Post-Apocalyptic Fiction - Best Post Apocalyptic Books

Post-Apocalyptic Fiction - Eight of the Best Post-Apocalyptic Books!
Post-Apocalyptic Fiction - Eight of the Best Post-Apocalyptic Books!

Post-Apocalyptic Books

Ahhh, the apocalypse! The Post-Apocalyptic genre is one of my favorites -- whether its the world ending by nuclear war, disease, pestilence, zombies or environmental destruction. It can all end in so many glorious ways and it's usually up to a small band of humans to rebuild society.

Of course, complications always ensue. Either the zombies are still out to get you, or a rival band of humans has decided this would be a great opportunity to become dictator of the Universe. Either that, or the devil's come to Vegas and he's ready to recreate hell on earth.

There are literally hundreds of books and movies that deal with the post-apocalyptic theme, as well as post-apocalyptic video games, but I definitely have my favorites, so let's take a look at some novels first, and then, in my next hub, film.

And I'm limiting this list to stuff I've actually read, so some obvious stuff like Cormac McCarthy's The Road is missing because I just haven't gotten around to reading it yet.

A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter J Miller
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter J Miller

First published in 1960, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter J Miller is set in a Roman Catholic monastery located in the American Southwest. This is my favorite book in the entire genre, so it's getting the biggest write-up here.

Canticle is broken up into three sections, with the first taking place about 600 years after the world has essentially been destroyed by nukes and the society that survived the aftermath destroyed all their technology and their books. Sections 2 and 3 of the book take place 600 years after the preceding section.

As members of the order founded by the electrical engineer, Leibowitz, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, the monks spend their time caretaking and finding the lost texts, called Memorabilia, from before the nuclear event and working on having their founder canonized a saint by the Church. One of the novices spends his entire life creating an illuminated manuscript of one of the original blueprints drawn by Leibowitz that is found in the rubble.

Part 2 of Canticle for Leibowitz takes place 600 years later as the world gradually moves into a new rennaissance and by the time we reach part 3, the world has once again come full circle and in the aftermath of a new nuclear war, the Abbey is a refuge for refugees of the nuclear fall-out.

While A Canticle for Leibowitz is often remarkably depressing, it is one of my favorite books of all time and is one of the most significant books in the post-apocalyptic and sf canon.

A Canticle for Leibowitz
A Canticle for Leibowitz

This is one of my favorite books of all time. If you like this genre you will enjoy this book. Buy it!

 
Eternity Road
Eternity Road

I'm a big Jack McDevitt fan and I've read most of his books and Eternity Road is still one of my favorites of his. If you like this book, I recommend delving into the rest of his work.

 

Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt

Published in 2009, Eternity Road is another of my all time favorites, as is most everything Jack McDevitt writes, though this is quite a departure from some of his other books.

This is a far-future set post-apocalyptic tale as the plague that wiped out humanity took place nearly 1700 years before this story begins. The only thing left of us in the future is the roads that we built and we are known as the Roadmakers. A small band of explorers journey from the former Memphis to the East Coast to find a mythological town known as Haven (New Haven, CT??), where technology is suppose to have survived. Love this book.

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

Published in 1959, Alas Babylon is very much a product of The Cold War. The story is about a small group of survivors in a small town in Florida in the aftermath of a nuclear war. This book is a little "Rah, Rah, we can win it!" for some people's tastes, but still depressing as all hell.

You see, all their lives, ever since they’ve known anything, they’ve lived under the shadow of war - atomic war. For them the abnormal has become normal. All their lives they have heard nothing else, and they expect it.

— Pat Frank, "Alas, Babylon"

On the Beach by Nevil Shute

On the Beach was published in 1957. Basically, everyone in this book is either waiting to die of radiation poisoning or elects suicide, which the Australian govt conveniently promotes by way of cyanide pills and injections. Happy happy fun times for everyone!

I'm pretty sure this is one of the most depressing books in the genre (maybe Cormac McCarthy's The Road is more depressing?). Many post-apocalyptic stories are essentially about hope. On the Beach isn't having any of that nonsense! Oh yeah, both movie adaptions are equally depressing, possibly more so.


