cover of book

Training for Catastrophe: Fictions of National Security after 9/11
by Lindsay Thomas
University of Minnesota Press, 2021
Paper: 978-1-5179-0986-4 | Cloth: 978-1-5179-0985-7
Library of Congress Classification PS229
Dewey Decimal Classification 810.9006


A timely, politically savvy examination of how impossible disasters shape the very real possibilities of our world

Why would the normally buttoned-down national security state imagine lurid future scenarios like a zombie apocalypse? In Training for Catastrophe, author Lindsay Thomas shows how our security regime reimagines plausibility to focus on unlikely and even unreal events rather than probable ones. With an in-depth focus on preparedness (a pivotal, emergent national security paradigm since 9/11) she explores how fiction shapes national security.

Thomas finds fiction at work in unexpected settings, from policy documents and workplace training manuals to comics and video games. Through these texts—as well as plenty of science fiction—she examines the philosophy of preparedness, interrogating the roots of why it asks us to treat explicitly fictional events as real. Thomas connects this philosophical underpinning to how preparedness plays out in contemporary politics, emphasizing how it uses aesthetic elements like realism, genre, character, and plot to train people both to regard some disasters as normal and to ignore others.

Training for Catastrophe makes an important case for how these documents elicit consent and compliance. Thomas draws from a huge archive of texts—including a Centers for Disease Control comic about a zombie apocalypse, the work of Audre Lorde, and the political thrillers of former national security advisor Richard Clarke—to ask difficult questions about the uses and values of fiction. A major statement on how national security intrudes into questions of art and life, Training for Catastrophe is a timely intervention into how we confront disasters.

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