We’re in a Post-apocalyptic Golden Age. Not even during the Cold War were science fiction books about the apocalypse and life afterward so popular.
Here’s a chart of the top Post-apocalyptic science fiction books, and when they were published.
There are three distinct groupings when post-apocalyptic books are popular (note that this excludes all zombie and young adult books):
- the 1950s
- around 1980
- 2004 – present (current Golden Age)
In the 1950s, people worried about communism and nuclear war, and science fiction reflected those concerns.
Around 1980, it was plague and danger from space, and science fiction reflected those concerns.
Now, we’re worried about everything. War, viruses, natural global disasters, genetically modified humans, computers run amok, you name it. Young adult apocalypse (not on this list) is especially popular.
As a species, we seem to be pretty freaked out right now.
The population of the entire world has been obliterated by a pandemic of vampire bacteria. Yet somehow, Robert Neville survived. He must now struggle to make sense of what happened and learn to protect himself against the vampires who hunt him nightly.
As months of scavenging and hiding turn to years marked by depression and alcoholism, Robert spends his days hunting his tormentors and researching the cause of their affliction. But the more he discovers about the vampires around him, the more he sees the unsettling truth of who is—and who is not—a monster.
“I think the author who influenced me the most as a writer was Richard Matheson. Books like I Am Legend were an inspiration to me.”
Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.
Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now, that the boy and girl are four, it is time to go. But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster?
Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey—a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her. Under the guidance of the stalwart Tom, a motly group of strangers banded together against the unseen terror, creating order from the chaos. But when supplies ran low, they were forced to venture outside—and confront the ultimate question: in a world gone mad, who can really be trusted?
“[A] chilling debut… Malerman… keeps us tinglingly on edge with his cool, merciless storytelling [and] douses his tale in poetic gloom… An unsettling thriller, this earns comparisons to Hitchcock’s The Birds, as well as the finer efforts of Stephen King and cult sci-fi fantasist Jonathan Carroll.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Over 30 miles from the nearest town, and several miles away from their nearest neighbor, Nell and Eva struggle to survive as society decays and collapses around them. No single event precedes society’s fall. There is talk of a war overseas and upheaval in Congress, but it still comes as a shock when the electricity runs out and gas is nowhere to be found. The sisters consume the resources left in the house, waiting for the power to return. Their arrival into adulthood, however, forces them to reexamine their place in the world and their relationship to the land and each other.
“From the first page, the sense of crisis and the lucid, honest voice of the… narrator pull the reader in… A truly admirable addition to a genre defined by the very high standards of George Orwell’s 1984.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
Hig somehow survived the flu pandemic that killed everyone he knows. Now his wife is gone, his friends are dead, and he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, Jasper, and a mercurial, gun-toting misanthrope named Bangley.
But when a random transmission beams through the radio of his 1956 Cessna, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life exists outside their tightly controlled perimeter. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return and follows its static-broken trail, only to find something that is both better and worse than anything he could ever hope for.
“A brilliant success.”
—The New Yorker
If you look online, the descriptions of this book are so dissimilar it sounds they like they’re about completely different stories, which is a good indication of the breadth of craziness of this story.
Written by the son of thriller writer John le Carré, The Gone-Away World has been described as a “beautifully silly plan of melding a kung-fu epic with an Iraq-war satire and a Mad Max adventure.”
“[T]hose intrigued by works that blur genre boundaries will find this wildly original hybrid a challenging and entertaining entry in the post-apocalyptic canon.”
The Gulliver’s Travels of the nuclear age, the Alice in Wonderland of the arms race, this mordantly funny and visionary tale of the apocalypse was a Nebula finalist. The trouble starts when George Paxton ingenuously signs an admission of complicity in starting World War III.
“The only book in the last ten years that I’ve read twice… a remarkable achievement.”
—Arthur C. Clarke
He was a survivor, a wanderer who traded tales for food and shelter in the dark and savage aftermath of a devastating war. Fate touches him one chill winter’s day when he borrows the jacket of a long-dead postal worker to protect himself from the cold. The old, worn uniform still has power as a symbol of hope, and with it he begins to weave his greatest tale, of a nation on the road to recovery.This is the story of a lie that became the most powerful kind of truth.
“The Postman will keep you engrossed until you’ve finished the last page.”
In this classic novel, a nuclear holocaust ravages the United States, and tens of millions of people are killed instantly. A thousand years of civilization are stripped away overnight. But for one small town in Florida, miraculously spared, the struggle is just beginning, as men and women of all backgrounds join together to confront the darkness.
“An extraordinary real picture of human beings numbed by catastrophe but still driven by the unconquerable determination of living creatures to keep on being alive.”
