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Best Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction Books

The Best Books About the World After It Ends

"It's The End Of The World As We Know It (and I feel fine)" (REM, "Document", 1987). That's what 'apocalypse' is all about. Except that people usually end up not feeling fine at all, because we're all basically comfy in the world as it is, and when that ends we tend to freak out—a bit... or a bit more... or a lot...

'Apocalypse', in its original meaning, refers to a revelation of sorts; by lifting a veil from the world, society, our lives and their purpose or lack thereof, ourselves. That kind of stuff. In other words, it's not actually about civilization or the Earth or the universe being obliterated, or at the very least made very strange and uncomfortable compared to the way it was before; even though that's what's usually happened. Science fiction—and fantasy as well; and there is a hybrid SF&F novel in this compilation—has covered post-apocalyptic themes since its beginnings, with varying scope and focus, but invariably caused by an event or series of events qualifying as 'disastrous'; for it seems that that's the only way apocalypse can happen. And, let's face it, from a story-telling point of view it's much more fun that way. Post-apocalyptic SF—maybe more so than all other subgenres—focuses on people and their way of coping with the changes and challenges brought into their lives. The nature of the apocalyptic event as such becomes far less important than what it does to people; how it tests their mettle; how it exposes their weaknesses and strengths. Some of the stories here are grim and cheerless. Some are just plain bizarre. Other focus on hope.

I find it impossible to rank these in terms of this-one-is-better-than-that. They're all go good! To help readers pick something that accords with their literary dispositions, this list, instead of "read if you like" (because you'll probably read these books if you like post-apocalypse stories!), has a rating system with scores of 1-5 for: "Grimness", "Bizarreness", "Hope" and "Fun-factor". All very subjective, of course; but it should give a rough guide about whether you'll have nightmares, end up depressed, don't give a damn, or have some cool action dreams, with an occasional bit of nooky thrown in.

The apocalypse here is kind of personal. The world's just fine to start with, but... From one moment to the next all the women disappear from the world of men—and all the men from the world of women—which in some instances would have made for interesting sitcoms. But The Disappearance is not about eliciting cheap laughs. In the aftermath of the disappearance, civilization in both worlds, the male and female, disintegrates: physically, spiritually, socially. Wylie focuses on one affected couple to perform a profound analysis of the fundamental and indispensable dependence of the sexes on each other, in the process revealing the absurd way in which almost all societies view male-female relationships; and highlighting how the two genders and their relationship lie at the heart of our humanity; at a level far more basic and fundamental than 'culture'. Why its on the list: The apocalyptic event affects every single person alive immediately. A bit like Day of the Triffids, where (almost) everybody suddenly goes blind. Except that here the event opens everybody's eyes to something they've been blind about before. We rarely see the obvious, since we're so habituated to it. This may be the most explicit story on this list involving the lifting of a cognitive veil. Ratings: Grimness: 2, Bizarreness: 2, Hope: 5, Fun-factor: 3.

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ARDNEH (Automatic Restoration Director, National Executive Headquarters) was a super computer that averted nuclear war by—temporarily; or that was the plan—dicking with the local laws of physics and preventing nuclear reactions. Better than anti-missile missile systems! Except that the other side had something similar up their sleeve, and the simultaneous activation of both of these anti-nuclear systems caused more havoc with natural was than anticipated. In particular, the 'temporary' thing became permanent. Oh, yes, and 'magic' works now, with demons and all. One of them, Orcus, is in effect a nuclear bomb, caught in the middle of its explosion; turned sentient—just like ARDNEH. But Orcus is tricked into imprisonment (that's because demons are dumb, which is what you'd expect from sentient nukes) by one John Ominor, who becomes the leader of the 'East'. And ARDNEH, with his servers safely tucked away underneath a mountain, is the effective leader of the 'West', who, centuries into the future, recruits Rolf, a young peasant farmer, to be his instrument to finally defeat Ominor and destroy Orcus. Why it's on the list: It's a very cool mix of 'technology'-based SF and fantasy. It's also a child of its time, when the Cold War was going full throttle. (It's still going on, of course, but now it's kinda muted and everybody pretends it's finished.) Ratings: Grimness: 1, Bizarreness: 2, Hope: 4, Fun-factor: 5.

