I woke up in the middle of the night and saw this massive spider on the wall, about six inches across the legs and a sort of pale grey in colour. I reached for my glasses, but then it was gone. My first instinct was that as I hadn’t kept in sight it had escaped into the shadows, jumped to the floor, gone where that I couldn’t find it. Now I was doomed to lie awake with the knowledge that a monstrously big spider was somewhere in the room. My second instinct, a moment later, was that this was another hypnagogic hallucination, that spiders that big did not exit (at least not around here), and it was just a trick of the mind. With that in mind, I proceeded to get up and search the room, just to be sure. Continue reading
Another writing extract from my post-apocalyptic steampunk novel, Wixon’s Day, this passage sees the introduction of the iconic wasteland machine, the gyrocopter. Marquos and his group are resting in the Hypnagogia canal boat when the military catch up to them. This is the tipping point of the novel; from the introduction of the gyropcopter captain onwards, their ambling journey turns into a fast-paced adventure: Continue reading
A Wixon’s Day reader just contacted me to offer an alternative cover design for my post-apocalyptic adventure novel. And I like it.
Pretty much the inverse of the original cover, it’s certainly got the dreary brood of the novel down. And another fine representation of the protagonist’s boat, The Hypnagogia. 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.
Flexing my video-editing muscles, which lie dormant too often, I’ve put together a book trailer for my novel Wixon’s Day. Rather than just post the video, I thought I’d write a little bit about the making of this trailer. Partly because it might prove informative, but mostly because I can’t resist filling blog posts with writing. For those just wanting the trailer, here it is in full:
Hiring a professional book editor is one of the biggest investments for the independent author, and one of the most important. I’m not talking about formatting and style issues, but copy-editing in the sense of having someone analysing the narrative for all flaws, big and small. Wixon’s Day was the first book I had professionally edited – it gave me both the confidence to publish it and the wherewithal to know that I need to edit all my books with the help of a professional. Here’s why: Continue reading
Having just published my first novel, all by myself (yay me), I ran into the inevitable question of how much is should cost. There’s a few chains of thought circling round the web at the moment about the cataclysmic doom that independent book pricing is bringing upon the publishing industry, with some recommending volume is king, others that value breeds margins. Personally, I prefer to base my prices on what I think my book is worth on its own merits. I didn’t want to charge rock-bottom prices in the dream that it would spread like a sinister skin disease, and I didn’t want to charge premium prices in the hope that a few discerning readers would fund my extravagant lifestyle. I wanted to charge prices that were fair to the reader in terms of what they might get out of the book. And to do that I used a simple system that I use when pondering the value of any good, service or otherwise price-related matter. I compared it to the price of a beer. Continue reading
The apocalypse in fiction and film is a very popular subject, obvious by how frequently it comes up and how strong communities of fans for it are. In an apocalyptic scenario, every situation is a fight for survival, and every character becomes special. Emotions are high and, with everything starting anew, the opportunity for rebuilding leaves endless possibilities for creativity. As a genre, it is usually placed under science-fiction, but in fact tales leading into an apocalypse and set in post-apocalyptic scenarios can cater to a variety of themes. Most commonly, apocalyptic stories are mixed with horror or action/adventure, but they are also frequently used for social commentary and deep character study. As a writer of apocalyptic fiction myself, I’d like to explore some of my ideas for what makes this genre so appealing. Continue reading
Maybe you love post-apocalyptic novels, and enjoy reading about wasteland adventures. Maybe you hate books and think all words should be burnt and the people who write them should be fed to pigs. Whatever your disposition, there is still a reason for you to buy my novel, you just have to find it. In an attempt to discover that one all-important reason that speaks directly to you, I’ve made a list of 101 possible reasons that you should buy my novel. There are bound to be more, so feel free to add to the list in the comments below.
The following is a novel extract from Wixon’s Day (available now from Amazon). It is a standalone chapter, written from the perspective of the main character, the boat pilot Marquos. He gives a detailed account of the world he has experienced. The chapter comes as an Appendix in the book, which can be read at any time before, after or during the story to provide background information (and some geographical bearing for Estalia, his world). All the physical locations and features he speaks of relate to the UK and its surrounding area, though the people of Estalia know nothing of the UK’s history, and have never effectively mapped it.
You can read it here in advance of the novel, to get an understanding of the world Wixon’s Day is set in and some of the trials that Marquos has already faced. Continue reading