Further down The Road: Dystopian Fiction

image of a street sign in the desert courtesy of moominsean via FlickrIf Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road – or the movie adaptation hitting theaters October 16 – piques your interest in fictional visions of a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world, here are some other books to check out.

There’s been a massive flood and only one family, on an ark, has been saved.  Sound familiar?  The Island at the End of the World by Sam Taylor isn’t Noah’s story, but instead that of Pa and his three children.  When a stranger washes up on their island, the kids begin wondering how alone they actually are, and exactly what happened before the flood.

Into the Forest centers on two teenage sisters living in the woods of California.  Unlike some other books, Jean Hegland shows us the before, during, and after of the surprisingly calm end of civilization, while asking the question – how long do you wait for things to return to normal?

pesthouseIn The Pesthouse by Jim Crace, an unexplained environmental disaster has dismantled society and sent Franklin trekking towards the east coast and the promise of ships headed to a more bountiful Europe.  Along the way, he meets Margaret.  Part love story, part end-of-the-world road trip, this book vividly portrays the societal relationships that spring up to fill the void. 

I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson, was also recently made into a movie.  Robert Neville may be the only human left alive, but that’s not to say he’s all alone – the virus that obliterated mankind didn’t kill people straight out, it turned them into legions of vampires.  Written in 1954, this is still a great read and has influenced a ton of modern horror novelists.

If you were the last living thing on Earth, would you go insane?  Is that what has happened to the woman in David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress?  Try to piece it together as you read her stream-of-conscious recollections and commentaries.

For a modern classic, you can’t go wrong with Stephen King’s epic The Stand.  The apocalypse is brought about by a strain of super flu accidentally released from a military base, which wipes out nearly the entire population.  Those that are left divide up into two factions – Good and Evil – and battle it out.

Still looking for more suggestions?  Try A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; or do a subject search for dystopia in the library catalog.

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5 Responses to Further down The Road: Dystopian Fiction

  1. Kara says:

    I loved ‘The Road’and have been on a post-apocalyptic kick for quite awhile. I read ‘I Am Legend’, ‘The Hunger Games’, and just started ‘The Island At The End Of The World’…I will definitely be grabbing ‘The Pesthouse’! And I just showed a patron your post for ideas. Thanks!

  2. Audrey says:

    I basically grew up reading dystopian fiction – my dad has always had bookshelves full of it. So I’m thrilled to see it featured here! A few more classics that I love and can’t resist suggesting:

    Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank. A few survivors of a U.S. – Soviet nuclear holocaust try to form a new community while waiting to see how much of the outside world remains.

    Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart. The earth is decimated by a pandemic. I tend to think of this as one of the first major works in the post-war postapocalyptic style. It’s also won many prestigious awards. Definitely a classic.

    Clay’s Ark, by Octavia Butler. Eli Doyle survives a spaceship wreck, only to discover that he has brought a strange virus back to earth, which changes people beyond anything they can imagine. This one isn’t quite as well-known as the others, but I think it’s a real hidden gem. Part of the Patternist series, but it stands alone.

    On the Beach, by Nevil Shute. An Australian submarine follows a mystery signal sent from the northern hemisphere, thought to be completely destroyed by nuclear fallout. Meanwhile, radiation begins to sweep through the southern half of the world. How will each man face the hope of the signal and the despair of the increasing poison?

    Fermi and Frost, by Fredrick Pohl. A short story in which a SETI engineer survives a nuclear winter by escaping to Iceland. Can the community he helps to build survive the increasing scarcity? This story has stuck with me for YEARS. It’s beautifully written. You can find it in the Platinum Pohl collection.

    Ok, I’m going to have to stopy myself now! But if you’re interested in taking a look from entirely the opposite direction, try To Your Scattered Bodies Go, by Phillip Jose Farmer. An adventurer awakes from death to the discovery that all of humanity has been resurrected along the banks of a river. The first in the Riverworld Saga.

  3. Gerard Saylor says:

    Don’t forget “Go-Go Girl’s of the Apocalypse” by Victor Gischler.

  4. Kay K says:

    And of course there’s “Children of Men,” both the book by P.D. James and the movie with my favorite tortured leading man Clive Owen. Also really liked Nick Harkaway’s “Gone-Away World.”

  5. Paige Chernow says:

    Thanks for the interesting post! I thought Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” was quite gripping and powerful. A couple other literary apocalyptic novels I would suggest are two by Canadian writer Margaret Atwood: “Oryx and Crake” and her somewhat similar recent release, “The Year of the Flood.” Both very disturbing visions of a not very distant future society controlled by corporations and private security firms.

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