Apocalypse New

From The Road to I Am Legend to Cloverfield: why we can't wait for the end of the world

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Cloverfield

In 1824, Mary Shelley, famous now (and even then) as the author of Frankenstein, was casting about for a new idea for a novel. She was in emotional straits. She had already buried three children before her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, drowned in 1822. Their friend Lord Byron had just died in Greece. She felt as if everyone she knew—the age itself in which she lived—was passing away around her.

So her imagination ran forward to the late 21st century. Greece and Turkey are at war. The last King of England has abdicated. A virulent plague is scouring the...

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