The End Is Near: Apocalypse Novels to Read Before End Times

The End Is Near: Apocalypse Novels to Read Before End Times

apocalypse novels

Christina Henry reimagines the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” in her post-apocalyptic novel The Girl in Red. Set after the Crisis has wiped out the majority of the world’s population, the book follows Red on her journey to her grandmother’s house and introduces readers to the monsters she faces along the way. Here, Henry shares a few of her favorite apocalypse novels for readers to add to their TBR piles.

Apocalypse. It’s a word that conjures up destruction on a grand scale–catastrophic war, diseases with no cure, nuclear explosions, flooding, earthquakes, zombies. No matter what form the apocalypse takes, the result is always the same: Civilization as we know it is changed forever. Writers love apocalypse scenarios because the large-scale devastation is the perfect opportunity to focus on small-scale results. Change, conflict, and difficult choices for characters are all baked into apocalyptic situations, and writers love dealing their characters lots of strife.

There are two major kinds of apocalypse stories: Ones in which the characters are actively dealing with the crisis as it occurs, and ones in which the apocalypse is over and the characters are dealing with the fallout. I love apocalypse tales of all kinds, and it was difficult to narrow this list down to just five. There are many well-known examples that immediately come to mind (The Day of the Triffids, On the Beach, The Stand) so I deliberately chose books that were more recent (published in the last ten years) or less well-known, in hopes that apocalypse-lit lovers might discover something new.

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

In an isolated Anishinaabe reservation far in the north it seems like an ordinary day. Then the satellite and cell signals disappear. The power goes out. The people of the community, cut off by weather and geography, struggle to understand what’s happening and more importantly, how to survive the winter. Then the first stranger appears. His arrival heralds a change more cataclysmic for the community than the mysterious apocalypse. This slow-burning novel grapples with each person’s responsibility to those in need. Rice builds increasingly anxious tension until the story reaches its shattering conclusion.

The City Where We Once Lived by Eric Barnes

Plants are dying. Animals are fleeing. Sea levels are rising. Storms flare up, impossible in their scale, and destroy lives and buildings and societies with no warning. In an abandoned city known as the North End, a few thousand survivors eke out an existence among the ruins while most people have fled to the relative safety of the South End. The narrator tries every day to escape the grief that haunts him and the ghosts of the life he used to have, while trying to rebuild something like a new life. Barnes’ beautiful, aching novel is both an elegy and a warning for the world we live in now.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

In a world where everyone is now divided into two categories–infected or uninfected–the perfectly ordinary Mark Spitz works as a sweeper for the nascent post-apocalypse government. That is, he spends his days clearing buildings of leftover zombies, mostly as a way to pass the time and deal with his Post-Apocalypse Stress Disorder. Whitehead gorgeously captures the new dead world overlaid with lingering memories of the old one, indicting the meaningless stuff of 21st century life while simultaneously mourning all the things that mean everything to us.

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

What would happen if people lost their shadows? And what would happen if their memories disappeared along with those shadows? What would it mean for those left behind who still remembered? Shepherd’s astonishing debut lovingly–and devastatingly–explores identity, humanity, and the death of society as we know it in the face of this extraordinary event. This is the kind of book that leaves you thinking about it long after you’ve read the last page.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

“Her name is Melanie.” That’s the unassuming first line from The Girl With All the Gifts, a book that rocketed into my all-time top ten list as soon as I finished reading it. It’s full of suspense and mystery and humanity and sadness and tiny, hopeful sparks of joy. I’ve pressed this novel on more people than I can count, and every time I say the same thing–“the less you know, the better. Just read it.” Take my advice on this one: Just read it.

Christina Henry is the author of The Mermaid, Lost Boy, Alice, Red Queen, and the national bestselling Black Wings series featuring Agent of Death Madeline Black and her popcorn-loving gargoyle, Beezle.

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