What's good in zombie/post-apocalyptic fiction?
October 25, 2016 11:58 AM   Subscribe

There appear to be many series of post-apocalyptic or zombie fiction. Which of these are good reading or worth the trouble? I guess vampires as in The Strain and The Passage count. (I have already read these, and I liked the former better than the latter.) I'm not interested in things like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
posted by OmieWise to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
How about short stories?
I'm not a big fan of zombie fiction (except maybe World War Z), but I really, really loved the collection edited by John Joseph Adams called "The Living Dead". Some really nice stories in there, and it's BIG and THICK, which is, of course, one of the criteria by which one should judge an anthology.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 12:01 PM on October 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Peter Clines' Ex-Heroes series -- superheroes in the post-zombie-apocalypse -- is my absolute favorite.

Mira Grant's Feed series is solid.

As far as individual novels, Colson Whitehead's Zone One is probably the "best" (most literary, but still really good, and you won't be quite as ashamed of reading it as most zombie fiction). I loved V.M. Zito's The Return Man; other people I've recommended it to have been less enthusiastic.
posted by Etrigan at 12:11 PM on October 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Another vote for Mira Grant's Feed series - they are really, really good.
posted by needlegrrl at 12:17 PM on October 25, 2016

I thought World War Z was excellent.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:23 PM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Girl With All The Gifts is super excellent.
posted by Mistress at 12:25 PM on October 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

Can you clarify if you want recommendations on only post-apocalyptic writing with monsters or any post-apocalyptic writing at all?

If the former, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson is one of the originals, and still one of the best. Don't be dissuaded by the films it inspired which have little in common.
posted by selfnoise at 12:49 PM on October 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seconding The Girl With All the Gifts. I have read it twice this year, and loved it just as much the second time.
posted by amro at 12:55 PM on October 25, 2016

Any post-apocalyptic stuff is good. I did like World War Z quite a bit.
posted by OmieWise at 1:17 PM on October 25, 2016

In my post-apoc Ask, I specifically said that I loathed zombie fiction, and while I did read and enjoy Zone One, I only read it because a) I knew that I liked the author, and that b) he would send up the silly conventions of the genre with style and panache. (I was right, he did.) I got a lot of post-apoc SF because of the nature of my Ask, but there is still a lot of good linkage in those comments.

If you enjoy the feel of an empty, abandoned, dangerous world, but would like it without any zombies or aliens or virals or whatever, I strongly suggest The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 1:28 PM on October 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

The anthology The Recent Dead has got some great stuff in it.
posted by uberchet at 1:58 PM on October 25, 2016

* pulls up chair and sits down *

Hi, I am a member of an entire book club devoted to post apocalyptic fiction.

Books that we've read in the group so far (that have gone over well) include:

Wolf Road, which had an interesting feel of, like, The Day After meets Firefly. It's set a number of decades after a nuclear strike, and the civilization that's re-assembled itself has a definite Wild-West feel. Also, you have to appreciate that in this particular culture, the people refer to the war that obliterated everything as "The Big Stupid".

J by Howard Jacobson. That was....funky. In this case, the thing that breaks down society is a wholly internal thing (no zombies, no bombs, no disease, just mankind being dicks to each other), and the story is set some generations after a sweeping societal change has been wrought to try to bring the societal chaos to a halt overnight. It's best if I say nothing more, because the explanation of what happened and why creeps up on you.

The Dead Lands wasn't bad - it's another post-nuke America novel, but this time the author was trying to throw in a bunch of Lewis and Clark references (and comes a bit too close to trying a little too hard to do so). It was a fast read.

Our leader counted The Wake as a post-apocalypse even though it wasn't a literal world-end - it's an account of England right after the Normans invaded in 1066. It's from the perspective of one of the Saxon men who resisted the Normans at first. The language is kind of a mind-fuck, but you get used to it - and you gradually learn that our hero kind of can't be trusted.

Speaking of language being a mindfuck - you need to read Riddley Walker. Just - stop what you're doing right now and get it.

Last month we read A Canticle for Leibowitz, which is a classic of the genre; it's about the monks in an abbey that has assembled itself post-World-War III and are using the writings of a scientist (by the name of Leibowitz) as their scripture. The book visits three different periods in the history of the Order of St. Leibowitz. If you grew up Catholic this will resonate.

Then there are two books which we hated, but they were out there looney in terms of subject matter and so it was still fun hating on them:

Limbo, by Bernard Wolfe. This is another post-nuclear-bomb book, but it also throws in stuff about lobotomies, voluntary amputation, the Cold War, 1950's psychology, gender relations, and uses the plot twist of "Guy's diary is discovered and a whole new society is built on a gross misinterpretation of what he wrote". It was a total flippin' mess, but it was an AMBITIOUS total flippin' mess.