The Stand: Expanded Edition: For the First Time Complete and Uncut (Signet)
The Stand: Expanded Edition: For the First Time Complete and Uncut (Signet)

The expanded edition! Because the original edition just wasn't long enough! I'm not entirely sure that the expansion adds anything crucially important, but it is still a great read.

 

The Stand by Stephen King

After virtually everyone dies of the Super Flu, the survivors all find themselves curiously drawn to either a small community in Colorado or the bright lights in Vegas. They are all lining up for one big showdown between good and evil.

The Stand is one of Stephen King's best books and one of the few books I've read multiple times. The trip through the Lincoln tunnel is probably the only thing in a Stephen King book that's actually creeped me the hell out.

The Stand mini-series starring Gary Sinise isnt bad either, but I've never been found of the casting of Jamey Sheridan as Randall Flagg. I'm much more excited that Matthew McConaughey is playing Flagg in the new Dark Tower movies. That is a much better casting decision.

Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Welcome to the Ice Age! After a giant comet hits earth, the earthquakes and tidal waves that ensue make sure we're all good and screwed beyond hope.

I'm pretty sure this is the first disaster story I ever read. It was published in 1977, when I was 12 years old. My dad had a copy of this book and I read it as soon as he finished it.

Despite the subject matter, this book is very entertaining. I should probably read it again though to make sure I still think so!

The Postman by David Brin

Yes, restoring the US Postal Service can bring society back after total destruction. You just may need to wait a few years to get your mail. I thought this book had a terrific start, but then the protagonist became heroic instead of just this everyday kinda dude.

To be honest, I actually like Kevin Costner's movie more than I like the book and that has many imperfections too... and of course completely flopped at the box office!

I am Legend by Richard Matheson

Great book by a great writer, but it can be rather slow going. If you are not in the mood for a character study, try one of the films. I am Legend has now been adapted to the screen three times.

I like many aspects of the most recent film adaption starring Will Smith, but it really changes the tone of the book a lot (especially the ending, ugh) and I'm pretty sure the creatures are closer to zombies than vampires. I am sooooo over zombies. I know, I know, I should be over vampires as well... but I'm not!

In the 1954 novel, a virus has turned everyone except Robert Neville into a creature resembling a vampire. He spends his days in a monotonous daily routine of securing his home against the ravenous vamps and looking for a way to cure the disease.

28 Days Later
28 Days Later

Movies! Apocalypse! Zombies! War!

So many movies about the end of the world, but the world will have ended by the time I get to them all.

In some ways, I almost like post-apocalyptic film more than the books because the visual images are so incredibly striking -- everything from the image of the Statue of Liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes to the eerily empty streets of New York City and London in I am Legend or 28 Days Later, respectively.

Be sure to check out my Post-Apocalyptic tv series hub and then visit my Post-Apocalyptic Movies hub!

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I still have not gotten around to reading The Road and I haven't seen the movie. Generally, I prefer my post-apocalyptic fiction to be a little more optimistic so this book has never really appealed to me. I haven't seen the movie either.

To be honest, I'm not a big fan of Cormac McCarthy. I find his literary style to be excessively ponderous. I guess I'm just a plebe.

Name your Favorite!

Of the books listed, what's your favorite?

See results without voting

More by this Author


Comments 55 comments

Jason Stanley profile image

Jason Stanley 8 years ago

Is it bad to like this stuff? I have always enjoyed it mixed in with my other Sci-Fi. Thanks for the book reviews. I am looking forward to the movie hub - will you include TV? Would lost qualify - not really post apocalypse but perhaps a mini secluded closed environment apocalypse type thing? Too much of a stretch - probably.

Well, anyway, thanks I enjoyed your info and look forward to the movie hub.


embitca profile image

embitca 8 years ago from Boston Author

I love this stuff so I sure don't think it's bad *g* I like a mix of SF too, but I think some pretty interesting world-building comes out of the post-apocalyptic stuff.

