Required Apocalyptic Fiction: A Top 10 List

07Oct13
Cover of "Lucifer's Hammer"

Cover of Lucifer’s Hammer

The government shutdown has put me in the mood for a good apocalypse! So I present a required reading list for the apocalypse. How many have you read?

This top 10 list of apocalyptic fiction — that is, fiction that takes place during or after the collapse of human civilization — is based on a crowd-sourced list from LibraryThing. These books do represent the classics of apocalyptic literature and are all must-reads, although my personal top 10 list would differ slightly.  I list those differences in the Honorable Mentions section at the end of the list (now updated to include more worthy classics). I have added links to my reviews of each book, if I have reviewed them.

10. The Stand by Stephen King – An epic story of the final showdown between good and evil that takes place after a bio-engineered superflu kills most of the world’s population.

9. On the Beach by Nevil Shute – What if the powerful countries of the world waged a nuclear war so catastrophic that all life was destroyed, and you were stuck in southern Australia, watching the deadly radiation move slowly, inexorably your way? This is one of the bleakest of the post-apocalyptic sub-genre.

8. Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle – Comet slams into the Earth; collapse of civilization quickly follows.

7. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson – Neville, the last man on Earth, spends his days hunting down and killing the zombie-vampire creatures that have overrun the world, and holes up in his fortified house at night while the monsters congregate outside.

6. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood – In a dystopian exaggeration of current American society, an insane genius crafts a solution to the problem of humanity. This is the first book in the MaddAddam trilogy.

5. The Postman by David Brin – Following World War III, a lone man, wandering in the wilderness, finds a postman’s uniform and puts it on, little realizing that this small gesture would be the first step in restoring civilization.

4. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham – Set thousands of years after a devastating nuclear war in Labrador, Canada, this novel asks what it means to be human, and whether is not only possible, but also desirable to transcend humanity.

3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy – A man and his son travel to the coast along a road through a ravaged, ash-covered America, foraging for food in an entirely lifeless landscape and avoiding other survivors. Next to On the Beach, this is the other bleakest book in the bunch.

2. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham – Wyndham is the only author to have two books on the list with this classic about man-eating plants that start to take over after a passing meteor blinds most of the Earth’s population.

1. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. - A monk struggles to preserve spiritual life and wisdom in the years following a nuclear holocaust.

Honorable Mentions

Lord of the Flies by William Golding — A nuclear war causes a plane of schoolboys to crash on a deserted island; they soon revert to savagery in this classic.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells – A Victorian-era scientist invents a time machine and travels forward in time to learn of humanity’s outcome and witness the dying of the Earth.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King — Indeed, the entire Dark Tower saga is set in a world that has “moved on.”

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank – A classic story of survival from the Cold War-era of post-nuclear holocaust fiction.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick – The environment has been ravaged by nuclear war, animals are almost extinct, and Deckard must hunt down renegade replicants in this futuristic dystopia.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler – Forced to flee an America where anarchy and violence have completely taken over, empath Lauren Olamina–who can feel the pain of others and is crippled by it–becomes a prophet carrying the hope of a new world and a new faith christened “Earthseed.”

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman – Hilariously depicts the events foretold in Revelation and the attempt by a demon, an angel, and a witch to stop them. I need to reread and review this.

Your turn. What are your favorite books in the post-apocalyptic genre?

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5 Responses to “Required Apocalyptic Fiction: A Top 10 List”

  1. Have you read Connie Willis’ Doomsday?
    I’ve read a number of these books and there is a considerable scope here. I’ve seen the film Cloud Atlas, but have not yet read the book. The film is quite incredible.
    I too read A Canticle for Leibowitz a long time ago.
    I find myself lacking in things to say while thinking there ought to much to discuss here.
    Odd.
    hello

  2. I think my favorite in that list is The Stand. I like books that tackle spirituality without being religious, and I think The Stand is a great example of that.

  3. The Stand is one of my favorites too

  4. Hello. I like the way this list turned out because it offers such variety in the theme. Although there are many others that could have fit as well. I have read that Connie Willis book, but it was long ago. It might be a good reread candidate.


  1. 1 Required Science Fiction: A Top 10 List | Books Worth Reading

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