End of the World Books
Ah, to curl up with a good book! Reading was always one of my favorite pastimes.
I remember a rainy day on a camping trip when I was seventeen and with nothing
better to do I sat in my tent eating ginger snaps and reading Helter
Skelter. It was heaven . Following is an alphabetical list
of some of the apocalyptic titles I've read, with a short commentary about each one. The opinions here are only my own. If you want an unbiased
opinion, read the book yourself. : )
- After Man: A Zoology of the Future
(Dougal Dixon, reprinted in 1998) This book is not really about
Man's destruction. The loss of Homo Sapiens from the world is covered in
barely a paragraph. It is signifigant in covering the possible evolution
of life several million years after the fact. Neatly written and
beautifully illustrated, this is a fascinating read.
- Aftermath (Levar Burton, 1997) In the beginning of
the next century several large natural disasters, some caused by the space
shuttle taking off (Exactly how this happens is unexplained), cause the
Government to go almost bankrupt from paying emergency relief. The first black
president is elected, and almost immediately assassinated, causing race riots.
The country crumbles, leaving each state to fend for itself. An out of work
scientist, a shaman, and a little girl set out separately to help a woman who
has developed a device which cures all sickness but grants ESP also. Actually,
it's not a bad book -- you can tell that it's the Author's first book -- but
it has an interesting story line and seems to be setting the pace for later
books, sort of how Final Impact does in the end.
- Alas, Babylon (Pat Frank, 1959) The classic
nuclear war story. A nuclear war occurs, leaving a small section of Florida
untouched. Deals largely with the problems associated with a breakdown and
then a reforming of the central government. I was especially interested in the
problems they had with people going to nearby towns which "looked fine" and
brought back contaminated jewelry.
- A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter Miller,
1960) An absolutely fascinating book about the reconstruction of civilization
after a nuclear war. It is written in three parts, all post-holocaust covering
the future equivalent of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and Modern times. A
- Earth Abides (George Stewart, 1949) A plague story
from the standpoint of a geologist watching the cites crumble slowly and
mankind return to tribes. The main character takes a trip across the United
States and meets some of the few survivors, then returns home and raises a
family which becomes more like a tribe. His children give up science and the
only useful gift he can come up with to give them is how to make a bow and
arrow. The book spends most of its time in the San Francisco area. (I come to
ask, now and then, why so many works of this nature take place in California?
My guess is the authors place the story in an area they are familiar with...)
- Empty World (John Christopher, 1977) A plague
which kills by rapidly aging it's victims wipes out most of the world, leaving
a boy to look for survivors. He wanders about England looking for survivors
and eventually meets a pair of girls.
- Eternity Road (Jack McDevitt, 1997) This is a
wonderful book. A Canticle for Leibowitz meets The Hobbit is the best way to describe this. The
book is set about one thousand years after a plague wipes out most of the
worlds population, a group of people set out to find "Heaven" a place where
the books of the pre-plague years are kept. There is a lot of emphasis on the ruins of the cities which clutter the landscape, and the
stories and legends are well thought out. I was particularly impressed with how McDevitt handled
what a future society under the circumstances would be like. A good book to
lose yourself in. Look out though. I call the author Jack "Who's he gonna kill
next?" McDevitt. He writes some wonderful characters you love, then proceeds to kill
off the ones you like and have the ones you don't survive.
It's like he's posessed by John Stienbeck or something...
- Final Impact (Yvonne Navarro, 1997) Here's a
strange one. A "rouge planet" which seems be on a path to crash into Jupiter
is simply ripped apart by a near miss, the pieces end up on a collision course
with earth. The impending doom of the fragments, however is overshadowed by
the four main characters in their personal relationships. When the impact
finally does happen it turns out that the world is being prepared for
a return to the "ancient times" of vampires and psychic powers. It's strengths
are in that it actually goes through the trouble of explaining why a lot of
these things happen. It is (in my opinion,) a very odd book, but worth reading
once. In the end it seemed that the author was just writing a prequel to a
- The Girl Who Owned A City (O.T. Nelson, 1975) A
well planned book about a plague which sweeps across the world, killing all
those over the age of twelve. As bands of children form gangs everywhere, a
girl rallies her block together in a high school and forms a community. This
was the first book of its kind I ever read. Written for teens, this book ignores a few obvious points as to things such as who buried all the adults, and how did all these kids handled all that loss so well, but the story still stands well.