I will definitely be doing tv! I'll do the tv and movies together. There's some great examples from television - Jeremiah, Jericho, etc. Maybe Odyssel 5 too, since I think that pre-apocalyptic/time travel stuff like Terminator fits well.

I don't think Lost makes it into this genre. When the show first started, I was thinking that it was going to turn out that they were living in some post-death limbo (like purgatory?), but I think it is becoming clearer that the Island in Lost is something of an alternative/parallel reality due to time travel or some type of time/space continuum gap or something.

Thanks for commenting! I should have the next hub up in a few days!


kerryg profile image

kerryg 8 years ago from USA

Ooh, thanks for answering my request! I've only recently discovered a taste for post-apocalyptic stuff and I haven't read, or even heard of, several of these, so I am now looking forward to checking them out!


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Thanks for a great review of books on the subject.

On the Beach was mandatory reading in high school. I have seldom found in other works the feeling of desolation and terror that book elicited in me. I am sure it had something to do with the Communist scare, the bomb shelters, and the air raid drills that I experienced when I was a child in school. Early impressions set the pace for the future.

If I should experience the apocalypse in my lifetime, I imagine it to be On the Beach.


robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey

A Canticle for Leibowitz is a great title and your review makes me want to read the book. I did read Eternity Road --it was great. And, like Sally's Trove I read On the Beach in school--saw the movie too....that was quite the era--we all had to get under our desks in these air raid drills remember? We were sure the Russians were going to nuke us and the end was near--the world was going to end in a mushroom cloud, or so we were told. Anyway--great idea. I loved this and look forward to your take on apocolyptic film.


crashcromwell profile image

crashcromwell 8 years ago from Florida

This is an excellent hub, and I'm glad I stopped by. I suspect you'll like to read some of the material on my hub, as it is dedicated to a scifi/fantasy series I am writing. The first installment is done, and appropriately enough for this site, is titled Antiquity Calais: Standing at Armageddon. I would be honored if you took a look at it. I've posted the prologue and the first three chapters on the hub, and if you like what you see there, I would be pleased to forward the rest to you as well.

Keep up the great work spreading the news about books from this genre!


barranca profile image

barranca 8 years ago

The list is incomplete without Cormac McCarthy's pulitzer prize winning "The Road."


embitca profile image

embitca 8 years ago from Boston Author

Kerryg, glad you enjoyed the hub. There's lots of great literature out there, this is just a small taste!

Sally, On the Beach is pretty intense and I bet people had a really strong reaction to it back when it was first released. So many of the classics were written when there was a heightened sense of nervousness about nuclear war.

Robie, Canticle is a great, great book. It's on my personal list of best books every. I think you will enjoy it. Have you read any of Jack McDevitt's other books? I am currently devouring everything he's written.

Crash, I'll be sure to check out your hubs!

Barranca, ahhh, there's always one spoilsport in the bunch! This list isn't even close to complete, but not because of the ommission of The Road, a book that was only published last year. Every other title on this list is over 10 years old and can be rightly considered a classic of the genre even though they haven't won Pulitzer's. This is also a list of books I've read only and as I mentioned at the top of the hub, I haven't read The Road. I will probably read it at some point because I'm a huge fan of this genre, but generally I find McCarthy to be really tedious. I'm hoping he'll surprise me this time out.

 


barranca profile image

barranca 8 years ago

Sorry. I went straight to the list. Didn't mean to be a spoilsport. The only one I've read on your list is Canticle for Leibowitz, a fine novel. Another old one that you might add is H G Wells The Time Machine.


embitca profile image

embitca 8 years ago from Boston Author

Hahha, don't worry :) Have you read The Road? What did you think of it? Do you like McCarthy generally? I personally can't stand him, but I will likely read it at some point just to see what all the fuss is about LOL

And you're right, The Time Machine would fit here too.


barranca profile image

barranca 8 years ago

Yes, I read The Road. It is set in a really, really grim world, but the reader is carried through the post-apocalyptic world with the small candle of a father's tender love for his son. It is tedious but I find that a lot of great books require a lot of the reader and if one is willing to rise to the challenge a lot is learned. I am particularly fond of his novel: Cities of the Plain. it is the middle novel of a triology. It sheds a amazing light on border and inter-cultural issues between usa and Mexico. If you want a really fast page turning read, read his No Country for Old Men. I found it as difficult to put down as almost any novel I've ever read.


