I was watching the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead this week and it got me to thinking about why I liked the show. I’ve never been very interested in zombie stories. They simply don’t appeal to me very much. I enjoyed The Night of the Living Dead mostly because I thought it was a brilliantly made low budget film and those always interest me. I read World War Z, but didn’t really enjoy it as much as appreciate the skill of the writing and the depth of the research that went into it. It wasn’t the kind of story telling that appeals to me. In fact, calling it storytelling feels somewhat generous. It’s more like deep world building. A big story is being told, but not the sort that involves following characters over time through a plot of events. It’s exactly what it sells its self as – a verbal history of a fictional global event.
However, while I’m not usually interested in zombie stories, I do love a good post-apocalyptic story. The drama of struggling for existence in the face of global societal collapse creates a compelling backdrop for telling stories about characters and how they adapt to the destruction of the world. So, I thought it would be fun to pick out my favorite post-apocalyptic stories. It turned out to be a longer list than I had expected. I suspect this is because as a teen growing up in the 80s in the US, and being a fan of sci-fi, I read a lot of post-apocalyptic stories. I started out with a list if 19 novels and films (many of the films being adaptations of the novels). I trimmed this down the to the top 10.
In no particular order, here are my favorite post-apocalyptic tales:
This is at the top of the list purely because I saw it recently. As I said, I don’t usually enjoy zombie stories, but I love this show. I don’t always like the characters, don’t always like the way the writers choose to tell the individual episodes, but I always enjoy the overall story of a small group of strangers coming together to survive. I’ve read some interesting discussions on the web about the dichotomy between Rick and the Governor and how they rule their respective kingdoms. I was surprised to find that people would prefer to be lead by the Governor. Can’t quite figure that out. The only time you want a madman leading you is when you are too afraid to lead yourself.
I read this when I was a teen. Maybe 13 years old. I checked it out from the local library in my small town. A story about a young teen in a small town in the 50s when a passing comet leaves behind a ‘dust’ that causes all machinery to cease functioning. I’ve just started rereading it again, and while it does not hold up to my memories of it, the novel it fun. The clearest memory I have of the novel is explaining it to my grandmother only to find that she had read it herself when she was young. The idea that my grandmother read sci-fi had my mind reeling.
I loved this novel as a kid. I was about 12, I think, when I inherited a copy from my dad after he’d finished reading it. A comet strikes the earth and a large cast had to survive in the aftermath. It hooked me in reading Niven and Pournelle for years.
I read this a few years ago. I had been email with Steve Chbosky, the writer/producer of Jericho a few months before the show came out (I gaffed Steve’s first feature film The Four Corner’s of Nowhere back in the 90s). Anyway when he told me what the show would be about it got me thinking about small towns dealing with nuclear attacks and this had been a novel I had always meant to read. I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. Sadly, more than Jericho, which I never managed to get into the way I had hoped.
Another 50’s story of a small group of people dealing with the aftermath of nuclear war. I saw the film first and then read the novel. I loved the both. They had a mater-of-fact workman like style to them devoid of the sort of melodrama that could have overwhelmed them.
The BBC has a habit of cancelling shows I love. This is one of them. A band of strangers tossed together in the wake of a global pandemic that had eradicated most of humanity. I really enjoyed the characters, and for the most part, the storylines. The question of how people survive is central to the story. What will you do to survive? Will you exploit others to your advantage or try to protect them?
I really enjoyed the first three novels of S.M. Stirling’s series. I felt it dragged a bit heading toward the end. So much so, that I have yet to finish the final two novel. However, he sets up a very interesting world, one where the power had gone out and where the laws of the universe have changed. Not only can electricity not be generated, but gunpowder will no longer work, as well. The story blends elements of post-apocalyptic sci-fi with medieval history and fantasy. I have no way of knowing if the creators of Revolution read the novels before creating their series, but I wish they had simply optioned Stirling’s work rather than fashioning a pale imitation.
This one makes the list more for nostalgia’s sake than anything else. Another novel read as a young teen. A small group people in a French castle trying to remake the world after nuclear war.
How can you not like a post-apocalyptic vampire story. These are sci-fi vampires, borne from a mysterious virus and the work of government scientists meddling with things they don’t full comprehend. Once loosed on the world, these vampires destroy it. The story is told in an odd manner, the first 300 pages being essentially a prologue for the following 500, but I found the characters consistently engaging and the writing excellent.
The Stand (novel not TV series)
How could this not make the list. The ultimate end of the world clash between good and evil. Literally. I haven’t read this in ages, but it sticks with me over the years. The post-apocalyptic work that all others get compared to for theme, character creation, breadth of storytelling. I think I need to read it again.
Here, in no real order are the runners up. Several of them should have been on the top list, but I didn’t want to make this an exhaustive exercise.