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Apocalyptic Logistics

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"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."

In Real Life, a lot of elements are needed to produce, distribute, and maintain much of what we take for granted. Cars need someone to mine and process the metal for the parts, someone to extract and refine 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 food production and processing system in order to be accessible to a large number of people. Without rail traffic and maintenance, rail lines get overgrown by vegetation or washed out. 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. Speaking of transportation, one of the most commonly used substances for motorized transportation, gasoline, does not sit long. If it were ideally stored with periodic stirring and temperature control; it could last several years. Otherwise gasoline is unusable after 6-12 months. Post-apocalypse depictions people driving cars around years after the end of civilization are unrealistic.

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. Some post-apocalyptic works depict people driving around and using guns with little or no references to challenges getting gasoline, parts, and ammo.

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, this trope is an Acceptable Break from Reality, as the inclusion of segments purely dedicated to resource gathering and by-hand production of parts and materials would considerably slow the pacing of the story, unless the main focus of the work is to look at the hardships people in the aftermath face in getting and making modern necessities. Can be Hand Waved by having it happen off-screen, or allowing the characters access to an untouched remnant of civilization (e.g., a huge underground bunker filled with equipment, spare parts and gear). Can be justified in the early years of The Plague stories, in which enough of the population is still left to keep the infrastructure intact, along with any supplies left in the cities to scavenge. 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 a cosy catastrophe, this trope isn't necessarily enjoyable for the characters.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Deconstructed in Dr. STONE. When Senku wakes up after 3700 years Taken for Granite, he has nothing but his own wits and strength to make tools, shelter, and clothing, hunt and gather food, and make fire, let alone achieve his goal of rebuilding civilization. It's not until Taiju revives too, and adds his manpower, that they can start moving beyond basic survival needs and actually work on science, like creating nital to revive petrified people. After Senku moves to Ishigami Village, he uses his scientific know-how to recreate lost technology, like metalworking, glassblowing, and ramen, but he still has no infrastructure and is limited by manpower (the main reason he made ramen was to get labor from the villagers, like running the bellows to get the furnace hot enough). As he introduces more and more technology, each new innovation builds on the last, and he's able to enlist the entire village for help after becoming chief, turning battery and wire creation into a cottage industry. Chrome and Kaseki's waterwheel removes the need for manual electricity generation, and during the "Stone Wars" arc, Senku repurposes the coal-burning furnaces to make a steam-powered car.
  • In Fist of the North Star, food and drinking water are scarce, but the apparently infinite number of roving gangs of bikers seem to have plenty of gas to power their bikes as they run down travellers to steal their rations (generally not enough to give a single meal to everyone participating in the chase), hair gel to maintain their mohawks, and lather to shave their chins and the rest of their scalps with.

