After scouring book reviews and Wikipedia, a list of the Top Ten Best Apocalyptic Novels was born. The books on this list take you down the darkest paths in uncivilized worlds, from cannibalistic gangs to vampire infected corpses. If this list doesn’t get you thinking on the quickest way stock your basement full of water, canned goods and rifles, I don’t know what will! Enjoy!
World War Z
Documenting the war on zombies, “World War Z” takes you through horific times with some of the most vivid writing this genre has ever seen. The book is told from a narative perspective of several different characters, sharing their versions of the Zombie war. The outbreak, which started somewhere in China, spread throught the world, causing distruction and chaos. While the zombies are never completely irradicated, some symblance of life does appear to go on, after an eventual move of the US Capital, several barriers against the undead, and millions of lives lost.
“World War Z” paints such a realistic picture of a world after Zombies that even skeptics would find themselves engrossed in the novel!
Forget world wide pandemics of flesh eating bacteria or a zombie illness! Portugese author Jose Saramago took one of the most common afflictions, loss of sight, and turned it into my worst nightmare! in “Blindness”, a mass epidemic of sight-loss sweeps an unidentified city, causing a break down in society, civilization, and everyday function. The books main characters band together, forming a family unit, comprised of a doctor and his wife and his patients. The wife has somehow been spared from the epidemic and helps the unit function. They are placed in an asylum where the infected are being contained, which eventually detiriorates to filth, due to everyone’s lack of sight.
The family unit escapes and attempts to build a new life in the outside world, just as sight is returned, just as quickly as it was taken away.
I don’t know who I felt worse for reading this book. The people who lost their sight, who began living in their own filth and scrounging for food, or the doctor’s wife who had to take care of them all and see everything that was happening around her.
If you are a parent, or a person who doesn’t wish harm upon children, you might find this book slightly disturbing. ‘The Road’ focuses on the journey of a father and son, after an unnamed apocalyptic event wipes out a majority of the earth’s population, as well as the ability to grow plants. The father and son, only identified as the “Man” and the “Boy”, are attempting to make it to the coast, to an undetermined hope. The pair encounter several disturbing sights along the way, including a cannibalistic “army”, a baby roasting on a split, and humans who are being kept locked away and used for limb-harvesting (for food obviously).
There are some high points in the book, but overall, it paints a pretty grim picture. Towards the end of the novel, the father gets ill and dies, leaving the boy to be taken in by a couple who has been observing the pair for some time. It isn’t a happy ending, but it does keep you from wanting to kill yourself!
This post-apocalyptic novel is about a drifter who finds himself taking shelter in an abandoned postal van. Gordan Krantz, the protagonist, takes the uniform of a postman only to keep him warm, but when he begins carrying mail on his journey, he begins to restore hope to survivors. Eventually, Krantz encounters a small community led by Cyclops, an artificial intelligence created at Oregon State University that managed to survive. Krantz learns however that the machine was destroyed and that it’s appearance is being maintained by a group of scientists who are trying to “keep hope, order, and knowledge alive”. Krantz eventually pairs up with the Cyclops scientists in their war against the hyper-survivalists, who have begun and extreme version of life.
By the end of the novel, the impression is given that the three groups rally together to help revive civilization.
Oryx and Crake
This novel begins after yet another collapse of civilization, with the protagonist, Snowman, living as a hermit. He lives near by a community of what he calls “Crakers”, which appear to be strange human like creatures. It is revealed in the story that the crakers, as well as beasts like wolvogs, piggons, and rakunks, are the products of genetic engineering.
Through flashbacks, the reader learns that Snowman grew up as Jimmy in the mid-21st century. His parents were both scientists who lived in privileged compounds that separated them from commoners, or pleeblands. When Jimmy’s family moves to a compound, he meets Glenn, or Crake as he is referred to through out the story. The boys play games, smoke weed, as well as other slightly disturbing activities such as watching live executions and child pornography.
