I’ve been reading Post-apocalyptic literature for years – since being scarred for life, aged five, by When the Wind Blows! I’ve read an awful lot of Post-apocalyptic literature since then, so I thought I’d try and list what I believe are the best post-apocalyptic novels I have read.
I’ve also mentioned in a previous post, my slight obsession with Post-apocalyptic clothing in movies if you want to take a look at some pictures – well just because
Warning – purists may think I am playing a bit fast and loose with the definition of Post-apocalyptic here. But I’m sure you will forgive me. Where I’ve strayed they are all good books worth a read!
In no particular order – my list of the best Post Apocalyptic books…
When the Wind Blows – Raymond Briggs
Raymond Briggs’ now famous bestselling comic cartoon book depicts the effects of a nuclear attack on an elderly couple in his usual humorous yet macabre way.
The Postman – David Brin
He was a wanderer who traded tales for food and shelter in the dark and savage aftermath of a devastating war. But when he borrows the jacket of a long-dead postal worker, his life changes forever. As he journeys from one isolated community to the next, the old, worn uniform becomes far more than a protection against the unrelenting cold: it’s a reminder of how things were before the world collapsed – and a symbol for how things might be again.
Earth Abides – George R. Stewart
In this profound ecological fable, a mysterious plague has destroyed the vast majority of the human race. Isherwood Williams, one of the few survivors, returns from a wilderness field trip to discover that civilization has vanished during his absence.
Alas Babylon – Pat Frank
The survivors of an H-bomb attack are forced to rely on their own resources amidst the ruins of Fort Repose
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
A father and his young son walk alone through burned America, heading slowly for the coast. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. They have nothing but a pistol to defend themselves against the men who stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food – and each other.
A Gift Upon the Shore – M.K. Wren
A Gift Upon the Shore traces the first generations to survive a nuclear war and its aftermath. They are determined to collect and preserve for a new civilization all the great books of western culture. They come into conflict with a fundamentalist group that denies all knowledge not found in the Bible.
On the Beach – Nevil Shute Norway
After the war is over, a radioactive cloud begins to sweep southwards on the winds, gradually poisoning everything in its path. An American submarine captain is among the survivors left sheltering in Australia, preparing with the locals for the inevitable. Despite his memories of his wife, he becomes close to a young woman struggling to accept the harsh realities of their situation. Then a faint Morse code signal is picked up, transmitting from the United States and the submarine must set sail through the bleak ocean to search for signs of life.
The Stand – Stephen King
The Stand is an epic, post-apocalyptic horror story which takes place during and after a Flu epidemic that wipes out most of the world’s population. The survivors face an epic battle of good vs evil – The Final Stand.
Possibly my favourite Stephen King novel – but it’s a whopper! It was re-released in an “uncut” edition in 1990 with an additional 400 pages of material. You should probably read the uncut version.
I am Legend – Richard Matheson
Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth … but he is not alone. Every other man, woman and child on the planet has become a vampire, and they are hungry for Neville’s blood. I love this one so much I also put it in my list of the best Zombie Novels. Even though it is blatantly about vampires!
Domain – James Herbert
The long-dreaded nuclear conflict. The city torn apart, shattered, its people destroyed or mutilated beyond hope. For just a few, survival is possible beneath the wrecked streets. But below, the rats, demonic offspring of their irradiated forebears, are waiting. They know that Man is weakened, become frail. Has become their prey . . .
Read the first in the series The Rats if you haven’t already (another one I accidentally read as a child along with Stephen Kings The Shining and IT. Explains a lot really!)
Chasm – Stephen Laws
In the ordinary town of Edmonville a tremor hits, followed by a second devastating tremor, then darkness. The next morning, the survivors discover that most of the town has disappeared into an enormous crevasse. As they struggle to survive, one by one people start to disappear without a trace.
Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven takes place in the Great Lakes region after a fictional swine flu pandemic, known as the “Georgia Flu”, has devastated the world, killing most of the population.
Swan Song – Robert R. McCammon
Something flashes in nine-year-old Swan’s brain, telling her that trouble is coming. Maybe it’s her mother, fed up with her current boyfriend and ready to abandon their dismal trailer park and seek a new home. But something far worse is on the horizon. Death falls from the sky—nuclear bombs which annihilate American civilization. Though Swan survives the blast, this young psychic’s war is just beginning.
Came to this one late in life – in summary, weird but good (I really should be a book critic!) Since you’re reading a post called Best Post Apocalyptic novels on my weirdo blog, it’s probably pretty safe to say you’ll love it.
Metro 2033 – Dmitry Glukhovsky
The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct. A few score thousand survivors live on, not knowing whether they are the only ones left on earth. They live in the Moscow Metro – the biggest air-raid shelter ever built. It is humanity’s last refuge. Stations have become mini-statelets, their people uniting around ideas, religions, water-filters – or the simple need to repulse an enemy incursion. It is a world without a tomorrow, with no room for dreams, plans, hopes. Feelings have given way to instinct – the most important of which is survival. Survival at any price.
The Drought – J.G. Ballard
Water. Man’s most precious commodity is a luxury of the past. Radioactive waste from years of industrial dumping has caused the sea to form a protective skin strong enough to devastate the Earth it once sustained. And while the remorseless sun beats down on the dying land, civilization itself begins to crack. Violence erupts and insanity reigns as the remnants of mankind struggle for survival in a worldwide desert of despair.
I think this is my favourite J.G Ballard or maybe Highrise, which is not technically PA but has that Shit hitting the fan / Dystopia feel to it.