Books in Empire Of The East Series (3)

This book was made into a movie, and a pretty good one at that, though by necessity not as complex and in-depth as the book. Crichton does have a habit of going maybe just a bit too far with his desire to ensure verisimilitude. A group of history students end up traveling back in time to 14th century France because their professor happened to get 'lost' there. (Means something went seriously out of whack with the time machine he used, and they couldn't get him back). Also, this time machine has some serious issues because, and the temporal displacement process tends to misalign body parts of the transportees; usually at a microscopic level, but when you do it repeatedly the errors add up; fatally so. Back in the 14th century the travelers end up at a critical juncture of historical events. This involves serious fighting between the French and the English and has great potential for getting killed, or dicking around with past events. Why it's at this place on the list: Meticulous and thorough, as typical of Crichton, with some damn good storytellingthough I'll be honest, I found it somewhat long and actually prefer the movie. Time-travel is integral to the story, with significant emphasis on the 'technology' aspects, as well as the idea that you'd better just observe or else you just might screw things up. Or notbecause things are as they are because they were as they were; and they were what they were because they are as they are. That's time-travel logic par excellence.

Books in Thunder Series (4)

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Made into a much—wrongly!—maligned movie, Postman is set in a post-apocalyptic world, in which the United States has fallen apart into a lawless patchwork of civil disorder. That's what powerful EMP weapons, some judiciously-placed bombs and the release of biological weapons materials can do. (No zombie here though. Not of the Walking Dead kind anyway!) Gordon Krantz is an aimless wanderer, who earns his meager fare by amusing people with Shakespeare vignettes. One day he chances upon the corpse of a postman and appropriates the still-wearable uniform. It kind of takes over his narratives, as he drops Shakespeare and instead concocts stories of a restored nation and an advancing order. His stories soon assume a power all of their own and indeed contribute to what ends up looking like a concerted effort to restore some kind of civilization. The movie has a rather different narrative, but still picks up on the central theme of the novel, which is about the power of narratives to give people a sense of purpose and direction and spur them into cooperative efforts. Arguably it's about how civilization itself depends on and is held together by stories. Why it's on this list (though at the bottom): A thoughtful novel with multi-layered content and messages.Read if you like: Ratings: Grimness: 3, Bizarreness: 1, Hope: 3, Fun-factor: 3.
The Zombie Apocalypse has become one of the most pervasive themes in sf and horror over the last few years, so much so that it has escaped genre and become a commonplace idea. What dread is being disguised by this is hard to say, but more and more writers have taken up the theme. But this is where it really started.Max Brooks has structured his novel like a report by the United Nations Postwar Commission. It consists of a series of interviews, conducted by an agent of the commission called Max Brooks, which piece together the story from the initial outbreak until the devastating end of the conflict.Zombies are the victims of an incurable virus. They have no intelligence but an uncontrollable urge to eat living flesh, and they can only be killed by destroying the brain. The outbreak is traced back to a boy in China, but it spreads rapidly. Wars of steadily increasing ferocity break out as different countries react differently to the situation: there's a civil war in Israel; Pakistan and Iran blow each other up in a nuclear war; millions flee to the Arctic because the zombies cannot survive the cold, only to die of hypothermia. Eventually the US military goes on the offensive against the zombies, with limited success. By the end of the novel many of the old political problems in the world seem to have been resolved, but at the cost of nearly wiping out life on Earth. When published, World War Z became an international best seller, and revitalised a tired sub-genre of very limited appeal.

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Following on from World War Z, the idea of a zombie apocalypse has become common, and a number of writers from both genre and non-genre backgrounds have written well received novels on the theme.

One of the most interesting is Zone One, by Pulitzer Prize nominated novelist Colson Whitehead. It is set after the apocalypse, when the zombie threat has been contained, and tells the story of the people patrolling New York, eliminating any remaining zombies and making the city inhabitable again.

The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey is the story of a 10-year-old girl who has been infected with the zombie virus but who has retained her genius-level IQ. When the base where she is kept is attacked, she and her teachers have to escape across country, learning devastating details about the infection along the way.

In Billion Year Spree, his epic history of science fiction, Brian Aldiss coined the term "cosy catastrophe" for the sorts of novels that John Wyndham wrote. Well, they are certainly catastrophes, but they are far from cosy.The first and best of them is surely The Day of the Triffids, in which there is actually a double catastrophe. Triffids are tall, carnivorous plants that are capable of locomotion and that there probably bioengineered in the Soviet Union before escaping into the wild. At first they present no danger, but then there is a curious meteor shower which is assumed to be connected to atomic weapons, and everyone who sees it is rendered blind. Now the triffids become especially dangerous.Only a few people retain their sight, one of which is the narrator, Bill Masen, who makes his way through a devastated landscape, menaced by triffids at every turn. The sighted are enslaved by the blind; tentative communities grow up and then fall apart; despotic military governments emerge. It's an amazing vision of a world falling apart almost in an instant. The Day of the Triffids was the first of the great British catastrophe stories that appeared in the years after the Second World War, a novel that has gone on to be taught in schools and dramatized for film and television, so it is one of the few science fiction classics that is familiar to people who never read the genre.

