No book review this week as I’m still working through two chunkers: Roses by Leila Meacham and The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin. The latter reminded me that I wanted to do a roundup of my favorite piece of apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, a subject that I read a lot of.
Merriam-webster defines “Apocalypse” as:
A great disaster : a sudden and very bad event that causes much fear, loss, or destruction.
I’ll be doing a separate post on dystopian fiction next week. I personally make the distinction that a dystopian novel puts forth the notion of a flawed utopia, which usually occurs after a great disaster. You can normally identify a dystopian by the presence of a strong government or ruler. Apocalyptic fiction either deals directly with the disaster itself or puts forth a society after the apocalypse that is still reeling from the events and has not yet achieved peace and order, utopian or otherwise.
Mary Shelley’s novel, The Last Man, published in 1826, is considered to be one of the first modern apocalyptic novels. I didn’t love this one so it’s not included in my list, but it’s interesting to note that apocalyptic fiction has been enchanting our hearts and minds for almost 200 years now.
9 Best Apocalyptic Fiction Novels
The Passage by Justin Cronin
An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy—abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.
My Take: Two words: Vampire. Apocalypse. Add to that that the author holds an MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and you end up with stunning novel. The passage is the first book in a trilogy, with the third book being the recently released City of Mirrors.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.
The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, “each the other’s world entire,” are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.
My Take: I started this novel not knowing what to think, but instantly found my afternoon falling away as I was transported by this incredible novel.
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.
Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother-or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.
My Take: I started this book not realizing it was about aliens. I’m a scardey-cat so I almost stopped reading cause I wasn’t sure if I could hang. But I ended up totally loving this book. The 5th Wave is the first book of a trilogy.
You can read my full review of The 5th Wave here.
Gone by Michael Grant
In the blink of an eye, everyone disappears. Gone. Except for the young.
There are teens, but not one single adult. Just as suddenly, there are no phones, no internet, no television. No way to get help. And no way to figure out what’s happened.
Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow stronger by the day. It’s a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen, a fight is shaping up. Townies against rich kids. Bullies against the weak. Powerful against powerless. And time is running out: On your 15th birthday, you disappear just like everyone else…
My Take: This was an epic six book series that managed to stay just an engaging in book six as in book one. This book was the right amount of creepy, thrilling, horrifying, and hopeful. A must read.
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
What if — whoosh, right now, with no explanation — a number of us simply vanished? Would some of us collapse? Would others of us go on, one foot in front of the other, as we did before the world turned upside down? That’s what the bewildered citizens of Mapleton, who lost many of their neighbors, friends and lovers in the event known as the Sudden Departure, have to figure out. Because nothing has been the same since it happened — not marriages, not friendships, not even the relationships between parents and children.
Kevin Garvey, Mapleton’s new mayor, wants to speed up the healing process, to bring a sense of renewed hope and purpose to his traumatized community. Kevin’s own family has fallen apart in the wake of the disaster: his wife, Laurie, has left to join the Guilty Remnant, a homegrown cult whose members take a vow of silence; his son, Tom, is gone, too, dropping out of college to follow a sketchy prophet named Holy Wayne. Only Kevin’s teenaged daughter, Jill, remains, and she’s definitely not the sweet “A” student she used to be. Kevin wants to help her, but he’s distracted by his growing relationship with Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family on October 14th and is still reeling from the tragedy, even as she struggles to move beyond it and make a new start.
My Take: This is one of the first novels I reviewed on Isle of Books almost 5 years ago (gasp!) This novel is very different from the others on the list, notably because life isn’t all that bleak. It’s bleak, sure, but it’s not death-around-every-corner bleak. The best way to describe The Leftovers is a non-religious take on the rapture.
You can read my full review of The Leftovers here.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.
One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.
Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.
Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.
My Take: Starting this, I didn’t expect such a beautifully written novel. I was expecting something on par with the movie, Contagion. But Station Eleven is beautifully imagined and beautifully written.
You can read my full review of Station Eleven here.
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.
This is the twelfth expedition.
Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.
My Take: This was a pretty darn creepy book. I almost gave up on it (and by extension, the series) because I wasn’t sure I could hang, but I’m so glad I did. The atmosphere of Area X is just superb…chills you right to the bone.
You can read my full review of Annihilation here.
Blindness by Jose Saramago
A city is hit by an epidemic of “white blindness” that spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and assaulting women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides her charges—among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears—through the barren streets, and their procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing. As Blindnessreclaims the age-old story of a plague, it evokes the vivid and trembling horrors of the twentieth century, leaving readers with a powerful vision of the human spirit that’s bound both by weakness and exhilarating strength.
My Take: This is a dark, tough, and gritty novel. It should be noted that this novel features a scene of graphic rape that is hard to stomach. But it’s certainly worth a read if you can get through it. There is also a sequel to Blindness called Seeing, which I have not read yet.
You can read my full review of Blindness here.
Left Behind by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye
An airborne Boeing 747 is headed to London when, without any warning, passengers mysteriously disappear from their seats. Terror and chaos slowly spread not only through the plane but also worldwide as unusual events continue to unfold. For those who have been left behind, the apocalypse has just begun.
My Take: No list of apocalyptic novels would be complete without this thirteen book series detailing the events of the rapture and Earth’s last days. This is a Christian series, but it is also imaginative and engrossing.
Anything you would add to my list? Leave me a comment below!