Archive for Book Review

Into the Forest – coming of age in the apocalypse

into the forest

Title: Into the Forest
Author: Jean Hegland
Year published: 1998
Genre: Post-apocalyptic, near, psychological.
Threat: Plague, crumbling society.
Two words: Feminist awakening.








A story of self-discovery first and apocalyptic themes later, Into the Forest could almost work without the disastrous setting. A début novel that charts the isolation, the conflict, and above all the drive for survival of two sisters, it is a piece of literary fiction, rather than conventional sci-fi – an exploration of psychology and a coming-of-age tale – and along that line it finds both appeal and alienation in the genre. Read more

The Cleansing by Sam Kates

The Cleansing by Sam Kates

Title: The Cleansing
Author: Sam Kates
Year published: 2013
Genre: Apocalyptic.
Threat: Deadly virus.
Two words: Engineered annihilation.






With post-apocalyptic fiction such a burgeoning subject in the creative arts, and publishing made so easy (and the stunning example of success that Hugh Howey’s Wool set), the independent book industry is now awash with authors trying their hand at apocalyptic tales. It is always refreshing, then, to find an author who’s done it properly, and professionally – and The Cleansing is a great example of how an independent book can be. With its international tale of a seemingly man-made deadly infection, it’s polished, intriguing and – above all – entertaining. Read more

The Drowned World by JG Ballard

the drowned world JG ballard

Title: The Drowned World
Author: J.G. Ballard
Year published: 1962
Genre: Post-apocalyptic (near).
Threat: Solar radiation.
Two words: Desired destruction.






Unlike the usual set up for post-apocalyptic fiction, classic sci-fi writer J.G. Ballard took a different approach with the characters’ attitudes to the end of the world when he wrote The Drowned World. Here, catastrophe is welcomed, releasing dormant desires and a dreamlike regression of society. In Ballard’s uniquely surreal style, it is a world of dreamlike imagery, immersing the reader; an exercise in style over plot. Read more

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

The World Without Us

Title: The World Without Us
Author: Alan Weisman
Year published: 2007
Genre: Non-fiction.
Threat: What if humans disappeared?
Two words: Though-provoking.






Something very different in the world of post-apocalyptic books, The World Without Us is a non-fiction exploration of what would become of the built and natural environment of our world if humanity were to disappear. It does not suppose a disaster, or any major catastrophe, simply asking what if humans were no more – if we all died, but the world as it stands today was otherwise unaffected. How would things change? The result is an excellent thought-exercise. Read more

Shift: Hugh Howey’s worthy continuation to Wool

shift hugh howey

Title: Shift
Author:Hugh Howey
Year published: 2013
Genre: Post-apocalyptic, near and far, sci-fi.
Threat: Nano-technology.
Two words: Bleak centuries.







The sequel to the incredible Wool omnibus, Shift had a lot to live up to. Hugh Howey has changed the landscape of publishing with his ongoing silo series, and with all eyes on the regularly released shorter component stories, this has been something akin to the Dickensian serials of centuries ago. Consumed eagerly by readers in small chunks before being combined in this collection of three stories, like Wool before it, Shift is a compendium of tales designed to keep bringing readers back to the bleak world it explores. It piles on the claustrophobic underground confinement, destructive apocalyptic conspiracies and a general overwhelming sense of misery. And you still can’t get enough of it.

What Hugh Howey’s Shift is all about

Where Wool revelled in the desperately narrow vision of Silo 18’s isolated existence, Shift flips the story around to show us the people in charge of the project. Split over three parts, divided by centuries, we are given an insight into the other silos in the time leading up to Jules’ escape in the first novel. There’s Silo 1, where the overseers keep an eye on the ongoing project, Silo 17, where a chaotic uprising leads to decades of isolation for a sole survivor, and Silo 18 itself (much earlier), where a lowly porter finds himself at the heart of a civil war. These tales all share one through-line, as the characters managing the whole affair take centuries long naps in cryogenic pods.

Alongside all this action, we get an insight into the ugly truths of where the silos came from, why they were built and what drove people into them.

Why you should read this book

If you’ve read Wool, you’ll already be familiar with this unique world of Hugh Howey’s, and his ability to capture its brutally lonely atmosphere in an eminently readable way. Like the first book, Shift is so engaging it’s difficult to put down. By expanding the scope of the tale, it loses a little of the claustrophobic grimness of Wool, but it’s a worthy continuation of the tale, and is sure to leave you wanting for more. And you’re in luck there, as the final book in the trilogy, Dust is already available.

If you haven’t read Wool…it’s best to go here and correct that now.



A Canticle for Leibowitz: how history can repeat itself

a canticle for leibowitz

Title: A Canticle for Leibowitz
Author: Walter M. Miller
Year published: 1960
Genre: Post-apocalyptic, far
Threat: Nuclear holocaust.
Two words: Epic cycle.






Winner of the 1961 Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction novel, this is vast and scope and profound in its message. Spanning centuries of story, it is a literary tome that has been compared with many of the greats (such as Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene) for its insights into the human condition. The only novel published by Miller, it remains in print half a century after publication, and is as true now as ever.  Read more

The Postman: where symbols bring hope

the postman book

Title: The Postman
Author: David Brin
Year published: 1985
Genre: Post-apocalyptic (near, sci-fi).
Threat: EMP weapon, Holnist tribes.
Two words: Hopeful symbols.







