The best books that capture the inevitable bleakness of the apocalypse

Who am I?

I’ve been writing about the end of the world for years, so I know my way around the apocalypse! It’s not as dark as it sounds – it’s not the end of the world itself that I find fascinating, it’s imagining the reactions of the people who inhabit these nightmare scenarios. I’m a people watcher at heart, and these days it seems we’re increasingly restricted by the polarization of society, almost forced to pick a side. Come the apocalypse, all the preconceptions and regulations will be stripped away, and folks will behave as they genuinely want to, not how they think they should. Now that would really be something to behold!


I wrote...

Autumn: Dawn

By David Moody,

Book cover of Autumn: Dawn

What is my book about?

My Autumn series is a zombie apocalypse that’s a million miles removed from The Walking Dead and Night of the Living Dead. I wanted to make the undead believable – there’s no flesh eating, no gore for gore’s sake – and focus instead on the absolute horror faced by the people left behind, trying to survive in a world where the dead outnumber the living by 100,000 to 1. Now, in the shadow of the pandemic, the newest book – Autumn: Dawn – has taken on a new resonance.

Welcome to London. Population seven million. 99.9% of them dead. Can enough survivors band together to make a difference, or has the country - maybe even the entire world - already been lost to the dead?

The Books I Picked & Why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Last Plague

By Rich Hawkins,

Book cover of The Last Plague

Why this book?

Take the body horror nightmare of John Carpenter’s The Thing and substitute the remoteness of that film’s Antarctic setting for the densely populated familiarity of the UK. When a deadly infection strikes, four friends must cross a chaotic, war-torn England to reach their families. The infection turns people into vile, cannibalistic monsters that are almost Lovecraftian in their grotesqueness. There’s something about the juxtaposition of the normality of UK life and the unrelenting horror of the infection that really hits home. This is a vicious book that pulls no punches and spares no one. Beautifully written, and bleak as hell.


One

By Conrad Williams,

Book cover of One

Why this book?

Richard Jane, a diver working on a rig in the North Sea, is on a dive when ‘an event’ takes place which devastates the surface of the planet. This is another wonderfully written apocalypse – the descriptions are such that you can’t stop reading, no matter how horrific. The terror of Jane’s frantic escape from the black, ice-cold, subterranean depths is harrowing enough, but the soul-sapping devastation he finds when he reaches the surface is something else altogether. The first part of the book is particularly powerful, as Jane walks south along virtually the length of what’s left of the country to look for his son in the ruins of London. 


Tooth and Nail

By Craig DiLouie,

Book cover of Tooth and Nail

Why this book?

In the zombie sub-genre, it’s hard to move for the countless books and films about battle-hardened troops trying to maintain law and order as the world tears itself apart. All too often, these stories are little more than battle scene after battle scene, when the gauge of ammo being fired at the zombies is given more importance than a cohesive plot, character development, or any other such trivialities! Not so with Tooth and Nail. A fantastic writer of military fiction, DiLouie cut his teeth here with a startlingly realistic story of a pack of exhausted soldiers trying to deal with the impossible as society crumbles around them.


Outpost

By Adam Baker,

Book cover of Outpost

Why this book?

Another comparison with Carpenter’s The Thing here. A crew working on a derelict refinery platform moored in the Arctic Ocean are waiting for a relief ship to take them home when they discover that the rest of the world has been ravaged by a global pandemic. This is another book where the brilliance of the prose and the grotesqueness of the infection combine to devastating effect and deliver a hugely effective vision of the apocalypse. 


The Road

By Cormac McCarthy,

Book cover of The Road

Why this book?

How could any list of bleak apocalyptic novels be complete without mentioning The Road? McCarthy’s masterpiece is a tale of hope in the grimmest of grim circumstances. Rarely has a vision of the end-times been so unremittingly bleak, and yet the focus on the relationship between an unnamed man and his son leaves the reader in no doubt that no matter how desperate the situation, there’s always hope. McCarthy’s sparse, punctuation-free style perfectly suits the decaying, stripped back world he describes. A remarkable novel.


Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists