The best science fiction books where ordinary people survive the extraordinary

B.K. Bass Author Of What Once Was Home
By B.K. Bass

Who am I?

I lived in small towns with “ordinary” people most of my life, so books where people from small towns contend with situations beyond the ordinary fascinate me. I also served in the US Army as a nuclear, biological, and chemical operations specialist and am a military history buff, so anything with a military spin is all that more engaging for me and I developed a morbid fascination for just how easy it would be for us to end civilization as we know it. Therefore, military science fiction and post-apocalyptic fiction are among my favorite genres. 

I wrote...

What Once Was Home

By B.K. Bass,

Book cover of What Once Was Home

What is my book about?

When his world is suddenly torn apart, one man must learn to survive in What Once Was Home.

Jace Cox’s life is changed when an overwhelming alien force invades the Earth with no warning or provocation. In the years that follow, he must not only fight to survive, but also learn what it means to be a man and a leader. As the situation grows more dire and the weight of loss bears down on Jace, he realizes his greatest challenge isn’t the alien invaders or even his fellow man. It is holding onto his own humanity despite living in a world gone mad.

The books I picked & why

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Alas, Babylon

By Pat Frank,

Book cover of Alas, Babylon

Why this book?

Growing up in Florida near the end of the Cold War, the looming threat of nuclear war was ever-present. We were even still doing nuclear attack drills in school. When this book was assigned reading for an English class, I had no idea how close to home it would hit. Survivors in a small town in Florida must survive the aftermath of a nuclear war. Ironically, the small town in the book was based on a town only a short drive from my own home. Witnessing the experiences of wholly ordinary people—people who could have been my own family, friends, and neighbors—thrust into an extraordinary situation was gripping and terrifying.

Gust Front

By John Ringo,

Book cover of Gust Front

Why this book?

Parts of Gust Front hit home. I read this while living in the Appalachians, so seeing Cally preparing for an invasion in a remote valley in Georgia, and the subsequent fighting that takes place in and around the Appalachians, struck a nerve with me. If the worst happened, up to and including the alien invasion depicted here, would the mountains be the best place to hold out and resist? The scope of the novel covers many settings, including other familiar ones like Washington D.C., all of which ground the speculative premise of an alien invasion in a story that feels very real; something that any of us could be forced to live through.

Dies the Fire

By S.M. Stirling,

Book cover of Dies the Fire

Why this book?

Unlike the typical post-apocalyptic fare of nuclear war or other identifiable disasters, Dies the Fire posits an interesting question: What if everything just stops working? Everything we rely on to drive modern society, from combustion to electricity, fails. Against this backdrop, a cast of characters from varied backgrounds all must struggle to adapt to this new reality. Civilization falls apart, and new orders spring up in their place. What drew me most to this was the different ways in which the characters responded to this situation. Some seek simply to survive, while others seek to exploit this new reality for their own gains at the expense of others.

The War of the Worlds

By H.G. Wells,

Book cover of The War of the Worlds

Why this book?

What is more terrifying than an alien menace bent on eradicating humanity? One that won’t even say why they are doing it. To me, that’s the most striking thing about this book. In other alien invasion stories, an antagonist often has a particular bone to pick; there’s some failed diplomacy or other motives to make it clear why they are attacking. In War of the Worlds, they just show up and take over without a word. Then, it falls to ordinary people to fight back against or simply survive in the face of a technologically superior foe who won’t even tell humanity why they are being exterminated.

The Stand

By Stephen King,

Book cover of The Stand

Why this book?

The Stand thrusts ordinary people into a desperate situation. What stood out for me was that the nature of the apocalypse itself or surviving the aftermath was not the focus of the book. Rather, it focuses on the tensions between the factions that arose after the fall of civilization. In a struggle that reflects those experienced on a global scale in reality, a democratic society must confront a totalitarian regime in a struggle for the fate of humanity. This clash of ideologies is a wonderful exploration of the different ways in which civilization might be rebuilt, and fuel for a gripping conflict.

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