—The New Yorker
Like all the best post-apocalypse stories, the famous and well-respected On the Beach examines ordinary people facing nightmare scenarios.
In this case, a mixed group of people in Melbourne await the arrival of deadly radiation spreading towards them from the northern hemisphere following a nuclear war.
If you’re a tough guy that doesn’t cry, be alone when you read the end of the book.
“The most shocking fiction I have read in years. What is shocking about it is both the idea and the sheer imaginative brilliance with which Mr. Shute brings it off.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages.
While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.
When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.
“A real gut-wrencher… What makes Butler’s fiction compelling is that it is as crisply detailed as journalism… Often the smallest details are the most revelatory.”
Amy was abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued, and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her.
As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.
“The type of big, engrossing read that will have you leaving the lights on late into the night.”
—The Dallas Morning News
Cat’s Cradle is Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet’s ultimate fate, it features a midget as the protagonist, a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer, and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and hilariously funny.
“A free-wheeling vehicle… an unforgettable ride!”
—The New York Times
In The Drowned World, the sun’s become too hot (130°F on a good day), and the cities of the world are submerged. Humanity is now collected down in Antartica or above the Arctic circle.
(This was written in 1962, so way before the current climate change troubles.)
During a scientific expedition to a sunken London, Dr. Kerans contends with a Triassic-like environment with giant iguanas and mosquitoes the size of dragonflies. These surroundings trigger psychological changes in him and others, back to when humans were nothing but shrews scampering away from dinosaurs. It’s subtle, though—they don’t start digging holes or anything.
Then, of course, trouble comes.
The Drowned World starts out as hard science, but gets a little mental. At points it’s hard to know whether the main character is seeing things as they really are. But even at the book’s loopiest, author Ballard’s writing stays crisp and understandable.
“A bold, hypnotic novel, by an author with a genius for the perverse.”
The Girl With All the Gifts is a wonderful book, which is odd praise for a story about zombies. But it’s surprisingly thoughtful, and at times, even tender, all while managing to be a fast-paced thriller. Every day I looked forward to reading it.
In a post-apocalyptic England, Melanie, along with other children, is imprisoned in a windowless bunker. They are all strapped down and muzzled whenever they leave their cells. No adult is allowed to touch them under any circumstances. Given who these children are, these are reasonable precautions. Then the installation is attacked, and Melanie is freed along with several adults, some who want her alive, some who want her dead, and others who want her dissected.
“…a brilliant work of science fiction, but even people who never read science fiction should absolutely read this one.”
Riddley Walker is a unique, fascinating book. It takes places a few thousand years after a nuclear Armageddon in England when a young boy comes across a plan to recreate a weapon from the ancient world.
Humanity is semi-literate, and the language in the book reflects that. It can be a little off-putting; here’s the first line of the book:
On the naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the last wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for along time before him nor I aint looking to see none agen.
When I first started Riddley Walker, I thought, “Oh god, I don’t want to deal with this.” But someone whose opinion I respect (darn those people) recommended it, so I kept going.
It was totally worth it. Yes, you have to read it slowly, and yes, it’s more work than reading a typical book. But it’s also a lot better than a typical book. I think it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.
“Stunning, delicious, designed to prevent the modern reader from becoming stupid.”
—The New York Times
A virus sweeps through the world and quickly kills off 95% of humanity, ending all comforts of civilization. The book’s protagonist is Kirsten, a young woman traveling with a band of musicians and actors who move from town to town, playing music and putting on Shakespeare plays. They hunt for food and tread carefully in a dangerous world, but even they can’t avoid a deadly and insane prophet.
Author Emily St. John Mandel flings the reader back and forth in time, examining characters both before and after the pandemic by jumping from thirty years before the virus to twenty years after and back again. But she does so with such a deft touch that these transitions feel natural and illuminating.
“Darkly lyrical… A truly haunting book, one that is hard to put down.”
—The Seattle Times
Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey—with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake—through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.
“Towering and intrepid… Atwood does Orwell one better.”
—The New Yorker
By the winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature
A city is hit by an epidemic of “white blindness,” which spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but the criminal element there holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and raping women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides seven strangers—among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears—through the barren streets, and the procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing.
“This is a shattering work by a literary master.”
—The Boston Globe
This is Miller’s first and only novel, but he didn’t hold back: it spans thousands of years, chronicling the rebuilding of civilization after an apocalyptic event.
Despite early reviewers that called Miller a “dull, ashy writer guilty of heavy-weight irony,” it’s never been out of print in over 50 years.
A nameless son and father wander a landscape blasted by an unspecified cataclysm that has destroyed most of civilization and, in the intervening years, almost all life on Earth.
