Last month, I wrote about bibliotherapy and books that provide a measure of calm during uncertain times. I also gave you fair warning that I was just as likely to write about post-apocalyptic novels of disease and disaster. So I thought I’d make good on that warning and get it out of the way for you.
Honestly, disaster, dystopia and the apocalypse are my favorite topics in fiction, which I realize makes me sound like someone who wears all black and listens to death metal. In reality, I adore floral patterns and listen to anything from hip-hop to bluegrass.
What is the fascination with post-apocalyptic fiction and the like? (For simplicity’s sake, I’m lumping all stages of the apocalypse together.) I find a number of elements appealing. For one, there is the excitement, however terrible, of the disastrous event itself. Then, there is the adventure aspect. Often these tales involve living life on the run, and these journeys are fraught with danger. I find it endlessly interesting to experience the different ways authors conjure up these improbable stories, even when they seem formulaic.
I also find it interesting to see how people in these novels survive in their altered worlds, breaking into empty houses and ransacking grocery stores. I read about the characters’ experiences, explore how they relate to one another, then wonder how I’d fare in the same situation—not well, which is why I prefer to live it vicariously.
Finally, and this is new: I find that reading post-apocalyptic fiction helps me relate to my current situation in real life. Oddly enough, reading fictional characters’ stories of survival and isolation in their topsy-turvy worlds makes me feel less alone. Take Miranda, for example. She is 16, living with her family in rural Pennsylvania, when an asteroid crashes into the moon, splitting the moon in two. This causes worldwide tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Miranda’s family hits the ATM, grocery store and gas station, along with everyone else, and then hunkers down in their house as the deteriorating climate keeps them indoors. Though the origin of the isolation differs, Miranda’s experience in Life as We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer, seems to echo my own.
I had an extraordinarily difficult time narrowing this list to a chosen few. All of the titles below are available as e-books or e-audiobooks from the library.
The Last by Hanna Jameson
In this psychological thriller with a dystopic twist, American historian Jon Keller is stranded at a hotel in Switzerland as the world descends into nuclear war. While awaiting news of the outside, Keller begins documenting his stories and those of 20 other survivors holed up. When a body is found in a water tank, Keller takes it upon himself to find the murderer, who may still be among them, but threats from the outside keep them trapped.
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
Hig, a gentle pilot who prefers to spend his days reading and fishing with his dog, finds himself one of few survivors of a virus that wiped out most of the world. Seeking shelter in an abandoned airport hangar, Hig coexists alongside his survivalist neighbor Bangley, who defends the duo from roving bandits while Hig procures food. Missing human connection and the larger world, though, Hig makes a risky move to seek out other survivors.
The Line Between by Tosca Lee
When an extinct disease reemerges from melting Alaskan permafrost to cause madness in its victims, recent cult escapee Wynter Roth believes it’s the apocalypse she’d been taught to fear her entire life. Then her sister shows up with a set of medical samples and Wynter learns that there is a sinister connection between the cult and the rapidly spreading pandemic. Wynter must forge her way through a collapsing nation to get the samples to a Colorado lab before it’s too late.
The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker
Asteroids are striking the Earth, the end of the world is imminent, and lazy, unhappy Edgar is unprepared to protect his family in the face of widespread destruction. But when his family is rescued by helicopter and he is left behind, Edgar must run for his life across the ruined landscape, fending off crazed survivors, to catch up to his family and the promise of evacuation.
The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
In six months, asteroid 2011GV1 will demolish the Earth. The economy is collapsing and people all over the world are abandoning their jobs. Except for homicide detective Hank Palace, the only cop who cares. In a city that sees a dozen suicides each week, Hank is compelled to investigate one that feels suspicious despite the futility of continuing to do his job.
Central Rappahannock Regional Library’s virtual summer reading program starts June 1 with weekly giveaways and end-of-summer grand prizes for children, teens and adults. Visit librarypoint.org/summer to sign up.
Tracy McPeck is Adult Services Coordinator for Central Rappahannock Regional Library. This article first appeared in the Free Lance-Star newspaper.