Books in Triffids Series (1)

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Wyndham wrote a string of engaging catastrophe stories, of which one of the best if least typical is probably The Chrysalids. Set in a post-apocalyptic Labrador, where a technologically limited religious society is in place and anyone who displays mutations, known as "Blasphemies", is cast out, it concerns a group of children who discover they have telepathic powers, which leads them to question the nature of their society.

Telepathic children also feature, rather more eerily, in The Midwich Cuckoos. A small village in England is cut off for a day by strange gas that renders everyone unconscious. When the gas dissipates, everything seems to return to normal until, some months later, every woman of child-bearing age in the village finds she is pregnant. The children are all pale, with golden eyes and telepathic abilities, and they mature remarkably quickly. It's obvious that they are not human, but how can they be dealt with when they can control anyone who threatens them?

The sort of catastrophe that Wyndham wrote about can also be found in the work of several other British writers, including Keith Roberts, whoseThe Furies is clearly modelled on The Day of the Triffids. Nuclear tests go wrong, disrupting the landscape, while at the same time giant alien wasps invade.

In The Death of Grass by John Christopher, the catastrophe is a mutated virus that attacks all forms of grass, including wheat and barley, leading to a devastated landscape and mass famine.

Its anticipated to zip close past Earth, so they send to a space-mission to visit it, and then end up realizing that the damn thing is going to hit us after all; which it does, breaking up into a bunch of pieces that pretty much trash everything. The ensuing panic only aggravates the disaster, with politician and the military superpowers figuring prominently in the cluster-screwups that complete the job of the original impact. The book has a huge cast of characters, though it revolves around the few whose stories extend from the very beginning to the end. Having been battered and nuked back into the stone-age, it's clear survival for humans is not just skill but also a matter of random luck. Most of our past-times, often considered signs of high culture and civilization, are revealed as basically meaningless, with only science remaining as something that might bring us back from this dismal brink. One might see the now-irrelevance of the legal profession as a positive outcome of sorts. Even so, there's no final conclusion as to what is likely to happen, though the book ends on an optimistic note. Why it's on the list: Very cool and believable post-apocalypse; thrillingly told. Ratings: Grimness: 4, Bizarreness: 1, Hope: 3, Fun-factor: 4.
Different kind of apocalypse; not so much an event, but a pretty serious degeneration of society, plus an additional apocalyptic factor, introduced ironically by a way to make people immortal by a technology that allows them to reincarnate into other bodies—in the process wiping out whatever mind might have been resident in there. Sheckley explores a future in which this has become commonplace; with all the unforeseen attendant consequences. It's not a pretty world, which predictably includes a major criminal component having to do with the transmigration issue. Plus some interesting inventions, like Suicide Booths, which help those who don't want to reincarnate anymore to go to whatever other place there is or isn't after 'real' death. Why it's on the list: It is a technology-created apocalypse that definitely ended the "world as we know it" and people aren't "feeling fine". Not necessarily even the ones that reincarnate, because that's why they have suicide booths, so they can off themselves when they've had enough. Sheckley provides us with an excellently-envisaged nightmare future, based on a simple "what if". Even though this was written in the late 1950s, it has lost none of its appeal; depicting the nightmarish world that might result from what, on the face of it, seems like something almost all of us secretly desire. Ratings: Grimness: 4, Bizarreness: 2, Hope: 2, Fun-factor: 2.
Ted Quantrill is a freak: he fastest gun in the West (and probably the world). After the total collapse of Russia, India and China band together (unlikely, I know, but this is fiction) and try to nuke the US out of existence. It works, partially, and what's left habitable of the US has turned into a post-apocalyptic Wild West, with a fanatical religious government reigning over it. In order to survive, Quantrill does whatever it takes. If that involves hunting down the enemies of the government, so be it. And he's good at it. "A Western in SF disguise," you say? Indeed—but this one, comes from the pen of a master of the hard-boiled action flick. And Ing doesn't hold back on the implied social commentary either, with little patience for the theocracy-potential he might have seen developing in the US. (Is he wrong? Not!) Still, the focus is on the development of a young man with a lethal talent and a suspended conscience, who needs a serious shakabuku in order to wake up from his trance and find his soul. And when he gets it, spare some pity with his enemies. Why it's on the list: Because not all post-apocalyptic fiction has to be deep-and-meaningful, and a bit of light relief with a serious undercurrent might do us a lot of good. Ratings: Grimness: 1, Bizarreness: 1, Hope: 4, Fun-factor: 5.