The novel was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and critics have called it “heartbreaking,” “haunting,” and “emotionally shattering.”
After being bitten by a rattlesnake in the mountains above Berkeley, California, Isherwood Williams gets a measles-like disease. He can’t get home and moves in and out of consciousness. Eventually, he recovers and makes his way back to civilization to find almost everyone on Earth is dead. He is one of the few survivors, and they must decide how to keep humanity alive.
“This is a book… that I’d place not only among the greatest science fiction but among our very best novels.”
Hey! Where’s The Stand?!
The Stand by Stephen King is the gold standard of post-apocalyptic stories, but it’s horror/fantasy, not science fiction.
Dude! Where’s World War Z?!
I loved World War Z by Max Brooks (son of comedian and filmmaker Mel Brooks), but there wasn’t enough science in the fiction to warrant inclusion.
You cad! Where’s Swan Song?!
Swan Song’s a lot like The Stand: horror/fantasy instead of science fiction. Readers of one usually like the other. Also, it has a silly cover.
167 thoughts on “21 Best Post-apocalyptic Science Fiction Books”
I am thrilled that “Riddley Walker” was included (even if as a bonus). It is a brilliant, unforgettable, complex and profound novel. I read Benjamin DeMott’s front page review in the NYTimes Sunday Book Review when it was released and immediately had my local library order it. There was no internet when I first read it, but I do advise looking to it for some help with abstruse arcania, geographical and other sites in England noted in the book, and interpretations of Riddley’s invented/degraded language.
Another golden age EOW book is Calizona. Funny yet realistic. Definately not like any of the other books listed.
I was surprised that Calizona was not on there. There are 2 books in the series now, and the sequel was even better than the original. Just so funny, I can’t remember ever laughing out loud at a post apocalyptic book, simply a lot of fun.
So glad to see Ridley Walker mentioned. Read it years ago. Loved it. A forgoten masterpiece.
Hey! Dude! You cad! Where’s Metro?!
I second that. Metro should be on that list!
I read one book based on your reviews. Thanks article.
Thanks for the list, I was looking for some good books to read.
Richard Matheson wrote I am Legend in 1954. what a beautiful, horrifying story, it has
haunted me for years.
Also, Hiero’s Journey, by Sterling E Lanier. One of my favorites, I read it around the same time I read Alas Babylon .
Thanks for the list, looking forward to reading them.
Half of these books should come with a noose. “The Road” was probably the most depressing book I’ve ever completed. I’m still conflicted about the story.
Agreed. But I feel it’s his conveyance of that emotion that marks McCarthy a great writer. [spoiler removed] Without that overwhelming sense of hopelessness, you can’t feel the magnitude of his task.
Wow. Thanks for the spoilers.
Wow. When I read comments from a booklist, I expect spoilers.
Whoops. That’s my bad. Those shouldn’t have gotten through. I’ll delete any spoiling comments that I see.
Definitely agree with “Oryx and Crake” which I just finished reading last week but “The Year of the Flood” is very disappointing so far. Too many main characters, too little character development. I’m 150 pages in and considering calling it quits there.
Looking for good Cli-Fi read, I just started reading The Year of the Flood and it’s rubbish. Never read Atwood before and maybe should have Oryx, but it starts nowhere and goes…… nowhere. Gave up after Chapter 9 on my Kindle. Can’t understand how she won the Booker if it’s anything like this
I enjoy many of Atwood’s books but Oryx and Crake was a least favorite.
I’ve read seven of the others and agree that all of them belong on a “best of” list, so it’s not just different tastes. But… different tastes.
I read Earth Abides 30years ago and never forgot how much I enjoyed it. Didn’t even know in what category it would be listed. I am now armed with more titles in a genre I have said I would never read
Eat your heart out Mystery Writers
It was my first taste of Science Fiction and it was a masterpiece.
You have some of my favorites on here! I highly recommend The Death of Grass, too.
I agree, sadly. Read Grass when I was 10 years old (now almost 60 years on), loved JC, and was trying to find another good, post apocalyptic read, but failed miserably. And read Nevil Shute at same age, also good (except the irritating “upons”); and am amazed that with Climate Change also now on us, nobody can come up with a good post-, or even pre-apocalyptic story, excuse me…. “narrative” (Yuk!). Where’s all the talent gone?
This list is way too long, especially if you have to fill it with Howey. The rest of your selections were pretty good, but I feel Swan Song deserves a spot. Finally, Riddley Walker was horrible. I would say The Earth Abides and The Road stuck with me the most from the genre.
