Quite in Raptures

So. The Rapture was a bust.

You didn't ascend to heaven on a beam of sunlight, walk through those pearly gates and right into the loving arms of God the Father. You didn't fist bump Jesus, your homeboy. Mary didn't bake cupcakes for you.

Nope, you're still here. You still have to go back to work, and you won't have a chance to loot your favorite electronics store.

But wait. Maybe the Rapture did happen, and you just didn't make the cut! Since God has abandoned the earth, (clearly) what's to stop the apocalypse from coming?

Fungal infections spread quickly. Those zombie ants they found in Thailand? Global trade means that what's Thailand's is ours. Whats to keep that fungus from jumping from ant to rat, rat to cat, cat to us? (Science, probably, but work with me here...)

And clearly, now, the aliens will be upon us. They could see that we were protected before, but with the Earth lit up like a light bulb with all those do-gooders ascending to heaven, they'll know to move right in.

But what if we don't need outside sources to do us in? Without religion to guide our morals, whats to stop us from nuking ourselves like a potato in a microwave? Will we devolve without His almighty hand guiding our path?

And what about those 200 million or so of us that are just...gone? What if pilots ascend right out of their cockpits? CEOs right out of their ergonomic Italian leather office chairs? What would happen if the internet went out?

What would we do? How are we supposed to have any fun with the apocalypse if we can't tweet about it!?

We'll have to resort to more primitive forms of entertainment.

Luckily, I have the answer for you.

Here I have compiled 10 post-apocalyptic/dystopian future books that could totally improve your apocalypse experience. Hey! They might even contain some good advice.

In the event that nothing at all happens, well. Keep dreaming. Keep reading. And lets hope you are one of those resourceful, grace-under-pressure types and not one of the masses killed.

In no particular order:


Cool Post-Apocalyptic Dystopian Future Books


1. The Host by Stephenie Meyer
Age Range: YA (14-18)
Mode of Apocalypse: Alien Invasion

This littler-known bastard cousin of the Twilight Saga is my favorite of Stephenie Meyer's books. Before all you literati shout that she has no talent and no place publishing her books, let me remind you that she never has to work another day in her life if she doesn't want to. And besides. A book doesn't have to be a beautifully crafted piece of literature to be worth reading. All it has to do is tell a good story.

And The Host tells a damn good story. Humans have been taken over by a species of alien that cannot survive outside of a host body. The "souls," as they call themselves are unfailingly pleasant, and insidiously conquered earth. They have several other planets as well, but Earth is the newest and considered the most dangerous because the hosts, humans, sometimes rebel.

Melanie is part of the resistance, but when she gets captured and inserted with a "soul" who calls herself Wanderer (Wanda for short) she is so violently angry that Wanda can't completely control her.

In the mash of the two consciousnesses, Wanda confuses Melanie's love for another human, Jared, and as Melanie wins control, the two (in Melanie's body) head off to search for him.

Though certainly Melanie's passion for Jared and her little brother Jamie is a little exaggerated, the adventure of the story gives it something that Twilight lacks. Melanie and Wanda together are resourceful and their trek across the desert is thrilling and visceral. Meyer has taken a step up from teen angst (though Melanie is a teen and certainly has much angst) to meld together an exciting, fascinating plot.

2. Invitation to the Game by Monica Hughes
Age Range: 10-15
Mode of Apocalypse: Population Explosion

This is a little known book that I don't think is in print anymore, but when I read it at about 12, I loved it. It is about 150 years from now, and the Earth is over-crowded and the government mandates everybody's career based on aptitude tests. If you don't score sufficiently, the government wishes you enjoyment in your "leisure years" and sends you to a sector where your basic needs are provided for but any luxuries must be scavenged, stolen, or traded for.

This is Lisse's fate, along with a few acquaintances from her school. They band together to try to make a life for themselves out of a grim future that doesn't provide much hope.

All this changes one day when they receive an invitation to The Game, which is an immersible virtual reality exploration game. They are deposited in an environment and left to explore.

I won't spoil it for you, but beating the game brings them new opportunities, ones they never expected would be available to them.

Lisse and her friends are a dynamic group, and one of the things I loved about this book was how they related to each other. I was right along with them, making alliances, feeling their grievances and their triumphs.

The other thing that made this book memorable for me was the detail provided in the settings they visit and even the smallest of tasks. In The Game, the friends make soap from animal fat and the lye from their ashes. One of the girls makes a fishing line from strands of her hair. Kaolin mud is harvested to create pots. In the city, the night time is a time of raucous debauchery (rated PG, of course) and people in garish peacock colored costumes.

A short, well imagined, satisfying read, even for an adult.

3. The Passage by Justin Cronin
Age Range: Adult
Mode of Apocalypse: Virus/Zombie/Vampire/Things

The Passage is a recent best seller, a book that Stephen King gave lofty praise to on the jacket. I picked it up at work (when I worked at Barnes & Noble) when I forgot a book to read over lunch, and was hooked immediately.