    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.
  • Played with in Eight Billion Genies. Although most of the world is thrown into chaos soon after the appearance of the genies, the Lampwick Bar & Grill continues to have fully functional electricity, running water, and even internet/cellular service. Justified because the owner wished for the bar to remain unaffected by any other wishes, making it a safe haven from the madness worldwide.
  • 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.
  • Subverted massively in The Walking Dead. Whilst it has only been a relatively short time since the collapse of society, meaning that most resources are still good to scavenge, the importance of securing supplies is constantly on the minds of the protagonists. Later, the fact that the protagonists have someone on their side intelligent enough to figure out how to restart production of things like bullets and bread is treated as the massive advantage it actually would be, and they dedicate a lot of manpower to getting these production lines running. By the Distant Finale two decades after the end of the regular series, the survivor enclaves across the former United States have managed to re-establish contact with each other from coast to coast and a loosely united government again. They're also on the verge of re-establishing a transcontinental railroad again - using steam power. Civilization wasn't quite "knocked back to the stone age", but after twenty years they've only just managed to get back up to 19th century levels of technology and infrastructure.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Part of the premise of The Last Chase is that the world's oil supply has been dried up for years, but the main character is somehow able to find enough fuel to drive a homemade race car across the continental US. The highways are also in really good condition considering nobody's had the resources or the need to patch up any damage done by time or the elements since the oil wells dried up either.
  • Mad Max:
    • The whole premise behind Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome 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). However, more care is taken to avoid this trope than many later imitations:
    • Road Warrior features almost no spare resources of any kind, especially ammunition; the small fuel-producing settlement lacks guns but has plenty of fuel, making their use of a flamethrower for defense somewhat more practical. The gasoline used by the raiders to chase the tanker is a small expenditure compared to the potential payoff.
    • Beyond Thunderdome deals prominently with finding a new source of fuel and establishing trade.
    • Discussed in Mad Max: Fury Road where the People Eater complains that Immortan Joe has wasted so many resources, especially fuel, on the pursuit that makes up the plot of the movie. Interestingly, the film still plays this trope straight, with the Citadel producing water, food, and milk, an active refinery at Gas Town (and a large mobile refinery used in the pursuit) and a presumably active ammunition factory at the Bullet Farm. One wonders where they get all the replacement tires for their vehicles, though.
  • Implied and briefly discussed in Star Trek: First Contact. The film takes place ten years after the Third World War; the war killed somewhere between six hundred million people (the figure given in the film) and two billion people (consistent with the "30% of humanity" figure later given in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds), while the only major North American city established in licensed works as surviving is Denver, Colorado. However, despite living in what is described as Bozeman, Montana (although it's much smaller than the actual city of Bozeman), Cochrane and his team have no issues getting the resources they need to build their first warp ship. This particularly stands out given that we know all future warp technology will require things like antimatter (extremely difficult to make with a fully intact developed economy) and dilithium (which is suggested in licensed work not to be present on Earth at all).
  • 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. Borders on a Cozy Catastrophe, seeing as how the power grid is still up and active almost everywhere they go. Entire city blocks and shopping centers are still powered, which doesn't pass the sanity test for the "must be backup generators" idea.
    • Lampshaded in the sequel Zombieland: Double Tap, where everything's still fully functional a decade on. Columbus marvels at how the dams are still providing electricity.

  • Averted rather thoroughly in The Day of the Triffids. The closest the book comes to a straight use is petrol running low instead of going bad, and much attention is given to just how much time it takes to run a subsistence farm and how little is left over for teaching your kids if you're living in a tiny tribe in the middle of nowhere.
  • Averting this trope is the raison d'ĂȘtre of the Emberverse 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, to demonstrate that a decade after the end of the zombie war, civilization is slowly recovering to pre-war levels.

