Recommend "end of the world" fiction.
December 13, 2004 10:20 PM   Subscribe

I would like recommendations for "end of the world" fiction books.

I'm a huge fan of "last man on earth"/"total destruction of humanity" fiction books like Earth Abides, On The Beach and The Postman. Stories like I Am Legend also really appeal to me.

What other books along those lines can I pick up?
posted by cmonkey to Writing & Language (71 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I hear the last book of the Christian bible is a hoot.
posted by cheaily at 10:22 PM on December 13, 2004

I'm going to go for the obvious: Stephen King's The Stand.
posted by Clay201 at 10:28 PM on December 13, 2004

Well, I almost hate to bring sci-fi into it, but it's my favorite genere ... "Childhood's End" is an amazing classic and would be well worth reading.
posted by SpecialK at 10:37 PM on December 13, 2004

Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.
posted by stray at 10:37 PM on December 13, 2004

A Canticle for Leibowitz - really more of a complete destruction of civilization and subsequent dark age.
posted by bshort at 10:39 PM on December 13, 2004

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
posted by willnot at 10:39 PM on December 13, 2004

Kalki, by Gore Vidal
posted by dhruva at 10:45 PM on December 13, 2004

Lucifer's Hammer, (Larry Niven).

Heart of the Comet, sorta (David Brin).

The Night's Dawn Trilogy, available as 6 books in paperback (Peter Hamilton).
The Reality Dysfunction parts 1 & 2
The Neutronium Alchemistparts 1 & 2
The Naked God yes, two parts.

The Chung Kuo series (David Wingrove).

Hmmm, all sci-fi. Perhaps I don't read enough other genres.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 10:46 PM on December 13, 2004

also does The Day of the Triffids (John Wyndham) count?
posted by dhruva at 10:57 PM on December 13, 2004

For some reason this question made me think of The End of Eternity by Asimov, which I read as a child. Not really related, but boy do I want to read it again now.
posted by stray at 11:01 PM on December 13, 2004

Why, the Left Behind series, of course.

Unless you like going to hell.
posted by borkingchikapa at 11:02 PM on December 13, 2004

Greg Bear's Forge of God is a good little Earth-itself-ends yarn, but isn't really of the Last Man Left variety. More uneven (it being his first work) is his Blood Music, which also includes some apocalyptic themes.
posted by Drastic at 11:15 PM on December 13, 2004

Warday, by Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka.

Yeah, the first guy later decided he was double plenty abducted by aliens, and it no longer applies to this post-Cold War era, but it's still pretty interesting.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:26 PM on December 13, 2004

Stephen King's The Stand.

Seconded. One of my all time favorite books period. I really don't think King gets his due in literary circles. The Stand and The Dark Tower series are amazing reads.
posted by Quartermass at 11:41 PM on December 13, 2004

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. 1950's coldwar view of a russian nuke attack.
posted by crunchland at 11:46 PM on December 13, 2004

Good Omens by Neil Gaimon and Terry Pratchett
posted by pemdasi at 12:08 AM on December 14, 2004

Two examples, one of which gets an enthusiastic suggestion...

The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect by Roger Williams
I've pimped this free work before, and I'm pleased to do so again. It's gripping and bracing, with a tacit puzzle element that starts to gnaw at the reader. Very good and VERY TWISTED, obscene even.

This Is The Way The World Ends by Jim Morrow
I read this in the midst of big Morrow kick, and I don't remember it as a favorite, but if you want bleak, this one has it in spades. Well written, but it will grind you down.
posted by NortonDC at 12:34 AM on December 14, 2004

I don't think Good Omens really cuts it for this genre.

Second Canticle for Leibowitz. Wonderful book.

Day of the Triffids (John Wyndam)?

This looks promising: but it's nowhere near exhaustive.

The Survivalist series. Heh. Man, those books are terrible. But ditto The Stand, so what do I know.

