After Doomsday: 5 Post-Apocalyptic Novels

From the rubble and dust of a fallen society, heroes and heroines arise. Post-apocalyptic fiction, much like dystopian fiction, explores speculative futures we’d rather not live in.

Whether it’s fighting super-humans, fighting for survival, or fighting for a spot on a busy train, humans have proven to be remarkably resilient, both in fiction, and in reality.

But whereas dystopian fiction focuses on political issues, post-apocalyptic futures are often made horrifying by epidemics, environmental disasters, and genetic mutations.

Yet even amidst these conditions, the humans or human-like entities we imagine are intensely sympathetic, and their journeys universal.

iTHINK explores five post-apocalyptic novels and how humanity continues to traverse familiar problems in vastly unfamiliar settings.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood


The first novel in Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, Oryx and Crake follows the life of ‘Snowman’ – possibly the last human on an Earth populated by primitive human-like creatures he refers to as ‘Crakers’.

As he wanders the land in search of supplies, Snowman reflects on his past and the events that led to his lonely existence.

He reveals that the world of his childhood was one abundant with humans, to the extent that overpopulation was a pertinent problem.

In this past life, Snowman is but a young boy named Jimmy, living in a society largely controlled by big corporations. After his father begins working for one such corporation called HelthWyzer, Jimmy and his family move into the HelthWyzer Compound.

It is there that he meets the brilliant Glenn, a science student who is later dubbed ‘Crake’ after his online persona. Though as youths Crake and Jimmy spend hours smoking together and watching violent and lurid online films, their paths diverge after high-school.

As Crake begins performing genetic experiments to create a new, more docile species of humans (the Crakers), Jimmy becomes involved in advertising and propaganda.

But when the two come together to work on Crake’s newest project, tensions and suspicions begin to rise.

In Oryx and Crake, Atwood expertly creates a terrifying world of speculative fiction that is distant enough to capture our interest, but familiar enough to strike fear of the future into her reader.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Set in the Great Lakes region of North America, Station Eleven follows the story of Kristen Raymonde, a young woman living in a world whose human population has been devastated by the Georgia Flu pandemic.

The pandemic begins with a famous Hollywood actor, who drops dead while performing the role of King Lear in the eponymous play. From then on, the disease spreads, claiming life afterlife until the population is but a shadow of what it once was.

Kristen, who was only eight when the pandemic began, now lives with the Travelling Symphony, a group of actors and musicians who travel the Great Lakes region with their performances.

Even in this post-apocalyptic environment, music and art has survived and continues to be a large part of human life, much like it has been throughout history.

In this beautiful story that travels between the early career of the Hollywood actor, and the life of Kristen so many years later, St. John Mandel writes about how the survival of humanity is closely interconnected with the survival of art.

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

Following the lives of three different people in three different time periods, The History of Bees, is a deep exploration of humanity from generation to generation and how nature influences our values and existence.

Lunde weaves together three stories about parents and their children while slowly revealing to the reader a future without bees and its horrifying consequences.

In 1851, a biologist named William strives to build the perfect beehive, helping both humans and bees. He attempts to pass on his passion to his disinterested son, Edmund, believing that he will create a family legacy through his research.

But in his desperation, for his son to continue his research, William focuses more on the legacy he will leave behind than what is best for the project’s advancement and continuation.

In 2007, bee colonies begin to disappear. But beekeeper George’s farm is thus far still thriving. The descendant of a long line of beekeepers, George is devoted to his farm and his bees, and wants his son to continue the family’s tradition.

But George’s son, like William’s, is not interested in his father’s work with bees. He wants to be a writer and focuses instead on college work.

George does his best to get his son interested in beekeeping, but the reader is left to wonder whether the farm will survive the decline of the bee population.

In 2098, the bees are gone. Tao is among the many labourers working to pollinate plants by hand, a difficult and back-breaking job. She wants nothing more than her son Wei-Wen to have a different, brighter future than her.

Tao, unlike William and George, is determined to give her son a life she did not have. But when disaster strikes, Tao is left to wonder whether her vehemence is to blame.

Through this heart-warming story about human relationships and our relationship to nature, Lunde reminds readers of an environmental disaster not too far removed from our present reality.

Gone by Michael Grant

In his 2008 novel and first book of the eponymous series, Michael Grant creates a far more contained post-apocalyptic environment, but a desperate one all the same.

The town of Perdido Beach is suddenly affected by a strange phenomenon: everyone over the age of 15 disappears from its limits. A barrier has appeared around the town, centring around a nearby nuclear-power plant.

The children and teenagers of Perdido Beach are launched into chaos as they try to make sense of what has happened, and struggle to survive without their parents, guardians, and lawmakers.

Sam Temple, known as ‘School-Bus Sam’ for his level-headed rescue of an out of control school-bus, tries his best to keep a low profile and keep his friends safe.

But when many of the remaining residents of Perdido Beach begin getting super-human powers, and Sam is among them, he knows he has to play a bigger part in this disaster than he planned.

Able to create dangerous, bright beams of light from his hands, Sam is among the most powerful mutants in Perdido Beach. Unfortunately, so is his ruthless twin brother, Caine.

Pitted against other mutants, including his telekinetic brother, Sam must stay attentive and live intelligently if he wants to figure out what has happened to Perdido Beach, and how to make it stop.

At times funny and others incredibly tense, Grant crafts a fascinating and sympathetic story of a world without adults in Gone.

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar

Set in a world ravaged by a time-travel war, This Is How You Lose the Time War tells the tale of a post-apocalyptic, post-human romance.

Two entities, Red and Blue, communicate to one another by any means possible in this epistolary novella, while their factions are at war.

Red is an agent of a future advanced by technology, while Blue is an agent of a future-focused on biological enhancement.

When Red finds a taunting letter from Blue, she decides to respond, and they insult one another back and forth through space and time.

Each agent wishes for their future to triumph and Red and Blue begin their communication as deadly enemies.

But as their correspondence progresses, Red and Blue begin to form a bond with one another. And worst of all, this bond, which would be considered treacherous even as a casual friendship, quickly transcends into something beyond the platonic.

El-Mohtar presents us with a remarkably original take on a sci-fi romance and a must-read for anyone searching for a love story full of beautifully poetic prose.

Post-Apocalyptic Post-Script

Whether it’s fighting super-humans, fighting for survival, or fighting for a spot on a busy train, humans have proven to be remarkably resilient, both in fiction, and in reality.

But while the survivors of these novels rely on their wits and strength of character to live through various disasters, the authors depict worlds that are often needlessly destroyed.

These novels, and many others in the genre, encourage us to act before it is too late: to protect the environment, to avoid trying to control every aspect of nature, to see that war does not erase our similarities but leads to pointless destruction.

We hope that through this list, you’ve found not only a good read, but also a reason to reflect on humanity and its future.