Post-apocalyptic fiction focused on rebuilding civilization?
November 19, 2015 12:28 PM   Subscribe

I love love love post-apocalyptic fiction and found the suggestions in this previous Ask very wonderful, but I'm wondering about suggestions for post-apocalyptic fiction set decades or centuries later that focuses on the rebuilding of governments, societies, civilization.

As a guide, I really found that stuff in the Emberverse series very interesting, talking about establishing new nations and governments and wars and treaties, until the series started to go off the rails by turning into fantasy with magic swords and all that stuff.

Bonus if they're zombie novels, because I find traditional zombie stories kind of boring but would love a deep dive into what civilization would look like in such a world.

posted by Automocar to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 105 users marked this as a favorite
Justin Cronin's The Passage and The Twelve (no zombies - vampire-y things instead) cover they way survivors rebuild and set up functioning enclaves/governments/military organizations after the vampire apocalypse. That's not the primary focus of the story, but it's the backdrop, and he puts quite a bit of detail into it.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:34 PM on November 19, 2015 [7 favorites]

Seveneves and World War Z both have big elements that fit your preference for after-the-fall worldbuilding, but it's not exactly the focus of either of them.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:34 PM on November 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

The Occupation and Reconstruction of Japan, 1945–52 isn't fiction, but it is a real story about the post-apocalyptic reconstruction of civilisation.
posted by three blind mice at 12:35 PM on November 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Warday is about two reporters who travel around North America five years after a 'limited' nuclear war in 1988. No zombies, but a fair amount of the other stuff you're looking for...including fictional government documents.
posted by gnomeloaf at 12:49 PM on November 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

I enjoyed John Ringo's zombie apocalypse series, Under a Graveyard Sky, To Sail a Darkling Sea, Islands of Rage and Hope, and Strands of Sorrow.
posted by Bruce H. at 12:52 PM on November 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just finished Station Eleven which would be a good fit (although the rebuilding is small scale because like 99% of the population isn't, uh, available any longer--that's not a spoiler because it's on the summary and is acknowledged in the first couple chapters). It's listed in the other ask but shouldn't be missed.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:53 PM on November 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson has elements of this.
posted by OmieWise at 12:55 PM on November 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

There's a good deal of what you're looking for in the second half of The Stand.
posted by darchildre at 12:57 PM on November 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Feed by Mira Grant!!

The book picks up several years after the zombie apocalypse and there is tons of worldbuilding in it about how you deal with everyday American life knowing that at any time your mom/coworker/friend/etc could turn into a zombie. It's super fascinating. There are two sequels as well; the series is known as Newsflesh.
posted by possibilityleft at 1:00 PM on November 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

Riddley Walker.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:03 PM on November 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

Stephenson's newest book 'Seveneves' may qualify - it's about the crew of people sent into orbit around Earth as a cataclysm is projected to leave it uninhabitable for millennia, how they ride out the immediate disaster and then how they work to rebuild in the long term to try and be stewards for the remnants of the human race.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:05 PM on November 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also not a zombie novel, but 1959's Alas, Babylon focuses on the establishment of a working community in the aftermath of a relatively small-scale (as in 1950s-era arsenals as opposed to 1980s) nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

If you'd like a longer perspective, the classic science fiction novel A Canticle for Liebowitz deals with the rebuilding of civilization from the Dark Ages 600 years after a nuclear war, and has a time scale centuries long that includes analogies to the Renaissance and the modern era -- complete with, yes, nuclear weapons. And all that that implies.
posted by Gelatin at 1:09 PM on November 19, 2015 [10 favorites]

A very different take: the Lillith's Brood series by Octavia Butler is set post nuclear apocalypse and alien invasion.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:12 PM on November 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

Shades of Gray (no, not that one, this one was published first) by Jasper Fforde is set several centuries after Something That Happened. The people in it are by now means normal humans, as the world is run based on strength of color perception. It's great, and definitely post-post-apocalyptic, but it may be a little weird for this category.

Also Feed, Deadline and Blackout by Mira Grant. These should be exactly what you want.
posted by Hactar at 1:12 PM on November 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

SM Stirling (Emberverse guy) does some of this in his Nantucket series too, if you haven't read that. Less fantasy stuff in the first part. Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312 is a very world-buildy novel focusing a lot on how the governments work, who owns what, etc. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is a very weird version of this, a steampunk clockwork future world, not quite after the apocalypse but a cataclysmic trade war.
posted by jessamyn at 1:31 PM on November 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

You might like Woman on the Edge of Time. There's a bit of fantastical time travel in that the main character is able to go from our present day to a ecotopian distant future, but it's still a fun read.
posted by theraflu at 1:48 PM on November 19, 2015

Come join Apocalypse Fiction Club!
posted by latkes at 1:48 PM on November 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by stoneweaver at 2:21 PM on November 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

The old BBC show Survivors is more or less about this. Like Station Eleven it is very small scale being as almost everyone is dead, but when they aren't dying from various horrors they are trying to build new communities.
posted by BungaDunga at 2:56 PM on November 19, 2015

Mentioned in the previous post, but David Brin's The Postman is about rebuilding civilization, at least on a small scale.

