Here lately I’ve been reading a lot of books with an apocalyptic slant. It’s not entirely mysterious why this would happen, as I really gravitate toward the sub-genre. It’s gotten me thinking about my favorites, which is going to be a long conversation, so let’s start with five for this article and go from there.
Before I begin, let me direct you to this helpful link: Apocalypse How. This TVTropes page will give you an idea of the different ways the world ends in fiction, based on severity. It’s very thorough, and it’s a good place to start in seeing what’s out there.
The Stand by Stephen King. It feels very right to start here, because so many novels and series have taken a page out of this book. The apocalypse in question is one caused by disease. A super flu is accidentally released, and it kills most of the population. A handful of people are naturally immune, and the survivors go on into a much different story amid the wasteland. It becomes a high fantasy of sorts with an epic adventure, going way outside of the science it starts with.
It’s considered a classic in the genre that if you want to get into this type of fiction, you should start here. I know when you see the size of the book, that will feel incredibly daunting, but it’s worth the time. The characters are all fully-realized people. There’s so much about this story and how it’s presented that’s incredibly memorable. You’ll find yourself deeply invested and feeling wrung out with emotion by the time the book is done. It’s the cream of the crop, for sure. And as I said, so many works jump off of this, some of which I’ll be addressing here.
Swan Song by Robert McCammon. Here we have The Stand but nuclear. For a while now, we’ve been living in a world where anything could go wrong at any moment, and the bombs would be over our heads. This book explores what would happen if that indeed were the case. For the time it was written, it’s very accurate about radiation poisoning and nuclear winter, the effect fallout would have on both people and the land they inhabit. Like King, he throws in some magic to make things extra interesting, and all his characters are deeply-written and feel real.
It’s actually not fair to call this The Stand over again, because he does a lot differently. It really is an entirely different book, but I do wonder if it would exist if not for its predecessor. Not to diss my man King, but the pacing in this book is a lot better. This would also be a fantastic place to start for newcomers, but it is another brick. A rewarding brick with a lot in it to love, but a brick nonetheless.
Mister Touch by Malcolm Bosse. Now I feel it’s time to talk about a book that again probably owes its existence to The Stand but is far less well-known. Mister Touch follows a group of people holed up in the city who are attempting to survive after a disease has ravaged the nation. The interesting thing here is no one is immune. Everyone catches the disease, but it varies in severity. It affects eyesight and the ability to breathe on varying levels. They’ve developed a system where those who see well or breathe well help those who don’t, and it’s a very interesting, tidy way of handling a difficult situation.
That’s where this book is about community, and how the only way mankind survives is on each others kindness. It’s expressed a lot throughout this book, and it’s never Maudlin or heavy-handed. There’s also a lot in here about identity, since everyone in this tribe has chosen to forsake their names before the disaster and all go by nicknames chosen for them. A coping mechanism in a world gone mad. I wish more people would read this, because it really is wonderful and sadly forgotten with a lot to say about humanity.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This is a good one to follow Mister Touch, because this book is less about the how and why of the apocalypse and entirely about two people trying to get through it. A man and his son. Something has happened, and the prevailing theory among fans seems to be that an asteroid hit the earth or a super volcano erupted. In any case, it’s never clearly stated what happened. All we know is there’s the man and the boy, and they have to find food and keep surviving in a world where the sun is gone and nothing grows. The world has gone so long like this, even prepackaged food is scarce and cannibals roam the countryside, making for a harrowing journey.
If you’re a fan of things like The Walking Dead, where the point is not the zombies so much as people, this will be right up your alley. Though it’s bleak. I mean, the entirety of the genre tends to be bleak with spots of hope, but nothing is bleak like McCarthy is bleak. Trust me on that. It’s short and written with sparse language as stark as the landscape he’s writing about, and it’s very effective. It’s not so much a story as a reading experience.
Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire. This is a totally different medium being a graphic novel series, but for that reason it helps shake this list up a little. Once again, we have a disease that kills the population. In the midst of this disease are the births of human/animal hybrid children who appear to be immune. So we have a few human survivors who will eventually die from this disease trying to use these kids in the search for a cure. With all the dubious morals that go along with that when people get desperate.
This series is incredible, both visually and in the story it tells. It’s six volumes long, so it’s easy to collect and not expensive, since I know that’s where some people balk at starting in on a comic series. There’s a great emotional core to the story, and the ending, which I will not spoil, is very epic.
Expect I will be back another time with more recommendations for you. In the meantime, if you liked this and would like to support my blog, check out my Redbubble Shop. Also, if there’s any other genre you’d like to hear me talk about, let me know in the comments. I’m not schooled on everything under the sun, but it’d give me an idea of what some of you would like to see from me. As always, happy geeking!