- Ice! (Arnold Federbush, 1978) Industrial gases
bring down global temperature, ushering in the next ice age in a few months
time. As with Earth Abides, this apocalypse is very technology unfriendly. I
felt really bad for the main character, who really tried his best to help
everyone, but it becomes a "Drop the shackles of modern technology" book where
everyone gives up on science and starts a tribe, sort of like in Earth
- The Last Man [vt No Other Man] (Alfred
Noyes, 1940) Super-weapon kills everyone quickly, save for those underwater.
Three survivors. Ordinary good guy, bad guy, fight over girl plot line. This
book seems to be the one which introduced the whole "Doomsday Weapon" idea.
- Level 7 (Mordecai Roshwald, 1959) An unnamed
country builds a massive shelter for the people who will be the "Button
Pushers" for a nuclear war -- Level 7 being the lowest level in the shelter
where the actual war will be controlled by pressing a few buttons. The story
starts with the lead character being whisked away to the shelter and he begins
a diary which we are reading as the book. The war eventually happens,
destroying all life on the surface of the planet and radiation begins to kill
everyone in the upper six shelters. Yet another literary warning about how
nuclear war will kill us all, but needless to say an enjoyable book.
- Lucifers Hammer (Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven,
1977) I'm a huge fan of anything with Niven's name attached, and this one is no exception. This book follows the chain of events
up to, during, and after a comet hits the earth. A very good read. Set in
California (See, another California!), with almost all of the main characters
trying to get to the ranch of a senator who prepared for the worst, and then
the can't-have-an-apocalyptic-fiction-novel-without-it struggle between the
good guys and the bad guys.
- Malevil (Robert Merle, 1972 translated
English by Derek Coltman 1974) A fairly strong nuclear war happens, hitting
France hard. The main characters in the story are all saved because
they are all tasting wine in the basement of an old castle named
Malevil. They come out to a quite luckily radiation-free environment and form a feudal
society. Though I felt some aspects could have been a little more realistic (such
as the author goes to great lengths to explain how difficult it was for
the people in the castle to survive the initial blast, whereas they visit a nearby
town to find that by some strange coincidence most people there survived..), the story is
really quite engrossing.
- No Blade of Grass (John Christopher, 1957) A virus
appears which attacks all grasses killing crops around the world. This story
focuses on a band of people leaving London for a valley which has been planted
with potatoes and turnips -- plants immune to the virus. This story is
different in that as most books the breakdown of civilization into bands of
killers is observed from the victim's point of view. In this story, however,
the protagonists are the band of killers. This caught me by surprise.
A good book all considered.
- On The Beach (Nevil Shute, 1957) Nuclear war takes
place between the superpowers creating a deadly radioactive cloud moving
southward. Most of the book is set in Australia (the last remaining nation),
as the characters wait for the cloud to overtake them, having nowhere else to
go. It's interesting how the people decide to spend the last days of their
- Riddley Walker (Russel Hoban, Reprinted in
1998) Set in an indistinct future after a nuclear war, Riddley Walker finds
himself caught up in a series of events bigger than he is. This odd
and thought-provoking book is written entirely in the future language (which
is fairly passable english), and though confusing is still satisfying enough
to take a shot at.
- The Road (Cormac McCarthy, 2006) A deep, well
thought out and written story about a man travelling across the ruins of a world
that seems to be doomed to die. While rather depressing, it is admirable that this book does not pull its punches with the reader, as the end of the world is exactly that -- ugly. A must-read for any fan of the genre.