Jimmy and Crake eventually become obsessed with a young asian girl they see in a child porn video. Jimmy seeks the girl out and eventually meets Oryx, who could be the same girl, but it is never clarified. Orxy becomes highly involved in the lives of both young men. As time goes on, Crake becomes a bio engineer while Jimmy focuses on the arts and literature.
Crake soon embarks on an endeavor to create peaceful human-like creatures which he calls Crakers. Crakers are leaf-eating herbivores who only have sex during a mating period, therefore eliminating several “human” disputes. Eventually, Crake releases a world wide virus, which wipes out a huge percentage of the population, except Jimmy, who was unknowingly vaccinated. Crake is soon painted as a “Mad Scientist”, and eventually kills Oryx.
The reader is transported through out an incredible series of events and begins to feel sympathy towards all characters, including the “villain”, Crake. The book ends leaving the reader wondering whether Snowman will return to life with humans, or continue to look after the Crakers, as he promised Oryx before she died.
A Canticle for Leibowitz
“A Canticle for Leibowitz” spans thousands of years set in a Roman Catholic monastery. After a devastating nuclear war, the novel follows along while civilization makes attempts at rebuilding itself. The monks of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz take on the mission of preserving and protecting the pieces of human’s scientific knowledge until the world is ready for that kind of information again.
The apocalyptic event in this story is a backlash against advanced technology and knowledge. During a time that is referred to in the book as “simplification”, any one who had any learning, and eventually anyone who could even read, was killed by angry mobs, with books being destroyed and illiteracy taking over the world.
Isaac Leibowitz had been a Jewish engineer working for the US Military, but converts to Catholicism and begins the Albertian Order. Their mission becomes to protect,memorize, and preserve any books, from before the Simplification. The novel is separated into three different parts, “Fiat Homo (Let There Be Man)”, “Fiat Lux (Let There Be Light)”, and “Fiat Voluntas Tua (Let Thy Will Be Done)”.
The novel is an interesting look into what our world would become if communication, science, technological advances, and knowledge were suddenly cut off from every day people.
Published in 1959, “Alas, Babylon” was one of the first post-apocalyptic novels of the nuclear age. The story focuses on the small town of Fort Repose, Florida and the effects that a nuclear war had on it. The protagonist, Randy Bragg, is a former Korean War vet who becomes a hero after the Soviet Union starts a nuclear war with the US. Several towns in Florida, including Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami are reported as being destroyed, leaving the citizens of Fort Repose to their own measures. Communication is limited, and the city is quickly emptied of money and supplies. People in the town quickly learn how to survive, with Bragg leading the way. In the end, the Air Force offers to move the remaining families of Fort Repose out of their survivalist world, however, non accept.
Alas, Babylon shows how quickly the world could deteriorate if a Nuclear war started. Don’t be alarmed if after you read it, you feel the need to go to Costco for bottled water and dry goods!
If you’re one to quickly oppose scientists, then Lucifer’s Hammer might be just the post-apocalyptic book for you! Even after several reassurances by astronomer Tim Hamner that a new comet won’t be crashing into the earth, people still begin hoarding and collecting food. Scientists realize that they have mis-tracked the trajectory of the comet, which eventually breaks into several smaller pieces and devastates the earth with its collision. The strike causes volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and endless weeks of rain, which cause food and other survival necessities to be lost.
After the “Hammerfall”, Hamner steps up from a quiet astronomer to a “determined survivor”. He fights to keep he and his new wife, Eileen safe, in such a tumultuous world.
This book particularly got me thinking, just because we rely so much on what scientists tell us. What if they really did get it wrong?
Swan Song doesn’t start out on a particularly happy note. The world is in turmoil, with the U.S. and USSR fighting all around the world. When all of the bombs are launched, the world is covered in mushroom shaped clouds. The novel follows several main characters, including a NYC bag lady called Sister Creep, Josh, aka Black Frankestein, a 7 foot tall wrestler with a heart the size of Texas, and Roland Croninger, an incredibly smart kid. Of course good vs. evil is prominent through out the novel. The bad lies within “The Man With the Scarlet Eye”, who is a shape shifter, always up to no good. The very refreshing good however is a blonde girl named Swan, who possesses the ability to replenish the earth.
