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Apocalyptic Fiction: The End of the World as We Know it

It might seem a little odd that I’m fascinated with apocalyptic books, but I find the “what ifs” that are presented in these fictional stories to be compelling. Much like stories of pioneers making their way west or depression-era survival stories, I find the fictional situations in a post-modern world to be educational in a sense. 

open magazine burned on wood floor could be an image from an apocalyptic book

Apocalyptic novels worth your time

Instead of looking back to a time when nobody thought twice about cooking over a wood fire, these apocalyptic novels guess at what might happen when a world accustomed to electricity and internet suddenly finds itself in a permanent blackout. How different it would be!

I am by no means a doomsday prepper. While there’s always the risk of a disaster that could test our preparedness – the end of the world as we know it – I’m more concerned about filling our pantry with healthy food while it’s in season, providing for ourselves instead of depending upon others to do so, and living in a more environmentally sound manner. (Once upon a time it was considered common sense to maintain a pantry that would take a family through winter; now it’s considered “prepping!”)

This list of apocalyptic books and novels present imagined scenes from the end of the world as we know it. These are good stories. (There are a lot of really bad apocalyptic novels out there…) And they don’t feature zombies. I’m not into zombies.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

I'm fascinated with apocalyptic tales and the end of the world as we know it. Here are a few of my faves - no zombies in the bunch.Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is an apocalyptic tale that’s got just the right amount of fearfulness for a young adult book, without getting too gruesome. In this modern day survivalist story we meet Miranda Evans and her family just as the world is anticipating a show in the night sky. An asteroid on a collision course with the moon has everyone all abuzz. Then the asteroid makes impact, sending the moon off its axis and much closer to the earth. Sensing imminent danger, Miranda’s mother makes common sense preparations to keep her family warm and fed. Their small Pennsylvania town soon faces power outages, food shortages, outbreaks of disease, and death. I was fascinated with the foresight shown by Miranda’s mom in this book. As the tragedy unfolds in this apocalyptic novel, she stocks up on food and batteries, thinks ahead to a cold winter without electricity, and insists that her boys chop copious amounts of firewood. I like to think that in a similar situation I’d be able to be so level headed. I have to admit, though, the idea of spending a winter snowed in and stuck in one room of the house with my entire family gives me pause. A companion book, The Dead and The Gone, gives readers an entirely different view of the same event. This story is set in New York City where Alex Morales struggles to keep his two sisters alive in the mysterious absence of his parents. As the city decays around them, Alex must barter for food and make tough decisions about what’s best for his sisters. The third book, This World We Live In, brings the Evans and Morales families together a year after the asteroid hit the moon. With food supplies dangerously dwindling and more mouths to feed, the families turn to scavenging what they can from abandoned homes. The three book series – known collectively as The Last Survivors – introduces some tough questions about surviving in a harsh environment without the comforts we’re used to. Without electricity, heat, and running water, the characters are forced to learn once-common skills.

The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley

Every season it seems there’s talk of a possible flu pandemic. In The Things That Keep Us Here author Carla Buckley introduces readers to one family who puts themselves under voluntary lockdown in order to avoid contamination. With a 50% survival rate, exposure to the virus is incredibly dangerous and something to be avoided at all costs. But circumstances don’t always make that possible. Food and water is scarce, heat is hard to come by, and power is out. The family is forced to make some tough decisions as neighbors die around them and as circumstances get more dire.

After years of doing so, I no longer link to Amazon. I’ve decided that I’d rather support small businesses when I can, and as such the links you see here will take you to IndieBound, an online portal that sources books from independent booksellers across the nation.

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

This book is set in a post-apocalyptic America in which 2/3 of the population has been decimated by war and pandemic. The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch is another novel for young adults. Roaming the barren landscape with his father and grandfather, Stephen is a salvager who roams the country in search of material to trade. It’s a life he has become accustomed to – one with bandits and slavers who would have no qualms about killing or enslaving the small family. While the idea of staying in one place and settling down to raise food crops is appealing, it’s not very feasible. That is, until they discover Settler’s Landing. There, Stephen gets a taste of living in a community that resembles life before the apocalypse. It was interesting to see what resources the community had on hand and depended on, from medical supplies to the simplicity of a collection of books.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic book, The Road, won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and deservedly so. This is a beautifully written, tragic book. My teenage son and I both read it and we discussed it for days. He’s added this to his list of “best books ever.” The world has been decimated by some unnamed catastrophe, leaving behind a landscape that is washed out and grey. A father and his young son travel by foot, always moving toward someplace better. As they travel, readers glimpse the end of the world as we know it and how difficult it is for the travelers – other survivors are threatening, there’s little in the way of food, and often no shelter. There were a couple of decisions made by the father that I still wonder about, but I won’t give the story away.

