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August 4, 2010 2:56 PM   Subscribe

What novels would you recommend regarding a small group of people rebuilding 'society' or 'civilization'?

As a young teen I read Robert A. Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky, and thoroughly enjoyed it, mostly for it's survival and rebuilding aspects. I've read other books over the years with similar themes (S. M. Stirling has a few).

I'm quite partial to these "survive the disaster, and rebuild with little more than random stuff and smarts and plucky determination" type of stories. Can you recommend anything along these lines, speculative fiction or not?
posted by Sustainable Chiles to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
Parable Of The Sower - Octavia Butler
posted by bibliogrrl at 2:57 PM on August 4, 2010

This may not be quite what you're looking for, but A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. is a brilliant read.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 3:01 PM on August 4, 2010 [8 favorites]

Stephen King's The Stand is one of my all-time favorites.
posted by pantarei70 at 3:03 PM on August 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

A survive the disaster and rebuild society book that I really enjoyed was Kim Stanly Robinson's "The Gold Coast"

Note that this book is part of trilogy, so if you enjoy it, yeah, more to read
posted by Wolfster at 3:03 PM on August 4, 2010

Lucifer's Hammer
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:04 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

World War Z

Island in the Sea of Time and it's sequels
posted by kookywon at 3:06 PM on August 4, 2010

The Stand and World War Z were both the first ones that came to me as well, but oddly the second book in Harry Harrison's Deathworld series might work as well.

It's not exactly post-apocalyptic (or rather, very, very, post), but it works in rebuilding a broken world sense.
posted by quin at 3:15 PM on August 4, 2010

Sort of a blindingly obvious choice, but George R. Stewart's Earth Abides is well worth reading if you haven't.

John Crowley's Engine Summer (now published in the omnibus Otherwise: Three Novels), while set generations after the actual collpase, certainly hinges on the reconstruction of civilization after its downfall, and is one of the greatest books in the genre. It may not be your cup of tea if you're looking for a Heinlein-type celebration of pluckiness, grit and skill at rebuilding technology, though.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 3:15 PM on August 4, 2010

Jack McDevittt's Eternity Road was a good read.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 3:18 PM on August 4, 2010

The Collins Complete DIY manual
How to build your own House

seriously, that's what I'd want
posted by A189Nut at 3:20 PM on August 4, 2010

Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, followed by Year of the Flood.
posted by esoterrica at 3:21 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

it's so no much "a small group of people", but "Warday" by Whitley Streiber was an interesting take on what post-WW3 America could be like and the struggles regionally and nationally to make a cohesive society out of what was left.
posted by radiosilents at 3:26 PM on August 4, 2010

Lord of the Flies!!
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:26 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

An oldie (1959) but a goodie: Alas, Babylon
posted by faineant at 3:26 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Admirable Crichton fits what you're looking for I think.
posted by blaneyphoto at 3:30 PM on August 4, 2010

Malevil by Robert Merle.
posted by dhalgren at 3:30 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's one I haven't seen in these sorts of questions... The World Next Door by Brad Linaweaver.

Lightly touches on barter economics in a few places and things like small town communal gardening and making useful crafts. Also mentions saving things that aren't needed immediately but can't really be made again anytime soon. None of these are the focus of course but they're salted through the story.
posted by codswallop at 3:38 PM on August 4, 2010

I'm quite partial to these "survive the disaster, and rebuild with little more than random stuff and smarts and plucky determination" type of stories.

It may be too far afield, but this angle is what drew me to many of the accounts of the 60s back-to-the-land movement that I've read. Although the "surviving the disaster" part was more conceptual than actual, many of those communities did make a sincere attempt to create a new and self-sufficient society using mostly their own know-how and the cast offs of the larger culture.

