After reading the post-apocalyptic how-to advice of The Knowledge last year (review here), I decided to gain another set of perspectives on the end of the world by reading a series of novels with that event as their premise. This might seem like a fairly narrow and dark category of novels, but I found variety not only in the types of disasters the authors envisioned, but also the ways in which the event is treated and how the characters react. This post is a quick review of seven such novels (and two honorable mentions).

  1. The Dog Stars: Both the author and his plots are native to Colorado, which was part of what attracted me to this story. It also helped that the main character is a pilot (at the time I was taking flying lessons). One flaw of this otherwise enjoyable novel is its passing: the last third takes place over a much smaller period of time than the first portion. There are also many quotable lines, as this Goodreads page attests.
  2. California: The beginning of the end in this story is much more mundane than in some of the others in this list. The weather starts getting colder, and from there things get… weird. The plot is told through a series of flashbacks. One thing I admired about this selection is the focus on just a few characters and their relationships.
  3. Station Eleven: Of all the books here, this is the one that I am most willing to recommend. Like California the plot is gradually revealed through flashes (both backward and forward in time). There is a constellation of interesting characters whose fates come together in a way that reminded me of the movie Crash.
  4. Into the Forest: This story is similar to California in both the relatively gradual way that disaster is revealed and the focus on just a few key characters. Despite these similarities, Into the Forest is a much better read than California, and probably my second favorite on this list. It has also been made into a movie which I highly recommend.
  5. Seveneves: - A poignant account of the destruction of all life on the surface of the earth. The story nfolds quickly, and with a relatively high level of technical detail that will satisfy some readers. Although this pick doesn’t feel as much like an apocalyptic novel as it does science fiction, it definitely qualifies.
  6. Odds Against Tomorrow: The most modern of the plots listed here, Odds tells the story of a Wall Street trader who makes his money analyzing risk and predicting disasters. One interesting twist in the book is that its main characters are already dead (although not literally) at the beginning. Mitchell works in the “department of equity assets and deritivatives” (think about the acronym). His love interest Elsa has a heart defect and her pulse has already stopped once. The writing is among the most beautiful listed here, with descriptions such as “a pageant of spontaneous fires” spreading through New Jersey.
  7. The Road: No group of apocalyptic novels would be complete without Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece. Though it likely inspired at least some of the writers listed above, this is the darkest selection on the list. It also has the fewest main characters, only a man and a boy. There is much about this story that is left to the imagination.

Honorable mention:

  • The Martian: Although not strictly an apocalyptic novel, Andy Weir’s debut novel is an excellent tale of survival in disastrous circumstances, when and entire planet wants to kill you.
  • The Book of Strange New Things: Although the title is not self-referential, this is indeed a strange book. The main character is employed as a missionary to another planet. While he is away, things begin to fall apart for his wife who remained on Earth. Unlike the other books listed here, this gives an outsider’s perspective on an apocalyptic event.