One of the things I love about The Passage is how it morphs. It begins pre-apocalypse, with only tiny hints of what might happen, and with a cataclysmic action scene, catapults into post-apocalypse.

The styles of the pre- and post-apocalypse are slightly different and utterly engaging.

The first part is almost Neil Gaiman-esque. There is a lot of emphasis on weather, and the fantastic is mentioned side by side along with the mundane, a la Gaiman's American Gods (which, though not a part of this list, is well worth your read.) It features two FBI agents, a young girl abandoned by her mother, a nun with a traumatic past, and a death row inmate who is one of the most sympathetic characters in the book.

The second part is post-apocalypse and reads more like a sci-fi novel, without the grounding mentions of McDonalds' and Tahoes and Power Puff Girls.  Humans infected with a virus have turned lethal, and the virals have just about wiped out North America. Our survivors are holed up in a colony, and must function with the barest of resources.

Throughout the book, Cronin uses different forms to tell the story: E-mails, memories, dreams, letters, memoirs, notices, minutes from meetings, watch logs. It's quite refreshing, in such a long book, to have the prose broken up with these other forms. It also ads immediacy and believability to the story.

The Passage takes itself seriously, and I needed some buffer time for my fear of the dark to abate after I read it.

4. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
Age Range: Adult
Mode of Apocalypse: Nuclear Fallout

I picked this up about a year and a half ago, never having read any Margaret Atwood before, and liking the premise on the back of the book.

This is a post-apocalyptic book with quite a different tone to it. The survivors here are kind of hippies, growing an organic garden on an abandoned high-rise rooftop. They sing a quite a bit, and their songs are written down in the book. You can also get a CD of the songs, but I've never listened to them.

I'm not sure why I kept reading this. I can't say it was terribly engaging, and not many of the characters were very memorable. The only thing that was memorable was the settings: the rooftop garden, an eternally damp old-folks home....Or maybe it was a spa or a mental institution.

Anyway, it is a prequel to Oryx and Crake and it does sort of feel like "Special Features" instead of "Feature Presentation," but there's something haunting and lilting about it. And it has a lot of cultural things about the surviving population that are pretty fascinating: their songs, their feast days (there's one every day,) etc.

Give it a couple of chapters to see if its your cup of tea.

5. The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Age Range: 10+
Mode of Apocalypse: Nuclear Fallout

This is a kids book. It's also flipping fabulous.

Lina and Doon are schoolkids whose whole city is underground. Their world is lit by electric lamps that are increasingly un-reliable.

As far as Lina and Doon know, this is the way things have always been. Pencils and paper are scarce. Everything is deteriorated. But Lina's grandmother finds a box with strange instructions inside. Lina is certain that it is important, and it's up to her to convince the rest of her city that they have to follow the instructions.

This book is a fast-paced easy read with memorable, likeable characters. Lina is surefooted, clever, and kind. Doon is a stalwart, resourceful best friend. The world is fascinating, and since the reader discovers with Lina and Doon about the history of Ember, they feel all the fascination and the wonder that the characters feel.

This is the first in a series, and the second was less spectacular. I didn't pick up the third, so I can't account for that, but even as a standalone The City of Ember is a worthwhile read.

I sometimes think of books in terms of colors, and City of Ember is, to me, a mix of brassy amber, and deep night blue. It is rich with detail, and the image of a jury-rigged city was intriguing to me.

6. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Age Range: 14+
Mode of Apocalypse: Nuclear Fallout

If you haven't read The Hunger Games, stop what you are doing, and begin it now.

(I'm serious.)

If you have, I don't have to tell you how awesome this series is. I don't have to tell you about how the idea of the Hunger Games themselves is like a car wreck--it's horrible, un-thinkable, but you simply can't look away. I don't have to tell you how much of a badass Katniss is. I don't have to tell you how agonizing it is, knowing that everything for Katniss is a lose-lose situation, wondering how on /earth/ she'll get out, insisting that she /must/ get out alive and well, but not putting it past Collins to kill her off.

These books hurt so good.

And you may as well buy all three of them, and set aside a weekend, buy yourself some comfort food and tuck in, because you're not gonna look up once you start these books.

Once Katniss becomes a tribute in the Hunger Games, she and her loved ones are in constant danger. There is not a moment from the reaping (when the tributes are chosen) until the end of Mockingjay when she is safe. And Collins is not afraid of hurting people in this book. Likeable characters are not guaranteed survival, although some of them are guaranteed death. The Hunger Games are a fight till the death, after all. And The Capitol has very very long arms.

You'll be looking over your shoulder after reading these ones.

7. Vanishing Point by Michaela Roessner
Age Range: Adult
Mode of Apocalypse: Rapture? Many-worlds car wreck?

This book is an old one, also out of print, I think, but you can definitely get used copies.

So, most of the human race has vanished.