Books in Quantrill Series (2)

The ultimate nightmare of the world's males came true in 1994. (In the novel anyway, though there are some suggestions that things are trending that way.) The sperm count of all males has dropped to a bit fat ZERO. 1995 C.E. was dubbed "Year Omega": the year when the last human children were born. The novel explores what may happen as the human race faces certain ultimate extinction, but over a period of a number of decades. In that way, it resembles other post-apocalyptic stories in which humans may survive, but inexorably slide back toward barbarism as they scavenge on existing technological and other resources, which will eventually run out. Some of the consequences, especially those associated with social, political and national structures and behaviors, look dreadfully familiar. They are just logical extensions of practices already in existence in various regions of the world, including Europe. This makes this into a very-close-to-the-bone, with little cause to cheer. Despite this, there is a spark of hope; which ultimately is what the novel's all about. Why it's on the list: There is a minor inconsistency here: like there such things as sperm banks, so why not stretch out the supply? Nevertheless this is a tale which grabs you because of its plausibility. They also made it into a movie, which deviates from the novel in significant aspects and distorts its message. Ratings: Grimness: 4, Bizarreness: 2, Hope: 4, Fun-factor: 2.
Pandemic story. Virus alert! Accidental release of the pathogen, failure to contain spread through a single uncooperative human, who spreads the plague and soon we have the terminal pandemic. Bird Flu, eat your heart out! Society disintegrates, and martial law, censorship and authority-driven violence fail to contain or improve the situation. The novel follows several strands of individual tales that eventually interweave into a clash, which mixes mundane post-apocalyptic elements with mysticism and even a touch of dark magic. In the end, nothing much happen to the world at large though and there's no hint that there's a way to drag humanity out of this mess. Like ever! Why it's on the list: Well, it's Stephen King, who usually manages to suck you into a story that has so many unbelievables and mixes the weirdest genres together, so you end up wondering how you could ever have gotten sucked into it as you have, despite major serious suspension-of-belief issues. Me, I prefer my 'virus' apocalypses and their consequences to remain mundane, with animated zombies being at the fringes of what I can accept. But King sucks me in anyway. Damn him! Ratings: Grimness: 5, Bizarreness: 3, Hope: 1, Fun-factor: 2.
Earth Abides is something of a rarity among the work of George R. Stewart. He wrote mostly biographies and studies of American history, and when he did write fiction, as in Storm or Fire, they tended to be accounts of natural disasters with few or no human characters. Earth Abides was not just the only work of science fiction he produced, it is also the only work that concentrates on human relationships. Yet it was recognised as a classic from the moment it appeared.Like Storm and Fire, Earth Abides is a novel of natural disaster, but the main focus of the novel is on showing how unfitting modern civilisation is for coping when things go wrong. Ish Williams is a resourceful young man out in a remote part of California who falls ill from a strange disease. He manages to pull through, but when he gets back to civilisation he finds that by far the greater proportion of the population has been killed by that same disease, and many of the survivors aren't coping very well. One is drinking himself to death, another couple seem to have gone mad, and so forth.Slowly, Ish begins to gather a small community around him, but as the conveniences of modern life break down the younger members of the community grow ever more suspicious, while reverting to old ways, like making bows and arrows or hunting with dogs. Eventually, in old age, Ish recognises that the old ways are gone for good and hopes that the new society will not get around to reinventing civilisation.(Although not a science fiction author, there is an oblique connection to the genre in the book. The name "Ish" is a reference to the Yahiindian, Ishi, who was the subject of anthropological work by Alfred Kroeber, the father of Ursula K. Le Guin.) Earth Abides is a classic that has barely been out of print since it was first published. It was one of the first works of science fiction to introduce ideas of ecology and anthropology to the genre, and still today it is recognised as one of the most influential of all science fiction works.

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The idea of a small community surviving a disaster by reverting to old ways while every modern convenience they have got used to stops working became a model for much of the post-apocalyptic fiction that appeared in the decade or so after Earth Abides. However, in most cases the apocalypse was not natural but nuclear.

One recent example that's well worth reading is Slow Apocalypse by John Varley. Set in and around Hollywood, it tells of a genetically manipulated virus that renders all of the world's oil unusable. Slowly, modern life grinds to a halt, communities must grow small simply to survive. It's a very modern take on Earth Abides, but that just shows the strength of the original and the power of this late variant.

