Somewhat the opposite of The Land of Laughs, reading The Resurrectionist, as a contemporary fantasy from an author whose reputation preceded him, was an experience that quickly satisfied my expectations. The two books are very different in tone and theme but they’re well worth a comparison as both set out to essentially do the same thing – the goal of most contemporary fantasy – to merge the real and believable with the magical. Only this one does it well. Continue reading
Jonathan Carroll has developed an almost cult status as a slipstream author, and it was with his contemporary fantasy reputation in mind that I picked up a copy of The Land of Laughs, part of the Fantasy Masterworks collection. It had incredibly high praise from a number of reputable critics and authors, including Neil Gaiman, and comes with claims that if you’re new to Jonathan Carroll then his debut is a great place to start. Such build up can go two ways with a book; it can give it an advantage making you love it before you’ve even begun, or it can set you up for great disappointment. Continue reading
I chanced upon this book going through my mother’s old collection, and always being intrigued by something short and purportedly fantastical (with a context of carnivals, no less) I gave it a whirl. Not already being familiar with Paul Gallico, I was immediately impressed by the standard of writing and drawn into the enchanting (if now antiquated) world of Love of Seven Dolls – a tale of a suicidal girl finding a reason to go on through a puppet show with a life of its own, travelling across 1950s France. What follows, though, is a remarkable book that turns incredibly dark and does not fully (or in some cases even partly) resolve its negatives, yet somehow remains enchanting. Making it a pretty fascinating read. Continue reading
Grammar is a fun loving thing. Not everyone may think so, but starting out pondering over when to use each tense and discovering a year later you’ve just about decided on how best to explain constitutes a fascinating journey for me. It was around a year ago that I started writing a short English grammar guide for foreign students, which should have been around 14 pages long. Now I’m about to release it as a resolute eBook, at some 114 pages, and feel that, if only for having more time, it could’ve been so much longer…
Revisiting my older dabbles in post-apocalyptic fiction, I’m writing reviews and profiles for my new website dedicated to the genre, Post-Apocalyptic Books. The following is my review of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, produced for that site, but an effective example to place here as well:
The Road by Cormac McCarthy is especially well known now, thanks to the star-studded movie of the same name, but it was doing well long before the film’s release. Its won multiple awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2007), receiving serious attention from the literary critics, not normally shown to entries of the post-apocalypse genre. Unlike many of the books in my lists, The Road isn’t exactly sci-fi or horror. It’s a harrowing emotional journey; primarily a story of the relationship between a father and his son, despite its apocalyptic setting. Continue reading
Roadwork is another of the “Bachman Books“, written by Stephen King under a pseudonym (supposedly because he wanted to see if he could reproduce his success), and the next in the series I’ve been reading following The Long Walk. Like The Long Walk, it’s one of very few Stephen King stories I wasn’t already aware of without having read it. It’s also unlike anything of King’s I’m familiar with. To look at the novel’s synopsis, its blurb or its early front covers, you’d be led to believe it’s a novel about a man’s tense, violent stand-off against the progress of a new road. A siege, perhaps. This is really not the case. Continue reading
My first exposure to the work of Neil Gaiman, I can still remember watching the original Neverwhere series on the BBC with rapt enthusiasm. It was richly full of originality, blurring local folklore (or, at least, names) with bizarre new mythologies. The literal interpretations of Black Friars, Angel Islington and Earl’s Court, for example, were incredible flights of fantasy. Some 17 years later, I finally got around to reading the book. And how did it compare? Continue reading
If you like this list of the best in post-apocalyptic novels, please check out my new site, Post-Apocalyptic Books, with an archive of information about post-apocalyptic books and their surrounding culture – including massive master-lists of post-apocalyptic films! Otherwise, check this list of 11 of the best books available in the genre:
Only read after my first go at this list, this novel is now at the top. In a relatively short novel, Wyndham’s story of a world torn apart by blindness, and killer plants, is a perfectly realised apocalyptic tale. It expertly depicts the rapid decline of society and the threats that the survivors must endure, from the spread of disease to the gradual destruction of unmaintained buildings. Read my full review here. Actually just read the book itself, it’s not long and it’s a brilliant example of an acutely realised societal collapse.
An obvious addition to any list of post-apocalyptic novels, The Road popularised the genre for the 21st Century with critical acclaim and a hit movie to follow. Cormac McCarthy’s bleak writing style is perfect for creating a desperately depressing atmosphere in the post-apocalypse, but what really makes The Road stand out is the poignant coming-of-age tale at its centre. Alongside the story of individuals surviving without food or sunlight, beset by raiders and cannibals, is the tale of a father and son, and a boy finding the confidence to become a man. Available here.
Stephen King’s stand-out post-apocalyptic novel (oh my the puns!) was made into a popular TV mini-series, and is one of his most popular books. It depicts a group of survivors after a superflu wipes out 99% of the human race, as they do their best to thwart the efforts of a rising villain and his diabolical army. It’s an epic tale of good vs evil, which goes somewhat beyond the usual craziness that a breakdown in society creates. To know exactly why, it’s best to read it yourself. Available here.
Not entirely popular at its release, Canticle for Leibowitz has developed a huge cult following amongst fans of post-apocalyptic novels. Why? Because author Walter Miller gives a vastly ambitious account spanning 1800 years, whose overall message is a bit more complex than the average ‘what individuals must do to survive’ spin. This novel maps a cycle in history, exploring the virtues and threats of technology, demonstrating how the unchecked effects of human ignorance can repeat themselves. Buy it now.