^^^ This. ^^^
Mostly, anyway. There’s a ton of great post-apocalyptic sci-fi. If I had to pick 20, I’m not sure Howey would get A mention, much less four. Not a knock on Howey, there’s just a ton of stuff out there. The “suggested reading” list at the end of the Wastelands anthology is pretty exhaustive.
One can argue about the list, but anyone having the insight to include “On The Beach” at least did their homework. “The Road” rules! My only complaint would be the absence of “Fail Safe,” particularly since it was serialized during the two weeks of the Cuban Missile Crisis! And, yes, “I Am Legend” is Matheson at his best – forget the crappy film.
I’m disappointed that Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 did not make this list. It is my very favorite story in the genre. I first read it as a teen (and many times since – I’m now 47) and it is perfectly written, epic in its scope and leaves you totally satisfied. I’ve recommended it many times, often loaning out my ragged personal copy, and the reviews have been utterly singular in their ringing praise.
Yes, the movie was HORRIBLE; literally establishing the standard against which all awfulness will ever be measured again. But imagine making Lord of the Rings into a 84 minute movie. This is why the movie was so bad. Not the original story.
Yes, it was written by L. Ron Hubbard. Scientologist in Chief. But the book has nothing in common with his religion.
The story is so good that, the first time I read it, I actually was sad that I had read it because I could never read it for the first time again. THAT’S a good book and a recommendation I can not make of any other book I’ve ever read.
I should include that this story does not compare with The Road in its impact. It’s an adventure story in the same sense as an Errol Flynn movie. Still, great fun and a wonderful read.
I agree whole heartedly, would also recommend David Robbins End World series, although I’ve only read a limited amount of the series because its not a very well known series. Haven’t been able to find them, and our library system up here doesn’t have any of them. They were a favorite in my house for a 13 year old, 18, 26, and 47. Not many books have appealed to my entire family!
Firelance by David Mace, I shall await your reading of such, and watch for a review….
What is the source for that chart??? I’d like to use something like that for my research on the subject.
I made that chart myself. I just looked up a bunch of books and made a spreadsheet of their publication date and a made-up “pop score” reflecting relative popularity. That score probably doesn’t hold up to much statistical scrutiny, but it worked as a good starting place.
No offense to Hugh Howey, but seriously, FOUR books?
Thank you for your list. I am finding that this is quickly becoming my favorite fiction genre and I am working my way through some of your recommendations.
I had already read “The Road” and “One Second After” – both of which are outstanding. I have since read “The Girl with All the Gifts” and “Wool”. “Wool” was a bit slow to start, but an outstanding book – though I am not sure I would put it above One Second After (my #1 so far) or The Road (my #2). The Girl with All the Gifts isn’t close to as good as the previously mentioned books in my opinion – I wouldn’t recommend it.
Again, thanks for the list! I will continue working my way through it.
Totally agree. Would never put Wool before One Second After, The Road or Atlas Shrugged.
Excuse me, I meant Alas, Babylon – not Atlas Shrugged!
“atlas shrugged” is bad apocalyptic fiction, not good post apocalyptic fiction.
I thought “One second after” was horrible. A lot of Macho posturing. Just men with guns shooting people. No real solutions to problems. It’s like these people never camped, hunted, or had gardens. And the medical references were ridiculously unreal, and down right wrong. And don’t get going on the female characters…
Someone realy should have the Deathlands series on this list author James Axler, we love these books. Very good story lines, and love the characters.
I read all of them, not too bad
Awesome round-up, thanks for sharing!
I’ve just picked-up a dog-eared copy of Lucifer’s Hammer – I hadn’t heard of it before reading this, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck in. Can’t speak highly enough of Alas, Babylon, and The Road – with the latter being one of the most beautiful pieces of prose I’ve ever come across.
I’ve included a few of these in my own round-up, and it’d be great if you could check it out and let me know what you think!
The 50 Best Post Apocalyptic Books
I’ve read the majority of the books listed. I’d have to agree on Wool and the silo series being excellent intriguing stories. I have an incredibly hard time believing that “Lights Out” by David Crawford isn’t #1 on this list. Heck, it didn’t even make the list. Lights out is a great story where a small community comes together to survive a world without electricity due to an EMP. Excellent read if you haven’t. Will be a favorite I am certain. One of the few I’ve read twice! Some small grammar errors rarely, but written well enough to be a classic!
Just read Wool on your recommendation and loved it and am now getting ready for Shift and Dust!!!
Where is the “donate here for my awesome reviews” button…
Since I couldn’t find one, I just snagged your book NXY on my Kindle as the only means that I could find of repaying you.
Thanks again for your great reviews!
Wow! Thanks! That’s very cool.
