September is Preparedness Month, and what better way to celebrate than with a roundup of post-apocalyptic fiction? After all, if you’re prepared for that, you can handle pretty much anything. From literary looks at post-plague North America to ominously rumbly supervolcanoes to dystopian fantasy realms in need of a prophesied hero, we’ve covered every disaster and catastrophe we could think of, and ended up with some great titles for you to throw into your backpack/duffel bag/shopping cart before you head out onto the road (or, as the case may be, The Road). But, since we’ve probably missed at least a few, be sure to add your own favorites in the comments!
All of these titles can be found in the Tor Store on iBooks!
Station Eleven—Emily St. John Mandel
One snowy night, Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.
Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.
Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all.
Lost Everything—Brian Francis Slattery
In the not-distant-enough future, a man takes a boat trip up the Susquehanna River with his most trusted friend, intent on reuniting with his son. But the man is pursued by an army, and his own harrowing past; and the familiar American landscape has been savaged by war and climate change until it is nearly unrecognizable.
Lost Everything, the latest book from the author of Spaceman Blues and Liberation, was the winner of the 2013 Philip K. Dick Award.
The Road—Cormac McCarthy
A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape, save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls, it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.
The Road boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, “each the other’s world entire,” are sustained by love. It is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.
A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.
But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature, coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers, threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remains. Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown… to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.
Supervolcano: Eruption—Harry Turtledove
A supervolcanic eruption in Yellowstone Park sends lava and mud flowing toward populated areas, and clouds of ash drifting across the country. The fallout destroys crops and livestock, clogs machinery, and makes cities uninhabitable. Those who survive find themselves caught in an apocalyptic catastrophe in which humanity has no choice but to rise from the ashes and recreate the world…
Chasing the Phoenix—Michael Swanwick
In the distant future, the old high-tech world has long since collapsed, and the artificial intelligences that ran it are outlawed and destroyed. Or so it seems. A dog called Surplus arrives in China, dressed as a Mongolian shaman, leading a yak carrying the corpse of his friend, Darger.
Darger and Surplus, one a human, the other a genetically engineered, highly intelligent dog, are a pair of con…men? They travel to what was once China and, pretending to have limited super-powers, aid an ambitious local warlord who dreams of conquest and once again reuniting China under one ruler. Against all odds, it begins to work, but it seems as if there are other forces at work behind the scenes…
London is in ruins, a once highly advanced city now a gated wasteland. Within its walls, a bloody war rages between two clans. Hope is sparse, but the people believe the gods have risen from the dead.
Odin himself has come to play a part in the lives of two twins, a brother and sister from the Volson clan. Siggy and Signy must come to grips with their destiny as London’s future teeters on the edge of a knife…
One Second After—William R. Forstchen
John Matherson is a retired U.S. Army Colonel and professor of history who moved to Black Mountain to be near his wife’s family as she battled cancer. Now a widower, he is raising his two daughters alone, and teaching at the local Montreat Christian College, when everything changes.
The book begins on the second Tuesday of May, at 4:50 p.m. EST, when the phone lines in town suddenly go dead. So do all the electrical appliances. Just a second before, everything worked; but now, just one second after, virtually nothing does. There are hundreds of stranded motorists whose cars and trucks have simply rolled to a halt on the nearby Interstate. There are no AM/FM radio broadcasts, no television, no Internet… no communication with anyone outside the town. Within hours, it becomes clear to the residents of Black Mountain that this is no ordinary blackout, and they come to the realization that the power may remain off for a very long time…
The Stand—Stephen King
A patient escapes from a biological testing facility, unknowingly carrying a deadly weapon: a mutated strain of super-flu that will wipe out 99 percent of the world’s population within a few weeks. Those who remain are scared, bewildered, and in need of a leader. Two emerge—Mother Abagail, the benevolent 108-year-old woman who urges them to build a peaceful community in Boulder, Colorado; and Randall Flagg, the nefarious “Dark Man,” who delights in chaos and violence. As the dark man and the peaceful woman gather power, the survivors will have to choose between them—and ultimately decide the fate of all humanity.
End of Days—Robert Gleason
Lydia Lozen Magruder—the great-granddaughter of a female Apache war-shaman—has seen visions of the End since childhood. She has constructed a massive ranch-fortress in the American Southwest, stocked with everything necessary to rebuild civilization.
Now, her visions are coming true. John Stone, once a baseball star and now a famous gonzo journalist, stumbled across a plan to blast humanity back to the Stone Age. Then he vanished. Lydia’s only hope of tracking him down lies with her stubborn, globe-trotting daughter, Kate, Stone’s former lover. However, Kate is about to step right into the plotters’ crosshairs: Stone has been captured by a pair of twin Middle Eastern princesses, hell-bent on torturing him until he reveals all he knows. Meanwhile, a Russian general obsessed with nuclear Armageddon has also disappeared… as have eight or more of his Russian subs, armed with nuclear-tipped missiles.
The world is armed for self-destruction.