About-The-Home profile image

About-The-Home 8 years ago

The frightening thing is that because of specialization in our societies, most of us don't have the most basic skills for survival.

Could you catch any living thing to eat? Most of them are too quick to even see.

I may be able to make some kind of a bow, but how the heck do you make an arrow ?

Computer skills wouldn't be any good for much survival.


embitca profile image

embitca 8 years ago from Boston Author

When the world ends, my plan is to live off canned food for a long long time. I will make sure I have a non-electric can opener :)


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Excellent hub, Embitca!!! I love this stuff, so hearing about some of those titles is great - I haven't read most of them so now I can look for them. Thank-you!

Of course, being a Stephen King fan, I have The Stand - book and movie. He recommends reading I Am Legend.

Looking forward to your movie hub! =)


Curdman profile image

Curdman 8 years ago from Lawrence, KS

I've got a book that may be a unique twist on this idea, the world does end, but its not in some massive world war with only a handful of people left. Its called Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke.

o, and I'm moving to New Zealand when it all goes boom, its far enough away from things i think it will be ok...and its really beautiful, so thats not a drag or anything.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

Have you read The Crysalids, or The Day of the Triffids? Both great books.


Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

Great stuff. My mum read On the Beach when it came out and spent a few weeks "on vacation" after that. . . came back with lots of different colored meds to take. . . bet she wasn't alone in being really depressed. There a Margaret Atwood one, too -- Oryx and Crake -- you might like it.


whoops apocalypse 7 years ago

The genre is vast - the linked thread is one of the most comprehensive that I've found on the net:-

http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=64...

I recommend Last Light by ALex Scarro which I am half way through - about a peak oil collapse.


housedad profile image

housedad 7 years ago from New York

Indeed I am both a fan and purveyor of the post apocalyptical survival genre. (Zombies are my poison but just about anything will do ...) You have a good list here thanks for the hub... If you have not yet read The Road, do not bother ... possibly the worst over-hyped book ever wrote :o)

jfx


satomko profile image

satomko 7 years ago from Macon, GA

You've created a list of some of the best examples of the genre. Thanks, and I hope the hub gets more people into these books.


Will James profile image

Will James 7 years ago from New York, NY

Did you ever end up reading The Road? I read it and it's devastating.


embitca profile image

embitca 7 years ago from Boston Author

Nope, not yet, Will. I'm not a huge fan of McCarthy, so it is kind of down on the bottom of my list. I think I'd like to see the movie first :)


Ghost32 7 years ago

It's been years since I saw the movie version of On The Beach (read the book after); thanks for triggering some cool recall. As for The Stand, yay rah, but as for Stephen King, boo hiss. He's been on my Embargo list ever since I read his lousy so called ending of the Black Tower series.

(The only other writer on that brief list is Dean Koontz. I was a rabid Koontz fan until he wrote a single line I could never forgive. Stakes and bonfires are too good for what he did. Yeah, I realize I'm straying from the post-apocalyptic thrust of this thread, but I WOULD like to apocalyze Dean for that one.)


Susana S profile image

Susana S 7 years ago

These types of stories are one of my favourites and I've only read a couple on your list. Thanks for the reviews -I'll definitely be buying some of these :)


embitca profile image

embitca 7 years ago from Boston Author

Hey Ghost, I stopped reading the Black Tower books shortly after the first trilogy. It just seemed like the story was meandering nowhere. Sounds like I made the right decision!


Mike Griffiths profile image

Mike Griffiths 7 years ago

For all the Zombie lovers out there, check out my pal Eric S Brown's books. Season fo Rot is a great place to start. I love this type of thing whether it is Road Warrior style or loads of zombies coming over the fence. Nice site.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 7 years ago from The Land of Tractors

Embitca, I've read a few of your titles and I agree with your assessment of Alas Babylon. I'm going to have to revisit Canticle for Leibowitz after your glowing review, and I still need to read Cormac McCarthy's books. So many ardent fans. I enjoyed The Stand when it was turned into a TV miniseries so that looks like a great read also. Thanks!