Thanks for compiling the list. Have you read The Passage by Justin Cronin? It really deserves a place. The sequel, The Twelve, is also excellent. For lovers of the genre they are a must. Cronin wrote “literary” books before and his young daughter challenged him to “write a book about vampires”. The final part of the trilogy, City Of Mirrors, is out sometime soon.
This is a great books review. Keep up the good work!
Thanks for the list and good tips for reading.
I would add my two cents with Robert Merle and recommend his Malevil (1972) and Les hommes protégés (The virility factor, 1977).
Best I’ve read was called “The Last Canadian” by William Heine – It was also released for a different market as “Death Wind”.
2 suggestions I would make are:
This is the way the world ends – James Morrow
A Brief History of the Dead – Kevin Brockmeier
Was hoping someone would mention “This is the way the world ends”. Far deeper and thought-provoking than I had expected as a teenage reader with shelves full of sci-fi.
I’m looking for a series of books that I read in the mid 90s The main character had an eyepatch his girlfriend had bright red hair they had a friend they called dark who somehow was transported ahead in time along with a black doctor and a man that wears a fedora. I cannot renew night remembe along with a black doctor and a man that wears a fedora. I cannot Remember the name of the books I do remember there were a group of people that were deformed because of the nuclear holocaust and they call them stickies because they had mouth and teeth on the tip their fingers in on the palm of the hand and when they touched you get ripped your skin right off. They travel around the country trying to avoid the acid rain and cannibals
Deathlands by James axler…graphic audio has put out over 120 of their audio versions with full cast of voice actors…gets a bit cheesy at times but great for a sustained story line. Also check out outlanders…this series takes place 100 years after deathlands. Delves more into the secret redoubts from the totality projects.
I googled some key words that you mentioned – could it be Deathlands by james axler?
James Axler’s “Deathlands” series. There were 125 books in the series, but the first title is “Pilgrimage To Hell”. There is a prequel, of sorts, called “Encounter”; though it was the 40th-something book written in that series, the events take place right before “Pilgrimage To Hell”. A subsequent series taking place in the Deathlands universe but nearly a century later, “Outlanders”, ran 75 titles. Both series abruptly ended a couple of years back but author Mark Ellis, who helped create the “Outlanders” series, is coming out with a relaunch of Outlanders. Hope this helps.
Thanks for the list! I have read both Margaret Atwood books on the list and I would say The Year of the Flood is a great book with a world imagined well and an intriguing story. The first novel not so good. Off to read some new ones now, thanks 🙂
How about, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
I read a book in the 50’s that has always stuck with me. Takes place on a ship bound to Boston. Northern hemisphere continents have sunk. It’s later discovered that new continents have arisen in the southern hemisphere. It has a hopeful ending with land sighted.
Does anyone know the title?
As long as you bring up John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, how about another Wyndham post-apocalyptic novel, The Chrysalids (aka Re-Birth).
Great list. Have read 7 of the listed books. Planning on reading some of the ones listed that I didn’t know about.
Anyone know the name of the following book description? Electricity goes out worldwide due to a Russian experiment in Iran. Scientists in America get diesel trucks to run then take their families cross country. Run into a warlord type putting steam power back in use. Read paperback early to late 60s . Thanks
Thank you so much for putting this list together. I have been slowing going through lists like this is apocalyptic books. I have read World War Z, One Second After, The Stand, The Road, I Am Legend and just finished On The Beach. As far as zombies go I really liked World War Z. My overall favorite book in the list of ones I have read so far is One Second After but after just finishing On The Beach I have to say it is the saddest book I have ever read! The author hits the nail on the head when saying “If you’re a tough guy that doesn’t cry, be alone when you read the end of the book.” WOW! I might have to take a little time off from reading to recover from that ending! Onyx and Crake and The Long Road are next on my list while I anxiously await the follow-up to One Second After, One Year After due out the end of June.
Good grief. I should proof read before hitting Post Comment! I meant “I have been slowly going through lists like this in apocalyptic books.”
Not that anyone cares, just sparking conversation, but I just couldn’t get into Wool. I am sitting about 3/4 done and haven’t touched it in months. It just seems like another Divergent, Hunger Games, Maze Runner type series. I’ve only read the Divergent Series, and while I found it entertaining, I probably would have enjoyed it more as a teenager instead of an old man. 🙂
The Road was good but it wasn’t long enough to get me too involved with the characters.
Share your feeling about “Wool” series, but I get why some love it. I tend to like stand-alone novels over series, but that’s just me. Some of the old school stuff (“Lucifer’s Hammer”, “Alas, Babylon”, “The Postman”, etc.) just gets it done in one.
I was wondering why The Postman wasn’t discussed. What a heartbreaking book.