The Last Man (Mary Shelley) looks interesting.
posted by Leon at 1:53 AM on December 14, 2004

I highly recommend Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank as well. I read that book in middle school and has been the one book I make sure I have with me when I make my trips to my deserted island.
posted by Derek at 1:57 AM on December 14, 2004

I second Canticle for Leibowitz (which I'm in the middle of), and Forge of God (which is one of my most beloved books).
posted by Jairus at 2:08 AM on December 14, 2004

I second Oryx and Crake. Atwood's best since The Handmaid's Tale, I'd say.
posted by damn yankee at 2:22 AM on December 14, 2004

The Purple Cloud by M.P. Shiel.
posted by misteraitch at 3:10 AM on December 14, 2004 [1 favorite]

I have to add another vote for A Canticle for Leibowitz. If you like that one, you also should read Pavane, by Keith Roberts. (It's more of an alternate history, but it struck me as very similar in tone. And there's something about it I won't give away. Well worth reading.) Avoid Miller's post-humous sequel to Canticle -- it's just nowhere near the original.

John Christopher's No Blade of Grass is out of print but worth seeking out. In it, a virus that kills all grass -- and remember, wheat is just a type of grass -- is loose. I leave the results to your imagination (until you can find a copy of this book, anyway).

Alas, Babylon is oh so dated now, but I still love it.

Armageddons, a short story collection edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois, is an OK collection of tales along these lines. It includes Niven's "Inconstant Moon" which is one of my favorites.

Keep the recommendations coming, folks... this is one of my favorite genres as well, so I'd like to get some ideas from this thread too. :)
posted by litlnemo at 3:12 AM on December 14, 2004

I would just like to reiterate I Am Legend. Incredible story.
posted by argh!spiders! at 3:18 AM on December 14, 2004

Farnham's Freehold
posted by tetsuo at 3:37 AM on December 14, 2004

Douglas Coupland's Girlfriend in a Coma fits into this category, though in its own peculiar way. Think Breakfast Club, but everyone else on earth is dead.
posted by mek at 3:53 AM on December 14, 2004

I should also mention that only 1/3 of the book is post-apocalyptic, does that count?
posted by mek at 3:54 AM on December 14, 2004

My favorite of this genre is the collection of short stories called The Last Man on Earth, edited by Isaac Asimov, though with no stories by him. It's gotten mixed reviews, but I really enjoyed it since it contains many variations on the same theme. I also second Childhood's End by Arthur C Clarke which I re-read every few years or so and always get new stuff from it.
posted by jessamyn at 4:06 AM on December 14, 2004

The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner - more of a slow-burn apocalypse-in-progress than a post-apocalypse, and looking less and less farfetched every year.

Check this out, too.
posted by flabdablet at 4:28 AM on December 14, 2004

mek beat me to it but it is a great recommendation. A different take on the standard apocaplyptic vision.
posted by i_cola at 4:31 AM on December 14, 2004

For a non sci-fi take: Wittgenstein's Mistress, by David Markson.
posted by Chrischris at 5:03 AM on December 14, 2004

Douglas Coupland is obsessed with the end of the world. Read Gen-X for an intro into his "worrying about the end of the world" theme, and move onto "Life After God" for a great atomic destruction story.

Most end of the world books are science fiction though. Wyndham is great. Day of the Triffids has already been mentioned, but I think both Web and the Trouble with Lichen have some kind of apocolyptic theme going on in them. My memory is vague on this though.

There's also a great book about a strain of grass taking over the world, but could not pin down what it was called. I did find out about a book called "The Death of Grass" which is also post-apocolyptic, but this wasn't what i was looking for.
posted by seanyboy at 5:11 AM on December 14, 2004

Plus.... If only... someone else had put together a handy amazon list of "end of the world" novels.
posted by seanyboy at 5:15 AM on December 14, 2004

Plus... I'm quite proud of todays google-fu.
posted by seanyboy at 5:19 AM on December 14, 2004

There's always Mary Shelley's The Last Man.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:25 AM on December 14, 2004

Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle deals in part with the end of the world, and is amazing to boot.
posted by saladin at 6:07 AM on December 14, 2004

I second "This Is The Way To World Ends" by James Morrow - it's one of my favorites.
posted by skwm at 6:15 AM on December 14, 2004

Just had a thought - Alfred Bester plays with the last-man-on-earth theme (and a bunch of other cliches) in one of his shorts... "5,271,009".

There's also a neat Vernor Vinge story where the end of the world comes with a whimper - like widely-spaced pearls on a necklace. Google says Marooned in Realtime/Across Realtime/The Peace War, but I've only read one of those (Peace War?).

Would books such as Lord of the Flies count? They explore many of the same themes (specifically what happens to personal morality when the correcting influences of society are removed).

Also, I was expecting this thread to touch on one particular book that hasn't come up yet...

