What Now? A Post-Apocalyptic Reading List

Walter M. Miller - A Canticle for Leibowitz

Between the movie 2012 and the actual year 2012 looming on the horizon, global warming summits and Viggo Mortensen heading down The Road, the apocalypse has been on a lot of minds lately. But if you’re one of the (un)lucky ones to survive the actual big event, then what should you do? As usual, we turn to science fiction writers for the answer. The following books were all selected because they focus on what comes after the end, rather than the end itself. They attempt to answer the all-important question: Now what?

(Note that books that depict supernatural events following the apocalypse, such as showdowns with the Devil or legions of zombies, have been omitted. We’re interested in practical survival guides.)

  1. Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, edited by John Joseph Adams — This collection of short stories is a retrospective of possible post-apocalyptic scenarios, ranging from the immediate aftermath to far, far in the future. While a few horror and dark fantasy stories have been thrown in the mix, most of these excellent selections are straightforward science fiction depicting various ways of coping with the end of everything.
  2. The Road by Cormac McCarthy – In what is probably the bleakest of our selections, a man and his son wander through a desolated landscape of ashes, eking out their survival from the little that’s left remaining, while trying to get… well, nowhere in particular, really.
  3. The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler – Society has completely collapsed, and a young woman is driven from her home after her neighborhood is burned and her family murdered. Despite the violence and hopelessness that surrounds her, she is determined to spread her spiritual message.
  4. Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle – A comet has slammed into the Earth, destroying all governing structures, and within weeks all of the survivors have reverted to feudalism, cannibalism and worse. Fun times.
  5. Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank – The residents of a small Florida town, having been alerted just prior to an all-out nuclear war, must struggle with the vagaries of small-town politics after the apocalypse.
  6. The Postman by David Brin – When the end of America comes, what is the one thing that can bring us back from the brink of complete anarchy? That’s right: the U.S. Postal Service.
  7. A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren – Once the apocalypse is over with, two women survive on a farm on the Oregon coast while trying to preserve the remainder of mankind’s knowledge and sparring with the ultra-Christian religious cult down the beach.
  8. The Folk of the Fringe by Orson Scott Card – Following World War III, a community of Mormons is one of the few pockets of order remaining in the U.S., trying to rebuild society on the shores of a flooded Salt Lake City.
  9. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. – Six hundred years after the Simplification — total nuclear annihilation — a cloister of monks in Utah preserve the little that remains of the world’s knowledge, and wonder whether mankind is perpetually doomed to destroy itself.
  10. Earth Abides by George R. Stewart – One of the few survivors of a plague attempts to rebuild society but instead must watch it erode to a primitive state.
  11. Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin – It is the far, far future, and the only remnants of the past are a network of computers. This book collects the stories, poetry and rituals of the Kesh, who have built a primitive utopia on the ashes of civilization.
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9 Responses to “What Now? A Post-Apocalyptic Reading List”

  1. I wish there was a word to describe the feeling of slight panic and terror post-apocalyptic books always give me… I’ve been meaning to read quite a few these (primarily, predictably, “The Road”).

    I find it interesting that at least two of the listed books take place in Utah. A safe haven from the apocalypse, perhaps?

  2. I know exactly that feeling you mean. There should be a word for it. It is both scary and exhilarating. Maybe this is why we read such books.

    A quick setting analysis reveals that of all these books (minus the short stories) only two are not set in California/Oregon area or Utah. They are Alas, Babylon (Florida) and The Road (setting arguable, I thought it was North Carolina myself, but I may be biased). Perhaps if you want to survive the apocalypse, you should move west?

  3. Hi, great list! I love post-apocalyptic fiction, but apart from The Road I don’t think I’ve heard of any of these. You’ve given me some books to add to my to be read list! :)

  4. When I read books like The Road I always am left with a feeling of dread. Not that those books are badly written but becuase how possible some of those stories are of becoming true.

  5. I like the disclaimer about “practical” stories.

    Have you tried: “Wolf and Iron” ?

  6. Jollymoon- No, I will have to put that one on my list!

  7. Check out The After/Life post-apocalyptic adventure novel: http://www.amazon.com/After-Life-Saga-ebook/dp/B00AYUOCAA

  1. 1 Links « Blog de carti
  2. 2 The Great Geek Manual » Geek Media Round-Up: December 15, 2009

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