Archive for Post-Apocalypse

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.



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.



Iconic wasteland machinery: the gyrocopter

gyrocopter wasteland machinery

The gyrocopter, otherwise known as an autogyro, or rotaplane, is a popular image in post-apocalyptic and wasteland settings, as a light machine often appearing to be made from scraps. These light aircraft usually use a single fixed propeller to lift an unarmoured vehicle above the ground. They fit into the apocalypse as an aircraft that is light enough to still be fuelled, but weak enough to offer a hazardous journey – the perfect balance of risk and reward.

The gyrocopter was popularised by its iconic appearance in Max Mad 2, flown by Bruce Spence (who was known only as the Gyro Captain, and re-appeared in the third film, as another pilot). It was a nippy but vulnerable vehicle, a spluttering little engine full of character, and inspired many imitations.

mad max gyro captain

The gyrocopter has appeared in numerous other works of fiction, apocalyptic and otherwise, because of that same haphazard charm – it was Batman’s original aircraft (seen in 1939) and provided an easily shipped light aircraft for James Bond in You Only Live Twice. Skimming low across the ground, at a speed leaving it open to attack, it’s popular in model games like Warhammer, and computer games. The wasteland homage Borderlands 2 includes similar craft called Buzzards, following the same principles, albeit without the propeller – though this delightful concept art demonstrates the gyrocopter attitude behind them:

bordlerlands 2 buzzard gyro

Similar vehicles can be found in fiction, such as the forward thinking flying machines in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The gyrocopter makes an appearance in my novel Wixon’s Day, where it informs the nature of the story’s central characters. The gyro captain in Wixon’s Day, the stalking scout Qait Seyron, is an individual with stealthy, agile advantages but an aversion to direct confrontation – qualities reflected in his choice of vehicle, and qualities that later give him the opportunity to massively affect the plot of the novel. The chapter in which the gyrocopter and its captain are introduced is a turning point in the story, as the crew of the protagonist’s canal boat become hounded at a frantic pace. For this brief introduction, and a chance to read an extract from the novel itself, please visit this site.

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

What makes the post-apocalypse so popular?

why is the post-apocalypse popular

Answering the question of just why the apocalypse is so popular in modern culture…




In both fiction and film, the post-apocalypse has always been a popular subject, and with numerous recent releases for both it’s here to stay. The burgeoning communities of fans, and different interpretations of the genre, are evidence of that. This is not a mere modern fascination, though – it’s been a theme in literature for centuries. Why? Because there are many universal themes of heroism and the ordinary becoming extraordinary in these survival settings. Read more

The Passage: a tale of two novels

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Title: The Passage
Author:Justin Cronin
Year published: 2010
Genre: Post-apocalypse (near/far), thriller/horror.
Threat: Vampires.
Two words: Long term.






Justin Cronin’s dabble with the apocalypse has met with wide critical celebration, as he blended numerous genres: starting out as a thriller, it progresses to some sort of action horror when transported to its post-apocalyptic adventure resting place. Wedging together the ever-popular theme of genetically modified vampires (thanks, I Am Legend) with wasteland survivors and a prodigal child with superpowers, it’s a recipe for epic adventure. And you’d think it a very impressive thing for an author to pull off. But does he? Read more

The Road: brilliantly bleak literary fiction

the road bleak novel

Title: The Road
Author:Cormac McCarthy
Year published: 2006
Genre: Post-apocalyptic (near), literary.
Threat: Unknown, but it’s very cloudy.
Two words: Brilliantly bleak.







Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has been made especially well known and popular thanks to the superbly ported movie of the same name, but it was doing well long before that. Its won multiple awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2007), and brought the post-apocalypse to attention of serious literary critics. Unlike many of the books in our listsThe Road isn’t exactly sci-fi or horror. It’s a harrowing emotional journey, and though it’s set amongst dangers of the apocalypse and the savage survivors, it’s really the story of a father and son. Read more

I Am Legend: genre defining

I am legend novel

Title: I Am Legend
Author:Richard Matheson
Year published: 1954
Genre: Post-apocalyptic (near), horror.
Threat: Disease, vampires
Two words: Utterly influential.






Rarely in history has a book had such a profound impact on its genre as I Am Legend. More than half a century after its initial release, it continues to influence the countless zombie apocalypse, vampire society and lonely wasteland wanderer stories that now pervade popular culture. Themes that we now consider cliché, like the scientific origin of the paranormal disease, and the sole survivor turned hardened hunter, were novel and original when this book was first released. Testament to how successfully Matheson captured these ideas, they are now over-used and over-familiar. But if you’ve never read the original, rest assured it still stands the test of time. Read more

Z for Zachariah: two people, one valley

z for zachariah

Title: Z For Zachariah
Author:Robert C. O’Brien
Year published: 1974
Genre: Post-apocalyptic (near), young adult/drama.
Threat: Nuclear holocaust, nerve gas.
Two words: Tense adolescence.







Z for Zachariah is often bandied as a children’s post-apocalyptic book, concerning a young lady’s survival after a nuclear holocaust. Indeed, it was partially finished by O’Brien’s daughter, released only after his death, and it’s a text at least previously studied in schools. Something you read and reread and pick apart in class until you find it mind-numbingly banal. But there’s a reason it was worthy studying, and it’s a perfectly mature tale – it’s a great character study, with a purposefully subtle story. Read more

Metro 2033: horror in the Moscow underground

metro 2033 novel

Title: Metro 2033
Author:Dmitry Glukhovsky
Year published: 2005 (Russia)
Genre: Post-apocalypse (near), action/horror.
Threat: Nuclear holocaust, mutated monsters
Two words: Underground horror.







Metro 2033 has become more popularly known internationally thanks to the success of the computer game, though the novel is novel entertainment in its own right. Combining elements of paranormal horror with real-world locations, it’s a dark saga with vivid action and well-realised varied settings. But for its charm (and I did essentially like the book) it is far from perfect. If you’re after a dark romp through a creepy apocalypse, you could do worse, but you could also do a lot better. Read more