The best post-apocalyptic novels that stay with you

Who am I?

Many years ago, I sat down in front of the TV with my dad and watched a film called The Omega Man. I remember how thrilled I felt seeing Charlton Heston enter a department store and pick out any clothes he fancied without having to pay for them. I imagined walking down a deserted high street, calling into shops (usually toy or sweet shops—I was nine), and simply helping myself. A few years later, I watched the BBC TV series The Survivors. It was grey, gritty, and downright miserable, but cemented my love of the genre. It was inevitable that one day I would write my own apocalyptic tale.


I wrote...

The Cleansing

By Sam Kates,

Book cover of The Cleansing

What is my book about?

Seven billion people inhabit this planet in blissful ignorance of imminent annihilation. Destruction comes, not from meteors or nuclear holocaust, but from a source no one even knows exists.

A handful of survivors—traumatised, bewildered—must come to terms with the new reality. And quickly. For the Cleansing is only the beginning . . .

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Stand

Sam Kates Why did I love this book?

This novel was published in the UK the year I turned fifteen, although I didn’t read it until I was around seventeen. Already a recent convert to Stephen King after discovering him with Carrie, and falling in love with his storytelling in Salem’s Lot, it was with a shiver of anticipation that I opened my copy of The Stand and began to read. That opening scene, where a car comes crashing into a gas station—a car filled with a dying family suffering from some as-yet unidentified sickness—hooked me in and from there the book never let me go.

I still have my paperback copy from all those years back. Dog-eared and yellowing, I’ll never get rid of it. It feels like a part of me.

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked The Stand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stephen King's apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by virus and tangled in an elemental struggle between good and evil remains as riveting and eerily plausible as when it was first published.

Soon to be a television series.

'THE STAND is a masterpiece' (Guardian). Set in a virus-decimated US, King's thrilling American fantasy epic, is a Classic.

First come the days of the virus. Then come the dreams.

Dark dreams that warn of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death, his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of…


Book cover of Riddley Walker

Sam Kates Why did I love this book?

This novel is set a couple of millennia after the apocalyptic event in what is currently the English county of Kent. It is narrated by the title character in a form of pidgin English that’s difficult to come to grips with. It took me a few goes to get into this book, but am I glad I did.

Riddley’s narration employs phrases like ‘suching waytion’ (situation) and ‘catwl twis’ (catalyst). Neither prose nor dialogue are easy to understand at first, but the perseverant reader grows accustomed to the strangeness of the language. They find themselves so absorbed in the richness and quirkiness and heart-rending awfulness of Hoban’s future world, their earlier struggles are quickly forgotten. This tale haunted me long after I’d finished it. It still does.

By Russell Hoban,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Riddley Walker as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A hero with Huck Finn's heart and charm, lighting by El Greco and jokes by Punch and Judy...Riddley Walker is haunting and fiercely imagined and-this matters most-intensely ponderable." -Benjamin DeMott, The New York Times Book Review "This is what literature is meant to be." -Anthony Burgess "Russell Hoban has brought off an extraordinary feat of imagination and style...The conviction and consistency are total. Funny, terrible, haunting and unsettling, this book is a masterpiece." -Anthony Thwaite, Observer "Extraordinary...Suffused with melancholy and wonder, beautifully written, Riddley Walker is a novel that people will be reading for a long, long time." -Michael Dirda,…


Book cover of The Road

Sam Kates Why did I love this book?

One of those rare novels that I struggled to put down. I read it in a few days, which is breakneck speed for me since I was then working full-time and writing in my limited spare time. The siren-call of the tale was too strong for me to resist finding out what happened next.   

For anyone who hasn’t read the book or seen the film adaptation starring Viggo Mortensen, the story takes place in a future version of the US several years after an apocalyptic event. It chronicles the harrowing journey of a father and son as they work their way across the States, desperately trying to avoid murderers, marauders, and cannibals. It is probably the most unremittingly bleak tale I’ve ever read. And utterly compelling.

By Cormac McCarthy,

Why should I read it?

28 authors picked The Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE • A searing, post-apocalyptic novel about a father and son's fight to survive, this "tale of survival and the miracle of goodness only adds to McCarthy's stature as a living master. It's gripping, frightening and, ultimately, beautiful" (San Francisco Chronicle).

