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Roots of Post Apocalypse Books
Many say that post apocalyptic books became popular when the public came to know about nuclear weapons and their capacity to destroy life, as we know it. Man’s fate in the hands of a trigger happy nuclear power, something that used to be limited in science fiction books, became all too real. Hence, post apocalypse became a hot subject of sci-fi books.
However, the roots of this sort of books actually go back before the 1900. The Last Man by Mary Shelley, which came out in 1826, starts with a pandemic plague that eventually left only one survivor. Edgar Allan Poe also wrote one of the best post apocalyptic books of his time. In The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion, Poe delves on the world’s destruction as narrated by two souls. In 1885, Richard Jefferies came out with After London, which looked at the lives of survivors of England’s destruction.
H.G. Wells is perhaps one of the best known authors of some of the best post apocalyptic novels, apart from some of the best science fiction books of all time. In 1895, he came out with The Time Machine, which is about a time traveler who ends up in a period when civilization is no more. He followed this up with The War of the World in 1898, which was about the war between post apocalyptic Earth and Mars.
The Best Post Apocalypse Books
Many scifi books qualify as best post apocalypse novels. This is a list of just some of them.
Ray Bradbury is a familiar name when it comes to science fiction books. Many of his stories have post apocalyptic themes, particularly those included in The Martian Chronicles.
Orson Scott Card also has an anthology of post apocalyptic themed stories in The Folk of the Fringe. Here, he depicted the lives of American Mormons after surviving a nuclear war.
In 1950, Judith Merril came out with a post apocalyptic themed book, Shadow of the Hearth. She pictured the world of a mother of two, as she tries to survive the realities of a nuclear holocaust.
Another post nuclear scenario was presented by Andre Norton in his 1952 novel Star Man’s Son. Here, the protagonist explores post apocalyptic Earth with a telepathic cat.
Alexander Key published his own post apocalyptic scifi book. This was The Incredible Tide, which was about life after the Third World War. The undoing of civilization here was not nuclear weapons. Instead, he featured ultra-magnetic weapons capable of tearing through continents.
A number of the best post apocalypse books have been adapted into movies. Examples here are The Postman by David Brin and The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. These were published in 1985 and 2003, respectively.
Pandemic Post Apocalyptic Novels
There are several of this type of science fiction novels with a pandemic theme. We mentioned one earlier, The Last Man by Mary Shelley.
Another one is by Jack London, called The Scarlet Plague. This one happen in 2072, at the future San Francisco where some plague survivors find refuge. This came out in 1912 and was only followed up in 1949 by Earth Abides, written by George Stewart. In Earth Abides, a community tries to rebuild itself after a plague destroyed most of civilization.
Such bleakness can also be found in Empty World by John Christopher. Here, the author tells the adventure of a young boy who survives a plague that killed most of humanity.
Highly regarded author Stephen King also has one of these books out. His The Last Stand is about the travails of the few survivors of an influenza plague.
In 1984, David R. Palmer wrote Emergence, which later qualified and won the Compton Crook award of 1985. This is yet another story of how a man-made plague destroyed most of society.
One of the more notable post apocalypse novels is I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Even though the book came out in 1954, it is quite familiar to many. This book has been turned into a movie three times. The last of which was named after the book and came out in 2007. The book is about the sole survivor of a global plague that turned humans into vampire-like creatures.
Noted writer Margaret Atwood has a series of post apocalypse novels. The more notable of this is Oryx and Crake, which qualified for the Man Booker Prize shortlist. The theme revolves around the already familiar genetically modified virus that ends up killing most of the population. This came out in 2003 and was later followed up with The Year of the Flood in 2007.
Another series of this kind is Jeff Carlson’s Plague Year series, which was followed up by Plague War and Plague Zone. The series follows what happens to survivors after a nanotech disaster eats up all life below 10,000 feet.
Another kind of post apocalypse books delves on technology’s failure and its eventual dooming of society. A book with this theme came out as early as 1909, when E.M. Forster came out with The Machine Stops. Here, the world ends when the machine sustaining life underground, away from inhospitable environments, stops working. There’s a positive note here that hints of a community of people that is able to thrive without the machine.
Similar-themed books followed. For instance, there’s Ravage by Rene Barjavel. The book is about the end of future France because of the failure of electricity, which led to mayhem. In Steve Boyett’ Ariel, all technologies fail. The only thing that worked was magic.
The End through Astronomical Disasters
Earth’s ending through astronomical means is another flavor of post apocalyptic books. It began in 1901 with M.P Shiel’s The Purple Cloud. Here, the majority of civilization is killed by a poisonous cloud.
Planets collide in Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer’s 1933 series, When Worlds Collide and After Worlds Collide. The novels tell the story of survivors who eventually created a new life in the planet Bronson Beta.
The sun is the culprit in J.T. McIntosh’s One in Three Hundred, which came out in 1954. Here, the sun went nova and made the Earth inhabitable. Survivors journey to Mars, aboard spaceships that turned out to be defective.
In Hothouse, the sun also eventually killed off most of the population. This came out in 1961 and was written by Brian Aldiss.
In the Drowned World by J.G. Ballard, the sun and the seas team up to end life as we know it. The heat causes waters to rise, drowning ecosystems.
A comet ends life in Lucifer’s hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. The book came out in 1977 and was set in southern California, following the lives of survivors.
In the early 2000s, K.A. Applegate came out with a series of post apocalyptic novels called Remnants. Here, an asteroid destroys most of the Earth. NASA picks 80 survivors who get to start a life in another planet.
Make Way for the Aliens
What are end of the world books without the attack of aliens?! Several scifi books delve on the world ending because of alien invasion.
In The Screwfly Solution, Raccoona Sheldon/ Alice Sheldon tells the story of alien airborne chemicals that turn men’s lust into violent outbursts. The novelette won a Nebula award.
In 1987, Gene Wolfe came out with a series of sci fi books, beginning with The Urth of the New Son. Here, aliens destroy the Earth and move samples of people and ecosystems to Mars. This community eventually flourishes and hunts down its alien killers in Anvil of Stars.
Arguably, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe by Douglas Adam, also belongs in this genre because in the multiple versions of Earths are all eventually destroyed by alien invasion.
Post Apocalyptic Books:
If you like reading science fiction books, then you must have read a handful of post apocalypse books. Post apocalyptic novels belong to a subgenre of science fiction. These books revolve around portrayals of the end of the world, and its survivors. Usually, these books would start immediately after an apocalyptic event. The plot revolves around this theme and how civilization survives and reacts to the end of the world.
Certainly, post apocalypse novels can be very serious books. Unlike scifi books, which can inject humorous scenarios within their story, the immediacy of situations in many of the best post apocalyptic novels require serious talk and page turning action. Sure, it’ll be hard to come by post apocalyptic books that can make us laugh like the Hitchhiker’ Guide to the Galaxy does.
Anyway, this is actually a good thing. The best post apocalypse novels can nudge us toward a hard look at reality. Yes, these books are officially fiction but many post apocalyptic novels start with an all too real end of the world scenario. How many times have you read post apocalypse novels that started with a pandemic, nuclear warfare, climate change or natural disasters? These threats are all too real — it seems like the world is moving toward a horrific end.