David B. Harrington 7 years ago

My new book "Inclinations" is now out. Inclinations is a collection of short allegories of the Visionary Fiction subgenre with strong symbology and apoclyptic themes, based on a series of mystical and esoteric visions. It was just released in August from Revolution Press (www.rev-press.com) Inclinations is also available online. I hope you'll check it out! Thanks!

Inclinations by David B. Harrington

ISBN: 1-882918-27-4


Hub Llama profile image

Hub Llama 7 years ago from Denver, CO

Great to see that others have as big of interest in this topic as I do :)

I'll have to find the couple that I haven't read and give them a try.

Thanks for this Hub.


JBunce 6 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota

Very nice selection, most of which I've read. I'll admit to being a fan of this genre myself for a long time. I knew that "The Stand" (one of my all time favorites in ANY genre) would be on the list, but what really drew me here was to see if "The Postman" was on the list and to add a comment about that if it wasn't, but I was beaten to the punch. Very rarely have I seen a top notch book done as little justice by the movie version as with "The Postman".


DamianR 6 years ago

The Deathlands series by James Alexer is very good in my opinion. Based in Post-nuclear America which they refer to as the deathlands it also goes to other countries and islands but the main focus in on America.


J-BIRD 6 years ago

Did anyone mention "Swan Song" by Robert McCammon? Cuz it's a good one as far as end-O-the world novels go. I truly love this stuff and never tire of it. Like Housedad said Zombies are my choice, but any end-of_the world theme is good for me. It's also nice to see that Hollywood is picking up and running with it also lately. You wouldent believe how many of us there are out there Hub Llama.


valbond profile image

valbond 6 years ago from UK

A canticle for Liebowitz is an interesting book and a good read. On that is perhaps not quite post-apocalyptic but it well cold be, the setting makes it unclear, is Samuel Delaney's Dhalgren.

It is an interesting read and not at all like his earlier works, and can be a mite confusing, but it certainly is different.


starvagrant profile image

starvagrant 6 years ago from Missouri

Decent list here, I must say. Have you heard of the Palladium RPG Rifts? It's a pen and paper roleplaying system set in a post-apocalyptic world with incredible detail. You get the opportunity to live in a post-apocalyptic future as opposed to just reading about it.

Also, hate to spoil people's illusions but if you eat canned food every day your can-opener will go bad in about 6 months to a year.


thehands profile image

thehands 6 years ago

Whenever I see lists like this of books that sound great, I always make a mental list myself of the ones I want to read, while remaining in denial that I'm too busy to get to them anytime soon. Now *that's* depressing.


embitca profile image

embitca 6 years ago from Boston Author

Thehands, I know the feeling! My "to be read" list is probably longer than I'm capable of reading in my lifetime :)


jambo87 profile image

jambo87 6 years ago from Outer Space / Inner Space

I have to check these out, thanks for the recommendations. I have read "The Road", a beautiful, horrific story. The movie is touching but doesn't compare to McCarthy's writing style.


sniper3077 profile image

sniper3077 6 years ago from Macomb, Michigan

So many to choose from. I love these stories. My favorite are the paranormal/ horror types. My "to read list" just got bigger.


Avid pafan 6 years ago

For all the fans of the genre "One Second After" by William Forstchen is a great read. Follows a small town after an EMP event over the US. Scary because it could easily happen. I lent the book to a friend about 8 months ago and it's still making the rounds.

"The Last Centurion" by John Ringo is also pretty good. Follows a soldier in the near future as the world is hit by H1N1-like super virus and cooling period.


Fruffles profile image

Fruffles 6 years ago from California

Definatly agree with you about the Stand - one of my favorite books ever xD Never got to read the Postman, but I'm definatly looking forward to it!


Snowy 6 years ago

brought Swan Song today, it's frightfully dark! very tense 1st 100 pages on the nuclear exchange. Gripped!


rascalnikoff 6 years ago

Great recommendations folks, thank you all kindly.