David Brin’s award-winning sci-fi adventure, now better known for Kevin Costner’s disappointment of a major film adaptation, has depth beyond its lasting reputation. Where Costner’s film was obvious and heavy-handed in its approach, The Postman is a more subtle – and engagingly written – presentation of a post-apocalypse.

What’s The Postman all about

Gordon, the protagonist, survives an EMP apocalypse, with cities destroyed and biological weapons released, and starts to travel the wasteland of America in the guise of a postal worker. What starts as a little white lie, that he represents a Restored United States, brings hope to those he visits, and gradually builds into a very big white lie. The sort capable of bringing about revolutions.

Amidst his postal meanderings, Gordon encounters two major themes that form the second two sections of the novel – a society that relies on a defunct artificial intelligence for guidance, and a society that follows the teachings of a lunatic madman. In the course of his general battle for survival, the postman must tackle these leadership problems and help to bring a more civilised sense of order back to the post-apocalypse.

What’s different about The Postman

The Postman is entertaining in its own right as a sci-fi novel, an epic adventure, written with bold descriptions and exciting action. Certainly in the final third it slips more towards the action and adventure of more pulp fiction sci-fi. But there’s more to it than that, with its underlying philosophical message and the central themes of symbolism that pervade each section. The different leaders the post-apocalyptic survivors adopt represents a different kind of hope, and speak about people’s need, in general, for leadership. With more developed societies, including tribal groups who stockpile weapons, this story builds on the theme of how one man make a difference – and how one small idea can blossom into a big one. And it does it in a much more convincing manner than the film.



Cat’s Cradle: Vonnegut’s inimitable style

cats cradle book

Title: Cat’s Cradle
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Year published: 1963
Genre: Apocalyptic, satire.
Threat: Ice 9.
Two words: Amusing apocalypse.






Kurt Vonnegut’s inimitable style hinted towards apocalyptic plots on numerous occasions – a sci-fi writer at heart, he dabbled in themes of crazy invention, alternative time-lines and space travel, against otherwise contemporary stories. Cat’s Cradle actually reaches a kind of full destruction (which is, I’m afraid, something of a spoiler), and is a great example of one simple experiment can bring about global destruction. The book itself uses this theme as an overall allegory for human stupidity, with the result that’s it’s as affecting as it is enjoyable.

What’s Cat Cradle all about?

The rather hapless narrator, John, is conducting research into what famous people were doing on the day of the Hiroshima bombing. This leads him to looking into a scientist called Felix Hoenikker, who helped design the atomic bomb, and takes John on an eventual journey to the fictional tropical island of San Lorenzo. On the way, and whilst there, John meets the Hoenikker children and gradually learns about a substance called Ice 9. Something that turns any body of water it touches instantly to ice, at any temperature.

Why you should read it

Vonnegut was one of America’s great 20th Century writers because his style was at once unique and incredibly readable. He brilliantly combines satirical humour that harks back to the irreverence of Mark Twain with exciting sci-fi and adventure themes. Those themes often go nowhere, compounding the satire of his writing, but in this case they reach an apt apocalyptic conclusion, that is more or less brushed off as an ‘Oh well.’ moment. It’s a light look at the disasters mankind can cause without even meaning to, and a fine addition to any library, apocalyptic or not.



Y: The Last Man


Title: Y: The Last Man
Author: Brian K. Vaughn
Year published: 2002-2008
Genre: Post-apocalyptic (near) / dystopia, adventure, graphic novel.
Threat: Plague (which only kills men).
Two words: Female dystopia.







Originally published as 60 episodes in a comic series, Y: The Last Man is now available in volumes more resembling graphic novels. As it should be deservedly preserved: the adventurous story is as strong as any in our book lists. Following a failing magician, a mysterious government agent, and a monkey, it charts the last man on Earth’s post-apocalyptic journey with a twist: he might be the last man, but the women are still alive.

What’s it all about?

On July 17, 2002, uninspiring escape artist Yorick Brown and his monkey Ampersand suddenly become the only male mammals left alive on Earth. A disaster, referred to as a plague, has killed everything else with a Y chromosome – and taken out a few women too, in the process. Hiding himself in disguise, Yorick starts a trek across America, determined to find his girlfriend (in far off Australia). Complications abound along the way, however, as Agent 355 determines to deliver Yorick to the new President, and ninjas, cloning and the generally violent state of Israeli throw spanners in the works.

Why read Y: The Last Man?

Disregarding that this is a graphic novel/comic, with great artwork and a generally faster style and pace to most post-apocalyptic literature, the backbone plot of this story makes for a clever angle on the apocalypse. Roughly half of the world is still alive, after all, and you’d expect the fairer sex, as it were, to do a good job of keeping things from turning towards the savage violence that’s all too common after the End. According to Y: The Last Man, though, a fallen society populated by women is as dangerous a place as any other dystopia.



The Stand by Stephen King: religious morals in a devastated society


Title: The Stand
Author:Stephen King
Year published: 1978
Genre: Post-apocalyptic (near), horror/fantasy.
Threat: Deadly virus.
Two words: Biblical struggle.







Also one of the most successful TV movies adapted from a Stephen King novel, and a graphic novel, The Stand is an epic tale from a highly accomplished horror author. It’s set aside from the usual wasteland survivor scenario by its religious undertone, as the deadly apocalypse leads to the rise of an altogether different destructive force, and sets the stage for a battle between good and evil. Read more