Postapocalypse Now

Pop culture's latest visions of mass destruction feel eerily intimate

Does anyone really fear dying in a nuclear blast? In my atomic nightmare, my family survives. A flash of light across the East River in Manhattan; a tremor and roar; a column of flame. Then the questions. Do we pack up the kids and flee? Duct tape the windows and hope for help? How much food is in the pantry? How strong are the locks on the doors?

This morbid fantasy just became a little more plausible. Pariah state North Korea's purported test of a small A-bomb spotlighted the morbid fantasy of our age: the small-scale, survivable Armageddon.

Even a...