The Purple Cloud is a 19th-Century "Last man alive" book, where it's a poison gas cloud that kills everyone else off in the world. I was the one who suggested it to the group, after having read half of it in a guest house somewhere; it fascinated me because it's the first time I've read such a last-man-alive book where, instead of stoically trying to Preserve The Last Vestige Of Society and Live With Dignity, about halfway through the book, the hero's mind snaps and he goes totally barking mad, and for the next two chapters embarks on a one-man sailing trip around the world where he visits all the great cities and burns them down. Then he spends another few chapters building this enormous temple and designing himself a sort of Aladdin-meets-Samurai outfit to wear because "fuck it, I'm the last man alive, I can wear whatever the fuck I want". Ultimately the book can't escape 19th-century views of morality and race and class and gender, but I still have to giggle over the image of him sailing around the world like some kind of demented Beavis and Butthead all "hahaha! Fire! Fire!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:59 PM on October 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

Amazed nobody has recommended Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel yet. It's beautifully written, more about the people and the society they build after the end of the world than it is about zombies or monsters. I thought it was fabulous.

Cormac McCarthy's The Road is well-written, but it's bleak as fuck. Cannot say I could recommend it, frankly.

Hugh Howey's Wool series is set after an apocalypse. I enjoyed the first book but the quality trailed off a bit for me, and I wasn't that interested in all the backstory he was developing.

The Hunger Games is explicitly post-apocalyptic, and for all the grief Susan Collins gets about her world-building, she's a heck of a storyteller. You will not want to put the book down.

Also, Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith have a very enjoyable post-apocalyptic YA fantasy series that starts with Stranger.
posted by suelac at 2:24 PM on October 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

Please read The Last Policeman series by Ben Winters. It's really pre-apocalyptic, but just great.

I also loved Station Eleven, which is not a series, but is worth your time.
posted by brookeb at 2:26 PM on October 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh, oh, and Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, which is an influential post-apocalypse novel.
posted by suelac at 2:26 PM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might also check out work by Paolo Bacigalupi his work tends to focus on a future that is reeling from climate change. The Water Knife imagines what happens when the US falls apart because of drought and western states have private armies vying for water. The Windup Girl imagines a world where all food is corporate controlled and access to seed is scarce. The Shipbreaker series is for YA, but also looks at at climate changed destroyed US.

Some good stuff there.
posted by brookeb at 2:31 PM on October 25, 2016

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

Seconding Zone One.
posted by fuse theorem at 3:31 PM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Older but still important post-apocalyptic story, ecological in nature, woman protagonist. A new edition came out in 2001. Give False Dawn by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro a try.
posted by MovableBookLady at 4:06 PM on October 25, 2016

just here to vote again for Zone One and Station Eleven.
posted by sideofwry at 5:01 PM on October 25, 2016

FYI, "The Girl with all the Gifts" has been made into a movie which has already released, a couple weeks ago, in the UK. So the time to read it is now, so you can see it before it leaves theaters. The reviews I've heard were positive.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:05 PM on October 25, 2016

Hello, my people! Some great suggestions here!

The End is Nigh, The End Is Now & The End Has Come is a three book anthology series with an interesting premise. The same authors wrote short stories for each book, with the first story written by each being the build up to whatever disaster they had chosen, the second story being in medias res of the apocalypse, and the last story being the aftermath. I started the series with the first book before the other two were out, so I ended up reading all of the stories about the run-up to the action in one go, then the second book all in one go, and finished with the aftermath stories. Some of the tales are very, very good but like all anthologies, there are some weaker entries. I plan on going back and reading it through again, this time following each author's three-part story from beginning to end. I hope this made some sort of sense. It was harder to describe than I expected.

The Panther in the Hive by Olivia Cole was very good and a post-apocalyptic read I rarely see mentioned.
posted by thebrokedown at 8:39 PM on October 25, 2016

Justin Robinson, Undead on Arrival.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:03 PM on October 25, 2016

A recent short story, Everything that isn't Winter asks a somewhat different question than most post -apocalyptic stories.
posted by happyroach at 6:59 AM on October 26, 2016

I've recently read both One Second After and One Year After, both novels about the USA "in which one man struggles to save his family and his small North Carolina town after America loses a war, in one second, a war that will send America back to the Dark Ages...A war based upon a weapon, an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP).." There is a third installment, The Final Day which is due out in Jan 2017. One unique aspect of these books is that it uses real cities, real universities, and real locations with some specificity.
posted by lstanley at 11:08 AM on October 26, 2016

I recommend Joe McKinney's Dead World series. McKinney is a cop, with training in disaster mitigation, which gives his work a different slant.
posted by OrangeDisk at 8:07 PM on October 27, 2016

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