Finish Wool and the entire series, Hugh is an amazing guy and an amazing writer, coolest ending ever! I’m a huge fan of this genre and that series is at the top of my list. Nothing like the other series you mentioned.
Great list and good comments. A few others worth throwing out there include “A World Made by Hand” and “Seveneves”. I’m in the pro-“Battlefield Earth” book club, but the movie … just … no. Love “WWZ”, but zombiepocalypse books can be a separate list.
The reason The Stand wasn’t included is because it IS included! The first half of The Stand appears to be virtually lifted, character by character, side plots and all from Earth Abides, with a generous helping of S.King supernatural frosting on top.
it’s a novella but still….. harlan ellison’s “a boy and his dog”.
I did like that one. I cared about the characters but the surprise was not telegraphed before hand so it was actually something I didn’t see coming and that is so rare that I have a hard time separating my approval of that feat from the style as a whole. I’d say it’s pretty good though.
I personally enjoyed Malevil by Robert Merle. It should be on this list. One Second After was an awful read. I’m not sure why it’s on this list of bests. After reading it I searched out the classics in post apocalypse and have read most of the older stories on this list.
It is hard to decide, but what about The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. I cried. I also loved each and every character.
Glad someone mentioned The Dog Stars. Beautifully written and yes, I cried too.
Agree. Very well written, and very believable.
I am surprised David Brin’s The Postman isn’t on the list.
What about Poison Belt (the Professor Challenger series) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, not sci-fi enough? 🙂
I’d never heard of The Poison Belt before, but I just looked it up and it’s definitely sci-fi enough. Very cool.
If I had to add one classic end-of-the-world book to the “must read” list then it has to be David Graham’s “Down To A Sunless Sea”. A masterpiece of the subject.
Thanks for this list Dan! I was surprised by how many I’ve read and loving working through the rest of this list.
Loved the Wool series because it involves underground survival. Loved Alas Babylon, a classic. One Second After is brilliant but so depressing. On The Beach is a classic but why weren’t they digging shelters around the clock? I am looking for recommendations on underground survival fiction.
If you like Alas, Babylon or One Second After you’ll love Tomorrow! and Triumph by Philip Wylie. Farnham’s Freehold by Robt. Heinlein is compelling but it (predictably) leans towards sci-fi
Underground survival / post-nuclear-apocalypse fiction–utter classic was the novel Level 7. The attempt by remaining military personnel to survive in the deepest level of a missile-control bunker, after both sides’ missiles have been sent onto the “enemy” country.
Aaargh! Where are Roger Zelazny’s unique takes ? Damnation Alley and Call Me Conrad (also published as This Immortal).
Just wonderful lists you have here. I’m still working on them (just found your site courtesy of the ClassicScienceFiction email group). I’ve found lots of new things to check out, and many of my favorites are included in the lists. I was delighted to see “The Sparrow” on one of the lists. It’s superb and doesn’t get mentioned often enough. For post-apocalyptic, my favorite genre, I second “Down to a Sunless Sea”, a haunting and unforgettable book.
Malevil is the best ‘serious’ post apocalyptic novel I’ve ever read. For something more modern and science fictiony there’s S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse series. Which is a great read.
against the tide of years & dies the fire (#1) by s m sterling too of my favorite
Women writers are great too! “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel is one of the best books I’ve ever read.
I couldn’t agree more.
A really nice list on the whole — thanks! I’m pleased that “Earth Abides” and “Canticle for Liebowitz” made your cut, but I don’t think Howey merits 4 mentions at the expense of Graham or Zelazny. Nor, for that matter, the omission of “Davy” by Edgar Pangborn; does no one read Pangborn anymore? “Davy” was influential enough to lead Paul Kantner to write “Wooden Ships” for the Airplane, way back when.
Why not The Postman by David Brin? It incorporates themes of cyber technology and super computers mixed with a decayed society. The movie did not do the book justice and the book should be on this list.
Hmm. I’d posted a comment wondering at the absence of Edgar Pangborn’s “Davy,” as well as Zelazny’s “Damnation Alley,” but it’s been removed. Did I offend somehow?
No offense! All comments are held in moderation until approved, and I was out of town for a while, so I wasn’t able to approve comments.
To those looking for more stories in the genre: The Pelbar Cycle by Paul O. Williams, a seven book series.
Only two female writers on a list of 20 books. Lame.
Concur. I would add “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel.
Also, “Into the Forest,” by Jean Hegland.
I would too, but that book was published after this list was written.
An early post nuclear holocaust novel, by Judith Merrill, came out in or before 1950. A beautifully done novel, but I do not recall its name.
I remember reading a book when I was a child called The Girl Who Owned a City I think that falls within your category I don’t know how good it is from an adult perspective though.