Remade into a number of film and TV efforts, the latest being the 2007 blockbuster starring Will Smith, no one has quite captured the genius of I Am Legend in another medium. What separates it from other post-apocalyptic novels, and stories in general, is the gradual build-up to its haunting twist, the reason for its title that other interpretations have tended to miss. I Am Legend is as much a horror story as a post-apocalypse novel, as Robert Neville, the sole survivor of a disease, is hounded by blood-sucking infected former acquaintances. It’s a fantastic microcosm of genres, as Matheson combines carefully thought-out sci-fi elements and Neville undergoes a range of bleak emotions. Available here.
Not exactly apocalyptic, because whilst the city of the story has faced societal collapse perhaps the whole world hasn’t, but this novel has all the haunting despairing hallmarks of a post-apocalyptic tale. The narrator trudges through a dying society, struggling with homelessness in a lawless world where suicide is an accepted part of life. About as bleak as novels come, and captivating for it. My full review is here.
If you’ve read around my site at all, you’ve probably seen Riddley Walker mentioned a few times. It’s a monumental work of fiction that so completely imagines its post-apocalyptic setting that the narration itself is a new language, truly placing you in another time and place. Iron-age survivors trying to rebuild society make a mess of understanding the history that led them to this place, and the result is an incredible work of literature, let alone a classic post-apocalyptic novel. Read my full review here, or just go straight to buying it. It’s worth it.
Hugh Howey is an inspiration, both for his incredibly entertaining writing and for his activities as an author. He has rocked the publishing world with his eBook success. And this novel did it with worthy reason: it’s original, gripping has such a strong sense of atmosphere you’ll really get to feel what it’s like to live in an underground silo. Claustrophobic, tragic, brutal and brilliant. Read my full review here, or better yet just read the novel.
Pat Frank’s 1959 novel Alas, Babylon follows the exploits of a small community in Florida as they struggle to survive following a nuclear war. It’s dated, but forward-thinking for the time, dealing with prominent issues like race relations and the terrifying consequences of a global arms race. Early in the Cold War, when it looked like humanity might very well commit mass suicide, Alas, Babylon strips back the community and shows what life (or a lack of it!) would be like after the war. For instance the efforts you have to go to to get salt. Find it on Amazon here.
Another tale of survival after the devastating effects of a plague, George R. Stewart’s 1949 novel follows Ish Williams and his haphazard attempts to rebuild Californian society. Like A Canticle for Leibowitz, Earth Abides recognises the long term implications of rebuilding society, covering an era where there are no quick solutions. The book it aptly slow and brooding to suit it, developing in a very calm way that concerns itself more with atmosphere than science and conflict.
This is a graphic novel, rather than a single book, but it’s more powerful for it. Y: The Last Man poses a different post-apocalyptic scenario in which precisely half of humanity has randomly died out, with the exception of Yorick Brown. As the last man on Earth, he is beset by a host of women and a slew of gender issues as the characters struggle to protect him and understand what happened to all the men. It’s a novel tale with a lot of twists and turns, great fun and a considerate study of gender relations and scientific ethics. It’s available in a variety of mediums- to get the whole story you’ll need to track down some 10 books or so – but here’s a good place to start.
Another serial comic, rather than a novel per se, The Walking Dead is still going in monthly comic publications, and it’s an epic sprawling work of post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s a story of survival and disaster that works in vicious cycles, where no loved character is safe. Effectively combining the bleakness of surviving in the post-apocalypse with the action and horror of all your favourite films, to my tastes the comics are even more powerful than the TV show (although the latest season is doing an excellent job of recreating the finest story arch of the comics!). Again, it’ll take some work to find the whole story, which hasn’t finished yet, but you can start here.
Another bleak look at isolated survivors, Z for Zachariah was a book we studied heavily in school. As any successful post-apocalyptic story should, it deals with the strains of characters lonely and under pressure. As much a look at adolescence and personality clashes as survival. Worth a read, even if it’s not as epic as some of the tales listed here. Read my full review here.
Less Honourable Mentions
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Haphazardly mixing genres, I personally can’t see why this novel has received such critical acclaim. The plot is a mess, the characters flat and clichéd and the writing just seemed lazy. A lot of people seem to love it, but I only read 400 pages or so before giving up on it. But that’s enough to judge a book by isn’t it?
Metro 2033 by Dmitri Glukhovsky
Loved the computer game, was rather indifferent to the novel. It’s a good story with some great sequences of action and tension, but it’s bloated and more pulp fiction than literature. In part I’m sure it’s to do with the translation from Russian – that and long sections on rather inconsequential characters hold it back from being a classic.
And a suggestion for something different…
If you’ve got more suggestions, please let me know as I’m always on the look out for more post-apocalyptic novels to read! And if you’d like to try something you’re unlikely to have heard of, consider reading my novel Wixon’s Day, a slow-burning steampunk post-apocalypse. Described by one reviewer as “Mad Max on a canal boat.”
You may also like my article, Why we love the apocalypse in fiction, exploring what it is about post-apocalyptic novels that is so enthralling.
Written under a pseudonym (Richard Bachman), The Long Walk is unmistakably a Stephen King book. It’s got all the themes of friendship, adolescent mishaps and extreme horror you’d expect from King, with the added bonus of feeling strangely, compellingly profound. Whilst at the same time being a novel that spends its course describing a group of 100 young men walking along some roads. As we all know from a number of manifestations of the dream of the Great American Novel, though, it’s whilst people trudge aimlessly along roads in America that the most profound thinking and life-changing experiences occur. Continue reading
If you’ve ever wanted a brief introduction to everything you could conceive of relating to digital filmmaking, this is the book for you. It doesn’t look big, but in the space of some 220 pages Mark Brindle has covered the full gamut of modern filmmaking, including what camera to choose, what software to edit in, how to write a convincing a story arch, tips for funding and how to distribute your film. Read it cover to cover and you’ll be able to convince any stranger you meet that you know how to make a film. Continue reading