Who will survive?
The Girl With All the Gifts—M. R. Carey
Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh…
Nemesis Games—James S.A. Corey
A thousand worlds have opened, and the greatest land rush in human history has begun. As wave after wave of colonists leave, the power structures of the old solar system begin to buckle. Ships are disappearing without a trace. Private armies are being secretly formed. The sole remaining protomolecule sample is stolen. Terrorist attacks previously considered impossible bring the inner planets to their knees. The sins of the past are returning to exact a terrible price. And as a new human order is struggling to be born in blood and fire, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante must struggle to survive and get back to the only home they have left.
Julian Comstock—Robert Charles Wilson
In the reign of President Deklan Comstock, a reborn United States is struggling back to prosperity. Over a century after the Efflorescence of Oil, after the Fall of the Cities, after the False Tribulation, after the days of the Pious Presidents, the sixty stars and thirteen stripes wave from the plains of Athabaska to the national capital in New York. In Colorado Springs, the Dominion sees to the nation’s spiritual needs. In Labrador, the Army wages war on the Dutch. America, unified, is rising once again.
Then out of Labrador come tales of the war hero “Captain Commongold.” The masses follow his adventures in the popular press. The Army adores him. The President is… troubled. Especially when the dashing Captain turns out to be his nephew Julian, son of the President’s late brother Bryce—a popular general who challenged the President’s power, and paid the ultimate price…
Ship Breaker—Paolo Bacigalupi
In America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota—and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it’s worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life…
Soft Apocalypse—Will McIntosh
What happens when resources become scarce and society starts to crumble? As the competition for resources pulls America’s previously stable society apart, the “New Normal” is a Soft Apocalypse. This is how our world ends; with a whimper instead of a bang.
In 2023, about ten years after an economic depression set off the Great Decline and society as we know it gradually began to fall apart, Jasper’s sociology degree is in less and less demand. Now he leads a tribe of formerly middle-class Americans—they prefer to think of themselves as “nomadic” rather than “homeless”—trying to scrape a life together in the face of violence from the haves and desperation from the have-nots. They struggle to find a place for themselves and their children in a new, dangerous world that still carries the ghostly echoes of their previous lives.
Earth Abides—George R. Stewart
This classic tale of post-apocalyptic society follows Isherwood Williams, a Berkeley graduate student, as he attempts to create life after civilization’s collapse. He’s in his research cabin in the mountains, recovering from a rattlesnake bite, when a disease wipes out most of humanity. He only slowly learns the truth as he travels back toward the city, finding abandoned homes and bodies along the way. He finally meets a woman, Em, and the two begin to work together to survive, slowly building a family and a community of survivors. But can a tiny band of people save humanity from falling into extinction?
Earth Abides won the inaugural International Fantasy Award in 1951.
The Postman—David Brin
He was a survivor—a wanderer who traded tales for food and shelter in the dark and savage aftermath of a devastating war. Fate touches him one chill winter’s day when he borrows the jacket of a long-dead postal worker to protect himself from the cold. The old, worn uniform still has power as a symbol of hope, and with it he begins to weave his greatest tale, of a nation on the road to recovery.
This is the story of a lie that became the most powerful kind of truth.
The Hunger Games—Suzanne Collins
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to death before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
The Rift—Walter Jon Williams
Fracture lines permeate the central United States. Some comprise the New Madrid fault, the most dangerous earthquake zone in the world. Other fracture lines are social: economic, religious, racial, and ethnic.
What happens when they all crack at once?
Caught in the disaster as cities burn and bridges tumble, young Jason Adams finds himself adrift on the Mississippi with African-American engineer Nick Ruford. A modern-day Huck and Jim, they spin helplessly down the river and into the widening faults in American society, encountering violence and hope, compassion and despair, and the primal wilderness that threatens to engulf not only them, but all they love…
The Mistborn Trilogy—Brandon Sanderson
The books are set in the dystopian future of Scadrial. Ash falls from the sky, the plants are withered and brown, and each night, clouds of supernatural mist descend upon the people. The long-ago hero is now the Lord Ruler, an immortal despot who controls the nobility and crushes the peasantry. The nobles are kept pacified through the gift of Allomancy (magical power) while the peasants, known as skaa, are simply exploited. A thousand years into Lord Ruler’s reign, a group of “Mistborn” skaa—skaa who can access all Allomantic powers—begin to plot a revolution. But is there any magical ability strong enough to topple Lord Ruler?
The Last Man—Mary Shelley
The Last Man does double duty as both a post-apocalyptic novel and a requiem for the Romantic Movement. Mary Shelley wrote her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and her own children into a story of English nobility attempting to flee a plague during the 2090s. The central character, Lionel Verney, is the son of a nobleman who has gambled himself into poverty. He finds himself immune to the plague, and then has to try to survive as civilization slowly dies around him. Shelley added a meta-textual layer to the story by interspersing the narrative with a series of prophetic writings that she “found in the Sibyl’s cave” in the early 1800s.