The post-apocalyptic book is probably my favourite genre, ever. It’s fantastical, it allows for a speculative world in which anything can happen, and yet it’s close enough to reality that you imagine it could happen, which makes it more disturbing. Civilization falls apart, and our survival instincts kick in. Some of us devolve into something less than humans, while others stand against the darkness and try not to forget the goodness in the world.
I think it’s tragic that the post-apocalyptic genre is so out of favour right now, because I will always want more. I will keep my fingers crossed for a resurgence. Anyone else with me? Who loves post-apocalyptic? What’s your favourite?
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
The OG YA dystopian read that changed everything. There were so many dystopian that came out after The Hunger Games, like Divergent and Matched, and some were great, but none of them had the same explosive effect as Hunger Games. Because it was so new, so different, so fresh, the YA genre took off on an unprecedented scale and hasn’t looked back since.
You’ve probably read it, or seen the movie, and the concept is familiar. In a dystopic world that once was the United States of America, the governing Capitol keeps control of a beaten-down population by forcing them to send a girl and a boy each year to participate in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Katniss Everdeen assumes she’ll die early when she takes the place of her beloved sister, but she’s been a survivor her whole life and becomes a contender. Her teammate is Peeta, a boy who still believes in goodness.
When I first read the book, I was low-level obsessed with Katniss and Peeta, and couldn’t put the book down. I actually felt mildly feverish with it. I’ve recently had the good fortune to be working with the editor of The Hunger Games, and I figured it was time for a reread. The book holds up, guys. A modern-day classic your grandkids are going to read.
The Salt Line, by Holly Goddard Jones
The Salt Line was disturbing, in part because this is SO REALISTIC I’m terrified that this will actually happen. The United States’ borders have receded behind a salt line: a ring of scorched earth that protects its citizens from deadly disease-carrying ticks. Those within the zone live safe, if limited, lives in a society controlled by common fear. Few have any reason to venture out of zone, except for the adrenaline junkies who pay a fortune to tour what’s left of nature.
A group of these adventure-seekers set out into the wilds, and everything quickly falls apart. Not only are they at the mercy of the horrifying ticks, but they find themselves in the middle of a plot to overturn the status quo. Survival is not guaranteed.
This book was really cool, and very well written. But what bothered me the most was the idea of a plague-carrying insect that destroys our society. It’s really … not that out there. At all. This gave me chills. I loved it.
The Girl With All the Gifts, by M. R. Carey
The girl is Melanie: brilliant, sweet, a model student. But she’s strapped into a wheelchair with a gun on her at all times. What is it about Melanie that makes her so dangerous?
The Girl With All the Gifts had 28 Days vibes, and I truly was kept guessing as to what was going on far longer than I thought I should! It was a zombie thriller unlike any other, in that it is remarkably human, and touching. Told from the perspective of zombie children, it gives a whole new insight into who is good, and who is bad.
The writing is fast-paced, entirely compelling and it’s such a fresh take on an old cliché. Very unexpected; if you’re into the post-apocalypse genre, you can’t miss this one.
Wool, by Hugh Howey
Wool began as a short story self-published by Hugh Howey, before self-publishing was an easy choice for authors. There was so much interest in the story that he continued to write the concept, until a full novel was developed. And what a cool concept it is.
Humanity has polluted the environment to the point that the air is unbreathable and all life on earth has perished (sounds pretty accurate, actually.) The few survivors left live in a giant hole in the ground, the Silo. I think often about the concept of living so vertically. There is a massive staircase that winds miles into the ground and can take days to travel. Most people stick to their own levels and let life continue from there. It is a very limited life, but at least they are alive.
Just don’t go asking about going outside …
A great dystopian, unlike anything I’ve read before. There is darkness and a prevailing mystery, as well as a cast of characters that are both flawed and sympathetic. Howey did an awesome job with this one.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks
Going back to the more cliched brain-eating zombies, but with such an interesting spin on the perspective: told as a historical non-fiction document. World War Z was such a delight to read. There was a huge amount of world-building, and it was all brought together in a fascinating way. It is a recorded testament by the survivors of the Zombie War, which nearly decimated all civilization.
Every chapter tells a different tale, from many different perspectives, of how humans tried to survive the horrific zombie plague that took over the world. There is overlap, sometimes between their stories, but mostly it is vignettes of what happened to the world, on all corners, and gives great details into his fascinating speculative world. It is both bleak and hilarious. It’s not your typical narrative, and there isn’t really an overlying plot, but a biting commentary on politics and global affairs. And zombies.
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Who doesn’t know of Atwood’s chilling dystopian tale of female oppression? It’s become synonymous with women’s rights that are being quashed in the United States, and offers a far-too realistic scenario if things aren’t changed, and quick.
There have been thousands of essays written by intellectuals as to the importance of The Handmaid’s Tale, but this is what I can offer. I read this as a teen, and found it scary and unrealistic. I have since reread it, and every time I find it that much scarier, and that much more realistic. Because everything that is happening south of the border is, quite frankly, so f-cked up that sometimes I’m stunned into silence. Maybe that’s what they want.
Read the book, watch the shows. Most importantly, never stop fighting for your rights because until women’s rights are acknowledged by all to be human rights – this very well could be our future.
*Atwood is a star when it comes to dystopian work. Another great read of hers, Oryx and Crake, is one I recommend to everyone. Throughout the pandemic, I was still working once a week downtown Calgary, and there were times when it was a virtual ghost town. At one point, on a windy November morning, I was walking down the street. The only thing keeping my nose warm was my mask, wrapped tightly around my face. A bus passed me, completely empty. I glanced up to the bus stop to see an ad for KFC, daring me to try their meatless meat, and I actually froze in my footsteps. A feeling of absolute surreality settled over me, and all I could think was: Oryx and Crake is real. And I’m living in it. It took me a long time to shake off that feeling, holy crap. You should totally read it.
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