It is only fitting that as October comes to a close I wrap up this ghoulish month with the end of all things by bringing you a stack of the best apocalyptic books splattered with blood, zombie plague, and that warm, inviting radioactive glow.
The Best Apocalyptic Books with Plagues, Zombies, and Nuclear Fallout
These novels won’t help you survive the apocalypse but at least if you do survive you will have some entertaining things to read. As an aside, I wholeheartedly recommend listening to Skeletonwitch as long as you have this post up.
Obligatory apocalyptic books that everyone says are the best but I have yet to read:
- The Road
- The Stand
- Alas, Babylon
- The Day of the Triffids
- On the Beach
- Lucifer’s Hammer
- Swan Song
Ok now that’s done with on to the great novels.
The Passage by Justin Cronin
“Before she became the Girl from Nowhere—the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years—she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy.”
With its quiet, beckoning cover you wouldn’t suspect this hallowed tome of the vampire apocalypse contains anything but exquisite prose crafted in the rarefied airs of an MFA workshop.
As usual the U. S. military is conducting experiments on death row inmates with a Bolivian bat virus in a genuine, heart-felt attempt to create super soldiers.
And of course this time they finally get it right.
The twelve subjects who survive are bestowed with a benison of strength, agility, newfound mental powers and a lust for human blood and mayhem.
When The Twelve manage to utilize their burgeoning psychic powers to coerce their cell guards to release them you can quickly surmise the sort of wide scale slaughter that follows.
Weighing in at 875 pages if you find yourself needing to survive the apocalypse and you don’t have a shotgun handy this will certainly suffice to batter someone’s brains out. Even if you do have a shotgun use the book as a finishing move to show everyone else you’ve got a sense of style.
The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard
“Soon it would be too hot.”
I need to sit down and compose a panegyric to J. G. Ballard. Not really to his writing style, but to his thoughts and the wonderful aesthetics of his name.
In Drowned World, the major cities of Europe and America have sunk into the depths of lagoons formed by a radical increase in the Earth’s temperature. This of course caused the polar ice caps to melt and rich jungles redolent of Earth’s Triassic period to emerge.
This doesn’t really sound too ominous, but Ballard’s apocalyptic novel is a dark, weird, contemplative remix of Heart of Darkness exploring what happens when the world regresses to a prehistoric environment and awakens all those primordial urges we have learned to repress.
The Last Man by Mary Shelley
“I am the native of a sea-surrounded nook, a cloud-enshadowed land, which, when the surface of the globe, with its shoreless ocean and trackless continents, presents itself to my mind, appears only as an inconsiderable speck in the immense whole; and yet when balanced in the scale of mental power, far outweighed countries of larger extent and more numerous population.”
Out of all the best apocalyptic books present here, this one is my favorite.
The Last Man describes the late 21st century ravaged by a plague and follows the journeys and deaths of British aristocrats leaving you with a chilling vision of isolation, despair, and futility.
I wish Mary Shelley had written more, but given the fact that she was living with Percy Bysshe Shelley who may have been diddling her sister I’m surprised she was able to write anything at all.
“The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.”
When the moon explodes and creates what wily scientists dub a “Hard Rain” that will pummel the Earth for thousands of years, humanity surprisingly bands together to solve its problems instead of killing each other which is why this is definitely a book and not reality.
Written by Neil Stephenson, Seveneves levels an earnest gaze on the apocalypse through rose colored glasses, which admittedly, is a refreshing break from the tradition.
Seveneves is billed as a “grand story of annihilation spanning five thousand years” but its speedy pace will ensure that you finish this book long before your rations run out.
Lastly its 880 pages, making it an excellent companion weapon to Cronin’s The Passage. Save some ammunition during your next apocalypse and get up close and personal with zombies and savages: beat their brains out with books!
A Canticle for Leibowitz
“Brother Francis Gerard of Utah might never have discovered the blessed documents, had it not been for the pilgrim with girded loins who appeared during that young novice’s Lenten fast in the desert.”
After a fiery atomic holocaust known as “The Simplification,” the world has been plunged into a new dark age where even food notes from unimportant engineers are considered hallowed.