There are quite a few out there, both fictional (e.g. Drop City) and non-fiction (many, but Apple Bay, Total Loss Farm, What the Trees Said, and Communes U.S.A. are good places to start.)
posted by ryanshepard at 3:38 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Drop City, by T.C. Boyle. It's not a post-apocalype novel but is one that catches the struggles of a small group of people fighting to survive nature and each other to form their own society of sorts.
posted by esome at 3:43 PM on August 4, 2010

The Passage, Justin Cronin. I loved it.
posted by torisaur at 3:50 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge is fascinating. It deals with a number of people who emerge from time stasis to discover that the rest of the human race has died off. The "survivors" come from wildly varying time periods and bring with them different levels of technology, driving some interesting plot developments.
posted by ripley_ at 3:56 PM on August 4, 2010

The Swiss Family Robinson would be one of the earlier ones. It has, however, a complicated textual history in English.
posted by Jahaza at 4:02 PM on August 4, 2010

Jim Kunstler, World Made by Hand. He's also author of The Long Emergency, which is nonfiction. WMBH is kind of an extrapolation of what life might be like after peak oil and modern civilization goes to shit. Thought-provoking and a good read, even if you discard the predictive aspect. Apparently there's a sequel, The Witch of Hebron, which I haven't yet read.
posted by libraryhead at 5:46 PM on August 4, 2010

Lord of the Flies?
posted by JimBennett at 5:49 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Possibly 'The Postman' by David Brin


The 'Dies The Fire' series by S.M. Stirling
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:54 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Mysterious Island. Not so much civilization as the advantages of it.
posted by monkeymadness at 5:54 PM on August 4, 2010

Sleep of the Gods - James Sperl (I downloaded this on a whim for my Kindle and it freaked me out, kind of a twist on the zombie apocalypse)
I'd also suggest The Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Talents from Octavia Butler, as well as Lilith's Brood.
Wastelands edited by Jack McDevitt (who writes some cracking space archaeology stuff)
One of my favorite stories in this genre lately has been "Jackie's Boy" by Steven Popkes - it was in the April/May edition of Asimov's...just an awesome story!

Perhaps you would enjoy what I call the planetary colonization genre?
The Coyote Series - Allen Steele (a bunch of people escape a neocon country to from a new society on a far-off moon- I loved these!)
The Mars Series - Kim Stanley Robinson

You can also do a search on post-apocalyptic at Amazon and narrow it by genre, too!
posted by kittyloop at 5:57 PM on August 4, 2010

Lord of the Flies - it is what you want, but in fail form.
posted by Flood at 5:58 PM on August 4, 2010

Atwood's 'Year of the Flood' for sure. Can't stop thinking about it, months later, even though I wasn't hugely satisfied by the quality of the story. Intriguing ideas, for sure.
posted by Temeraria at 6:05 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Mars Trilogy by Robinson. It focuses on 100 people on Mars (duh), branches out from there. Pretty good stuff. Book order goes Red, Green, Blue. And then The Martians if you want to go with the short stories.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller is all right too, centered around a post-apocalyptic civilization.
posted by Heretical at 6:31 PM on August 4, 2010

Wot? No mention yet of John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids?
posted by Neiltupper at 6:48 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

(30 comments and no Pratchett? I'm little shocked, metafilter.) Nation, then.
posted by Diablevert at 7:07 PM on August 4, 2010

It's YA fiction so might be a little short for you, but Monica Hughes' Invitation to the Game might fit the bill (although it's not quite post-apocalyptic).
posted by daelin at 7:08 PM on August 4, 2010

The Road
posted by fifilaru at 7:33 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Definetly Brin's Postman... also, another like Alas, Babylon and Warday, Philip Wylie's Tomorrow!
posted by Rash at 7:42 PM on August 4, 2010

One Second After by William Fortschen. Pulpy but good
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 7:54 PM on August 4, 2010

Riddley Walker

I learned about it on these very pages, and holy crap is it good.
posted by Gorgik at 8:16 PM on August 4, 2010

The original one (and to some degree the original novel, period) is Robinson Crusoe, though in that case he's building a one-man civilization. See also the deluge myth of a number of different mythologies.

Eric Flint's 1632 series deals with a group of 20th century people who are transported to the 17th century. They have a limited supply of 20th century artifacts and collectively decide that the best strategy is to attempt to re-create a late 19th century technology level. (While trying to deal with the ongoing 30 Years' War.

Haven't read it but Wikipedia says that Flint has another novel called Time Spike written with a coauthor that has groups of people from various different time periods getting trapped in some "Age of The Dinosaurs" distant past. That might be more your speed if you want civilization being built completely from scratch.

