It’s getting close to Dec. 21, 2012, so naturally everyone’s interested in the end of the world and its aftermath, the post-apocalypse. “Post-apo” has become sort of a hip shorthand for such end-of-the-world themes. Sensing this interest (or maybe sharing it), quite a few authors have set novels in some kind of post-apo world. There are dozens of such books in the library. Below is a quick survey.
I’ve purposely left out post-apo vampire novels, with the sole exception of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, written in 1954, well before the Twilight series. And zombie books are strictly eschewed, as are alternative histories.
Generally, the post-apocalpyse looks pretty depressing. Most aren’t as dark as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but bleak enough.
Nuclear apocalypse is a very popular end-of-the-world scenario, whether by major exchange, by tactical nukes or by suitcase bombs. In some cases, nearly everyone is killed. In other scenarios only a few million are killed, but the economy melts down and so does society, as in Whitley Strieber’s War Day. Sometimes radiation causes weird and dangerous genetic mutations, as in Tatyana Tolstaya’s The Slynx.
Technology running amok is another common theme in post-apo literature. Malignant nanotech chews its way through the organic community in Jeff Carlson’s Plague Year. Genetically altered organisms are featured in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. But even such simple tech as a cell phone might end the world, as in Stephen King’s The Cell.
Environmental disaster is also a biggie, featuring soil-destroying toxins, massive storms, genetic mutations, loss of human fertility, and rising oceans. In Steven Baxter’s Flood, the ocean rises until your favorite Starbucks is about five miles under water.
Since the old ways haven’t worked out so well, the end of the world offers some neat plans for reorganizing what’s left of society. Fascism figures big, of course, as in Bernard Beckett’s Genesis. Some post-apo governments are based on ecological, egalitarian principles, as in S.M. Stirling’s Change Saga series. Women-dominated societies are fairly common, as in Pamela Sargent’s Shore of Women and Sheri Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country. Rupert Thompson’s Divided Kingdom separates people by their attitudes, angry, hopeful, etc. and fences them in together. In Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, cloning replaces sexual reproduction. How boring is that future?
Humorists find humor even in the end of the world. See Victor Gischler’s Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, in which the highest form of civilization is found in Joey Armageddon’s Sassy A-Go-Go strip clubs. In Will Self’s Book of Dave, society’s holy scripture turns out to be the rantings of a long-dead, psychotic London cab driver who buried his “manifesto” in his garden. Not even the late, great Kurt Vonnegut Jr. could resist this genre, with Galapagos.
By the way, if you’re interested in all the dates on which the world was supposed to end, check out the website A Brief History of the Apocalypse . For a user guide to the prophesied 2012 apocalypse, see the book 2012: Science or Superstition by Alexandra Bruce.