The combination of a recent buzz around the (now confirmed fake) ‘Survivor 2299’ website that was purported to be a teaser for Fallout 4, as well as my own new Fallout: New Vegas video series has made me realise my love for post apocalyptic fiction and settings all over again. If it came to nailing down a favourite literary genre, post-apocalypse rules the roost for me. The gritty survivalist and the under current of real fear for an end to society as we know it fascinates me and combined with the 50’s and 60’s technological optimism and concurrent, constant threat of nuclear inhalation is what drew me into the Fallout series of game so much. Apocalypse fiction often gets criticised as cliched, but I think that’s coming more out of the over saturation of ‘Zombie Culture’ that has been exponentially growing for the past few years (on a related note, I’ve left out World War Z from this as I think ‘zombies’ are pretty much a genre of their own at this point). The kind of apocalyptic setting I like the most usually harks back to the 1950’s- from things like the cosy catastrophes of Day of the Triffids to darker, bleaker works like The Road, A Boy and His Dog or The Earth Abides. The Zeitgeist of Nuclear war and global annihilation of the Cold War has always been a big draw for me creatively, and also fascinates me on a historical level.
Because of this, I thought I’d write up a list of what I think it some essential reading, watching and playing when it comes to post-apocalyptic literature. I’ll touch on my favorites as well as some that are essentially cornerstones at the foundation post apocalyptic fiction, and I’ll hopefully cover movies and finally video games later (and possibly in more detail). Either way, here we go!
1- There Will come soft Rains (1950)- Ray Bradbury
A short story that is based on one of my favourite poems of all time, There Will Come Soft Rains by Sara Tisdale. A very short story originally published in a magazine, it tells the story of a robot still carrying out its duties in a house that has been almost destroyed by nuclear way, to a family long since dead. Really thoughtful and touching book, and the reading of the poem is particularly fantastic. Must read if you have 15 minutes to yourself.
2- Earth Abides (1949) – George R. Stewart
A true cornerstone of apocalyptic fiction (man, get used to reading those words!) that tells the story of a world almost wiped out by plague. The story covers an epic timeline and charts the rise of new cultures in a devastated world and is heart breaking in a personal level. Fallowing the main character and watching a new society rise up around him is told so incredibly, it’ll leave you wanting more. Brilliant book and very ahead of its time.
3- The Road (2006) – Cormac McCarthy
Brutal, terrifying and not for the faint of heart, The Road is an incredible story of survival in a world and humanity during its dying breaths but it’s heavy, bleak and very depressing. This however, only makes the small uplifting moments that much more wonderful. It was faithfully adapted into a movie 2009 and is a recommended watch, however the book is still leagues ahead. Also contains what is, without a doubt, one of the most terrifying passages in any book ever (spoilers! Don’t read that article until you read The Road!).
4- A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960) – Walter M. Millar
Remember how I said Earth Abides was epic in scale? Yeah, compared to A Canticle for Leibowitz, Abides takes place in the blink of an eye. Taking place over the course of thousands of years, it charts the story of a group of monks protecting what knowledge remains of a world devastated by nuclear war and watching as the new civilisations begin to repeat the same mistakes again. I fully admit right now, I have never read Canticle– I have always had it on my list but never fully gotten around to it. That said, it is safe to say it is an essential read to anyone wanting to immerse themselves in both apocalyptic and science fiction literature.
5- The Stand (1978) (1990 complete & uncut edition) – Stephen King
Everyone should read at least one Stephen King book, and if you do, let it be… 11/22/63 but if you read TWO then definitely read The Stand, one of King’s most famous (and longest) works. The Stand charts the odyssey of several characters as they survive in a world devoid of all but 0.1% of all human beings. In true King fashion though, dark powers are at work and a battle of good an evil soon begins to surface. An epic book in size and depth, King’s story is beautifully written and contains some of the best written characters in any of his work. While I think the story past a certain point leaves a lot to be desired, the initial depictions of the plague and helpless downfall of society is honestly terrifying. While it’s always been true that King is a better writer of characters than plots, The Stand will still have you hooked by page five and leave an incredible impact on you.
6- A Boy and His Dog (1969)- Harlan Ellison
Funny, dark, twisted and bizarre, A Boy and His Dog is one of my favourite books in the genre as it inspired so much after it (more on that when we get to Games). The story of a Boy, Vic and his telepathic dog, Blood, it charts his story across a brutal wasteland as they struggle to survive and, in the boys case, have sex by any means necessary. The books are controversial to say the least, but the brutal nature of the characters and their horrible, savage qualities make for some of the most believable characters in a post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve ever read.
Well, that’s my essentials. I know I missed out a tonne, but I want to keep is just slightly concise. Have you got an favourites? Have I missed an out? Tell me in the comments or send me some recommendations! Next time- movies!