This novel was first published in 1964, with the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation still fresh on people's minds. Hugh Farnham, a middle-aged competent Heinlein survivor type, manages to get his family and a visiting friend, Barbara, into a fallout shelter. After some explosions, one of them uncomfortably close and interrupting a tryst between Farnham and Barbara, they are forced to exit the shelter because of a lack of oxygen and find themselves in what looks like a distant future. Their exploration of this world and their potential lives here are complicated by pregnancies not only of Farnham's daughter, but also Barbara; as well as the fact that they've landed in a world where racial dominance roles have been inverted; with slavery thrown into the mix for good measure. Hugh and Barbara refuse to adapt to being slaves and volunteer for a time-machine experiment that should send them back in time. They return just shortly before the nuclear attack, but find that the world they're in is subtly differentâso maybe it's not the same universe they started out from. They survive the war and build a life with each other. Why it's on the list: Heinlein here deviates from the linear time-travel-in-the-same-universe narrative of #1; acknowledging that alternate time streams may make it impossible to tell what's really going on. And how would we be able to tell? He uses the novel to explore the master-slave relationship by the inversion of racial stereotypes, and provides his very own inimitable analysis of human relationships. A different take on a theme also touched on in #12.
This one is completely different from #1 on the list. It's considered a 'classic' in the time-travel genre. Man builds time machine, has a look around at other time periods, but doesn't really do anything significant, confining himself to observation; though he is, of course, being dragged into events. He manages to get out of trouble with his skin intact, does some more traveling, including to pretty much the end of human history and then to the end of the Earth. Maybe the most famous episode of the story is set in a not-too-distant future, where society is divided into two classes: the hyper-refined but ineffectual Eloi, who have ceased to be creative but live off the achievements of their ancestors; and the Morlocks, who live in darkness, and only come out at night. Masters and slaves or farmers and livestock? Why it's on the list: It's a hugely influential novel, imitated many times and providing the germ for tales in several SF sub-genres. Wells was a socialist, and the Eloi-Morlock part of the tale is an obvious metaphor for the class structure of English society at the time (and arguably still persisting now). Somewhat dated in language and style, it's still a must-read classic. The term 'Morlock' has become synonymous with a degraded form of human being; seriously retarded, though possessed of some elemental cunning nonetheless; living in the dark and being exploited by those who live 'above'. On the downside, time-travel in this novel is a mere plot-device to support social dystopian fiction. There's none of the really cool time-paradox and time-loop stuff you get, for example, from someone like Heinlein.
This is the novel that spawned a plethora of movies, almost all of them middling- to dismal. It's written by a Frenchman, and thus the only one on this list that doesn't originate from an Anglophone context. Language matters, because it frames thought, and this need to be taken into account in order to understand this book. It's full of grim and bitter irony; a parable about power of species over species—a metaphor for power of culture over culture, and masters over slaves. In many ways it echoes Heinlein's Farnham's Freehold, but with a completely different sensibility; once again, I submit, a consequence of the writer's cultural and linguistic context. Why it's at this place on the list: It's been enormously influential—despite its flaws; for to this reviewer the story appears contrived by a desire to make philosophical points and hold them up in your face, rather than doing it by focusing on its characters. The theme—that apes not only supplant humans as the dominant species, but also that they are actually more intelligent and possibly more civilized—is a parallel to the notion that computers, robots, etc may end up doing the same. Still, the notion that a species that we've always regarded as inferior—despite the ooh-ing and ahh-ing over how cute and 'human-like' they are, and how they should be accorded 'human rights'—should turn the tables on us, possibly as a result of our own stupidity... that's possibly even more disturbing than the notion of super-human intelligence in robots. Ratings: Grimness: 4, Bizarreness: 3, Hope: 1, Fun-factor: 1.
Also known as No Blade of Grass, this was one of John Christopher's classic cosy catastrophes, although there is very little that is cosy in this post-apocalyptic tale.In Asia, a new disease starts to affect rice crops, leading to widespread famine. Soon, the virus mutates and starts to attack all forms of grass, including such staple food crops as wheat and barley. The result is anarchy and panic, amid which John Custance tries to lead his family and friends safely across England to where his brother has a potato farm. Along the way, as their entourage grows, they find themselves abandoning all their old morality in order to survive, including committing murder. The portrait of a society disintegrating in the face of starvation is what makes this such a compelling story. Cosy catastrophe, the rather demeaning name for a strand of British science fiction in the 1950s and early 60s, was actually a continuation of the scientific romances that imagined various forms of the destruction of the familiar world. Christopher was a master of this, picturing far from cosy worlds in which his protagonists have to become increasingly hardened and ruthless in the face of a fragile environment.

