The end of the world. It’s an inescapable thought for many of us, myself included. What would it be like, our countries, our cities, our lives wiped clean? Almost all of our present worries would evaporate, but what new ones would rise to take their places? How would we change in order to survive?
If you’re like me, you read about it to find out. We’ve all greedily devoured the super-flu apocalypse stories, the zombie plague accounts, the climate-doomed scenarios, the wars, the aliens, the nuclear bombs… But lately, I’ve noticed that the trend seems to be shifting in this timeless genre. Where the downfalls used to be caused by viruses escaping labs or political skirmishes that spiraled out of control, something new is beginning to creep into the limelight. In this modern age of long hours at the office, endless connectivity, and constant tracking and surveillance, sometimes it seems like the only thing that actually might be able to bring this reality to a standstill would have to be something else entirely—magic.
These are my five favorite novels wherein the end of the world is brought about not by science or war or plague, but by the fantastic.
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
What if what you dreamed sometimes came true? Good dreams, bad dreams, everything in between, completely out of your conscious control. And then what if against all odds, the psychiatrist assigned to your case started to believe that perhaps you weren’t crazy after all, that perhaps you were really telling the truth—but instead of helping cure you, he tried to use your dangerous power to make what he thought would be a better world? A beautiful, poignant examination of love, loss, and what it means to be alive, this is one of my favorite books of all time.
The Broken Earth Series by N.K. Jemisin
This series is hands down one of the most unique and engrossing that I’ve ever read. In Jemisin’s reality, certain people are born with the magical, but seemingly uncontrollable, ability to cause massive earthquakes, which has plunged the world into several civilization-ending resets. When it seems poised to happen again, one family finds itself at the center of the impending destruction, and must decide to fight or run. The story in and of itself is gripping, but Jemisin has layered on top of that even more gifts: experimental points of view that reveal clues if unraveled, multiple timelines, and a twist in the first book that made me shriek on the subway the first time I read it.
Kraken by China Miéville
I’m cheating a little with this one because it takes place just days before the apocalypse actually begins, but whatever is coming to end Miéville’s weird and wonderful London is most definitely magical. At first glance, this entry in Miéville’s body of work seems like it might be a little more straightforward, a little less weird than some of the others. I promise you, it’s neither of those things. When a secret holy relic and perhaps harbinger of the apocalypse, in the form of a giant, preserved squid, is stolen from its tank, a war between museum docents, underworld bosses, a hundred difficult cults (at least), and the ocean itself explodes almost from page one, and doesn’t let up until the end.
Where Futures End by Parker Peevyhouse
This YA debut seamlessly weaves together the magic of fantasy and the technology of sci-fi into something completely its own. When a portal to another world suddenly opens, our own is irrevocably changed. But even as things on our side of the divide begin to take a turn for the worse, with rising inflation, uncontrollable global warming, and insidious new technologies, the mystical tether refuses to let go—and perhaps is not as benevolent as it first had seemed. The story has a fascinating structure; it’s told through the eyes of a series of linked protagonists, each several decades ahead of the previous. The potential futures Peevyhouse imagines in this book are at once bizarre, a little terrifying, and most of all, hauntingly possible.
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
This strange, enchanting novel defies categorization. I’ve tried so many times, and in the end always end up simply thrusting the book at the hapless victim that asked for my recommendation and screaming, “It’s magnificent!” until they finally take it from me and promise to read it. It’s at once beautiful, hilarious, heart-breaking, and most of all, impossible to predict, which is a very rare thing to be able to pull off these days. There are talking lions, a library that contains the universe, people getting turned into suns, a murderous psychopath in a tutu, ageless gods wreaking havoc in suburban enclaves, a giant metal bull in which victims are barbecued alive… all of it fits together in mind-bendingly perfect harmony.
Peng Shepherd was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where she rode horses and trained in classical ballet, and has lived in Beijing, London, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York. Her first novel, The Book of M, about a magical apocalypse of its own which steals people’s shadows, is out June 2018 from William Morrow (US) and Harper Voyager (UK).