One Second After by William R. Forstchen

One-Second-After - I'm fascinated with apocalyptic tales and the end of the world as we know it. Here are a few of my faves - no zombies in the bunch.In One Second After author William R. Forstchen introduces readers to the very real concept of an electro magnetic pulse (EMP). An EMP is the by-product of a nuclear blast detonated above the Earth’s atmosphere. A blast like this would render all electronic equipment in a certain radius useless. The chaos that occurs when modern vehicles come to a halt on the freeway is just the beginning for retired army colonel John Matherson. While there’s plenty to worry about – phones are out, people are dying, and his small North Carolina town is isolated from any deliveries – his initial concern is for his type-one diabetic daughter who needs medication to survive. As the crisis continues, he takes on a leadership role, contending with scarce food supplies, societal breakdown, and roving gangs. This is probably the most gruesome of the books I’ve included here. There’s more violence in this one than I’m generally comfortable with, but it’s a compelling story. This book was cited on the floor of Congress as something that all Americans should read. An EMP is considered to be a very real possibility, not just the subject of this apocalyptic book. 

Note that as much as I appreciated this apocalyptic novel, I was disappointed in the follow up, One Year After.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

In The Dog Stars we get a look at the world a decade after being decimated by a flu pandemic. With survivors few and far between, Hig has something many don’t: the ability to fly. His pilot skills allow him to protect his space near the airstrip from invaders. But is protecting himself and his two sidekicks enough? This one’s a bit ruthless and gruesome in parts but the thoughtfulness of Higs makes it about the human condition, too. What’s to live for if there’s no love?

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This apocalyptic book gets rave reviews, even from people who don’t normally love this genre. In Station Eleven, readers follow a troupe of performers as they make their way around the Great Lakes area 20 years after the end of the world as we know it. This group of misfits, calling themselves the Traveling Symphony, risk life and limb to continue providing art in a broken world. As this story unfolds it moves back and forth in time, from pre-influenza to post-modern apocalypse.

Beef up my apocalyptic books collection

Are you a fan of apocalyptic novels or the end of the world as we know it scenarios? Will you recommend your favorites in the comment section below? I’m always looking for more titles to add to my stack of reading materials! 

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40 comments… add one
  • Nikki Oct 20, 2019 @ 13:02

    The Mclane Series by Kate Morris

  • Marquetta Fourman Sep 16, 2019 @ 19:02

    The long night box set so far an Awesome read. Kevin Partner

  • Peggy Mar 8, 2019 @ 9:49

    Deep winter, shatter, lights out

  • Debbie Feb 18, 2017 @ 17:12

    Life After War series by Angela White; there is also a series by J. F. Perkins but I don’t remember the name of the series. These series are both on Kindle. I’m a huge fan of apocalyptic genre, and an avid reader to boot so I have a huge “library” on my Kindle! LOL!

  • Bev Mar 3, 2015 @ 21:27

    The first post-apocalyptic book I read was by Pat Frank called “Alas, Babylon”. Nuclear bombs are dropped and an extended family has to set up a small, functional community. It’s simply, but well, written [I read it in the ’70’s], but it made me think about I would do in similar circumstances. Looking back, I miss the naïveté that I saw in the book.

    • Dana Apr 23, 2019 @ 15:16

      Awesome read

    • Hari Mad Sep 8, 2019 @ 16:19

      I was reading the comments to see if anyone listed Alas Babylon. Frank’s assumptions – particularly about radiation – are optimistic but it’s a pragmatic look at the possibilities.

  • Donna Feb 16, 2015 @ 9:36

    The Chrysalids by John Wyndham is my all time favorite and I also love The Stand by Stephen KIng. The Hunger Games series is also awesome.

  • Mike Yavello Feb 15, 2015 @ 20:18

    I’d have to agree with Lucifer’s Hammer and Farnham’s Freehold. Read both years ago and still remember both. I’d also add the School’s Out Forever omnibus. Set in the UK, Europe and the Middle East it’s about how kids at a boarding school deal with the end of civilization after a plague. Warning: it’s really graphic and not at all for the faint of heart. If you’re ok with that, it’s a great read.

    • Kris Bordessa Feb 16, 2015 @ 9:40

      Thanks for this — I’m not familiar with these titles.

