These Post-Apocalyptic Books Will Freak You Out

Armageddon. The apocalypse. Judgement Day. For every word there is to describe the end of days, there are five different ways authors have envisioned the mechanics of how it would actually happen.

In each of these books, authors detail the factors that led to civilization's downfall, and then explore the brave, bleak new world left in its wake. We see entire societies crumpled by a fast-moving plague that spares only 2% of the population. We see women gain the ability to shoot electricity from their collarbone, resulting in an entire world order teetering on the edge of chaos. We see a foggy, cannibal-filled landscape after an enormous catastrophe takes place. Though settings and circumstances vary from book to book, the resilience of humanity to weather these changes is present in each. According to these books, humans, ultimately, are just as tough and adaptable as cockroaches, those indestructible bugs.

Instead of worrying about whether we're hurtling towards nuclear annihilation, or wading into a world of rising sea levels, or facing decades of wild, climate change-induced weather patterns, just read these books. They'll make you feel strong. The characters' worlds have ended — and still, people go on.

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Blindness by Jose Saramago (1999)

It begins with blindness. First, one man goes blind while driving his car. Then a thief. Then a doctor. The epidemic begins to spread rapidly, without any hope of cure for the victims. The blind are herded into decrepit quarantine environments. As more and more people lose their sight, the city deteriorates, mirroring the conditions of those in quarantine.
The Power by Naomi Alderman (2017)

In this thrilling novel, Alderman choreographs society’s fast-moving dance towards destruction that begins after teenage girls unlock the ability to shoot electricity from their collarbones. After that revelation, society undergoes a great power shift. Women literally have the power now; it's coursing through their veins. But it isn’t as simple as using this physical ability to achieving equality, and calling it a day. A change this momentous calls for a massive societal restructuring — or so many women believe.

Through four narrators — a male journalist traveling around the world to cover breaking moments in the women’s movement, the mysterious leader of a new religious group, the daughter of a mob lord whose lightning-shooting abilities are unparalleled, and a woman politician who rises to power in the new order — we see the ramifications of this change from every possible sector. Finally, to quickly establish that The Power is leading towards the apocalypse, Alderman cleverly structures the novel with a frame narrative. In the beginning, a man from the future reconstructs the events he believes transpired right before all-encompassing destruction, using archaeological remnants.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

Station Eleven will break your heart, and then sew it back up again. Mandel’s acclaimed book begins right before an deadly avian flu sweeps the globe and wipes out the vast majority of the population, save for those born with a natural immunity. In that scene, we’re introduced to the characters whose lives and relationships will be explored, both before and after the plague. Mandel’s vision of the apocalypse is brutal, but it isn't bleak. We follow a Shakespeare troupe on their route between settlements bordering the Great Lakes. Life goes on — and that’s the most beautiful aspect of this often-devastating book: People keep forging ahead, and carry wth them, in each line of Shakespeare, the riches of humanity's past.
America Pacifica by Anna North (2011)

Darcy lives in one of the last places on Earth. Literally. After most of the globe succumbs to the next ice age, only a few places, like Darcy's home on America Pacifica, are inhabitable. For most residents on this small Pacific island, life's a struggle. The lucky few who live in Manhattanville, an enclave of wealth, live in houses made of sturdy material (not garbage, like Darcy), and don't ever worry about resource scarcity.

After Darcy's mother goes missing, Darcy goes on a quest to learn about her mother's passage from a frozen California to America Pacifica, and her involvement in setting up the colony.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)

In The Road, the world as we experience it — all its beauty and civilization and sense of morality — have been wiped away by some unnamed catastrophe. The seasons are now all cold and bleak. Dogs and people roam the ravaged landscape, as do packs of cannibals.

Within this, an unnamed father and son begin their trek to outrun the incoming Appalachian winter. The Road is a Pulitzer Prize-winning survival novel, with a chilling background of disaster.
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (2001)

For the people who lost many of their loved ones during the Bubonic Plague, the 17th Century might as well have been the Apocalypse. Nothing would ever be the same for them.

At the start of Year of Wonders, Anna Frith, a widow, opens her house up to a visiting tailor. He ends up developing the plague, and dying while in her house. Soon after, the plague spreads throughout the town and affects the people closest to Anna. It gets worse. Since this is the year 1666, the spread of illness is blamed on superstitious causes (read: witches). Year of Wonders will make you grateful you live exactly when you do.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2003)

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood expertly imagines what would happen if a religious fundamentalist group overthrew the government, took away women’s rights, and restructured society along boundaries established in the Old Testament.

But you already know that version of Atwood’s apocalypse. In Oryx and Crake, Atwood turns her imagination to a highly advanced, but unequal, society on the brink of ecological disaster (sound familiar?). The narrator switches back and forth between the months leading up to the apocalypse, and where he lives now: In a garbage-filled landscape, surrounded by strange creatures he calls Crakers.

Oryx and Crake is the start of Atwood's Madaddam Trilogy. Each installment looks at this catastrophe from a different angle, and through the lens of far-flung characters.
Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut (1985)

Only Kurt Vonnegut could turn the end of days into a satirical romp that explores evolution, relationships, and plain old human daftness. Galapagos is set one million years in the future, after a stranded human settlement on the Galapagos Islands evolves into beings best suited for the natural environment through natural selection (a phenomenon that Charles Darwin discovered, fittingly, after studying species on the Galapagos Islands). Now, humans have tiny brains, flippers, beaks, and soft seal fur.

Leon Trout, who often stands in for Vonnegut in his novels, explains how each settler inadvertently ended up lost on the island in the days before the rest of the human population is eliminated. Galapagos blends absurd situations with Vonnegut’s own witty philosophical insights. The end of the world, as told by Vonnegut, may not mean anything — but it is, at least, funny.
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