The book is pretty big (950 pages!), and if you can get through it, its probably the most terrifying post apocalyptic novel out there!
On the Beach
“On the Beach” doesn’t only qualify as one of the best Post-Apocalyptic novels, it qualifies as one of the most depressing. If you’re looking for sunshine and rainbows, this isn’t one you’ll want to check out! The novel starts in the mid-sixties, after the air in the Northern Hemisphere has been polluted with nuclear fallout, killing all animal life, including humans. Air currents are slowly carrying the fallout to the southern hemisphere, where the only humans live, slowly succumbing to radiation poisoning. The Australian government makes arrangements for its citizens, providing free suicide pills and injections, allowing the people to avoid the slow and painful death of radiation poisoning. A submarine crew is dispatched to Seattle to respond to a signal, only to discover that the wind was blowing a coke bottle onto a telegraph machine.
The crew then realizes that the results of the nuclear war aren’t dissipating, and that the people living in the south will die shortly. The characters in the novel then try to happily live out their final days, some returning to their hometowns, others taking classes and staying busy. In the end, the characters don’t continue to run, but accept their death once the radiation reaches them. Probably the most depressing point in the book is when one Australian officer must explain to his wife how to euthanize their baby daughter and then kill herself, should the radiation reach them.
Like I said, not all sunshine and rainbows.
Z for Zachariah
“Z for Zachariah” starts by introducing the reader to Ann Burden, the protagonist, who has been living alone in a valley for over a year after a nuclear war, which has rendered all other places inhabitable. One day, Ann sees a stranger in a protective suit entering the valley, which changes her life forever. When he determines that the valley is safe, he takes off his suit and swims, but unfortunately, the water is contaminated by water being brought in from the outside. Once he is sick, Ann decides to try to help him.
Once he is better, he introduces himself as John R. Loomis, a scientist who was helping to design the protective suits underground when the war began. The sickness soon takes over his body completely, sending him into a coma, during which Ann continues to look after him.
He begins to recover and becomes highly possessive of Ann. One night, he attempts to rape her, and Ann decides she must leave the comfort of her home. She attempts to coexist in the valley with Loomis, but he makes it difficult, cutting her off from food and supplies, and even shooting her in the leg.
Eventually, Ann tells him she is taking the suit and the cart and leaving. She tells him that if he kills her, then he’ll truly be alone. Ann sets of in the direction of birds, hoping to continue her life.
This novel is popular among young adults, because the main character is a strong willed young person. There are obviously sad portions, but there are also light, almost comical moments that keep you turning the page.
I Am Legend
If the only opinions you have of ‘I am Legend’ come from the horrible movie adaptation starring Will Smith, erase them all. Probably one of the greatest pieces of fiction ever written, much less in the “post-apocalyptic” category, “I am Legend” deals with the idea of becoming obsolete, which plagues so many people.
After a bacterial pandemic wipes out the entire human race, Robert Neville, the novel’s main character, is the only human left in a world of vampires. Neville attempts to study and cure the disease, to which he became immune after a bite from a bat that was infected. Neville eventually discovers that the strain of bacteria is able to infect both the deceased and the living, leaving the living slightly human, although exhibiting signs of vampirism.
Robert comes across a woman who appears to be uninfected and captures her. He becomes suspicious of her after her reluctance to kill the vampires. She finally agrees to a blod test and just when Neville realizes she is infected, she knocks him out. She leaves him a note, sharying the adaptations that the infected have made towards sunlight and how they have even developed pills that keep their desires at bay. She tells him that they are attempting to rebuild society. Eventually the vampires come for him, and he is wounded and captured. When he knows death is near, Ruth comes to visit and gives him some pills that will make his death easier. He asks Ruth not to let society get heartless and after a kiss, she leaves. Neville finally realizes that he is the only survivor and is therefore feared by this new race. As he realizes that life with infection could be normal again one day, he chuckles before he dies, thinking “[I am] a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever. I am legend.”