I finished reading Justin Cronin’s apocalyptic vampire novel The Passage a week ago. It is a brilliant novel in both the way it is written and the story. Cronin introduces dozens of characters, each with individual fears and problems that make them easy to empathise with. The Passage is one of the best adventure epics I have read. I had been thinking it was close to the best apocalyptic fiction I have read. To try and decide if it is the best, I went through my book shelves and found dozens of apocalyptic novels to compare it too.
I define apocalyptic fiction as any story set during the collapse of a civilisation and/or the stories of the survivors in the years after that collapse. Some novels in my shelves had civilisation slowly in decline, not so much a collapse, so I did not include them. This meant my all-time favourite science fiction novel, The Sea and Summer, by George Turner, missed out.
After a much consideration, here is a list of the top ten apocalyptic novels I have read:
1. The Passage, Justin Cronin
2. The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood
3. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
4. Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
5. The Genensis of Shannara trilogy, Terry Brooks
6. Things We Didn’t See Coming, Steven Amsterdam
7. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
8. Warday and the Journey Onward, Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka
9. Graffiti, Peter Van Greenaway
10. Earth Abides, George R Stewart.
As you can see, I am a bit of a fan of Margaret Atwood. Five of the novels are written by “literary” writers in Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy and Steve Amsterdam. Justin Cronin also claims to be a non-genre writer before he wrote The Passage. Steve Amsterdam Is the only Australian on the list.
The books made the list for all different reasons. The Road for its bleak atmosphere, the boy and man only have the struggle of the next day to look forward too. It’s keep moving or die.
The Genensis of Shannara is written for young adults and its theme could leave them thinking that they better be prepared to live in a world destroyed by their parents. Brooks might not be the greatest writer, but he can sure tell an engrossing tale that kept me wanting hoping the main characters survived, for three books.
I loved the way Things We Didn’t See Coming is divided into eight or so self-contained short stories. Steve Amsterdam does a brilliant job of imagining the life of a person born just before the year 2000 coping with future dramatic environmental shifts. The novel sure lives up to its name because I was constantly surprised by the stories in it.
Warday is written like a diary and gives an account of what happens when emp pulses from a limited nuclear attack send the US back into the stone age. It shows in grim detail the decline of the US.
Graffiti has a great concept, the history of the world after a nuclear war is written on the walls of a hotel. So much for ebooks being the future.
Margaret Atwood’s novels are so well written. Her words are seamlessly put together, there are no attempts at cleverness that throw me out of her novels. I think she does a better job of writing like a man, than most men do. She writes how she imagines characters would behave when civilisation is collapsing or collapsed, not how she would hope they would behave. The Year of the Flood is a prequel to Oryx and Crake.
And Earth Abides was probably the first apocalyptic novel I read. It shows attempts to re-establish civilisation stalling.
Cause of the Apocalypse
What did these writers imagine destroyed civilisation?
1. The Passage – genetically engineered vampires
2. The Year of the Flood - a virus
3. The Road - nuclear war
4. Oryx and Crake - a virus
5. The Genesis of Shannara - pollution, genetic engineered mutants, and demons
6. Things We Didn’t See Coming - climate change
7. The Handmaid’s Tale - pollution and biological warfare
8. Warday - nuclear war
9. Graffiti - nuclear war
10. Earth Abides - a virus.
I will probably read Stephen King’s The Stand one day. King’s Under The Dome just failed to make the list. I also must read the classics War of the Worlds and Day of the Triffids. And I am still yet to delve into apocalyptic zombie novels.
What’s your favourite apocalyptic novel?