To add a couple to the colonization genre kittyloop suggested: The Legacy of Heorot by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes. Anne McCaffery's Dragonsdawn gives you both colonization and a cataclysmic disaster to rebuild from. The colonists' bioengineering efforts in dealing with the disaster become the basis for Anne's Dragonriders of Pern dealing with the lives of their descendants millennia past.
posted by XMLicious at 8:33 PM on August 4, 2010

Seconding Earth Abides...it's been about 20 years, but I still remember the part where they rebuilt the water system...I really need to find & re-read it...
posted by jenh at 8:40 PM on August 4, 2010

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland -- a treasure of a book. Was self-published in paperback, but word of mouth caused it to be picked up, re-published in hardback, back into paperback -- really a terrific book.

I also second John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids, as well as The Kraken Wakes (I think in the U.S. it's called Out of the Deep, cause we don't know from no krakens).
posted by kestralwing at 9:29 PM on August 4, 2010

Second The Stand and The Passage, both very good.

Stirling and The Dies the Fire series delves more deeply into the logistics of rebuildng a society but the books are much poorer quality and often descend into unintentional silliness.
posted by purenitrous at 10:07 PM on August 4, 2010

For reasons that may or may not have to do with your question, I suspect that you might enjoy Nick Sagan's Idlewild/Edenborn/Everfree trilogy.

sometimes admitting a statement is a spoiler is itself a spoiler :(
posted by richyoung at 10:53 PM on August 4, 2010

The Beach?
posted by mooza at 12:36 AM on August 5, 2010

Marianne Wiggins' John Dollar - an unforgettable take on Lord of the Flies.
Susan Sontag's In America - historical fiction in which a Polish actress tries to start a utopist commune in 1870s America.

Also nthing Atwood's Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood, and McCarthy's The Road.
posted by Paris Elk at 2:44 AM on August 5, 2010

Julian May wrote six books about humans from the future who go through a time portal and end up in Pliocene Europe. There they encounter two alien races already present, and the stories reveal how the human culture sort of grows up and around the alien cultures (like a vine, or maybe poinson ivy).

Not a perfect match for what you want, but I was htinking about the books last weekend as we drove through upstate New Hampshire.

posted by wenestvedt at 6:23 AM on August 5, 2010

Heinlein has that theme in a number of his books. Farnam's Freehold has surviving after disaster/rebuilding on a small scale; Time Enough for Love has a few parts that are "starting from scratch" societies IIRC, Sixth Column is about a catastrophic attack on the US and the aftermath, Farmer in the Sky, also a lot of his short stories have elements of rebuilding society.
posted by galadriel at 6:42 AM on August 5, 2010

World Made by Hand
posted by bizzyb at 7:33 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Road is post-apocalyptic, but it isn't about rebuilding, It's also a boring and over-rated novel.

The Kim Stanley Robinson novels about Mars and the Pacific coast are good for this, as is Robinson Crusoe.
posted by OmieWise at 7:55 AM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think wolf meant The Wild Shore, not The Gold Coast.

They're part of KSR's California trilogy. The three volumes are set in the same time and place (San Onofre, CA, 2051 AD), but in three radically different possible futures.

- The Wild Shore is the post-collapse back-to-the-land scenario.

- The Gold Coast is a hyper-capitalist militarized pharmacological porn party.

- Pacific Edge is a shiny green future where passions blaze around a zoning issue.
posted by General Tonic at 8:04 AM on August 5, 2010

Seconding Heinlein's "Time Enough For Love" for its settling/pioneering parts. That was my favorite part of the book, especially where he got into how the economy developed.
posted by phrygius at 11:59 AM on August 5, 2010

Marge Piercy's 'Woman on the Edge of Time' is partly set in a utopian future with a lot of descriptions of how they have rebuilt/are rebuilding their society.

Nthing Oryx and Crake, and seconding Riddley Walker.
posted by kumonoi at 3:57 PM on August 5, 2010

The Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card features a bit of this concept in there, though it's certainly not the featured plotline.
posted by RyanAdams at 9:43 AM on August 11, 2010

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