The Drowned World – J.G. Ballard
Fluctuations in solar radiation have melted the ice caps, sending the planet into a new Triassic Age of unendurable heat. London is a swamp; lush tropical vegetation grows up the walls of the Ritz and primaeval reptiles are sighted, swimming through the newly-formed lagoons.
Some flee the capital; others remain to pursue reckless schemes, either in the name of science or profit. While the submerged streets of London are drained in search of treasure, Dr Robert Kerans – part of a group of intrepid scientists – comes to accept this submarine city and finds himself strangely resistant to the idea of saving it.
The Last Man – Mary Shelly
Not an easy read and very much of its day, Mary Shelly’s (yes that Mary Shelly!) apocalyptic fantasy of the end of human civilisation tells of a future world that has been ravaged by a plague.
The Death of Grass – John Christopher
After a virus wipes out much of the world’s crops and grass, society descends into barbarism. As John and his family try to make it across the country to the safety of his brother’s farm in a hidden valley, their humanity is tested to its very limits.
The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
Triffids are odd, interesting little plants that grow in everyone’s garden. Triffids are no more than mere curiosities until an event occurs that alters human life: what seems to be a spectacular meteor shower, turns into a bizarre, green inferno that blinds everyone and thus renders humankind helpless. What follows is even stranger: spores from the inferno cause the triffids to suddenly take on a life of their own and they become large, crawling vegetation with the ability to uproot itself and roam about the country attacking humans and inflicting pain and agony.
Great old school Post Apocalypse goodness. Also, has anyone else spotted the similarity to the start of some of the more modern films/t.v – Twenty Eight days later and the Walking Dead for example. Waking up from a coma into a zombie/creepy plant apocalypse!
The Chrysalids – John Wyndham
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, ravaged by what the survivors call the Tribulation – likely a Nuclear war somewhere in their distant past, the remaining inhabitants of Labrador practice a form of fundamentalist Christianity. Believing that to prevent another Tribulation, they must preserve absolute normality among the surviving humans, plants and animals. Humans with even minor mutations are considered blasphemies and hunted out to be killed, sterilised or banished to the Fringes, a lawless and untamed area rife with animal and plant mutations.
David Strom’s father doesn’t approve of Angus Morton’s unusually large horses, calling them blasphemies against nature. Little does he realize that his own son, his niece Rosalind and their friends, have their own secret aberration which would label them as mutants. But as David and Rosalind grow older it becomes more difficult to conceal their differences from the village elders. Soon they face a choice: wait for eventual discovery or flee to the terrifying Badlands.
Lucifer’s hammer – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
A massive comet breaks apart and bombards the Earth, with catastrophic results: worldwide earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, thousand-foot tidal waves and seemingly endless rain… With civilization in ruins, individuals band together to survive and to build a new society
Riddley Walker – Russell Hoban
Composed in an English which has never been spoken and laced with a storytelling tradition that predates the written word, Riddley Walker is the world waiting for us at the bitter end of the nuclear road. It is desolate, dangerous and harrowing, and a modern masterpiece.
The Children of Men – P. D. James
The year is 2021. No child has been born for twenty-five years. The human race faces extinction. So begins The Children of Men, P.D. James’s dystopian novel of mass infertility and chilling mystery.
Blindness – Jose Saramago
A driver waiting at the traffic lights goes blind. An ophthalmologist tries to diagnose his distinctive white blindness but is affected before he can read the textbooks. It becomes a contagion, spreading throughout the city. Trying to stem the epidemic, the authorities herd the afflicted into a mental asylum where the wards are terrorised by blind thugs. And when a fire destroys the asylum, the inmates burst forth and the last links with a supposedly civilised society are snapped.
The Scarlet Plague – Jack London
The story takes place in 2073, sixty years after an uncontrollable epidemic, the Red Death, has depopulated the planet. James Howard Smith is one of the few survivors of the pre-plague era left alive in the San Francisco area, and as he realizes his time grows short, he tries to impart the value of knowledge and wisdom to his grandsons.
The Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games is set in the future, post-apocalyptic nation of Panem in North America. The Capitol, a highly advanced metropolis, exercises political control over the rest of the nation. The Hunger Games is an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12–18 from each of the twelve districts surrounding the Capitol are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle to the death.
Children Of The Dust – Louise Lawrence
Everyone thought, when the alarm bell rang, that it was just another fire practice. But the first bombs had fallen on Hamburg and Leningrad, the headmaster said, and a full-scale nuclear attack was imminent . . .
It’s a real-life nightmare. Sarah and her family have to stay cooped up in the tightly-sealed kitchen for days on end, dreading the inevitable radioactive fall-out and the subsequent slow, torturous death, which seems almost preferable to surviving in a grey, dead world, choked by dust.
But then, from out of the dust and the ruins and the desolation, comes new life, a new future, and a whole brave new world.
Brother in the Land – Robert Swindells
An ‘After-the-Bomb’ story told by teenage Danny, one of the survivors – one of the unlucky ones. Set in Shipley, an ordinary town in the north of England, this is a powerful portrayal of a world that has broken down. Danny not only has to cope in a world of lawlessness and gang warfare, but he has to protect and look after his little brother, Ben, and a girl called Kim. Is there any hope left for a new world?
Z For Zachariah – Robert C. O’Brien
Nuclear war has devastated America, except for the valley where Ann Burden has been living alone for over a year – until Loomis, a scientist in a radiation-proof suit, arrives. She hopes they will be companions but his behaviour towards her becomes increasingly threatening
I hope there are some new discoveries on this list that can bring you as much enjoyment as they have brought me over the years. As ever, any suggestions for me are always appreciated!
Note – I’ve purposely excluded zombie books – but you can see my list of the best zombie novels here