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Alternative Choice
The Tripods is a young adult sequence that is probably Christopher's best known and most successful work. It is set in a world enslaved by aliens, who are seen only in their giant Tripod walking machines (reminiscent of H.G. Wells's Martians) through which they exert their authority. Human technology has mostly been pushed back to a medieval level, most people live only in small rural villages, and they are kept docile by implanted "caps". But there is a resistance, and the teenage heroes of the novel escape being capped and join the resistance.

Christopher's other catastrophe novels include A Wrinkle in the Skin, in which massive earthquakes dramatically change the landscape. The story follows a trek across what was once the English Channel in an attempt to find survivors. The World in Winter suggests that a reduction in solar radiation results in a new ice age, with survivors from Britain fleeing sounth to Africa whwere they find themselves treated as second-class citizens.

Dinosaurs popping up everywhere? How about giant, semi-intelligent wasps? In this novel by the late Keith Roberts we get a different kind of menace, unleashed in apparent consequence of the exploding of H-bombs powerful enough to crack the ocean beds and shift continents. Roberts, like Christopher and Wyndham, is British, and so this story focuses on the British Isles. Innocuous cartoonist Bill Sampson and his girlfriend are attacked by a swarm of giant wasps, the eponymous 'Furies', who soon appear in huge quantities all over the place and procced, with determination and methodicity, to destroy civilization. Law and order go AWOL. As the novel goes in, it develops into a horror story that might have come from the pen of Wyndham. Why it's on the list: It's a thrilling story, told with verve and skill. Wasps are scary enough when they're normal size, but to have them in these monstrous proportions is a stroke of genius. Where they come from? Who knows? People speculate, but there's no evidence to support either semi-scientific or semi-religious theories.The characters are real and flawed, with minimal stereotyping. It's a hard book to find, though it's been rereleased as a Kindle edition, so don't deprive yourself of the experience. Ratings: Grimness: 4, Bizarreness: 1, Hope: 4, Fun-factor: 4.
A century hence. Melted Antarctic ice cap and flooded coastlines, drowned cities and low-lying inland areas. Temperatures have risen to making Paris a tropical destination, and Siberia a super-fertile growing area. The third world is a terminal shambles: 'Lands of the Lost.' Prognosis, according to some predictive weather models: 'Condition Venus'; catastrophic runaway temperature rise and the eventual extinction of all life. Certain meteorological phenomena suggest that is inevitable. Current political and economic trends have led to the inevitable: rule by conglomerates, which are going to wring the last bit of profit out of the situation. They control governments and the fate of the world. 'Blue Machine' is one such, profiting from the eco-mess and maybe even manipulating the weather to ensure that their business grows and they become ever more indispensable. Why it's on the list: Spinrad is the master of the cynical subversive novel. His cynicism often focuses on individual character, though there he tends to find redeeming features in the sheer complexity of the human soul. No such ambiguity is allowed in his view of humans acting as political, corporate and generally sociopathic and monomaniac creatures, having completely surrendered their better values to such lovely traits as greed and hunger for power. This novel looks like a Global Warming tale, and in a way it is. But it's really about political and corporate greed and complete lack of even a smidgen of ethics. Ratings: Grimness: 4, Bizarreness: 1, Hope: 2, Fun-factor: 5.
This story is set in Ireland, which doesn't happen in most post-apocalyptic tales. Doesn't happen in most of SF, if the truth be told. Molecular biologist becomes bi-polar as a result of the grief over a bomb killing his family. Plans revenge and releases a plague with the property that it's carried by men but kills women. Targets: Ireland, England and Lybia. Read the book to figure out why. He goes back to Ireland to sabotage any efforts to find a cure. (The man has serious issues!) World order breaks down, of course, and the curious male-transmitters and women-victims, creates some extra social strain. Governments take drastic action to sterilize infected areas with 'panic fire' and nuclear bombs. The world's armed forces come under the command of a single supreme commander. Logic dictates that polyandry (many-husband) marriages are going to be likely. Women, though scarcer, are likely to assume more the status of breeders than partners in such arrangements. Why it's on the list: A believable story, extrapolated, without too much suspension of disbelief from the time in which it was written (early 1980s), executed with the imagination of one of the premier authors in the genre. Ratings: Grimness: 5, Bizarreness: 1, Hope: 1, Fun-factor: 1.
This novel was first published in 1964, with the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation—a real apocalypse!—still fresh on people's minds. In this case, Hugh Farnham, a middle-aged competent Heinlein survivor type, manages to get his family and a visiting friend, Barbara, into a fallout shelter. After some explosions, one of them uncomfortably close and interrupting a tryst between Farnham and Barbara, they are forced to exit the shelter because of a lack of oxygen and find themselves in what looks like a parallel world of some kind. There follows an exploration of this world, which is complicated by pregnancies not only of Farnham's daughter, but also Barbara. Complicated also by the fact that they've landed in a world where racial dominance and roles have been inverted; with slavery thrown into the mix. Not a parallel world, it seems, but merely a distant future. Why it's at this place on the list: Like in all good post-apocalypse novels, this one focuses on the characters and their responses and personal development when confronted with these circumstances. Heinlein uses the novel to explore the master-slave relationship by the inversion of racial stereotypes, and provides his very own inimitable analysis of human relationships. Ratings: Grimness: 2, Bizarreness: 1, Hope: 4, Fun-factor: 5.
Remember the fist apocalypse? You don't? I guess you're not all that old then. It's the one with the flood. Heard of it? Noah and the animals and the ship and all that? Well, there's a lot of water in the polar icecaps—though only Antarctica matters here, for reasons of basic physics!!!—and if they melt... Well, Noah, where are you? It's not quite as serious as I make out, of course, but since so many people live near coasts or in low-lying areas of the world, we might as well call it 'The Flood - 2'. Much the world drowns. Since that's caused by overheating—solar radiation in the novel, but global warming would do just fine—a lot of the world ends up as a kind of tropical paradise, at least in the formerly-temperate and frigid latitudes. As anybody having holidayed in a paradisiacal tropical environment knows, it makes you kinda torpid. Colder climates, on the other hand, tend to foster inventiveness. It's no accident that modern science and technology blossomed in moderate-to-frigid latitudes. Well, all that's going out the window now, and the few who persist in resisting the motivational devolution that's taking place predictable have a hard time. Why it's on the list: Seriously dystopian post-apocalyptic fiction, which focuses on human psychology and how it is influenced by the environment. Dismal but compelling. A distinctly different take on the 'Global Warming' theme to Spinrad's Greenhouse Summer. Ratings: Grimness: 4, Bizarreness: 2, Hope: 1, Fun-factor: 2.