Left behind an empty country. Stragglers band together for survival and for company in one giant, ever-expanding mansion in California. It has some elements of a basic survivalist story (which is one of the big draws of post-apocalyptic fiction) but there are some strange things afoot.

Physics is kind of...broken.

Colors that previously existed don't. New colors emerge. The first generation of children post-vanishing have metallic hair. They can slip through extra dimensions as easy as we can walk through a door. Strange creatures roam.

The survivors are trying to figure out what has happened to their world, and in the midst there are love stories, people stories, place stories.

It's an old, little known book, and I found it in my mom's bookshelf when I was broke and dying for something to read. Pick it up. Give it the love it deserves.

8. Idlewild by Nick Sagan
Age Range: Adult
Mode of Apocalypse: Virus

Nick Sagan, son of Carl Sagan, tells the story of Halloween, who wakes up in a pumpkin patch with dancing lights above his eyes and amnesia. He has forgotten everything--who he is, where he is, what he was doing...All he knows is that he is paralyzed and that someone has just tried to kill him.

His paralysis is temporary, and he is soon up exploring his haunting environs: A cathedral-like Gothic mansion, a grave yard with nine graves, one of them open, a swamp, pumpkins.

A word of advice: Download this as an audiobook.  The narrator, Clayon Blarclay-Jones, breathes life into the character of Halloween that I'm not entirely sure would come across on the page. And this is not terribly surprising, since Nick Sagan actually usually writes screenplays.

But this book will surprise you. Since you are working backwards with Halloween to try and find the person who attempted your murder, your mind will be working like crazy, trying to find clues, trying to understand, trying to  remember along with Halloween.

You don't even find out that it's post-apocalyptic until the end, except that Halloween's narration is cut with scenes from before. When everything comes together, the realization of what has happened is staggering.

The sequel, Eden Born, is also fabulous, and the third, Ever Free, is not available as an audiobook, and I haven't read it.

9. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Age Range: 14+
Mode of Apocalypse: Devolution

This is my only classic on the list, and it probably doesn't come directly into anyone's mind as post-apocalyptic fiction. But The Time Traveller travels past the apocalypse, which I would consider the breakdown of civilization as we know it. When he finds the simple Eloi beset by a nameless, all consuming fear, everything we know has been wiped out.

The whole book is kind of a thought experiment. It seems that Wells cast his mind into the future and followed it down logical paths until he arrived at one possible future. And it is not terribly pleasant.

The entire story is told via conversation. There are several characters meeting, and The Time Traveller tells his story. The prose is immediate and conversational. You might even start to smell the smoke from the imaginary campfire you imagine yourself sitting around.

H.G. Wells, author of War of the Worlds (Which would probably have made my list had I read it. [blush]) is an imaginative writer with outlandish ideas written in that nice, 19th century matter-of-fact-ness. Wells spells out complicated ideas with ease, introducing time, for example as the 4th dimension by explaining that an object must have "length, width, breadth, and duration."

If, in your reading, you passed on The Time Machine, I recommend picking it up. It's a novella, so it's short. You can probably finish it in a day or so.

10. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Age Range: Adult
Mode of Apocalypse: Global Warming

Okay, so the apocalypse hasn't quite happened in this book, but the world is different beyond recognition.

Lush settings, wild events, subtle politics, visceral descriptions, and an imaginative plot make for a thoroughly seductive reading experience. Anderson is an American, a representative of a huge company come to Bangkok to oversee another company. As he discovers the underlying politics of Bangkok, he invests more and more of himself in the sweltering, humid, nearly flooded city.

There is so much going on in this book, much of it in layers, that it is hard to describe. The book is completely transportive. You can smell it while you read, I swear. The city comes alive under Bacigalupi's luscious prose. 

The world is under great strain to support its people. Crops won't grow unless they are biologically altered. Cats have evolved into something that can disappear and reappear at will.  food is scarce and wealth is counted in calories.  It is a strange, alien place, but not so alien that you cannot imagine it happening.

One of the other reasons I liked this book is that it is predominantly Asian. Many of the other books I listed here only concern themselves with America. It's not surprising, as I'm reading works in English by mainly American authors. But it was a nice change of scenery, a change of thought, to imagine what Asia would be, pushed to its limits.


Well, I hope you enjoyed or will enjoy a few of the books on the list.

I clearly did not ad every post-apocalyptic book I could think of, so I apologize if your favorite post-apocalyptic book didn't make the cut. I only listed books I've read, so it's probably not that I don't think you have good taste in books, it's probably because I haven't read that one yet.

It's entirely cool to post your ideas in the comments.

Whether you get sucked up to heaven, get your brains eaten by zombies, or catch a virus that turns you into a creepy-ass dream-sharing vampire-like monster (a la The Passage,) I wish you a Merry Rapture.

Even if nothing happens at all and you have to live out your Rapture fantasies by reading these books.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome list! :D I've been needing a dystopian/post-apocalyptic books for research so this will come in mighty handy!