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So a lot of stories happen after a great big disaster. The cold war heated up, environmental change finally hit an abrupt point of no return, plants or the dead walk and hunt, that kind of stuff.

The hallmark of such stories is that society has collapsed: survival is unsure, life is harder, morality is a luxury by some, and the works of science and culture of the recent past are unattainable. So far, so clear.

Yet some stories talk about a time much later than the above: the world has come to an end, and then started anew. Maybe humanity has gone from nations to tribes, far, far from its peak, but is just as far from its lowest point. Conditions are improving, and the world is 'stable' once more. The apocalypse isn't your cause for discomfort, but the reason for the gulf between you and all that awe you by their discovery.

So the question is this: what's the name of the genre of such a story? 'Post-apocalyptic' is still a fit, technically, but seems so far from the tone in question.

  • This bodes ill for my search, then. And Ruined Earth doesn't much sound like most of those stories, sounding much more ominous than how most such stories play out. – Thanos Maravel Jan 18 at 16:07
  • I have two examples in mind, but I am afraid neither's a book. One is a setting for a tabletop game, and one a videogame. Thus, people here might have little use for them, or at least less than a book example. In any case, the examples would be Numenera and Horizon: zero dawn. – Thanos Maravel Jan 18 at 17:05
  • Hmmm, not quite sure this'd be a match: a dystopia needn't follow an apocalypse, and the scenarios above needn't be dystopias. – Thanos Maravel Jan 21 at 13:14
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Gareth Rees has provided a term which may be used (albeit perhaps not in widepread use) for the specific subgenre you're asking about. But in general, stories of this type are still called post-apocalyptic fiction.

From the Wikipedia page on Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction:

The story may involve attempts to prevent an apocalypse event, deal with the impact and consequences of the event itself, or it may be post-apocalyptic, set after the event. The time frame may be immediately after the catastrophe, focusing on the travails or psychology of survivors, the way to maintain the human race alive and together as one, or considerably later, often including the theme that the existence of pre-catastrophe civilization has been forgotten (or mythologized). Post-apocalyptic stories often take place in a non-technological future world, or a world where only scattered elements of society and technology remain.

Here it seems clear that "apocalyptic" would be for stories that take place during, or perhaps in the immediate aftermath of, an apocalypse, while "post-apocalyptic" is still used for stories set generations or eons after the apocalypse.

Other sources agree:

Post-apocalyptic fiction can be set in the current day or the far off future. Additionally, the story can take place right after the cataclysmic event or years after the event. In post-apocalyptic novels, technology can be that which we have never seen before, or there can be no technology at all. Also, characters can remember what the world was like, or they can’t remember at all what the world was like and will fantasize about the way it used to be or even go so far as to create myths about the world before the destruction (often our current day).

-- Young Adult Library Services Association

Myth Builders' article abdout post-apocalyptic fiction mentions several stories, such as A Canticle for Leibowitz, which, despite being set centuries after the apocalypse, are still widely accepted as works of post-apocalyptic literature.

TL;DR: regardless of whether or not this subgenre can be given its own name, it does count as part of post-apocalyptic fiction, not a separate thing.

  • Well, looks like this marks an end to my search: post-apocalypse properly contains what I hoped had its own definition. That means it doesn't. Thanks you, and thanks, all! – Thanos Maravel Jan 19 at 20:54
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The SF Encyclopedia describes this sub-genre under the heading ‘Ruined Earth’, by which it means:

the longer-range sf aftermath of Disaster and Holocaust scenarios

typified by:

The rusting symbols of a technological past protruding into a more primitive, natural, future landscape

The settings of both works mentioned by the OP, the role-playing game Numenera and the video game Horizon Zero Dawn, feature a primitive society living amid the ruins left by a past technologically advanced society, so ‘Ruined Earth’ seems like a reasonable term under which to categorise them. (Numenera also has elements of the Far Future sub-genre.)

Notable novels in the Ruined Earth sub-genre include Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, and Ursula Le Guin’s Always Coming Home.

Note that the SF Encyclopedia entry starts with the phrase:

Term used in this encyclopedia for […]

which I interpret as meaning that the term had to be invented since there was no term in widespread use. This is a common feature of SF Encyclopedia thematic entries: the editors had to develop much of the terminology they needed as they wrote it.

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