Post Apocalyptic Fiction

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This sub-genre of science fiction has been around a long time, and continues to grow. These are stories of people struggling to survive after society has collapsed for some reason (nuclear war, pandemic, and sterility are common ones).

  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Starter)
    Plummeting fertility rates and social unrest have led to the formation of a repressive, patriarchal religious society where women are chattel and fertile women are enslaved for their ability to bear the leaders’ children. Especially interesting to compare with the book and movie Children of Men.

  • Postman by David Brin (Starter)
    Civilization has crumbled, but people’s need to believe in a unifying symbol – in this case, the postman and mail delivery – helps to start rebuilding. Brin is known best for his swashbuckling space opera, but in this morality tale he hit on a touching scenario.

  • Winterlong by Elizabeth Hand
    A complex but fragmented society has survived despite nuclear and biological warfare which has left Washington DC a dictatorship. Twins brought up in different castes of this society are reunited and try to deal with the many threats and challenges to them and to the remaining social order. Mixed in with the very modern themes are many literary and mythological elements, all conveyed in wonderful writing.

  • A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr
    Long after a nuclear holocaust, civilization is preserved by monasteries, as in the previous Dark Ages. Now some groups are trying to rediscover technology. One monastery seeks guidance in relics of its founder, St. Leibowitz, including a blueprint and some cryptic writings (including “pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels”).

  • Earth Abides by George Stewart
    A teacher returns from a solo camping trip to find that almost everyone has died of a flash pandemic, leaving only a handful of survivors. How the survivors try, and fail, to keep modern civilization going, makes for a dark tale; but nevertheless one with a hopeful ending.

Films to watch

  • Children of Men (2006)
    This harrowing tale of a near future in which humanity has become sterile is based on the novel of the same name by P.D. James, which could have been on this book list. A crumbling society is held together by increasingly repressive measures, while threatened by underlying despair and fear.

  • Mad Max (1979)
    While stressing action scenes and stunts, this film also epitomizes the current SF Post-Apocalytic scenario of a crumbling society wracked with violence and cynicism, as “good cop” Mel Gibson combats various evil forces.


  • The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.
    A fascinating extrapolation of what would happen, if humanity disappeared, with the world we left behind and our artifacts.

  • The Revenge of Gaia by J.E. Lovelock.
    This book explores one type of possible Apocalypse: climate change.

  • The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett.
    This, another type: pandemic.

Category: Reading Lists, Science Fiction

Page last changed: April 05, 2013, at 02:42 PM EST.