- The Postman (David Brin, 1984) A man, wandering
the Western United States after a nuclear war gets robbed of all his
possessions, then finds an old postal uniform. He goes about pretending to be
a postal worker from the "New" United States and quickly finds himself in the
uncomfortable position of leadership he does not want. A very good book, and not to be judged by the awful and overlong movie version of it.
- The Purple Cloud (M. P. Shiel, 1901) Slow to
start, and difficult to read at times, but an insightful look into what being
the only person left alive would do to ones mind. In this book, volcanoes rise
up out of the Pacific Ocean spurting a purple cloud into the atmosphere
killing everyone but the main character, who is at the the North Pole. The
book goes deeply into what good and evil are, as most end of the world fiction
does, but seems to handle it differently than most others.
- The Stand (Stephen King, 1979 (reissued uncut in
1991)) The best of all plague fiction, in my opinion. Nowhere do you find so
much detail about what it would be like to have a plague sweep through people
leaving very few alive. The book is a monster to read, over a thousand pages I
recommend the uncut edition. This was an adaptation of the short story "Night
Surf" in the compilation Night Shift by the same author.
- This Is the Way the World Ends (James Morrow,
1986) This is the most cheerfully fun, and pleasantly depressing book I've
ever read. Words cannot even begin to describe how the book and story flow.
The plot is that a man who is truly a "Joe Average" is saved from a nuclear
war in which mankind is made extinct. He, and several others are then put on
trial (by those who will never be born), for the extinction of the human race.
A good book.
- The Tripods Trilogy are a set of four books (if
your include the prequel, which was published twenty years after The Pool
of Fire) about the earth under the reign of a race of beings called the
Tripods. They were written to a juvenile audience, but are nonetheless
excellent reads, all.
- When The Tripods Came (John Christopher, 1988)
The prequel to The Tripods Trilogy. About an alien race which
captures the planet through the use of a hypnotic television program.
- The White Mountains (J. Christopher, 1967) The
first book written in the series (set one hundred years after When the
Tripods Came), covers the world after the invasion, which has settled
into a medieval setting, which we in the next book learn is easier for the
Tripods to control. We learn of the human resistance to the Tripods and the
trek of the main character and his friends to the rebellion headquarters.
- The City of Gold and Lead (J. Christopher, 1967)
The main character, Will, goes on an expedition to infiltrate one of the
cities of the Tripods by being chosen to serve them. He later escapes, which
leads us to...
- The Pool of Fire (J. Christopher, 1968) The
story of how the human race bests the Tripods, and saves everybody on the
earth, who almost immediately go back to their own silly old squabbles.
Sounds corny, but it makes a nice departure from the "Oh we have to band
together now as a race" cliche. : )
- Tsunami (Crawford Kilian, 1983) This story takes
place with a much slower catastrophe as the depletion of the ozone layer
continues large chucks of Antarctica split off creating huge tsunamis, one of
which hits San Francisco The actual tsunami is background for the plot, which
is two men struggling for control of the area in a world that is falling
apart. (California again...)
- Warday (W. Strieber and J. Kunetka, 1984) A very
well-put-together novel of two authors who set off on a trip across America
some years after a limited nuclear war. The "Interviews" with survivors from
many walks of life were (for me) the best part, particularly how the war
affected a funeral director.
- When and After Worlds Collide
- When Worlds Collide (Philip Wylie and Edwin
Balmer, 1933) A wonderfully done book about two worlds swinging into our
solar system. One collides with earth, and the other replaces earth in its
orbit. People race to build spacecraft to escape the doomed Earth. The story
is continued by the aptly named After Worlds Collide.
- After Worlds Collide (P. Wylie and E. Balmer,
1934) The survivors from earth explore their new home. They realise that
there was a highly technological civilization who lived on the planet
previous to their arrival. (And darn lucky the humans were, too,
the previous tenants looked like humans and built cities which repaired
themselves.) Then they find the communists made it off earth in time also.
This leads to a war and what seems to be a very rushed ending.
the World Fiction | End of the World