    Live-Action TV 
  • As in Literature above, this is addressed in The Day of the Triffids (1981). Jack Coker, having quarreled with the people running the Tinsham group and left, decides to return there and try again.
    Coker: We must be part of a community to have any hope for the future at all. For the moment we've got all we need — food, supplies, everything. But the food will go bad, the metal will rust, the petrol to drive the machines will run out! Before that happens, we have to learn to plow... and learn to make plows, and learn to smelt the iron to make the plowshares. We must learn to make good all that we wear out — if not... we say goodbye to civilization and we slide right back into savagery. All the knowledge is there, in books, if only we take the time to learn it. Time, you see, time. We must be part of a community that's large enough for some people to be free from productive work to have time: to study, and experiment, and teach the kids, to prepare for the day when what we have is gone.
  • This crops up a few times in Jeremiah. 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. The second season does mention the revival of regional trade routes, as well as law and order on the community level.
  • 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.
  • Survivors, which was influenced by the source material for the above, makes averting this a major running theme.
  • Station Eleven addresses this head-on in both the original novel and television series. As combustion engines become useless due to the degradation of gasoline, by Year 20, automobile frames are converted into horse-drawn carriages and carts, and bicycles are highly valued. As a whole, post-pandemic society tends to embrace the recycling of pre-pandemic materials for other uses. The band of traveling Shakespearean actors and musicians in fact regularly search for interesting items to use as props in their productions, leading to Hamlet's costumes being made of interwoven whole jackets or even a gorget made of golf-gloves- literal coats of arms.
    • A community that has emerged from a regional airport has limited electricity from solar panels planned to be installed before the apocalypse, though after 20 years these systems are in serious disrepair and no longer consistently function. Still, this stands in stark contrast to life outside the insular airport community, in which access to electricity and running water are entirely absent.
    • The showrunners also specifically wanted to zigzag this trope- with the speed at which the virus destroyed human civilization and the danger of the first few years having regulated, a lot of items such as clothing and non-survival-related items would be abundant through scavenging and trade and would able to be used in creative ways.
  • 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.
  • The Walking Dead (2010):
    • While supply runs are a major facet of the show, well-maintained cars (pretty enough to serve as Product Placement) 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 depict this, and conservation of gunfire is mostly motivated by not wanting to alert the walkers. The main characters avoid major cities on the pretense that they are infested with the dead, however this is a Hand Wave to keep them scavenging for supplies.
    • Later seasons feature time skips to catch up with the passage of real time for the actors, so that by the final season over a decade has passed since the initial outbreak. These later post-skip seasons actually start directly addressing these kinds of logistics problems: all canned food went bad years ago so they have to farm their own, gasoline has gone bad rendering cars useless (so they switch to horses), and gun ammunition is in short supply so they have to work out how to use reloading tools to make their own bullets.
  • See is set centuries after an apocalyptic plague that killed the large majority of the population, with the survivors and their descendants all-but-universally completely blind. Technology is generally Iron Age. Despite this, Queen Kane has the generator building of an operational hydroelectric dam as her palace. Meanwhile, Jerlamarel, who can see, is able to find large numbers of pre-plague books and operational guns and ammunition. For comparison, manufacturing is at the level of crossbows and primitive explosives.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In BattleTech, apocalypse logistics shows up heavily in the pre-3025 era when most equipment was Lost Technology following 300 years of total warfare that destroyed most factories. Mechanics and engineers would be forced to strip apart civilian infrastructure and lesser military equipment in order to repair the signature BattleMechs, to the point where armies would field "FrankenMechs", battlemechs repaired using components from entirely separate battlemech models. A significant amount of effort was devoted to finding old Star League factories, warehouses, and memory cores, which could contain functional war machines that could stomp anything still functioning in 3025.
  • The D20 version of Gamma World gives this topic a mention. Essentially, the New Empires era has built some new nation-states out of the ashes, several generations After the End. However, it mentions that the planet's easily-accessible resources are exhausted, and the world either has to advance to a second nanotech-age civilization now, or everything they've built will fall apart for good and humanity will be reduced to hunter-gatherer tribes forever after. The trope still applies, however, because the setting still allows humanity to rebuild a modern civilization from the ruins of one apocalypse.
  • Subverted by GURPS After the End, which includes rules for tainted food and water, treats canned goods and MREs as valuable treasure, and offers alternatives to gasoline (which has long since spoiled). Bullets are common, but only because shell casings can be reloaded (something that isn't actually difficult to do).
  • GURPS Reign of Steel is set in the aftermath of the Robot War sixteen years ago, with humans reduced to Disaster Scavengers. There are still urban scavengers in the ruins of cities that haven't been bulldozed yet, and nomads use scavenged vehicles (or captured robots) powered by methanol, which can be distilled from pretty much any available vegetable biomass. The real example, however, is the United Kingdom, which maintains a functioning modern society (if a bit downscaled from pre-War tech) despite having no international trade nor assistance from their local AI.
  • Red Markets justifies the continued existence of a form of the internet called the "Ubiq" via a startup actually launching a stratospheric balloon router project like Google's Project Loon. However ammo and the various materials Takers need to maintain their equipment are abstracted as "charges" that can be bought on the Ubiq and delivered by drone in all but the most punishing campaign modes.

    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.
  • 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 usable items just lying around than there should be.
  • Just Cause 2: Hantu Island is a forsaken military base manned by (supposedly) 100-year-old Imperial 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.
  • Mad Max (2015): At first, you're scrounging up scrap and shotgun ammo in the single digits, while food and water (health stations and health potions) are mere scraps. But if you manage to save and upgrade the few gang bases that still exist, they'll repay you with an unlimited supply of resources (which kinds depends on your upgrade progress). In any case, gasoline isn't even close to a problem because Scabrous Scrotus and his merry horde control the gasoline sector and major refinery of Immortan Joe's empire (their capital city is Gas Town).
  • In Metro 2033 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 train cars that are self-propelled. Though 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. While the fuel could be justified in being methane from pig waste or vodka from fermented 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.
  • Nexus Clash: The post-apocalyptic setting still has food, fuel and ammo that can be scavenged after years of being looted by other player-character scavengers. Possibly justified since there are a few hundred to a few thousand at most player characters, scavenging goods from cities that according to the lore once housed millions. Some players roleplay out the scarcity of goods anyway.
  • The Nintendo Wars game 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, and it has been directly stated that the factories are partly automated.