One you haven't mentioned but you have to read is "Ridley Walker" by Russell Hoban; a piece of serious genius. Dark but enlightening/enlivening, written in a new language to get your head round... it takes you there...


rascalnikoff 6 years ago

Oh yeah...@embitca... I know what you mean about McCarthy, I'm not a fan either but the Road is gooooooooooood.


tmbridgeland profile image

tmbridgeland 6 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

Canticle is one of the great books. I haven't read it in a few years, but it's one I go back to, and it's even a root for my own writing. Thanks, great Hub. I have read most of these books.


DLSavage profile image

DLSavage 6 years ago

"One Second After" by Willian Forstchen is a truly scary book. Also loved "Alas Babylon" as an 8th grader. And "The Postman" is good, and believe it or not, the movie version, isn't half bad.


Doug Turner Jr. 6 years ago

Good list and I couldn't resist the subject matter. Stephen King's latest (or second to latest, the guy is so busy writing all the time) "Under the Dome" is a good read, though it is only apocalyptic for a specific town caught under, well, the dome. Definitely check it out whenever you have time for 1,100 pages or so. Cheers.


MandyI 5 years ago

One that isn't on here is Hollowland by Amanda Hocking. Just got done reading it and it is amazing!


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK

Excellent hub. I have read and loved ' A Canticle for Leibowitz' one of the best scifi novels of all time. I've also read Nevil Shute's - On the beach and Richard Matheson's I am Legend- both great reads. I will have to read some of the others. Thanks for sharing!


evler 5 years ago

i saw "Das Boot" in an old theater that was partitioned down the middle so it was long, skinny, claustrophobic and COLD, red "Dune" without drinking anything, so i decided to read "The Road" in my cold basement at night by candlelight (i also have a young son which made me identify with the protagonist even more)- sort of 'quasi-participatory' reading that gave the story a heartbreaking immediacy. perhaps the bleakest story i've ever read. stuck with me for months. i know - sounds silly but its kind of like armchair travel-reading without missing work or like dressing up for "the rocky horror picture show". try it - you'll like it.


poetvix profile image

poetvix 5 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

You have a great list here! There is one I have not read so I shall be off to do so soon but wanted to recommend to you and old one, but nevertheless, I think a good one, Swan Song by Robert McCammon.


embitca profile image

embitca 5 years ago from Boston Author

Poetvix, I actually did end up reading Swan Song recently and I should add it to this list.


Angela White 5 years ago

Is it terribly rude to ask if any of you might like to read and review one of my Ap. Fic titles? Be happy to send free electronic copies so long as I get an honest review in return.

So few of us admit to liking this genre. Nice to see I'm not the only one with a slight obsession. lol. Best of all time for me was a nuclear holocaust film called Testiment? Barely remember the details now but it gave me the love of the genre.


DSmizzle profile image

DSmizzle 5 years ago from Long Beach, New York

embitca, thanks for a good list. I just joined hubpages and wrote my own, and I only found yours after I finished mine then looked at it, as your list was on the right side in "related hubs". I was worried at first that I basically created the exact same list, but after the first few, both of our lists have different books on them. I actually ordered two titles that I had been mulling over buying for a long time from links attached to your hub, lol I guess I'm making you rich by doing that.

Angela White, I might be interested in reading it if you want to message me about what type of Ap. Fiction book you're working on. I love the genre so providing a writer some feedback sounds intriuging.

-DSmizzle


William Hopper 5 years ago

[Full respect to the Mods: I am not trying to advertise, just looking for fans of the genre.]

I'm hunting fans of this genre who want a free copy of an upcoming book to review or comment on. e-mail me if you're interested! You can see the Amazon page on it here (The Amazon pub date is screwy, but it comes out for real in Oct., 2011):

http://www.amazon.com/Eschaton-William-Hopper/dp/1...

williamjhopper@gmail.com


john 4 years ago

I just read a new book called "Echoes from the Past: Grayson Fields". I love the genre and think this book is pretty good.

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