Thursday, August 30, 2007
Post Apocalyptic Fiction
With the forthcoming release of the John Joseph Adams anthology of Post Apocalyptic stories Wastelands, this is a good time to list and discBlogger: Adventures in Reading - Create Postuss some P.A. novels and stories. I did some quick research last night to find a list of Post Apocalyptic novels and I was surprised to see that I really haven't read that many Post Apocalyptics. It just feels that way because the sub-genre is just so familiar feeling. It is a great sub-genre of science fiction. The world has been laid to waste by a variety of possible problems: vampires, disease, aliens, war, ecological disaster, whatever. It doesn't matter what the cause is, what matters is that our planet, or just our country has been decimated.
Unsurprisingly the novel that first comes to mind when thinking about this genre is The Road. Of course. It just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and Cormac McCarthy brings his literary tradition to Science Fiction, possibly without realizing that he did so. It's a very spare novel, as one would expect from McCarthy. Excellent and well written it isn't one to really excite me despite the excellence. The second one that came to my mind is I Am Legend. Yeah, it is the "vampire" story, and also a "last man on Earth" story, but the Last Man stories are all post apocalyptics because why else is there only one man remaining? This is a tight, tight novel with the last man heading into the ruins of L.A. by day and trying to survive by night.
The third story that came to mind was Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower. Some disease has crazed the citizens of this country and there are outposts of humanity trying to hold on. This is an outstanding novel, as is much of Butler's work. Clay's Ark also gets a mention, though not nearly as good as this one (still a solid novel, but Parable is something else entirely). Set as part of the Patternist sequence Clay's Ark sets up the fall of man and there are some excellent sections later in the novel when the world is falling to ruin.
After that we have Neville Shute's classic On the Beach, a novel after the nuclear war. It's a true Cold War novel and shows the fall out of a nuclear war.
Some Post Apocalyptic Novels:
I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
On the Beach, by Neville Shute
Clay's Ark, by Octavia Butler
Cell, by Stephen King
Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood
Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
The Stand, by Stephen King
A Canticle for Liebowitz, by Walter M. Miller
The Postman, by David Brin
Several novels by Philip K. Dick.
Left Behind, by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye
Planet of the Apes, by Pierre Boulle
Armageddon's Children, by Terry Brooks
Battle Circle, by Piers Anthony
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Then, there are a couple of series which clearly came out of a Post Apocalyptic setting but have gone so far after the fallout that the world has melded into something else: The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks and The Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe (beginning with Shadow of the Torturer). Others, like Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell touch upon it, but go in a different direction and a diaspora to other planets prevents the work from truly being Post Apocalyptic even though we know that Earth is but a shell. I got a sense of the P.A. from Dan Simmon's Ilium, at least the part that was on Earth. Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis novels follow an human caused apocalypse, but after the aliens reseed the world with humanity the world appears to be in a more pristine state...so there is none of the wreckage that is associated with the genre.
There are a goodly number of Post Apocalyptic Novels out there, most of the above list I have read, but a few I haven't. There is a discussion going on at FBS which is listing far more than I've heard of or listed here.
If we get into short stories, then we have a whole 'nother listing, some of which are on the Wikipedia list, others haven't been quite collected. Octavia Butler's Speech Sounds is a great one (it will also be included in Wastelands). Asimov has Nightfall, and Ellison has a few (A Boy and his Dog, etc). More recently Chris Roberson's story "Last" from Subterranean #4 gets to the Last Man on Earth with disease ravaging the planet, killing most everything on the planet.
This is a great genre, though I suppose some can see it as depressing. I see it as hopeful, just in a very twisted way. For there to even be a story set there means that there is something or someone surviving and if there is a survivor, there is hope. Of course, that can be twisted around quite easily, but there you go. Hope.
The reason, I think, that I believed I had read more Post Apocalyptics is that dystopian fiction (1984, Brave New World, The Running Man, The Handmaid's Tale) feels like it followed some apocalypse, something that turned our world from something beautiful (though flawed), to something horribly broken. But, because there is still a semblance of a functioning society, it isn’t really Post Apocalyptic. It's just damn close.
So, what else should be added to the list?