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In the 1960s, when overpopulation was a common worry for the future, it was often said that the entire population of the world could stand on the Isle of Wight. John Brunner imagines a future in which it would take a much bigger island to accommodate the world's population.The book is a kaleidoscopic account of life in this bustling, busy, crowded world. To capture the clamour of it all, Brunner adopted the technique that John Dos Passos used in his great modernist trilogy, USA. So, in the sections headed "Context" we find newspaper headlines, classified ads, extracts from books that give us an idea of all the different things going on in the world. The sections headed "The Happening World" are just a mass of single sentences: a line of description, an overheard remark, part of a conversation, all the noise of the world that is going on around us all the time. "Tracking with Close-Ups" gives us brief glimpses of what minor characters are doing, or a glimpse of events away from the main action. Finally the main storyline is contained in the sections headed "Continuity".Throughout it all we get a dramatic sense of the impact of high population. Society is fracturing, eugenics legislation is being introduced, extremist politics is on the rise, there are shortages and wars and terrorist atrocities and advances in bioengineering. At the heart of it all, a big multinational corporation is in the process of taking over a small African country, while an American spy is investigating a technological breakthrough in South East Asia.No work of science fiction before this had been so inventive, so exciting, so engaged with the modern world. And it is still a damned good book that feels every bit as fresh and as new as it ever did. Why It Made the ListThis novel made John Brunner the first ever British writer to win a Hugo Award for Best Novel, and it also won the BSFA Award and the French Prix Tour-Apollo. Even today it is still being acclaimed for its originality and its dazzling accomplishment. It remains one of the great sf novels.

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Stand on Zanzibar was the first of four novels that Brunner wrote that changed the way we looked at science fiction, because they presented crowded, clotted worlds where the background was as important and as fully realised as anything in the foreground.

The Jagged Orbit is set in a future America where racial tensions are at breaking point, and a major corporation is busy trying to sell arms to both sides at once, fomenting war in order to improve their business. It won the BSFA Award.

The Sheep Look Up is another dystopia, this time concerned with damage to the environment. At a time when corporations effectively control the government of the United States, pollution has got so bad that it results in poor health, poor sanitation, poor food supply and, eventually, civil unrest.

The Shockwave Rider is recognised as one of the ancestors of cyberpunk, it is also the novel that introduced the idea of a computer virus, though in the novel it is called a "worm". It is a novel about future shock, in which a programming genius uses his computer skills to go on the run in a world dominated by computer surveillance.

