5 End of the World Reads

Ben H. Winters' Countdown City

In keeping with the season, I—the agoraphobic bibliophile—was recently forced to leave the friendly confines of my home to travel to a local megamall to see my daughters’ holiday dance performances. The trip included a 30-minute white knuckle drive through a snowstorm, a nightmarish mall parking situation where a hostile woman actually got out of her car to flip me the bird, bustling crowds reminiscent of an imminent cattle stampede, and distorted mall muzak that made me question my own sanity. The decidedly apocalyptic undertone to the experience actually had me searching through the crowds for zombies…

Inspired by this hellish holiday experience—and by the last night of the year—I present five exceptional end of the world reads, perfect for pairing with a glass of champagne in your panic room and/or fallout shelter:

Parasite, by Mira Grant

Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy was a brilliant fusion of apocalyptic science fiction à la Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, highly intelligent political thriller, and grand-scale zombie fiction. Now, with Parasite (the first book in her Parasitology trilogy), Grant envisions a much more plausible—and downright horrific—end of the world scenario. Set in a near future where the development and widespread commercial success of a genetically engineered tapeworm has all but cured humankind’s diseases, Grant opens up a can of (tape)worms by questioning society’s blind faith in pharmaceutical companies. Utterly believable and thematically terrifying, Parasite will stun readers with its mind-blowing plot twists. Fans of science-powered thrillers will absolutely love this novel!

The Wasteland Saga, by Nick Cole

I’m a big fan of McCarthy’s The Road, and I think that’s why I loved this trilogy so much. Its narrative is stark and cerebral, and the thermonuclear wasteland backdrop—it’s set 40 years after a global nuclear war has all but wiped out humankind—will have hardcore apocalyptic fiction fans comparing it to classics like Shute’s On the Beach and Zelazny’s Damnation Alley. It’s essentially three interconnecting short novels, featuring characters like the Old Man, a salvager whose life-and-death adventures in the radioactive badlands of southwest America are filled with profound existential and spiritual revelation.

Into the Wilderness, by Mandy Hager

The soon-to-be-released second installment of Hager’s Blood of the Lamb trilogy for young adults, this postapocalyptic novel follows 16-year-old Maryam, a girl who courageously escapes the racial and sexual persecution of her island home. After stealing a boat and setting out for some type of sanctuary with three other young people, Maryam quickly learns that things can indeed get worse. The trilogy examines significant topical themes like racial, gender, and religious discrimination, with a storyline that’s not only entertaining but enlightening.

The Curve of the Earth, by Simon Morden

This visionary work of science fiction is set in a postapocalyptic London (aka, the Metrozone) and features a brilliant Russian expat from English novelist Morden’s previous Petrovitch trilogy (Equations of Life, Theories of Flight, and Degrees of Freedom). While there’s much to love about this richly tapestried storyline, I personally enjoyed the portrayal of postapocalyptic, or “Reconstruction,” America as an ultra-conservative, hyper-patriotic, quasi-fascist theocracy!

Countdown City, by Ben Winters

The sequel to the Edgar Award–winning The Last Policeman continues the story of Henry Palace, a former New Hampshire cop who is still trying to do his job even though civilization is slowly unraveling around him. With a massive asteroid headed toward Earth, humankind has just 77 days until its impact essentially ends civilization. As the world devolves into chaos, Palace vows to help a woman from his past locate her missing husband. The storyline of this projected trilogy is fascinating on several levels, particularly the exploration of the thematic question, “What would you do if you knew the world was going to end in just a few months?” A highly entertaining and singular blend of mystery and apocalyptic fiction, this saga will appeal to fans of both genres.

What’s your favorite apocalyptic read?

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