Must-Read Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Books

Must-Read Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Books

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Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014) is one of the best post-apocalyptic novels I’ve read in a long time. Unlike most novels in this genre, the villain of the story are human beings. Much like they are today in a pre-apocalyptic world. It’s not us vs them. It’s us vs us. And humans can be really fucking scary.

The novel also explores what living in a post-apocalyptic world will be like. Not just one year after, but 20-years later. Mandel skips right over the first year+ of the breakdown of civilization. This could be interpreted as lazy writing, but I didn’t mind it. Most other apocalypse stories solely focus on these years. We don’t need another rehash of the lootings, killings, escapes, and deaths. We can assume that this will happen. Instead, we get to learn how civilization tries to restore some semblance of sanity.

Also different in this story is the cause of the end of the civilized world. Much like Stephen King’s The Stand, there is a highly contagious fast-acting flu. You can catch it by just being near someone with it. And it will kill you within 24-hours. Just a flu. Something that starts with a little coughing no big deal. This feels more realistic to me than some other plot devices. I also prefer to have something simple like a flu end the world to nothing at all. Many novels just skip right over that part.

The Stand can be a bit of a trudge to get through. Especially the second half. But the beginning is one of the most immersive experiences I’ve had reading. The killer flu, Captain Trips, starts with an innocuous cough. Then the coughing gets more fierce. And by then it’s likely you already have it. And your chances are slim to none. It is set in New York City. And that is where I was living when I read it. Do you know how many people cough on a subway train? In stores? While walking on the sidewalk? Every time someone coughed, I thought about Captain Trips and twitched a little. That is why using a realistic apocalypse device is so important.

Instead of focusing on survival, Station Eleven focuses on living. You know, what we do every day. Because there comes a point where you are surviving. All your needs are being met. But now what? There is no electricity. Little communication. No fast transportation. No running water. The flu has ran it’s course so you are no longer afraid of it. But now what? What about entertainment? The novel focuses on a traveling theater that performs for various small towns around Lake Michigan in the Mid-West.

You learn about many of the character’s though there are some main ones. And the narrative thread used to connect everyone is brilliant. This is an emotional story, not one about fighting. Much like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The story also spans decades so you get to watch character’s grow up. This helps the reader to feel a closeness to the main characters. Even if we never find out about certain parts of their life.

Station Eleven is a welcomed change in the post-apocalyptic genre. Reading about the human condition in a broken society is just as interesting as reading about humans surviving.

Read This If You Like: Stephen King’s The Stand and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.


post apocalyptic sci fi desert

Inverted World

Christopher Priest wrote The Prestige in 1995 and it became a movie starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale in 2006. Both formats of the movie are great. But back in 1974, Priest wrote the classic sci-fi novel Inverted World. This is frequently found on Best-Of lists and is well deserved. It is one of my favorite books of all time. I hadn’t read anything like it.

The first sentence of the novel is, “I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles.” This sets the tone for the new world you will be entering. And Priest’s writing style. The dystopian society he creates is openly strange. Yet many nuances are subtle to the point of going unnoticed until later on in the story.

The main character lives in a city named Earth that is on rails and needs to be continuously moved. It reminded me of A Handmaid’s Tale because the society is broken into classes. There are many rules. Many secrets. Men and women are separated. It feels very rigid. In this way, it is also similar to Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. One group of people gets more information than others. This bothers some, but not everyone.

Priest builds a world that will engulf you. Learning more and more about this strange society only makes you ask more questions. And the build-up absolutely pays off. This is one of the best endings I’ve read. Remember, it was written in 1974. So you may predict it now (I didn’t) but that doesn’t mean it was predictable in it’s time of publishing. Inverted World keeps a perfect pace, never letting the reader get too confused or frustrated. After all, dystopian secret societies are what post-apocalyptic civilization is all about.

Read This If You Like: Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale and Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451.


dystopian cold

World War Z

Max Brook’s “oral history of the Zombie war”, World War Z, is a non-narrative fiction novel of various people’s experiences. This is also the first book I’ve ‘read’ as an audio-book. And I couldn’t recommend a better one. The novel is set-up in a fictional world where a Zombie war happened. And the author interviews numerous different people, in different countries, to get their understanding of it. We talk to civilians and soldiers. Some interviewees multiple times.

For the audio-book version, this was just like listening to an interview. The voice-acting was top notch featuring some big name celebrities. I will listen to anything narrated by Henry Rollins. It was easy to become absorbed in the descriptions of the war. Even though the apocalyptic event is being described in the past-tense, Brooks does a great job at making the reader feel like they’re still in it.

In an over-saturated genre, World War Z really stands out. It takes a wide range of stories from so many different people. This allows you to hear about a soldier describing “all-out war.” Thinking about facing an enemy who doesn’t need to eat or sleep. Doesn’t need any comfort. Doesn’t even need shelter. Framing a zombie battle in that way was interesting. There was a hopelessness involved; despite knowing that this person survived.

Unlike the other two novels mentioned, this one spans many regions. It’s interesting to hear how the war affected people in different parts of the world. How the first few days were interpreted differently. And how varied people’s responses were. Even though there is not one main character, other than the interviewer, I still felt emotionally close to many of the speakers.

I am not one to typically read a book on zombies. But if you’re going to read (or listen to) one, this is the one.

Read This If You Like: Non-narrative fiction. And zombies.


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11 Replies to “Must-Read Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Books”

  1. I’m definitely going to check out Station Eleven. My library has it but it looks like the word is out as there are five people ahead of me that have placed hold requests. Inverted World sounds interesting, but my library doesn’t have it. I’m not much into zombies so I’ll pass on World War Z for now. I do love good post-apocalytic books. The Stand is one of my favorites. I read the uncut re-release when I was a teenager and loved it. King is wordy, but it really was a good read.

    Two of my favorite books in the genre were written when the fear of nuclear war was front and center. Alas, Babylon shows the transition from ‘just another day’ to the actual devastation as the bombs go off, and the world thereafter. In ‘On The Beach’ the bombs have fallen and most of the planet is destroyed, but this concentrates on Melbourne, Australia where the bombs didn’t fall, but they wait for the nuclear fallout to arrive. Another one that’s a step below but still worth reading is The Last Ship. It’s really almost two separate books in one novel (think of Full Metal Jacket and the abrupt shift) and I liked the first part better than the second, but it’s still worth reading overall.

    1. There was about a hundred people on the hold list before me for Station Eleven – even the eBook has a hold list! I just waited a while and my name eventually came up. Totally worth it. Thanks for the recommendations, they all sound really good. I haven’t heard of any of them before so I’m adding them to my list!

  2. I love The Stand, so Station Eleven is for me. :) I will definitely read it!

    I do agree with you about the two halves of the book – Cell was similar, I felt, in that the first half was quite fascinating but the second half not quite as much. ;)

    1. It’s pretty typical of Stephen King to start strong then end in a bit of a drivel. I say this as a fan of his works.

  3. I really like post-apocalpyse books. I read Station Eleven recently; also The Blondes, Flame Alphabet and LoveStar. My favourites are Ready Player One, Super Sad True Love Story, and (a teen novel) Feed by MT Anderson. What the last 3 have in common is a media and pop culture focus.

    I want to hear the audio book of World War Z!

    1. I’m adding your first three to my list! I didn’t like Ready Player One so I’ll skip the others in that group. I don’t need pop culture references when I’m reading about dystopian worlds :)

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