There's the classic A Canticle For Leibowitz.

Try Sterling Laneir's Heiro's Journey and The Unforsaken Heiro. (Although the second is less concerned with the "rebuilding civilization" aspect.)
posted by soundguy99 at 3:48 PM on November 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm pretty sure that Zone One by Colson Whitehead is exactly what you are looking for.
posted by JuliaJellicoe at 4:33 PM on November 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Pretty loosely answering the question, Ursula K. Le Guin's epic meta-novel Always Coming Home is set in what was once known as Northern California some centuries after the collapse of a former civilization as we know it. The reconstruction is downplayed and only vaguely alluded to, but it's an interesting book and always worth reading.

...Which also reminds me of The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk, a really swell and often under-rated epic post-apocalyptic novel.
posted by ovvl at 5:12 PM on November 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler deals with life in upstate New York after oil depletion, climate change, and nuclear strikes on LA and Washington DC have pretty much decimated the US and the rest of the world. The survivors are slowly rebuilding their communities without most of the modern conveniences they had formerly taken for granted. Different forms of local government develop based on such things as cult-like religions and gangster-driven dictatorships.

FYI, Kunstler demonstrates in this book both a political slant and a gender bias that some might find off-putting.
posted by fuse theorem at 5:33 PM on November 19, 2015

The Greatwinter Trilogy by Sean McMullen might fit the bill - around 2000 years in the future, nothing electronic or fossil-fuel powered can function, but people find a lot of ways around it.
posted by mskyle at 5:38 PM on November 19, 2015

I just skimmed that thread and did not see Earth Abides mentioned. A previous thread a few years ago listed it and I read it and loved it. Kind of a quiet book, not all guns and hoarding and marauding bands of savages but a seemingly practical look at day-to-day living, foraging for food, rebuilding a neighborhood, adapting to new circumstances, new generations growing up... and it scared me shitless.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:45 PM on November 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm going to suggest Gene Wolfe's beautiful, philosophic, poetic, magisterial Book of the New Sun tetralogy, even if it doesn't quite fit your parameters. No zombies, but there are Cacogens, and an alien Alzambo, and an Autarch who holds the living memories and personalities of all those leaders who proceeded him through the ages, gained though a kind of cannibalism, set as the Earth enters into its final age. One of the classic works of science fiction, absolutely wonderful and awe inspiring.
posted by Auden at 6:15 PM on November 19, 2015

I agree with the people who said World War Z.

Also, the Y: The Last Man graphic novels have a lot of this--in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, not like generations in the future.

This doesn't fit as well, but your question made me think of The Handmaid's Tale. The focus isn't on rebuilding the world, but you see the fall of our society and the rise of a dystopian society, and there's a framing device that makes you think about the end of that society. But the main thing that made me think of it is the beautiful depiction of the psychological experience of losing your whole life, and the visceral sense of loss and recreation at both the societal and personal level.
posted by sometamegazelle at 6:42 PM on November 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Rebuilding civilization, you say? The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov is about a group of academics who, informed by a new mathematics called Psychohistory which predicts the movements of civilizations, are lead to a remote planet at the edge of their galaxy-spanning human empire, where they will preserve knowledge and bear witness to the empire's fracturing and collapse. It begins as some of the last of the psychohistorians are assembled, and their goal is to change the predicted 30 millennia of dark age into as little as 1 millennium. Each novel (2 sequels, 2 prequels) covers events and episodes in the centuries that follow as they carry out their plan, including the events when a vault opens and plays out pre-programmed messages from Hari Seldon, the inventor of psychohistory. It's awesome Golden Age SF, and it eventually tied with his Robot Novels, as well as a trilogy written by the "Three B's," Gregory Benford, David Brin, and Greg Bear. Not relevant to your question, but Asimov's "Empire" trilogy is same-universe.

I recommend World War Z, with two amplifications: if you happened to see the movie, don't let that color your view of the book; the book bears no resemblance to it; also get the audiobook if you can, as it has a full cast and is largely epistolary in nature with a couple dozen voices or so.

John Birmingham's "After America" posits a mysterious event that deletes all but a sliver of the population of the USA in one fell swoop; it's the first of "The Disappearance" trilogy. The weird field that vanishes people goes away after the first book, and so there's a land rush across the US... I presume from reading the jacket. I only read the first one. I enjoyed it, but many would find it to be too right-wing or Exceptionalist in viewpoint, so Caveat Lector.

