The apocalyptic theme has captivated the world for many decades, reaching an all-time peak in the 21st century with the rise in fascination of zombie-thrillers, technological-disasters, and "end of the world" survivors. From video games to books to even albums, our society has undeniably been influenced by our own morbid fascination into the potential for apocalypses.
Whilst there are games like Fallout, Mad Max and, even to some degree, shooters like Battlefield and Call of Duty to cater to this, and movies like the classic War of the Worlds and 28 Days Later to appease film-goers, what books are there for us word geeks? In this article, I’ll rank my top apocalyptic books, and a brief synopsis for each one, spanning a range of subgenres such as plagues, tech-steampunk, and underground survival, to name a few. These aren’t ranked in order, just a simple collection of my very favorite apocalyptic books.
In a tainted, broken future, a community has created a refuge in a giant underground silo hundreds of stories deep. Within it, men and women live through a society dominated by regulations they believe are meant to provide them safety. Sheriff Holston, who has upheld the underground rules for many years without trouble, suddenly breaks the largest taboo there is when he asks to go outside.
A nuclear bomb is detonated high above the United States of America, and the resulting electromagnetic pulse (EMP) destroys the entire power grid and almost every electrical device in the country below. Within one second, the entire country which once stood on top of the world is thrown into the Dark Ages.
The second entry by Hugh Howey follows on from the world of Wool in a trilogy of books. Wool explores the Silo’s world, Shift—another book by Howey, explores the Silo’s creation, and Dust explores the Silo’s downfall. Rather than closing the book definitively, Howey has actively encouraged his fans to write and publish their own fanfictions of the book to continue the Silo legacy.
The Day of the Triffids is a simple classic, often described as one of the few cornerstones for the post-apocalyptic genre that has swept the world today. It follows the fate of the planet after a comet shower blinds the majority of the world’s population. Those who aren’t blinded must struggle to reconstruct the society they once knew whilst fighting mobile flesh-eating plants called "triffids." Director Danny Boyle says the opening hospital sequence of The Day of the Triffids inspired Alex Garland to write the screenplay for 28 Days Later.
This book acts as a sequel to one of Margaret’s earlier books, Oryx and Crake, where a long-feared waterless flood had hit the planet, altering Earth as we know it and wiping out most human life with it. Critics of the book have noted that, whilst at times the plot felt chaotic, this tied in with the flawed reality the book tried to portray, creating a fine line between reality and the fiction given.
Emergence follows a brave and unique eleven-year-old orphan girl struggling to live in a post-apocalyptic United States of America. Amongst critical reviews, the girl has been labelled as “the most compelling female protagonist in modern science fiction,” also adding the character is “full of both surprises and interesting details” making this a must-read for fans of the darker, more isolated side of the apocalyptic world.
Earth Abides follows the story of the fall of civilization from a deadly disease and its rebirth thereafter. As it was written prior to the peak of the Cold War, it lacks some of the "common" post-apocalyptic conventions we hold today and in later novels; There are no dominating evil gangs, atomic weapons, or radiation, no mutants, monsters, and other beasts and no warring worlds. Only a natural disease and how mankind tries to rebuild after it. A humbling and desolate theme to set any apocalyptic fan back to its roots.
When the United States of America military accidentally unleashes a biological weapon (aptly nicknamed “Captain Trips”), it wipes out the country. A few thousand citizens, however, are naturally immune to the plague and the book follows several of them as they traverse the new destroyed society. The "good guys" settle on a farm owned by a one-hundred-eight-year-old African-American woman, whilst the "bad guys" settle with the “Dark Man” in Las Vegas. Critics argue this is Stephen King’s greatest ever book.
Following a nuclear holocaust that annihilates the United States of America, thousands of years of history and civilization are wiped out overnight, and the vast majority of the population is destroyed instantly. However, one small town in Florida is miraculously spared—the men and women of all backgrounds must come together to confront the new darkness created in the war’s aftermath.
This book by Brooks collects individual accounts narrated by an agent of the United Nations "Postwar Commission" following a destructive global conflict against a zombie plague. Other passages included a record of a decade-long struggle for power, as experienced by people from varying nations. The personal accounts also follow the resulting social, religious, environmental, and political changes following a zombie apocalypse.
A flu virus has decimated most of the world’s population, and those who survive are plunged into a world without antibiotics, air travel, internet, or many other day-to-day comforts. The survivors have created their own settlements, which are each visited by a traveling symphony performing Shakespearean works. There is a sense that all texts from the pre-flu society have become precious artifacts, relics of a foregone, decayed civilization that should be treasured and worshipped. It’s one of the most considered and ideas-rich takes on the post-apocalyptic genre to date.
If you don’t know about The Hunger Games, either the trilogy of books or series of films, you must have been living under the largest of rocks. The series follows a society dominated by districts in which, each year, one person must represent their district in a game-esque death match where only one can survive. You follow the same characters on their progression through the numerous games, and the games' downfall as society rises up against the oppressive dictatorship.