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if…


Book cover of Oryx and Crake

Sam Kates Why did I love this book?

Despite the author’s reluctance to label her work as science fiction, her novel deals with genetic manipulation and is set in the aftermath of a bioengineered plague. It is a future where apparently no genetically unmodified humans, or animals, remain except for the protagonist. During the starving protagonist’s perilous journey to an abandoned scientific compound in search of food, the reader learns through a series of flashbacks how the world was brought to its current state. 

It is, at heart, a grim tale, holding out little hope for the future of humanity. Yet, as you’d expect if you’ve read any of the author’s other work, it is beautifully written and kept me wanting more. What better compliment can you pay to a novel?

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Oryx and Crake as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By the author of THE HANDMAID'S TALE and ALIAS GRACE

*

Pigs might not fly but they are strangely altered. So, for that matter, are wolves and racoons. A man, once named Jimmy, lives in a tree, wrapped in old bedsheets, now calls himself Snowman. The voice of Oryx, the woman he loved, teasingly haunts him. And the green-eyed Children of Crake are, for some reason, his responsibility.

*

Praise for Oryx and Crake:

'In Jimmy, Atwood has created a great character: a tragic-comic artist of the future, part buffoon, part Orpheus. An adman who's a sad man; a jealous…


Book cover of I Am Legend

Sam Kates Why did I love this book?

One of the film versions of this novel—there are at least three at last count—is one of the main reasons I’m so attracted to this genre and so I had to include it. It’s a slow-burning tale of a seemingly sole survivor of a virus that has turned other humans into vampire-like, nocturnal creatures, who each night attempt to storm the survivor’s home. In turn, he spends many daylight hours hunting down and killing the infected.

The story unwinds to a surprising conclusion that, unlike the endings of the films, I found to be satisfying and deliciously dark. 

By Richard Matheson,

Why should I read it?

17 authors picked I Am Legend as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An acclaimed SF novel about vampires. The last man on earth is not alone ...Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth ...but he is not alone. Every other man, woman and child on the planet has become a vampire, and they are hungry for Neville's blood. By day he is the hunter, stalking the undead through the ruins of civilisation. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for the dawn. How long can one man survive like this?


You might also like...

The Vixen Amber Halloway

By Carol LaHines,

Book cover of The Vixen Amber Halloway

Carol LaHines Author Of Distant Flickers: Stories of Identity & Loss

New book alert!

Who am I?

The anthology form unites diverse voices around a common theme—in the case of Distant Flickers, identity and loss. The stories in the anthology explore intense personal relationships—of mother and child, old lovers, etc. Some of the stories are in the moment and some recounted with the perspective of time, some are fable-like, some formal, and others more colloquial. Reading them the reader is struck by the variety of approaches a writer might take to a subject. The device of the contributor’s notes enables the reader to see the story behind the story and how life informs art—life furnishing the raw material or day residue of the story.  

Carol's book list on themed anthologies

What is my book about?

Ophelia, a professor of Dante, is stricken when she discovers that her husband Andy has been cheating on her with a winsome colleague. What follows is Ophelia’s figurative descent into hell as she obsessively tracks her subjects, performs surveillance in her beat-up Volvo, and moves into the property next door to Amber’s, which has gone into foreclosure.

She spies on the lovers, growing more and more estranged from reality. Andy’s betrayal reawakens the earlier trauma of abandonment by her mother at the age of eight. When Andy and Amber become engaged, Ophelia snaps. The story is a jailhouse confessional, a dark comedy, an oeuvre of women’s rage, a suspenseful revenge fantasy, and a moving portrait of one woman’s psychological breakdown.

The Vixen Amber Halloway

By Carol LaHines,

What is this book about?

Ophelia, a professor of Dante, is stricken when she discovers that her husband Andy has been cheating on her with a winsome colleague. What follows is Ophelia's figurative descent into hell as she obsessively tracks her subjects, performs surveillance in her beat-up Volvo, and moves into the property next door to Amber's, which has gone into foreclosure. She spies on the lovers, growing more and more estranged from reality. Andy's betrayal reawakens the earlier trauma of abandonment by her mother at the age of eight. When Andy and Amber become engaged, Ophelia snaps. The story is a jailhouse confessional, a…


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