As I write this, the world is gripped by Corona Virus madness, panic, meltdown…. I’d always intended to write a list of the best post-apocalyptic books, but the timing did seem off. Was this really in good taste, I asked myself? But apparently books about pandemics are leaping up the charts – odd but there you go. So in case you’re interested in reading about where we might all end up… here are some fictional accounts of our current situation.
You might think there are a few books missing from this list, but I’ve limited the list to books which only concern themselves with the effects of an apocalypse. So Handmaid’s Tale, 1984... these are great examples of dystopian fiction, but there is no one apocalyptic event triggering the plunge into these new societies. (Dystopian fiction – note to self – another list!)
So starting with viruses….
- Station Eleven – by Emily St John Mandel. I’ve raved about this book on several occasions, and it is now about to be made into a TV mini series, but frankly, it deserves all your attention. Set in a world which has been devastated by a virus, it is basically fairly uplifting as it focuses, amongst other things, on a group who decide to form a travelling orchestra. It also reminds me of an earlier post apocalyptic novel, The Postman by David Brin, in which the main character finds an old postal uniform and takes it on himself to travel America reinstating the postal service after an apocalypse.
- The Girl with All the Gifts – by M R Carey. We’ve been wiped out by a fungal infection in this book, only we’re not dead, we’ve been turned into flesh eating zombies. And if you’ve cringed at the word ‘zombie’ please don’t. It’s an utterly brilliant book.
- The Stand – by Stephen King is another post viral apocalypse, only in this case the virus has been manufactured as a chemical weapon by us humans and released accidentally. His longest book – over 1,000 pages – many argue that it is also his best. I loved it, though it did get a bit weird towards the end. It’s perhaps not surprising that King decided the killer bug would be a weapon, given that the book was published in 1990 when the Cold War was just coming to an end.
- On the Beach – by Nevil Shute was written in 1957, and I think it is one of the saddest post apocalyptic books ever written. Set in Australia after a nuclear war, the population now await the inevitable arrival of deadly radiation.They have only a year to wait and they know it. Nevil Shute was a British writer who moved to Australia, and some of his finest novels are set there – A Town Called Alice was the main reason I wanted to go to Australia on honeymoon! I read all of his books in my teens, but can still remember how On The Beach affected me.
- Farnham’s Freehold – by Robert A Heinlein starts life as an apocalypse novel, and given the publication date – 1964 – of course the event is nuclear war, but then in typical Heinlein fashion, it goes off on weird and interesting journeys involving time travel and explorations of racism. Farnham’s nuclear bunker is sent off to the distant future where white people are now slaves to black people. For its time, a really interesting book.
- The Road – by Cormac McCarthy. In this book we don’t even find out what the cause of the apocalypse was, we just live – perhaps exist is a better word – with a father and son as they set out on a journey in the post apocalyptic wasteland. It is the bleakest, most terrible book I think you could ever read, and yet it is probably the most realistic.
- The Chrysalids – by John Wyndham is set far into the future after an apocalypse, where the characters no longer remember what blighted their world, though to us it’s pretty clear that it was an event involving radiation. A fundamentalist christianity rules the world and any mutations – human, animal and crop – are destroyed. So imagine how scary it is to be a child and realise you are a mutant. I adored this book! Probably my favourite John Wyndham book – and he is one of my favourite authors. Better known for The Day of the Triffids (which is another post apocalyptic book deserving to be on this list, but I’ve vowed only one book per author. So I can cheat. Yes that’s true.)
- Hunger Games – by Suzanne Collins also involves a future society punishing its current members for past misdeeds which are no longer really remembered. In The Hunger Games, the punishment involves sacrificing children in an annual fight to the death ‘game’. First part of an amazing YA trilogy.
- Blind Faith – by Ben Elton. Interesting how few good global warming post apocalyptic books there are. (There is The Book of Dave by Will Self, but it just gets too silly to be allowed on this list. It has some brilliant moments though, so read it and see what you think). Anyway, back to Ben Elton. This is set in London one hundred years into the future after sea levels have risen due to Global Warming. (The Book of Dave is also set in London post rising sea levels incidentally). Now it is seen as perverted to do anything in private, and everyone uploads everything. It’s actually a brilliant exploration of social media etc, but with a bit of religious intolerance and fanaticism thrown in to the mix.
- Ways of the Doomed – by Moira McPartlin. This is also the first of a YA trilogy – the Sun Song trilogy – set in Britain after global warming, and it is a brilliant exploration of just how society might disintegrate as climate change takes effect. For relatively short books, the trilogy packs in a lot of ideas and some really interesting characters and events.
Finally, just in case you get depressed reading all these brilliant books, I need to mention Good Omens by Terry Pratchett. Apocalypse need not be all doom and gloom. Here is Terry Pratchett at his very best showing the build up to the Apocalypse, of which we human beings are completely oblivious, except for Agnes Nutter, her descendants, and a couple of angels. The TV adaptation with David Tennant and Michael Sheen is so utterly brilliant, by the way, that I’ve watched it twice already.