities under domes doing unusually well. However, the outside world is largely a Death World full of shambling mutants and Killer Rabbits. What's left of Las Vegas fits this trope, in that while it has lost its neon glare, the gaming continues unabated. In fact, gladiator games were added so that desperate losers could score a sizable jackpot, provided they survive all the other losers.
  • In DC Comics Presents #57, Superman cites this as a reason to be suspicious of the post-apocalyptic world of the Atomic Knights, which he has seemingly been transported to. The original Atomic Knights stories zigzagged this, with some stories being more plausible about infrastructure collapse than others.

Film
  • The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome: The whole premise behind the films is the collapse of civilization brought on by Post Peak Oil, yet one character flies a plane, and some other characters are seen driving cars (that are not powered by methane.)
  • In Land of the Dead, luxury commodities desired by the tower's upper classes are still available, and even still marketable, despite the complete breakdown of all means of production. High-end alcohol and jewelry still fetch a higher price than canned food, even though they're scrounged in exactly the same way and the former aren't necessary for survival.
  • In Zombieland the characters have no real problem getting cars. Food's surprisingly abundant (unless it's twinkies,) and even electricity's shown to be pretty easy to rig (at one point they're able to power up an entire theme park and at another they just chill for a bit watching HD-DVDs in Bill Murray's luxury Hollywood mansion.) Possibly justified in that the survivors we follow are well established as being Crazy-Prepared.
    • Also justified by the movie taking place quite soon after the collapse, as indicated by the characters' appearances being completely unchanged in their pre-collapse flashbacks and the vegetation mostly appearing to have been tended fairly recently.
  • Deconstructed for laughs in Delicatessen, a Black Comedy in which inhabitants of a bizarre multi-floor house have almost everything they need except food, so they become cannibals hiring and eating their janitors.

Literature
  • Averting this trope is the raison d'Ítre of the Dies The Fire series, which starts with the premise that a tiny change to the laws of physics (combustion happens slightly more slowly, enough that gunpowder, internal combustion engines, and electronics don't work) causes civilization to collapse. Without industrialized farming or an efficient way to transport food from farms to population centers, a lot of people get very hungry very quickly.
  • Averted in World War Z, when one interviewee begins by lecturing the interviewer on what it takes to make a can of root beer, when even local all-natural resources like grass-fed cattle are too inefficient to maintain in the face of the Zombie Apocalypse. At the very end of the book, that same man is holding a barbecue, serving grass-fed steaks and root beer.

Live Action TV
  • Revolution uses this a lot. When the Blackout stops electricity from working civilization collapses and millions die. Fifteen years later, the Monroe Republic has serious logistical issues and can't even mass produce bullets and has just managed to get a steam train working again. However, when electricity is brought back, various vehicles and even helicopters are quickly made operational even though their systems must have degraded a great deal during the intervening period and any replacement parts would be in similar condition. There is also enough gasoline and aviation fuel to operate them.
  • The Walking Dead. While supply runs are a major facet of the show, well-maintained cars are driven around without any mention of fuel, or any show of characters getting it. While there are ample abandoned vehicles scattered about, that probably have fuel, the show is now over a year into the apocalypse in an area with plenty of other people, making it questionable that gas would be that easy to get a hold of. Ammo is mentioned to be scarce, but firefights in the show don't seem to show otherwise.
  • Jeremiah. Crops up a few times. In an early episode, the characters briefly talk about how 'farming' is starting up again 'down south.' Not mechanized and industrial farming surely. Nor would such farms be of any use to Jeremiah or his friends as there is no transportation system, or systems of any kind period to transport food in any event. In the second season, Jeremiah meets a man whose life ambition is to be a 'baker.' Needless to say, any bakeries he came across equipment would all be electrically powered (no grid,) rusted, and seized, and it's never discussed where the wheat (flour,) yeast, clean water, sugar, salt, etc. would come from to supply his would-be bakery. Even worse, there is no formal 'economy' of any kind, besides barter and salvage in the town he lives in-no money and everyone is still more or less permanently hungry. If he did manage to overcome the (many) logistical hurdles, his fellow townspeople would likely simply rob him of all his food and not feel bad about it later.
  • Lampshaded in the first The Day of the Triffids TV series. Coker says they've got to remember not only how to use and build things, but also how to find and shape the materials used to make them.
  • The title of Threads is a reference to this — in the aftermath of the nuclear attack, British society goes to hell because the "threads" that hold society together have been cut. All industry collapses, farming becomes impossible, medicine is reduced to crude and horrific levels, diseases spread due to a lack of sanitation and proper burial of the dead and even language starts to break down.

Video Games
  • BattleTanx: Somehow, biker gangs and other rag-tag groups acquiring many, many, fully functional tanks, a wide range of weapons, including nukes and experimental energy weapons isn't uncommon in a world that was devastated by a population decimating plague and a nuclear war.
  • In Just Cause 2, Hantu Island is a forsaken military base manned by (supposedly) 100-year old Japanese soldiers who still think WWII is going on. They have access to modern vehicles and weapons and seem to have all the fuel, food, and electricity they need despite being isolated for decades on an island with little natural resources.
  • Advance Wars: Days of Ruin states that most of the human population was killed off in the Apocalypse, and the earth itself is mostly just a barren wasteland full of destruction and desolation. However, there's still plenty of machine tool factories and workers who know how to build tanks and artillery, and train infantry for battle. Granted, the story takes place in two former military superpowers who had just spent decades at war with each other.
  • Metro2033 and Metro: Last Light. While pre-war ammo is now a currency, and weapons are largely cobbled together from spare parts, in both games there are enough resources to cobble together fully functional tanks, and train cars that are self-propelled. While the fuel could be justified in being methane from pigs, or vodka from mushrooms no remarks are given as to how it would be refined and put to use in vehicles. Weapon mods are also readily available and used quite a bit by mooks in Last Light, although since the game takes places in and around military installations after the Third World War, could be justified as coming from military stock.
    • It should be noted that these "tanks" are basically just railcars with metal welded on as armor and mounted machine guns as weapons. Most trains are also shown to be handcars, while the few self-propelled ones belong to one of the three major factions in the Metro. In one level the Rangers ride on a train that is explicitly shown to be fueled by wood.
  • Fallout: Ammo and pre-war guns, while rusted out and not in the best of condition, are still common enough to be in the hands of most mooks and available in many shops. Even more complex energy weapons are still a relatively common find. Despite being over 200 years since the bombs fell, pre-war supplies can still be found in abundance in ruined buildings, in areas with beings that would have had found them and used them long before the game even started. The larger factions have their own manufacturing capabilities, justifying this to some extent, but they (barring the New California Republic and its affiliates, which by the time of Fallout: New Vegas encompasses California and some areas beyond) have far more resources to produce new supplies than they realistically should, and there are still a lot more useable items just lying around than there should be.

Real Life
  • This would be zig-zagged. Gasoline would go bad before the year is up, yet canned food would still be edible for many years. Things made up of stainless steel, glass, and plastic would remain intact (perhaps even usable) for a long time as well. Depending on how long it has been after the end, and the population levels before and after, availability of resources might not be that bad at first. However, the production and transportation of said things would be an entirely different matter...