When the apocalypse comes, I plan to be ready. I’ve got my disaster kit, I’ve spent time staring out my window plotting escape routes, and most importantly, I’ve read all of these apocalypse-themed books, so I’ll know what to do (and what not to do) when the cyborg armies invade. You can do your part by studying these helpfully bleak sci-fi novels, too. End-of-the-world preparedness has never been so fun!
For Darkness Shows the Stars
Author: Diana Peterfreund
In this inventive sci-fi retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, a disastrous genetic experiment gone wrong caused an apocalypse (Austenpocalypse?) known as the Reduction, with a few human “Luddite” survivors and a large “Reduced” population of people with severe mental disabilities and defects. Generations later, the Luddite nobility has become the ruling class in a feudal system, retaining power by ensuring that technology — and especially genetic manipulation — is strictly forbidden. Elliott North is a Luddite who chose her duty to her ancestral estate over her love for her childhood sweetheart Kai, a servant in the North household, when he ran away four years ago. Kai is a “Post-Reductionist,” a child of Reduced parentage who himself has no mental disabilities, and the hope is that the existence of Posts could mean the human race is slowly recovering from its mutations. Now Kai is back in town as Captain Malakai Wentforth, a dashing explorer, and all the young ladies are swooning. Can there be a second chance at romance between them, or have their choices taken them too far apart?
Blueprints of the Afterlife
Author: Ryan Boudinot
This reality-bending, near-future dystopian by Seattle author Ryan Boudinot (one of the driving forces, incidentally, behind the bid to make Seattle a UNESCO City of Literature) is almost impossible to briefly summarize. The cyborg-rebellion apocalypse has come and gone, leaving transhuman survivors clinging to a burned-out shell of civilization. A reality-show dishwashing champion lives in a rotting trailer with his sister, who’s a living organ farm. A film archivist is sent to retrieve valuable data from an aging pop star, and gets drawn into a nesting set of realities populated by a clone army. An ambitious architect plans to build a full-scale replica of Manhattan (destroyed during the war) on an island in Puget Sound — but to what end? In a world where human nervous systems can be hacked and reality can be altered around you, it’s hard to make sense of anything, but Boudinot floors it and whisks the reader along on a wild, high-spirited ride into an unsettlingly recognizable future that humans have utterly broken.
Author: Justin Cronin
You’ve probably already heard of this bestselling vampire-apocalypse tale and its sequel, The Twelve, but just in case, I thought I’d add it to the list. An experimental government project to create super-soldiers via strength-boosting drugs goes haywire, creating a highly infectious virus that turns humans into bloodthirsty, super-strong immortals. Amy, a six-year-old girl, is also chosen as a test subject, but the serum gives her all of the benefits (immortality, strength, psychic powers) without the violent sociopathic blood-lust. Naturally, the virus escapes and nearly destroys mankind; a hundred years later, humanity is reduced to a few struggling outposts constantly defending against the “virals,” and Amy reappears, now looking like a 15-year-old girl. The final battle is gearing up — Amy and the humans vs. the twelve original test subjects turned vampire lords — but do the good guys stand a chance? The movie rights were snapped up by Ridley Scott back in 2007, before the book was even finished, but it’s unclear when the movie adaptation will be headed to production. When it does, though, it’s going to be a smash.
The Girl With All the Gifts
Author: M.R. Carey
20-ish years after a pandemic destroyed most of the human population, the last remnants of civilization hunker down for survival inside well-defended military bases. In one such base, a curious and intelligent little girl named Melanie — part of a small group of very special children — lives alone in a prison cell under armed guard, attends “school” every day while strapped into a chair, and gets fed once a week. These children may hold the key to humanity’s future… if we can figure out the answers in time. The spooky setting gets a little potboilery during the second act, when it evolves into a more typical post-apocalyptic-quest tale, but the ending is satisfying and original. Buckle up for lots of gory death scenes and violence.
Author: Mike Mullin
My favorite thing about Ashfall is that it’s the rare YA apocalypse novel that’s 100% free of paranormal and supernatural phenomena. Nobody discovers psychic powers or gets bitten by a radioactive marmot or anything like that, it’s just some fairly typical kids with realistically limited knowledge and resources, trying to survive a confusing and unknown disaster. Alex is home alone when the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts, blanketing his neighborhood in ash and darkness. The local aid infrastructure breaks down almost immediately, and Alex decides he’s better off setting out on his own to find his family, who were visiting relatives 140 miles away when the volcano erupted. Alex travels through a bleak landscape, encountering helpful strangers and dangerous predators — and it’s hard to tell who’s who. He meets Darla, a strong-willed girl with nothing to lose, and they set out together, but the odds don’t look good for two teens on their own. Nail-bitingly suspenseful, violent, and containing sexual content, this series is best for older teens and adult readers (and probably not for anxious types like me who already obsess too much about apocalyptic disasters).
Author: Hugh Howey
In this bleak vision of the future, humanity huddles inside 144-story silo cities dug deep into the earth, hiding from the toxic air and poisoned land. Living in the lower levels are farmers and mechanics; in the central area, the technology types; and in the upper levels, the professionals. Rules govern every aspect of life imaginable, from what color uniform you wear to when you may try for a child. And crappiest of all, there are no functioning elevators in the silo, so everyone is constantly running up and down an enormous spiral staircase (and, one imagines, has killer calves). The survivors continually monitor the outside world via large sensors that transmit images and cast light, but after a while the sensor screens get dirty and clouded, and some poor soul has to don a biohazard suit and go out to clean them with industrial-grade wool, knowing that they’ll barely have time to finish the job before being poisoned by the atmosphere. The nine-book series focuses on a few different protagonists and the mysterious origins of the silos before pulling them all together in the conclusion.
Author: Daniel H. Wilson
Despite the awesome title and slick-looking cover, I didn’t like Robopocalypse at first, but it eventually grew on me. It’s one of those novels that tells its story via a mishmash of “official reports,” “personal diaries,” “interview transcripts,” and the like — which, thanks to a tedious introductory “report” written in dense military jargon, initially turned me off. But the story that eventually emerges is pretty interesting. As artificial intelligence improves, and is incorporated into everything from smart cars to robot companions, the human race is blissfully unaware of its vulnerability. A creepily childlike and incredibly powerful artificial consciousness, calling itself Archos, arises from the network and summons every robot on the planet to war. Most of humanity is swiftly destroyed, but a scrappy handful of survivors takes cover and fights back. It’s basically World War Z with robots, so if you liked that book (and its storytelling style), you’ll probably enjoy this robotic variation.
Also check out our Top Apocalypse Fiction of 2014 reading list!