An unmissable entry, Walter M. Miller Jr’s enduring pillory of the human race questions whether or not we can ever really hope to do anything but endure the rise and fall of civilization after civilization due to our own ridiculous human follies.
The Fifth Season
“Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.”
Written by N. K. Jesimin, The Fifth Season takes place in a supercontinent ironically dubbed “The Stillness.”
When a gigantic rift splits The Stillness and spews so much ash that it blots out the sun the end begins.
World War Z by Max Brooks
“It goes by many names: ‘The Crisis,’ ‘The Dark Years,’ ‘The Walking Plauge,’ as well as newer and more ‘hip’ titles such as ‘World War Z’ or ‘Z War One.'”
If time is infinite and infinite things can happen in infinite time, then at least one reality is a planet Earth that ends is in a zombie apocalypse.
Here’s to hoping I live in that reality!
If I don’t then Word War Z—which is one of the best apocalyptic books to describe such a cataclysm—will have to suffice.
World War Z assumes the guise of first-hand accounts of survivors from the zombie apocalypse and is an absolute must read for any end of the world reading list.
The Age of Miracles
“We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it.”
Inspired by a giant tsunami that actually slowed the earth’s rotation by a few fractions of a second and Jose Saramago’s Blindness, Karen Thompson Walker’s Age of Miracles illuminates how this world will most likely end: a slow death as the earth slowly grinds to a halt.
Pensive, vulnerable, and written with a silky simplicity, it has an absolutely harrowing final chapter.
“The amber light came on.”
Written by Jose Saramago, whose temples have been wreathed with the Nobel for Literature in 1998, Blindness is at once stunning and haunting.
When a sudden epidemic of white blindness falls upon a nameless city the infected are swiftly quarantined in an asylum where they endure countless terrible acts. Outside the asylum is not much better as the social order quickly unravels. One person has been fortunate enough not to have fallen into the “milky sea” of white blindness, and it will fall to her to help
The style of Blindness is really what places this among the best apocalyptic books. The lack of punctuation (the sentences are long and rambling, there are no quotation marks) adds to the hysteria and disorientation as readers are robbed of the ordinary signs and signals–visual ques–that organize the reading world and keep them safe and steer them through their reading journey.
One Second After
“John Matherson lifted the plastic bag off the counter.”
When an electromagnetic pulse plunges America into darkness the inevitable breakdown of society quickly follows.
At the epicenter of this societal explosion is history professor John Matherson who must protect his two daughters as they battle starvation, disease, and roving gangs of barbarians.
Life as We Knew It
“Lisa is pregnant.”
When scientists announce that an asteroid is going to hit the moon, its initially celebrated as an entertaining astronomical event.
But when it unleashes catastrophe after catastrophe like tsunamis that drown millions and volcanoes that spew so much ash into the sky food can no longer be grown society begins to crumble. 16 year old Miranda and her family must deal with dwindling food supply, illness, isolation, and perhaps worst of all, a drying fountain of hope.
The Dog Stars
“I keep the Beast running, I keep the 100 low lead on tap, I foresee attacks.”
The Dog Stars commences a decade after a flu wipes out most of humanity along with any shred of humanity that might exist within the survivors.
Hig and Bangley reside in a fortified McMansion and spend their days and nights killing marauders who wear necklaces of dried vaginas.
I’ll wait while you try to scrub that image out of your mind.
When Hig kills a man over Coke and feeds the remains to his dog you know you’ve chosen an excellent read, in fact this one incident alone I think makes it one of the best apocalyptic books you absolutely must read.
Lamentation by Ken Scholes
“Wind swept the Prairie Sea and Rudolfo chased after it, laughing and riding low in the saddle as he raced his Gypsy Scouts.”
Here is one that you didn’t expect to be on this list and that will get you out of your comfort zone. The fact that you have a comfort zone reading about the terrible end of the world means that you are either a psychopath or have what it takes to survive the Cataclysm.
This is the first book in the series Psalms of Isaak and opens with a beautiful scene of stunning destruction.
Read all of these? Try Splatterism
If you are a dedicated student of the apocalypse and looking for a book to really challenge everything you hold dear you should read a free chapter of Splatterism.