One of the hottest genres in literature these days is the post apocalyptic thriller. These tales generally take place in the ruins of modern society following a monumental disaster. Some band of survivors (or in some cases, a lone survivor) must find a way to eke out an existence with what’s left over.
These stories generally exist to remind us of our over reliance on modern technology and the importance of human ingenuity and relationships.
Check out five of our favorite entries in the genre.
“The Hunger Games” Series: Suzanne Collins
This series is insanely popular, and in many ways has contributed to the renewed popularity of the genre. “The Hunger Games” is the story of Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl from District 12 who volunteers to participate in the annual Hunger Games in order to save her 12-year-old sister, Primrose, from having to compete.
The Hunger Games take place every year, and pit children from all over Panem (a country that lies in North America, covering most of the remains of the United States) against each other in a deadly game of survival.
Katniss is joined by Peeta, a young man also from their home of District 12, and the two must work together to survive and fend off the deadly advances of the other competitors.
“The Hunger Games” series reads like a cross between Orwell’s “1984” and the Japanese novel/film “Battle Royale.” The series is fast-paced and engaging.
“The Hunger Games,” along with its sequels “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay,” are classified as Young Adult fiction. Despite this, the series is a great for readers of all ages.
“Dies the Fire” Series: S.M. Stirling
Unlike the far-future setting of "The Hunger Games," the "Dies the Fire" series asks us to contemplate what would happen if our technology were taken from us suddenly and all at once. An unexplained event occurs over Nantucket which hits the entire planet like a giant EMP.
All electronics fail and the survivors find themselves unable to generate enough energy to fire a bullet or even power a steam engine. What they’re left with is medieval technology in the remains of a modern world.
Impressively well-researched, this series tells the story of two bands of survivors who find themselves in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, fighting to survive and learn to fend off the advances of a brutal dictator who has taken power in the ruins of Portland. These modern people must learn to fight with swords and arrows, ride horses, and live off the land.
"Dies the Fire," "A Meeting at Corvallis" and "The Protector’s War" offer a fascinating (and frightening) look at what happens when the lights go out for good.
“The Road”: Cormac McCarthy
Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, "The Road" is the story of a man and his son and their journey across a landscape utterly devastated by an unnamed disaster.
The predicament the boy and his father are in throughout the novel can be summed up with one important symbol: the revolver they carry. Inside is only one bullet, and the father repeatedly instructs the boy to save the bullet for himself should something befall them.
The landscape is filled with hostile scavengers, and the duo make their way across the country in search of better surroundings and other “good guys” like themselves.
This novel is a bleak reminder of a possible future for humanity and an uplifting example of the power of family and companionship in the face of overwhelming odds.
“The Stand”: Stephen King
Many regard "The Stand" as King’s greatest novel. A security guard escapes from a top-secret government facility carrying with him a very potent biological weapon. The virus begins to spread and wipes out 99+% of the world’s population, leaving small groups of survivors scattered all around the country.
These survivors are eventually drawn to one of two cities, receiving direction in their dreams from either a kindly old lady named Mother Abigail or a strange, denim-wearing figure known only as Randall Flagg.
Eventually, the two groups become aware of one another and an inevitable showdown ensues. Flagg’s group is attempting to train pilots and acquire weapons with which to wipe out the followers of Mother Abigail in Colorado.
The book deals with themes of good and evil, as well as Christianity and demonic imagery throughout.
“The Dark Tower” Series: Stephen King
King’s Magnum Opus, "The Dark Tower" series spans the length of his career. Begun in 1982 with "The Gunslinger" and concluding with 2004’s "The Dark Tower," the series is the story of Roland Deschain and his quest to find the Dark Tower. Roland’s world is falling apart, and his reasons for undertaking this quest become clear throughout the course of the series.
Roland’s quest takes him through the ruins of a technologically-advanced society, long forgotten, as well as into our own universe. Major characters from many of King’s other works make appearances in the various worlds Roland and company visit, and the lingering remnants of technology long forgotten continually pop up as both obstacle and ally to Roland’s quest.
There are seven books in the "Dark Tower" series, with an eighth forthcoming story recently announced by King himself.
Whether you want to see how humans get by without technology or are frightened by the possibility of our own society collapsing, post apocalyptic literature allows you to get a glimpse into any number of possible futures for our species. These five series are among the genre’s best, and are all highly-recommended to those curious about this type of fiction.
- McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. Alfred A. Knopf, 2006
- Stirling, S.M. Dies the Fire. Roc Books, 2004
- King, Stephen. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. Grant, 1982
- King, Stephen. The Stand. Doubleday, 1978
- Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic, 2008