Post Apocalyptic Fiction

Why do I enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction so much? I read Margaret Atwood’s new book The Year of the Flood (not due out until October–also we’re going to have her for an event!) last week and I finished reading Far North by Marcel Theroux over the weekend. Both imagine the worst, the breakdown of society after the breakdown of the planet in some terrible fashion. Oddly in both novels, a pandemic of some sort causes a cataclysmic failure all over the world. Also weird given the “pandemic” of swine flu we’re supposedly witnessing right now, but that’s neither here nor there. Atwood’s book takes place in a city. People are abundant it seems. Theroux’s book takes place in Siberia–people are few and far between. And whereas Year of the Flood features a large cast of characters, Far North focuses on one, Makepeace, who lives a lonely existence in an abandoned town. They’re both excellent books in their own right and worth reading if you like reading post-apocalyptic fiction.
Why do we read and write about the end of our world? There’s something sordid about imagining our end, but there’s a long tradition of doing it–check out some parts of the bible for instance. Perhaps we need to explore what the human race would do if we had to start over again? Or why the human race has gone so far along a destructive path (nuclear weapons, global warming, continued reliance on machines for food and fuel) that more than likely can’t sustain itself?

There’s a cornucopia of post-apocalyptic fiction out there:

That’s just a handful. Can you give me some others?
P.S. Check out the trailer to The Road, due out October 16th.

35 thoughts on “Post Apocalyptic Fiction

  1. Steve

    Great list. I have the same odd fascination with post-apocalyptic fiction. One of my favorites you didn’t mention is “The Gone-Away World” by Nick Harkaway.

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  2. Pete

    Pesthouse, Oryx and Crake, and Children of Men are all on my to-read list (I loved the film of the latter). Chris Adrian’s The Children’s Hospital has also been recommended to me as a great dystopian story.

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  3. Liberty

    Fabulous list! Just got the galley for the new Margaret Atwood, called A Year of Floods. It takes place in the same time period as Oryx & Crake – should prove to be awesome.

    Oh, and because it is in a bookseller’s nature to give recommendations, may I too also suggest Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe. It’s wild!

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  4. Ben

    I like quite a few that you and others have mentioned, especially THE ROAD. No one yet, however, has noted my favorite: A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

    Also, it’s been years since I’ve read DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP, but I recall it more as a dystopian novel than a post-apocalyptic novel. I very well could be misremembering it. But, if you were to add dystopian works to the list, I would also mention Jack Vance’s “Dying Earth” books, Gene Wolfe’s BOOK OF THE NEW SUN and Clark Ashton Smith’s “Zothique” tales.

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  5. Brandon

    Does post-apocalyptic fiction always have to take place in the future, after a nuclear or natural disaster? If so, then I can’t think of anything to add to the list. If it’s open to interpretation, then I’d add “Fatherland” by Robert Harris. Tagline: “Berlin, 1964. Hitler Reigns Supreme.” Sure, WWII may not have been an apocalypse in the classic sense, but it’s the closest we’ll get to one. For now.

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  6. Dolen Perkins-Valdez

    Ohh, I’m so glad you posted this!! Every semester, I have some author who, it seems, two or three of my Creative Writing students have taken a liking to. A couple of semesters ago it was Cormac McCarthy (thanks to Oprah? Not sure). So I got tons of apocalyptic short stories in the workshops. The problem was that their stories were complete ripoffs of McCarthy’s style because he was all they’d read. (The same thing has happened with Atwood for my female students, by the way). So thanks for the list!!

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  7. Edward R. Knuckles

    “Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, 1895-1984” by Paul Brians contains an excellent bibliography and critical review of stories of life during and after nuclear devastation. Stories in a similar vein are “Level 7” by Mordecai Roshwald and “Down to a Sunless Sea” by David Graham. The former title being a passionless account of life in and underground doomsday machine while the latter title being an account of passengers and crew of an airliner that are stranded mid-Atlantic as the rest of the world destroys itself in a nuclear war. Both stories written during the period of Mutually Assured Destruction bring back that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach of living through the 60s and 70s with the nuclear nightmare in the back of your mind.

    A more recent story of a different vein is Paul Auster’s “In the Country of Last Things” and concerns a post apoplectic America brought down to sub-third world living conditions by some unknown crisis.

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  8. jennifer

    Post-apocalyptic fiction is a favorite subgenre of mine, so I’m thrilled to find recommendations here. I have recently read a number of YA titles that have been really satisfying. “How I Live Now” by Meg Rosoff”, “Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, and “The Other Side of the Island” by Allegra Goodman.

    On a somewhat related theme, a couple of cold war/nuclear war classics stand out: “On the Beach” by Nevil Shute and “Fail-Safe” by Burdick and Wheeler.

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  9. Kristopher Wheeler

    I perused the list with great interest, always in hopes of finding one of the best books I’ve ever read, that I, unfortunately, FORGOT the title of! It probably came out in the mid 80’s, had a cut through cover, was about the end of the world brought about by the flu. The hero of the story, I believe was named Travis. There was a Native American truck driver nick named Tomohawk in it. In the story the cure/preventative for the flu was dog saliva. If someone can email me the name of the book, and it’s the correct one, I would mail them a $100 bill. It’s really worth that much to me to get my hands on another copy.

    Thanks,

    Kristopher

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  10. Maurice

    As yet, I have not found any to match:- The Death of Grass and A Wrinkle in the Skin, both by John Christopher. I have only just discovered the above list, maybe I’ll change my mind.

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  11. Jon Kimmel

    Lucifers Hammer was an excellent read that must be on the list. Also, the Autumn zombie series by Moody. Patriots was a good book I recently picked up. This is by far my favorite genre.

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  12. Derek Gunn

    My own trilogy,VAMPIRE APOCALYPSE, “The drying up of the world’s oil resources leads to the fabled End of Days. Technology stagnates and communities grow ever more insular. With communication between cities lost and attention turned inward, the vampires rise from the shadows where they have survived for centuries and sweep across the globe.”

    http://www.vampireapocalypse.com – The books have been optioned for film and a graphic novel.

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  13. phil g.

    No Free Lunch by Phillip Ghee
    Authorme.com
    Cern, Black Holes and the End of Things

    Big Fishing, By Phillip Ghee
    By Phillip Ghee. A unique and uncompromising American Tale of the future… Big Fishing. Caution: Big Fishing is a fiery tale or exaggerated proportions. …
    http://www.author-me.com/fict08/Big%20Fishing.htm – Cached

    The Monkey Files, by Phillip Ghee
    The Monkey Files. By Phillip Ghee (USA). Click here to send comments ….. Since the monkey-made and natural swing was the sight of the experiment’s most …
    http://www.author-me.com/fict08/monkeyfiles.html – Cached

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  14. Texan99

    Malevil (Robert Merle), a post-nuclear holocaust story set in France (written in French, but a good translation), is a naturalistic and very un-science-fictiony approach. Terrific read.

    I think John Varley’s excellent “Millennium” would qualify.

    I second the motion on Denis Johnson’s “Fiskadoro,” a wonderful book that’s not mentioned much.

    “Farnham’s Freehold,” Robert Heinlein. In that vein, we might include “Orphans of the Sky” by Heinlein, about a colonizing spaceship that’s gone adrift, and its inhabitant have forgotten not only Earth but the very idea that anything exists outside the Ship.

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