  • Priscilla Feb 15, 2015 @ 20:03
  • julianna Feb 15, 2015 @ 19:49

    What got me started on the idea of prepping was the Left Behind series.

    I also enjoyed Stephen kings Under The Dome. Don’t know if its in this category though.

  • Kris Sep 26, 2014 @ 13:30

    “Lucifer’s Hammer”- Jerry Pournelle & Larry Nivens; “Farnham’s Freehold” – Robert Heinlein, my two favorites.

  • Jane Hope Sep 25, 2014 @ 19:03

    I haven’t read any of these modern books. When I was young, I read Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart (1949). Was that the first modern post-apocalyptic book? It is the story of a plague that wipes out almost all humans. It’s a unique survival book — there aren’t enough humans left to kill each other (at least so he thought), and there is plenty of food in the grocery stores for quite some time. They only gradually have to learn to live off the land, and this is the Bay Area, California, a nice place to do that. It’s actually more like The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (2007). Stewart was an engineer, so he considered how long the power would stay on, the bridges would stay up, etc. As of the 1940s. Wouldn’t apply in the same way today. I also read On the Beach by Nevil Shute (1957), but nobody survives that one. I’ve cooked and heated a house with a wood stove. I like it — in the mild Pacific Northwest!

    • Kris Bordessa Sep 25, 2014 @ 20:55

      Thanks for these – they sound good!

  • Kim Sep 25, 2014 @ 11:18

    The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. Beautifully written.

  • Michael Melillo Nov 8, 2013 @ 0:27

    If your not a”prepper” and are looking for entertainment not realism in fiction there is a book by the most sold author(he wasen’t) when I read the hardcover at a tender age of 18yrs cover to cover couldent put it down.If nothing else the man has real genious.Proof would be The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me.Sometimes the best work is done by the most popular though its rare.
    I will admit howerer attempts to watch the miniseries (wrong actors- difficult story to tell on then low budget small screen) and to re read have been futile.
    Being eighteen years of age in 1978 and reading a hardcover while on vacation in Florida was not my usual m.o..I am grateful for the expierience and opened to possibilities.

    Probly has alot to do with the time and age.

    • Vicki Ochocki Sep 25, 2014 @ 2:51

      Michael Melillo, i totally agree – Stephen King’s “The Stand” was actually the first “post-apocalyptic” novel I ever read. Still in my top five of his books. It takes real writing skill to actually develop the characters of such a huge book, and make them realistic. I own the DVD of “The Stand” miniseries and it’s not bad, but fatally marred by the terrible special effects which distract from the story. I hope that it will someday be remade.

      • sara Aug 2, 2019 @ 9:13

        The Stand is being remade and due for release 2020

  • Amanda Sep 30, 2013 @ 16:31

    I’ve read numerous books on the apocolypse. The Terri Blackstock Restoration series, Forstchen’s book, Rawles “Patriots” and “Survivors” are all among my favorites. Thanks for the additional books to add to my list! 😉

  • Morgan Sep 30, 2013 @ 16:13

    I just finished World Made By Hand. it was great!

  • Jana Sep 30, 2013 @ 14:18

    The Road movie (very well done) is out on NetFlix.

  • Andi Apr 20, 2013 @ 1:20

    I am really surprised that no one has recommended the Change series, starting with Dies the Fire by SM Stirling. All engines stop working. Guns no longer fire, electricity no longer works, and no one knows why. The series follows several families and the paths they take to survive and then start building a new civilization. Fascinating story and rings very “true”.

    I also highly recommend The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. It’s considered “biopunk” but the setting is post-apocalypse southeast Asia where reliance on genetically modified staple crops has led to complete “company” control of food as virus after virus jumps from the food crops to humans. It’s terrifying.

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 20, 2013 @ 8:25

      My son read Dies the Fire, and I’ve intended to but just haven’t picked it up. He thought it was a bit far out, though I’ve heard from someone else that the following books in the series are better. Thanks for reminding me about this one!

  • Dava Apr 19, 2013 @ 22:27

    Try 299 Days by Glen Tate! He has written these books as an insider into the Washington State political scene. He states in his interviews that he believes America is seriously in for an economic collapse and thus his books reflects himself as he saw the need to become a Prepper. He admittedly factionalized the collapse, but his 10 series book reflects what he sees a “an eventuality”.

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 20, 2013 @ 8:23

      Thanks for this – always interesting when an author has the “inside track.” I can’t recall Forstchen’s background (military, maybe?) but he’s pretty well-versed in the EMP scenario.

