For those who have been enjoying the recent string of movies and TV shows with post-apocalyptic themes (as well as an upsurge in interest in Big Brother and "1984"), allow me to share with you some of my favorite end-of-the-world novels. While there are literally hundreds of books that tackle this theme, these are the ones I have read and whole-heartedly recommend for anyone looking to lose themselves in a world unhinged.
"The Road" by Cormac McCarthy is literally the darkest and most desperate post-apocalyptic book I've plowed through. Set in a world recently beset by some kind of catastrophe (nuclear war is hinted at, but never fully revealed), the story follows a father and his son as they attempt to cross a decimated landscape filled with roaming gangs and near-constant tension. It's such a brutal story that I'm in no hurry to read it again. However, it's also the type of tale that leaves a lasting impression and truly puts to bed any romantic notions that a post-apocalyptic world would somehow be appealing. In 2009, it was adapted for a film that one reviewer called "a slow wander through wreckage, waiting for bad stuff to get worse." In other words, it stays true to the novel.
Currently in development as a three-part film under the direction of Ben Affleck, "The Stand" is probably my favorite end-of-the-world novel. Here, Stephen King has taken the world and applied an airborne virus to the mix that eventually kills off 99.4 percent of the world's human population. While there's an underlying supernatural element of good vs. evil that arises out of the modern world's destruction, it's the collapse that King describes — and the survivors who struggle to make their way through it — that's most fascinating. If you've ever wondered what the weeks immediately following a mass killer pandemic would look and feel like, this is the novel for you.
What if a nuclear war left alive only those at sea when the whole thing went down? That's the intriguing premise behind William Brinkley's 1988 book, "The Last Ship." To be sure, it's dated — since it features the U.S. going at it with the Soviet Union — but it's an amazing story nonetheless and offers an extremely unique view on the apocalypse. Set onboard a U.S. Navy Destroyer, we travel along as the crew looks for anywhere to safely dock — all the while dodging growing radiation clouds and finding little but utter destruction. While Brinkley can get a bit too detail-oriented when talking about naval procedures, the overall story is incredible, and the ending: wow, just wow. Bonus: TNT just ordered 10 episodes for a "Last Ship" series to hit next year. But seriously, check out the book first.
While it's fun to imagine how the world would change in the event of an apocalyptic catastrophe, author Alan Weisman actually put in the research to determine the consequences of our demise. The result is "The World Without Us," a fascinating piece of non-fiction that wonders what would happen if people suddenly disappeared. Weisman toured the world interviewing archeologists, engineers, biologists and other experts for insight on such questions as: How long would it take for nature to reclaim our civilization? What dramatic changes would happen in the first year, 10 years, or even 500 years into the future? The results are incredible and, if anything, show how fragile our world is compared to time and the unrelenting power of Mother Nature.
In a follow up to his excellent "Zombie Survival Guide," Max Brooks presents first-person accounts of a zombie apocalypse, recorded 10 years after the conflict has ended. Beyond the living dead element, much of Brooks' novel is a fascinating look at the ramifications of the collapse of modern society. "Everything else in the book is either taken from reality or 100 percent real," he said in an interview. "The technology, politics, economics, culture, military tactics ... it was a lot of homework."
And for anyone thinking a viewing of the film "World War Z" starring Brad Pitt will deliver the same gravitas and detail as the novel, Brooks says the two have only the title name in common. "I cannot guarantee that the movie will be the book that they love," he said.
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