It’s the end of the world, but we feel fine… or will very shortly: That’s the cozy catastrophe genre in a nutshell. An event of some sort has brought modern society to a grinding halt, and now our heroes are on the road to recovery. There’s danger afoot, of course, but sooner or later, things will improve and maybe even be better than before. If the apocalypse sounds kind of like a nice change of pace, then you’re probably reading a cozy catastrophe.
Science-fiction author Brian Aldiss coined the phrase as a criticism of disaster literature as wish-fulfillment fantasy. According to Aldiss, “The essence of cosy catastrophe is that the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking) while everyone else is dying off.”
Aldiss certainly has a point. I’ve noticed reading through the cozy catastrophe genre that there aren’t very many works by women or writers of color. It isn’t a very diverse genre, at all. I suspect that this might be reflective of the implicit privilege of the premise.
A catastrophe is likely to be much cozier if you’re already a healthy white guy, and especially if you’re already reasonably well-off. For women, minorities, and the economically disadvantaged, a catastrophe and its aftermath aren’t going to be very cozy at all and may not be so for a very, very long time. Cozy catastrophes usually gloss over or ignore this unpleasant fact altogether.
Does this mean one should not read cozy catastrophes? It’s a good question, and one that applies to a lot of problematic literature. I firmly believe that this is a decision one should come to on one’s own. In my own case, I enjoy quite a few cozy catastrophe novels, but it hasn’t kept me from openly engaging with the genre’s blind spots and implicit biases. If anything it has made me more aware of them.