The best books about quests through a post-apocalyptic wasteland

Who am I?

I’ve clocked so many hours on Fallout 3 and New Vegas (and, less so, on Fallout 4) that it’s disgusting, but my real love of wastelands began with T.S. Eliot. His poem (The Waste Land), with its evocative imagery, fascinated me in university. While not about a literal wasteland, it inspired me to seek out stories of that vein. I even have a tattoo with a line from it! What Branches Grow was the focus of my grad certificate in creative writing and has won two awards. I am a book reviewer, writer at PostApocalypticMedia.com, and the author of the Burnt Ship space opera trilogy. 


I wrote...

What Branches Grow

By T.S. Beier,

Book cover of What Branches Grow

What is my book about?

Thirty-five years ago, the world was ravaged by war. Delia, driven from her home in Savannah by loss, travels north in search of a future. Gennero is tortured by his violent past and devotion to his hometown. Ordered to apprehend Delia, he follows her into the post-apocalyptic landscape. The wasteland is rife with dangers for those seeking to traverse it: homicidal raiders, dictatorial leaders, mutated humans, and increasingly violent and hungry wildlife.

An adventure with no-holds-barred action, strange towns, a slow-burn love story, moments of introspection, a Millennial in his 60s, and a survivalist pug, What Branches Grow is an unflinching depiction of life after civilization, where, above all else, trust is the hardest thing to achieve and give.

The books I picked & why

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The Road

By Cormac McCarthy,

Book cover of The Road

Why this book?

The Road is the ultimate post-apocalyptic novel if you’re looking for grittiness, realism, and suspense. The entire novel follows a father searching for safety for his son; their entire life is a quest to survive. The Road is what I think every post-apocalyptic writer secretly wishes they could write—I know I do—and I like to think the quiet moments in my own book comes from this wish. The Road is raw, terrifying, and horrific but also filled with hope and the unyielding love a parent has for their child. It’s a masterpiece. The only thing it doesn’t have is humour, so as much as I am in awe of McCarthy’s prose, my own post-apocalyptic novel has a great deal more (dark) comedy and moments of levity. 


The Waste Lands: The Dark Tower III

By Stephen King,

Book cover of The Waste Lands: The Dark Tower III

Why this book?

Another ultimate post-apocalyptic quest novel is The Stand, one of King’s most read (and longest) books, but I was more heavily influenced by (and love more) The Waste Lands (book 3 of The Dark Tower series). This is because the latter focuses less on the how of the collapse than the aftermath. King’s casual prose and quick, realistic dialogue have always been an inspiration in my writing. The found family connection between Roland, Eddie, Susanna, and Jake is at the heart of The Waste Lands. It is palpable and endearing, and something I strove to emulate with Delia, Gennero, Perth, and Mort in my own novel. There is an allusion to The Waste Lands in my book that big fans of The Dark Tower will catch.  


Primitives

By Erich Krauss,

Book cover of Primitives

Why this book?

This novel takes place thirty years after a disease has reduced most of the human population to a primitive state. A thriller with exceptional action scenes and tension, the novel features two converging plotlines that are quests through South America and the southern United States when it is almost devoid of uninfected humans. As with a lot of post-apocalyptic novels the real villains of the story are other humans—their greed and need for control. While this book came out two years after mine, it resonated with me. The themes of trust run strong in both our novels, as well as lengthy stretches of landscape without any humans. 


Sea of Rust

By Robert C. Cargill,

Book cover of Sea of Rust

Why this book?

I love this novel. I read it well after my own came out, but the strong, badass, stoic female main character reminded me a lot of Delia from What Branches Grow (despite Brittle being a robot). The often dark and gritty scenes interspersed with moments of emotion and laugh-out-loud absurd humour turned a story that could have been depressing into one that was a helluva lot of fun. The raiders in this novel also fit the trope in the same homage to Mad Max/Fallout that mine do in What Branches Grow, albeit in a way I didn’t expect. The novel is also a quest through the wasteland with a ragtag group that culminates in a final battle, which is a similar trajectory to my novel (and a plotfline in this genre I very much enjoy).


Trail of Lightning: Volume 1

By Rebecca Roanhorse,

Book cover of Trail of Lightning: Volume 1

Why this book?

Love stories aren’t often a theme of post-apocalyptic literature. In my own book I wanted to highlight that you can find love in times of great hardship, as sometimes love is all we have to keep us going. Roanhorse’s urban fantasy is an exciting post-apocalyptic novel with a badass woman main character who is tough-as-nails but also conflicted. The love story subplot between her and another character was an element that stood out for its realism and depth. While her quest is more personal than a physical journey, the novel (and its sequel, Storm of Locusts) takes place in a fascinating world build: only Native American reserves have survived the cataclysm. My male main character is also of Indigenous descent, though without a real connection to his heritage. Roanhorse also has an engaging, easy-to-read style!  


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