Young girl lives alone in a valley which, by pure chance of geography, has avoided the worst effects of WWIII. One day, a man wearing some kind of NBC suit and pulling a cart full of supplies walks into the valley. The book is the story of the fraught relationship between the two of them. May have been written phonetically - I'm not sure - but almost certainly written first-person from the girl's PoV.

Does this ring bells with anyone? I'd love to read it again.
posted by Leon at 6:29 AM on December 14, 2004

Never mind - should have googled.

Z for Zachariah - Robert C. O’Brien

Good book, or at least it was when I was a kid.
posted by Leon at 6:34 AM on December 14, 2004

The Three Californias series by Kim Stanley Robinson is worth a read. Not all post-apocalytic, but all about what it might be like if the world changed radically. Plus, he's a good writer.
posted by OmieWise at 7:09 AM on December 14, 2004 [1 favorite]

If you're a Dick and/or Zelazny fan, Deus Irae is a fun book. It's all wacked out post-holocaust. You can play "who wrote this, who thought of that?": the religion elements are probably Dick, the slightly rambling poetic descriptions probably Zelaz, etc. Not mind-blowing, but a fun read I thoroughly enjoyed as a kid.

If you love I Am Legend, you must have seen Omega Man, eh? A VERY loose adaptation, but still fun (and then of course there's the older Vincent Price version The Last Man on Earth, too.) Tangentially related, Andy Summers wrote the song Omega Man on the Police album Ghost in the Machine, obviously inspired by the film.
posted by Shane at 7:13 AM on December 14, 2004

In a way, all of J.G. Ballard's books are about the end of the world, but early on he wrote a set that were explicitly so: The Crystal World, The Wind From Nowhere, The Burning World, and The Drowned World. (Earth, air, fire, water. Get it? Get ?) Brief, reductive reviews here.
posted by ook at 7:19 AM on December 14, 2004

i recommend womack's random acts of senseless violence which is more an end-of-civilization than an end-of-world scenario. i didn't much care for anything else i read by womack, but random acts was very good. the evolution of the narrative voice as the primary character changes through the book is phenomenal.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:20 AM on December 14, 2004

Harlan Ellison wrote a short-story you'd probably enjoy too, but the name of it escapes me (I think it was originally in Alone Against Tomorrow.) It's pure metaphor and captures perfectly that feeling of being completely alone in the world we all sometimes feel; isolation, alienation, feeling lost in the numb routine of life. A man finds himself the last person left on a chunk of the Earth that has broken off and drifted away into space, yet life just goes on: there's food in the supermarket, for example, and the milk appears there each day fresh as usual.

You really can't ignore the appeal of post-holocaust tales as metaphors...
posted by Shane at 7:32 AM on December 14, 2004

Jack Vance's The Dying Earth.
posted by Marit at 7:51 AM on December 14, 2004

Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker is phenomenal, and another endorsement for A Canticle for Liebowitz.
posted by kenko at 8:29 AM on December 14, 2004

"Swan Song" by Robert McCammon. Kind of "The Stand"-ish, but still a good read, IMHO. I also read this fairly new book by Dean R. Koontz, "The Taking", which could sort of be a post-apocalyptic story, but I think he ended it too soon.
posted by cass at 8:33 AM on December 14, 2004

Emergence by David Palmer, if you can still find it.
posted by kindall at 8:33 AM on December 14, 2004

J.G. Ballard's short story The Garden of Time will resonate in your mind for a very long time.
posted by redneck_zionist at 8:53 AM on December 14, 2004

Arslan by M.J. Engh is an amazing read. It's a charming tale of an infiertile humanity from the persepective of an inmate in a forced labour camp. I can still hear the narrator's voice in my head, fifteen years later.
posted by bonehead at 9:16 AM on December 14, 2004

I love post-toasties! Most of my favorites have already been mentioned (Swan Song, I am Legend, Alas Babylon, Warday) Here are a couple more:

Mister Touch, Malcom Bosse
Into the Forest, Jean Hegland
On the Beach, Nevil Shute (I haven't read this one yet)

This is such a great genre. Do you have any recs for us csmonkey?
posted by Juicylicious at 9:27 AM on December 14, 2004

I second Hoban's Riddley Walker. A great, but often overlooked piece of post-apocolypse fiction. Also, I don't think anyone mentioned Delany's The Einstein Intersection. Its very surrealistic. I loved it back in the 70's, though I don't how well it has aged.
posted by rtimmel at 9:50 AM on December 14, 2004

Michael Moorcock's Cornelius Chronicles: the world ends a few times in these.