For other novels that confront issues of overpopulation, you should also check out The World Inside by Robert Silverberg, in which people live in three kilometre high tower blocks where order is only maintained by everyone sharing everything, including sex (it is considered a crime to refuse any invitation for sex). It's a brilliant picture of a very disturbing world.

Another classic of overpopulation is Make Room! Make Room!by Harry Harrison (which was filmed as Soylent Green). It's set in a future New York that is so crowded that water and food are in ever shorter supply, people have to share single room apartments, and theft and rioting are daily events.

Another novel that makes brilliant use of John Dos Passos's structure is 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. Using extracts from science journals, political journalism, history books and more, Robinson creates an extraordinarily vivid picture of everyday life three centuries from now when humanity has spread out across the solar system but the Earth is suffering from ecological collapse. The immediacy of the technique really makes it feel like we are there in the city that rolls around Mercury on rails, or in the hollowed-out asteroids that travel between the planets, or when long-extinct animals are returned to earth. 2312 won the Nebula Award.

Here's a very cool novel by a New Zealand author, that was made into a pretty good film as well. Geneticist John Hobson wakes up from a nightmare and finds that everybody's gone. POOF! Oh, yes, and all the clocks have stopped at 06:12h. And there's no fauna either, except for an earthworm he chances across. Still, dead meat did not disappear together with the live stuff. Hobson avoids going insane by resorting to the usual human defense mechanism: trying to make sense of it all. In his case, he postulates that it was done by some higher force and intelligence. Well, it wasn't. Turns out he had a hand in it. It's, as they say, 'complicated'—but in the end he figures out what he'd done, and insanity is slowly taking hold. The novel ends on a kind of Groundhog Day note, when Hobson tried to kill himself, only to wake up again, to find his watch stopped at 06:12h. Why it's on the list: It's a twisted tale of self-imposed human isolation, mixed in with a goodly does of solipsism. Thoroughly depressing in many ways, but a damn good story nonetheless. Hobson's name was probably chosen for a reason, alluding to 'Hobson's Choice', where your only choice is to take or leave the only option offered. Ratings: Grimness: 5, Bizarreness: 4, Hope: 1, Fun-factor: 1.

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The British Empire v2.0? Hard to believe, I know. What could precipitate such an event? Well, if's a nuclear conflict in 1982 between the US and the USSR, which leaves both of them pretty much destroyed. The source of the conflict, like in the 1960s, was Cuba, which is now a nuclear wasteland. The war has created a power vacuum, now being filled by Europe and especially Britain, since China has disintegrated into a bunch of warlord-doms and has no global significance anymore either. The process of de-colonialization of the former British Empire has been halted, reversed; and there are even some new applicants for the privilege of being a colony, because that provides them with a measure of security. The plot involved an investigation of the causes of the conflict by a journalist and the attempt by Britain to re-annex the US into its empire. Why it's on the list: It's a novel of post-WW3, which, despite skirting some of the ecological issues resulting from nuclear war, attempts to provide a realistic scenario of what might happen in the aftermath. It assumes that Kennedy was not assassinated in 1963, and thus qualifies as an 'alternate history' novel, especially since it was penned in 1999. Ratings: Grimness: 4, Bizarreness: 1, Hope: 1, Fun-factor: 2
It's difficult to summarize what this tale is all 'about.' That's maybe the hardest and most challenging aspect of this novel. It starts after the collapse of civilization and focuses on the relationship between Jimmy, a remembered-self of a hermit calling himself Snowman. There's also a group of creatures called 'Crakers', who are like humans but not human. Jimmy once had a buddy, called Crake. They played computer games, including one called Extinctathon, only one a fairly unsavory list of internet activities. Seriously twisted characters, but maybe not as uncommon as one might want to believe. When Jimmy finds himself a love interest, Oryx, Crake goes nuclear, even though Oryx becomes a part of both their lives. But her heart is for Jimmy and that's not good. Crake reacts with stunning violence. Not only does he kill Oryx, but does some serious pandemic wetwork on the humans and transforms himself into the original Craker. Why it's on this list: It may sound pat and not doing the book full justice, but I think it is 'about' some seriously screwed-up people. Atwood herself insisted that it wasn't SF, and that she just happened to use genre tropes. Despite Atwood's protests though, the novel does a excellent job in the post-apocalypse-as-revelation stakes. It also trumps all the other novels on this list in the 'ratings' extremes. If I had allowed Hope and Fun-factor ratings of '0', I would have done it. Ratings: Grimness: 5, Bizarreness: 5, Hope: 1, Fun-factor: 1.

Books in Maddaddam Series (2)