Justin Cronin’s Top 10 World-Ending Novels

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Justin Cronin knows from the end of the world: he’s just wrapped up a massive trilogy that spends around 3,000 pages wallowing in it. In The Passage, The Twelve, and the just-released The City of Mirrors, he’s chronicled humanity’s slow collapse—and slow, stuttering rise—in the wake of a viral apocalypse that unleashed hordes of vampire-like superbrings upon the world, and quickly wiped out almost all other life (everything over a certain weight limit risked infection). Though Cronin’s vision is dark—who wants to be eaten, or turn into a vampire, for that matter?—it’s hardly the grimmest depiction of The End that you’ll encounter in literature.

To celebrate the long-awaited release of The City of Mirrors, we asked him to share his top ten “end-of-civilization” novels. Read them with the lights on. And maybe the TV too.

  1. Earth Abides, by George Stewart.   A stately, elegiac novel about a group of survivors following a global pandemic.

  1. The Stand, by Stephen King.   Because, The Stand.

  1. King Lear, by William Shakespeare. Not apocalyptic, you say? Tell that to the characters. Five brutal acts in which every meaningful human bond and institution is ground into dust.

  1. On the Beach, by Nevil Shute. A novel so unrelentingly grim that it actually moved the meter of public sentiment on the arms race.

  1. Children of Men, by P.D. James. Somewhat different from the (excellent) movie—no spectacular action set pieces here—but a probing, deeply British story of a slow-motion apocalypse in which humanity loses the ability to reproduce.

  1. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Of all the stories ever written about the end of civilization, this is the one that looks it most squarely in the face.

  1. Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank. A boyhood favorite, if that’s the right word. Residents of a small Florida town cope in the aftermath of a US-Soviet nuclear exchange. We win, but not really.

  1. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. A super-virus decimates humanity; decades later, a travelling troop of actors and musicians negotiate the chaos and blow on the dying embers of culture.

  1. Zone One, by Colson Whitehead. This list needs a zombie novel, and Whitehead’s is one of a kind, told with a sinister dark wit and linguistic dazzle.

  1. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson.  Oft imitated, never duplicated.

BONUS PICK: The Big Eye, by Max Ehrlich. On the brink of a nuclear confrontation between the US and the Soviets, humanity shapes up when a mysterious planet enters the solar system, headed straight for earth. Hokey, dated (it was published in 1949), and long out of print, Ehrlich’s novel nevertheless fascinates as a parable of the era.

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