Olaf Stapledon's books Last and First Men and Starmaker deal with the end of worlds and the universe in passing, but that's not really the main focus. Still, utterly fantastic books ( available in an omnibus edition).
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:56 AM on December 14, 2004

Peter Verhelst's Tonguecat is in this territory, though more abstractly so. Still worth a look.

Ha, and the Cornelius Chronicles reminds me that Grant Morrison's The Invisibles is about the end of the world too. Though also not in the typical fashion.
posted by Luther Blissett at 10:05 AM on December 14, 2004

And here are some links for lists and reviews of this genre:

The Best Links
Post Apocalyptic Media
Listmania! Essential Post-Apocalyptic Books
A Reader's List
posted by Juicylicious at 10:07 AM on December 14, 2004 [1 favorite]

Just for the fun of it, I'll throw in my recollection of a book in the genre I remember reading long ago. A sci-fi book, female protagonist who pilots an ultralight later in the book. I believe the end-of-the-world process winnowed out a "homo superior", which explains the survivors. H. Superior had advantages of strength/speed (I think), and some IR vision, I believe.Protagonist skilled in martial arts. Not exactly a deep book, but I remember liking it as a kid. One word title, I believe.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:12 AM on December 14, 2004

I'll second the recommendation for Cat's Cradle.
posted by rorycberger at 10:15 AM on December 14, 2004

Try Notes from the End of the World. It's certainly the first novel I've seen written and published on a LiveJournal.
posted by wackybrit at 10:18 AM on December 14, 2004

Martin Amis's London Fields, but be forewarned that the post-apocalyptic element is very subtle. Many people I speak with who have read the book don't even realize that it's post-apocalyptic!
posted by painquale at 10:25 AM on December 14, 2004

Z for Zachariah - Robert C. O’Brien
Good book, or at least it was when I was a kid.

Second the above and I also read that at school age as part of the curriculum. It left an impression anyway.
posted by floanna at 10:30 AM on December 14, 2004

A Gift Upon The Shore. I know, I know, the title is spectacularly awful, but it's pretty well written and a page turner.

(Yay for the Grant Morrison nod, Luther.)
posted by Specklet at 10:38 AM on December 14, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, these all look fantastic, thanks everyone! My hold queue at the library is bursting at the seams now.

This is such a great genre. Do you have any recs for us csmonkey?

My favourite last-man-on-earth movie is The Quiet Earth. The plot's a bit confusing, and the ending is downright bizarre, but the shots of the protagonist roaming around a deserted New Zealand are wonderful.

Although it's clearly dated, I couldn't stop reading Warday.

I read Alas, Babylon and Farnham's Freehold as a kid, and several times since then, and even though they're dated, they're both up there on my list of favourite books.

In The Country of Last Things was great.

An interesting twist on the theme is A Brief History of the Dead.
posted by cmonkey at 11:34 AM on December 14, 2004

Sailor's song by Ken Kesey
Arc d' X by Steve Erickson

Both excellent, unconventional stories.
posted by elwoodwiles at 11:41 AM on December 14, 2004

Good News by Edward Abbey is excellent.
posted by Roach at 11:54 AM on December 14, 2004

this thread is amazing.
posted by advil at 11:59 AM on December 14, 2004

Gotta love "Riddley Walker".
posted by LairBob at 1:32 PM on December 14, 2004

seanyboy, you may be referring to Genocides by Thomas Disch.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 2:16 PM on December 14, 2004

Dammit, Kindall beat me to it. Although it's aimed at juveniles, I read Emergence in my 20s and absolutely loved it. I need to find a copy of it.
posted by deborah at 9:32 PM on December 14, 2004

Ah, I didn't recognize Kindall's comment for what it was, and deborah reminded me. I was, in fact, thinking of Emergence (despite my misleading description), which was one of the many books I surrepitously read from my father's stash when I was a kid. Fun times.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 11:08 PM on December 14, 2004

Further research reveals that Not a Blade of Grass and The Death of Grass are the same book by John Christopher. The former title is the US version. Apparently a terrible movie was made of it under that title as well.
posted by litlnemo at 2:04 AM on December 15, 2004

Greg Bear's The Forge of God and The Anvil of Stars
posted by weston at 11:24 AM on December 27, 2004

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