  • Becky C. Apr 19, 2013 @ 12:27

    This is one of my favorite genres! If you go to Goodreads, there are 62 list with different books from this genre, so lots of ideas there. But some of my favorites are:

    The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe
    Gone by Michael Grant
    Pod by Stephen Wallenfels

    These are great! I also liked The Last Survivors series, but the ending of the third left me disappointed 🙁

  • April Apr 19, 2013 @ 10:01

    The only one of those I’ve read is The Road, and it was the second most disturbing book I’ve ever read (bc it could happen). The most disturbing is Fast Food Nation. The Road was too much for me. Some of the scenes he describes are stuck in my brain all these years later, and I wish they weren’t. But I don’t watch violent or scary things, and mostly avoid the news. I won’t even watch that show Criminal Minds. This is so ironic bc I used to love psychological thriller books. Those are hardly for nursery schoolers, but as I get older and I have more kids, I think I’m getting more sensitive to it bc it’s becoming more real in the world with the increasing violence. So comparing these other books to The Road, how would you rate them? The topic intrigues me, but I can’t read another book like The Road. I think reading books like these also puts our NEEDS in perspective with your WANTS. I lived in a poor part of Brazil for 1.5 years, and it really changed my life in many ways, but one of the ways it affected me was showing me what we can live without, which is most of the stuff Americans consider NEEDS.

    • Cora Dec 28, 2016 @ 17:44

      I’m with you, The Road gave me nightmares for a good long time. Generally reading doesn’t upset me the way watching does, but this book stlill ranks my most disturbing.

  • Fi Apr 18, 2013 @ 22:51

    I just re-read The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Talk about living basic, frugal and working only with what you’ve got. And six people in a small dim house for months. Hard living but they did it.

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 19, 2013 @ 7:02

      The Little House books have been inspiring me since I was about eight. 😉

      • Fi Apr 19, 2013 @ 9:44

        Oops they aren’t apocalyptic novels! But yeah, they inspire me too. How to really change your mindset to deal with your current environment and maximise survival when times are lean and uncertain.

    • Beth Catt Dec 28, 2020 @ 17:01

      I read all the little house books many times when I was growing up. I I also did research by talking to my older relatives,friends and people that I met in our every day lives

  • Flavia Westermann Apr 18, 2013 @ 22:46

    I totally agree on the Wool omnibus by Hugh Howey recommendation – it is brilliant. I also really enjoyed the Renewal 1 – 10 series by JF Perkins – good community-building ideas. Lights Out by David Crawford was a pretty good read. Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a trilogy called Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, and Sixty Days and Counting, a very good near-future climate change story indeed. Love this genre, for many of the same reasons… Don’t forget Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss, and maybe even Robinson Crusoe! If I think of more, I’ll be back!

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 19, 2013 @ 7:01

      I like the idea of the Renewal series and its community-building ideas. But it looks like it’s only an ebook. (At some point I’m going to have to cave in and get a device!) Adding the others to my list. And Swiss Family Robinson/Robinson Crusoe are excellent additions to the list! Loved those.

      • Flavia W Apr 19, 2013 @ 8:14

        Kris, you don’t need a device to read Kindle books: go to and the Kindle Store, and you can download free Kindle software for your computer or your smartphone. I have an iPhone, and it’s great to have books to read in line at the bank or while waiting for the doctor, etc. The Joybilee Farm blog (& Facebook page) has a paid book club ($5 a month) which posts free Kindle books on homesteading subjects every day. I have a Kindle Fire now, mainly to store all the DIY books I’ve acquired, some free, some paid for, as well as some textbooks.

        • Kris Bordessa Apr 19, 2013 @ 8:25

          Oh, I know that! It’s fine to read short documents on my computer (no smart phone, either!) but a long book? Too hard on my eyes. Thanks, though. I have Forty Signs of Rain on hold at the library. 😉

  • Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi Apr 18, 2013 @ 10:14

    If you haven’t read the Wool omnibus by Hugh Howey, you’ve got something to look forward to. Consuming story and has the added bonus of being written by a self-published author who made VERY good with these books after they became a hit via word of mouth. He’s since been taken on by traditional publishers. Doesn’t read like something that needed more editing, very, very polished.

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 19, 2013 @ 6:56

      I’ve not heard of the Wool omnibus – definitely looking that one up, as several people have mentioned it! Interesting that he’s a self-pubbed author; love those success stories.

    • Kris Bordessa Sep 24, 2014 @ 7:26

      Melanie, at your suggestion, I’ve finally read Wool and some of its sequels. The first three were fabulous. Then I read ‘Sand’ and was utterly disappointed. Thanks for the recommendations!

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