You say “The Stand” isn’t science fiction enough to be included but include “Lucifer’s Hammer”. I loved LH but it’s no more science fiction than “The Stand”
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Hothouse World by Brian W. Aldiss
and most egregious
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Great List! What about Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E Butler?
The only reason Butler isn’t on this list is because when I made it, I hadn’t yet heard of her. Since then, she’s made an appear on multiple other lists.
There’s a book I’m not sure what its called but I don’t know what it’s called it’s post apocalyptic and there’s like note cycle clans that divide the United states and this kid is the son of like a chef of one of the clans. The kid gets captured by what’s left of the government and gets all educated then escapes and tries to rally the clans against the government
Like I said I don’t know what it’s called but it sounds awesome it was written a while ago like probably the 80s
Sounds like the “Storm Rider” series of the mid-80s. I think the author is Barron. I don’t have any of those titles, though.
I know this list is a little old, but if you ever update, I would suggest looking at Bird Box by Josh Malerman. It a great book for people who put themselves in the shoes of the characters.
Now I have to read it. I can’t get into a story unless I can put myself in a character’s shoes, and if it’s a good story I can’t stop reading until I’m done.
Where is the V Plague series, I feel this book series should definitely be on here. I found it much better than some of the other ones one here. Defiantly should be on here, should take a look at it.
This book is by Dirk Patton, and defiantly not a child book, I really think people would love it. This book puts a twist on the normal, senseless zombies.
Emergence was the first post-apocalyptic novel I ever read and the one that made me into a huge Science Fiction fan. I found it in a box of my father’s books when I was 11 or 12 and have read it several times since that first experience. It’s a great read if you can find it, I think it might be out of print, 🙁
they shouldve added the maze runner or the hunger games too.
I’m reading Oryx and Crake now and was just reminded of a book I once upon a time read, a part of a postapocalyptic series of unknown duration. I believe they were from the 80s, as if that narrows it down.. I would love to pick up this book and it’s counterparts again! Let me provide some clues in the hope someone might help me.
1. Cannibalistic(?) Cult chants “Helter Skelter has come down!”
2. Remnants of U.S. govt living in a bunker under the Black hills monument.
3. General Mad Max vibe, but with teamwork in armored vehicles with rather non-futuristic weapons and tech (apart from the govt buker)
Sounds like it could be “Apocalypse of the Dead” by Joe McKinney. I read it last year… a good book.
I am looking for a book that is post apocalyptic written late 50s early 60s based in new york, clues to help find this book are as follows:
tribeca, emp, atm, living underground , bartering for everyday neccesties like food , medicine.
It would be great to see Level 7 by Mordecai Roshwald on the list.
Station Eleven ???? Love it.
Station Eleven was awesome! It’s one of the top books I’ve read this year.
A Masterpiece of a very thoughtful end of the world: “Swan song”
Thanks for providing the list because I have already looked for Science Fiction Books.I hope this is amazing for me.
Just finished the whole series One Second After, One Year After, and The Final Day; highly recommended as apocalyptic reading, very good hits close to home. However Howley King? Highly disagree! The “Hell Divers” series ranks on my list, the Audiobooks read by RC Bray are some of my favorite!
Speaking of more modern literary writers that is (anything that’s closer to our technological frame of reference)
Strong, excellent prose, and thoughtful twists kept the novels of “One Second After” and the last two books moving beautifully into a classic end of the trilogy.
Another recommendation for Level 7 by Mordecai Roshwald.
I read a book when i was young it was about a boy got sick in a cabin in the woods to wake up days later to find most of the population was gone…anyone remember that? also loved the Road & the Dog Stars! JD
I think you’re thinking of Earth Abides. Written in 40’s or 50’s. Still an excellent book!
Ready Player 1?!?! Where is this fantasssstic book???
A great book, but I’d call in dystopian, not post-apocalyptic.
I loved the Last Policeman series.
This is a good list, with some great oldies, but your excuses for omiting The Stand and WWZ are lame. The Atwood books and several others are not very sci-fi. The Stand has some super natural / horror nonsense, but it established the genre and remains a standard. WWZ might be the most under appreciated work of fiction in the history of literature. It transcends any genre. It might not be artsy enough for snobs, but it’s inspirational. Swan Song sucks.
“Swan Song” continues to be one of the most compelling “End Of The World” stories to ever rise (and stay there) at the top of its genre–Period!
Did I miss David Brin’s The Postman!? One of my favorites. Alas Babylon is the best!
The passage trilogy by Justin Cronin. Best series ever written.
Also Dr Bloodmoney by Philip K Dick and Nick Harkaways gone away World.