Neal Stephenson's "Anathem" begins in a kind of monastery, but on this world not our own, the monasteries contain scientists while the religious rule outside the walls. The monasteries have stood for thousands of years and borne witness to rises and falls of civilizations past, and while the current (as the book begins) civ is booming, it is not as great as the heights achieved in the past. But the book really isn't about that; it's about the discovery of something new in the skies. Really fascinating read, though.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:49 PM on November 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Earth Abides, Earth Abides, Earth Abides. It's precisely what you're looking for in terms of plot, and I think it's emotionally shattering in the best way.
posted by lewedswiver at 2:04 AM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yes, I can't echo the recommendation of Earth Abides enough, to the point that I'm embarrassed I didn't mention it earlier.
posted by Gelatin at 4:18 AM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Anathem, in particular, is a little more cerebral than other post-apocalyptic fiction but it certainly qualifies. I enjoyed it a couple times.

The Dire Earth Series (first book called The Darwin Elevator) by Jason Hough is almost perfectly written to order for what you're looking for. Very well written and enjoyable - lots of good action. Would make a great TV series actually.
posted by Thistledown at 5:45 AM on November 20, 2015

There's another Octavia Butler recommendation above, which I wholeheartedly second, but I just finished reading her Parable of the Talents. It's a sequel to Parable of the Sower, in which society in the U.S. more or less collapses due to climate change and such. In Parable of the Talents, you see a militaristic and xenophobic President attempting to rebuild the U.S., aaand I won't spoil what happens, but it really rang true for me in terms of what the fallout might be from that kind of social collapse, and what different people's responses might be. As in many of her books, the protagonist is a smart, capable Black woman and many of the other characters are POC, and there's a lot of insightful focus on race and gender. Octavia Butler rules.
posted by ITheCosmos at 5:45 AM on November 20, 2015

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr is particularly excellent because it's about the continuing rise and fall of civilisations.

The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle fits if you focus on the Motie side of things.

Not zombie books, but worth reading.
posted by h00py at 7:27 AM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

A quick spoilery note on Justin Cronin: I read and enjoyed both, until an episode of sexual violence for no apparent narrative reason towards the end just totally killed my ability to care. I finished the second one, but on thinking about it, I'm not going back for #3 and I probably don't trust Cronin enough to read anything he produces in future. I just can't hack it. Which is lame, because they are otherwise a great deal of trashy fun and feature a lot of ridiculous but entertaining worldbuilding with some pretty awesome characters and set pieces and occasionally some really moving relationship moments. YMMV with this, but it seemed worth mentioning.

If you're at all into Golden Age (or thereabouts) shorter SF, Eric Frank Russell's "Dear Devil" has a special place in my heart. It is one of those stories, like "The Green Hills of Earth" or Where the Red Fern Grows, that I can't actually describe to people without getting sort of teary, which is usually embarrassing but whatever.

As usual, +1 on the standard Alas, Babylon, The Postman, Leibowitz, and Earth Abides comments. They're all great, though they have no zombies.
posted by brennen at 8:16 AM on November 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've now made a dedicated Bookmark folder so that I can capture all the responses to AskMe's such as this. Thanks everyone.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 8:58 AM on November 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

A quick spoilery note on Justin Cronin

This was exactly my feeling on Cronin as well, this entire paragraph.
posted by jessamyn at 9:27 AM on November 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

The background of The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner is California has tipped into the ocean, a broke fed gives up on it instead of rebuilding and while a lot of people leave or join cults, some build new societies:
"I recall a point made in one of the Disasterville monographs. I think it was number 6. Stripped of the material belongings which had located them in society, a lot of refugees who formerly held responsible, status-high positions broke down into whining useless parasites. Leadership passed to those with more flexible minds—not only kids who hadn't ossified yet, but adults who previously had been called unpractical, dreamers, even failures. The one thing they had in common seemed to be a free-ranging imagination, regardless of whether it was due to their youth or whether it had lasted into maturity and fettered them with too great a range of possibilities for them to settle to any single course of action."

"How well I know that feeling. And wouldn't an injection of imagination be good for our society right now? I say we've had an overdose of harsh reality. A bit of fantasy would act as an antidote."
posted by morganw at 10:46 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of my favourites is Lucifer's Hammer by Niven and Pournelle. Big rock hits earth, most people die, plucky survivors struggle, etc. Check it out.
posted by drinkmaildave at 4:53 PM on November 21, 2015

Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt is about a group of explorers trying to find the collective knowledge of mankind, which was nearly wiped out hundreds of years before.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 11:09 PM on November 24, 2015

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