From The Walking Dead to Fallout 4, the world of the Post-Apocalypse is rife and ravaged for screen storytelling. It has always been wild undiscovered country for writers & we take a look at some of the best books from the end of the world ...
Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien
Once read, this haunting book is never forgotten. From the writer of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh of all things, this young adult reader tells a tense and unforgiving first person story of survival after nuclear war. Recently made into a movie with Margot Robbie, Z for Zachariah is really deeply chilling.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
McCarthy is no stranger to apocalypse – his amazing Blood Meridian is almost an armageddon of the Old West. But here he turns his hand to the real thing and the journey of son and father through a world destroyed by forces never revealed. It is beautifully written, scary and extremely moving. Made into a dark and unforgiving movie by John Hillcoat, The Road is a love story of a kind, love in the face of relentless horror.
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On the Beach by Nevil Shute
On the Beach is legendary. Telling the story of a group of survivors of a nuclear holocaust, it describes the deadly spread of radiation and the futility of existence in such a landscape. Written in 1957, it is a classic piece of ‘World War Three’ literature and was released to a generation living in daily fear of just such a conflict. The Cuban Missile Crisis was just around the corner.
“Fictions such as On the Beach played an important role in raising awareness about the threat of nuclear war,” wrote The Guardian. “We stared into the abyss and then stepped back from the brink.”
World War Z by Max Brooks
What’s amazing is that World War Z is already over ten years old. The follow up to Brooks’ how-to-survive-the-zombie-apocalypse The Zombie Survival Guide, World War Z is made up of individual despatches from the front line of zombie warfare – taken from interviews conducted by a United Nations taskforce once the terror is over, or at least seems to be over. It ranges across the world and from military leaders to ordinary folk on the ground.
Made into a blockbuster movie with Brad Pitt, Simon Pegg – who knows his zombies – called World War Z “an absolute must have.”
The Last Man by Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley published The Last Man in 1826. In one of the earliest post-apocalypse novels, plague has torn the earth to pieces. Reviewed badly at the time, The Last Man was actually one of Shelley’s own favourites from her work, and when it was republished in the 60s, in an age when oblivion just didn’t seem too far away, the novel was further evidence of her trailblazing brilliance.
The Children of Men by PD James
The Children of Men is an extraordinary book, and one of PD James’ most fascinating works. Known mostly for her detective novels, The Children of Men is set in 2021 – since the 1990s humankind has been dwindling to extinction through global infertility, and the end of the world is nigh. The film version is quite different – although James approved the alterations – but it captures the same measure of dystopian despair and hopelessness that haunts the source novel. Clive Owen is brilliant in it.
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The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
More zombies, and going now for an amazing fourteen years with no signs of shuffling to a moaning close, Robert Kirkman’s comic book series is classic post-apocalypse undead. Now a viewstats-busting TV series The Walking Dead franchise is a cultural phenomenon. The TV series is still behind the comics, but catching up, and for many Walker fans the comics remain the real deal.
The Stand by Stephen King
Awesome, horrifying, a masterpiece – for many of his fans The Stand is King’s best book. Capturing with nightmarish clarity the sweeping effect of a mutant flu virus destroying all in its path, the novel is shockingly visceral and in places – as King’s writing often is – terribly sad and moving. Hope and faith face darkness and terror in an ultimate war between good and evil.
King also returned to the post-apocalypse with Cell, and The Pulse Virus – check that one out too.
Oryx and Crake By Margaret Atwood
Oryx and Crake is an incredible book. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize and followed by The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam, The Telegraph said: “The bioengineered apocalypse she imagines is impeccably researched and sickeningly plausible … this story is set in a society readers will recognise as only a few steps ahead of our own …”
Out, out, brief candle …
When The Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs
The 80s has passed into legend as the decade of high hair, wide shoulder pads and brick-sized phones. The time of Duran Duran and Yuppie excess. Of course, all that’s true. But for lots of people it was actually an era of dread and terror.
As the arms race seemed to spiral out of control, and TV programmes like Threads scared people witless, the fear of Nuclear War was a very real thing. Raymond Briggs’ masterpiece When The Wind Blows was if anything the most terrifying, heartbreaking and motivational fiction of this time.
What would happen to your Nan and Grandad if there was a Third World War?