Post-Apocalyptic Fiction - Best 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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.