Thank you for all the comments!…just a suggestion though…if you are going to list a favorite, please include the author (if you know it) and a sentence of its content so we can make a decision to include it on our own list.
Were was Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky? That book is amazing!
Anyone looking for a good read, I highly recommend commune by Joshua gayou
One Second After, by William Forstchen….and Last Light, by Alex Scarrow. Both books are on any list worth its salt. One Second After is a frightening yet compelling read, make sure you read the foreword too.
On the Beach
The Girl with all the Gifts
The Dead Lands
World Made by Hand
The Last Man
Oryx and Crake
World War Z
One Second After
Malevil by Robert Merle. #1 for me.
A book no one has yet mentioned is Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow. It takes place in the not very distant future (which is to say a few years ago, as it was written in 1955), some time after an atomic war. The 30th amendment to the US constitution forbids cities of over a thousand, since it was the concentration of wealth and power (both actual and political) in the cities which made it so easy to shatter civilization. The protagonist, although brought up (like everyone else in the country) as a religious anti-technological conservative, seeks a way to Bartorsville, a rumored technological utopia. It’s one of the very first post-atomic-war novels, and still one of the best; there’s very little attempt to overdramatize either the situation or the characters. You know where Brackett’s sympathies lie, but she doesn’t caricature the opponents.
Excellent addition. Thanks!
Where is Swan’s Song…and The Stand for godsakes?
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Glad Wool was on the list!
Lucifer’s Hammer is a GREAT book. Very realistic for its time. Other than the names of the different sides, this book could have been written today. I have read and read this book countless times.
I just read it again, probably 5th time over the past 30 years. Never gets old. I grew up in the valley, and played in the kern river area and angeles national forest area, too, so it had an even more realistic feel to it.
I can’t believe you left William Brinkley’s the last ship off an excellent read that was minus most technology of the day…….. but still
A few good apo reads, perhaps not syfy enough, but fun: The Rift, Wolf and Iron, The Cell, Postman.
“Lights Out” by David Crawford would be a good addition to this list.
Where o where is Ward Moore’s 1947 masterpiece, Greener Than You Think? The not-mad scientist provides the science — or maybe it’s not enough science for this list. But it’s brilliant social satire with a heavy dose of sardonicism and lyrical writing. And in the end, it’s the end.
I should wait until November 22nd, 2021, but who knows maybe none of us will be here. One of Huxley’s finest is Ape and Essence.
As I read through the list, making my way to #1, I kept thinking where’s “Earth Abides”? I bet it isn’t here because it isn’t `Sci-Fi` enough. So I was gratified to see it listed in the top spot.
I have to say that “Earth Abides” is one of the most memorable books I have read, Sci-Fi or not. The only speculative feature of the story is the death of most of humanity. Everything else just flows from there, with a deep understanding of the nature of ordinary people and the environment. No suspension of disbelieve required, it could happen tomorrow.
Greybeard by Brian Aldiss. Not his best, but was interesting enough to finish.
I have read “I Am Legend”, “The Postman”, “Alas, Babylon”, “On the Beach”, “The Passage”, “The Girl with All the Gifts”, “A Canticle for Leibowitz”, “The Road”, and “Earth Abides”. 9 of the 21.
I would add a few more to this:
1. “Lights Out” by David Crawford
2. “Emergence” by David Palmer
3. “One Second After”
I read On the Beach as a 10 year old elementary student in 1960 causing me to have nightly horrific nightmares. It certainly laid the foundation of my apocalyptic mind.
So strange that there is not the classic novel “Scarlet Plague” by Jack London!!!
For future list consideration: Land O’ Goshen by Charles McNair
Where is The TIme Machine by H.G. Wells?
And I forgot “Lucifer’s Hammer” and “FootFall” by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.
From a friend:
“Also missing: Wells’ War of the Worlds, Heinlein’s Farnham’s Freehold, Zelazny’s Damnation Alley, Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, Norton’s Star Man’s Son, Boulle’s Planet of the Apes, Pedler/Davis’s Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters”
I approve of this list. Especially the Heinlein and the Norton.
I know this is a revised list, so that might explain the following anomaly. In your intro you state: “(note that this excludes all zombie and young adult books)” and yet at #8 is The Girl with All the Gifts. Isn’t that a zombie book?
Whoops! You’re exactly right. Good eye.
Hey. What happened to Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Wild Shore?
#1 One Second After Dr William Forstchen. What happens to our society and country when an EMP takes out the Electric Grid and millions of microchipped devices.
Easily the most believable apocalyptic book out there – with a tip of the had to Pat Frank.
I enjoyed Dies the Fire and also Fever, but just couldn’t get into Margaret Atwoods or The Passage though I gave both a good try several times. Earth Abaides – a classic