Apocalypses abound in science fiction and fantasy. Being such a staple, books that feature them end up reflecting the times during which they were written.
Maybe the apocalypse comes in the form of a nuclear war. Maybe it's a plague that causes a flu pandemic. Or is it a virus that transforms people into vampires?
From people preparing for the end to humans attempting to rebuild civilization, these 19 apocalypse books are guaranteed to grip and unnerve you.
Plague novels have taken on a new meaning after the novel coronavirus swept across the world.
Originally published in 2014, Mandel's novel features a virulent strain of the swine flu that kills most of the human population. 20 years later, a group of survivors travel the Great Lakes region as performers.
This 1943 sci-fi classic from Fritz Lieber explores what happens after a nuclear holocaust. Humanity does survive, but people are now governed by superstition. A new religion has risen, led by priests who remember the science and technology that the rest of society has forgotten.
Frustrated by his peers' hypocrisy and lies, one priest attempts to foment a rebellion among the common people. But as it turns out, a revolution may be forming from another direction.
An Inheritance of Ashes
Six months ago, the men left to wage war against a Wicked God. Weeks after the final battle was won, 16-year-old Hallie and her older sister Marthe wait to see who will return. They’ve struggled to keep the family farm running, and Hallie is determined they have enough stores to survive the winter. She even hires a wandering veteran to help.
When the monsters the men were fighting show up at her gates, she does everything she can to protect the tattered remains of her family and her new friend. But as she fights, dark truths emerge that may tear the farm apart.
The Fifth Season
Most apocalypse books concern themselves with one world-ending event. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy takes place on a world characterized by active tectonic plates. The unstable environment results in apocalypse after apocalypse after apocalypse. They occur with enough regularity that they're known as seasons.
Now imagine a fifth season that is so cataclysmic, it's certain to be the last ever apocalypse this world experiences.
Earth enjoyed a century of peace as an alien colony, but that’s been shattered. In the middle of negotiations with the human terrorist group Sapience, the alien-government’s home planet changes their mind. Earth is too expensive to maintain. The entire galaxy soon buzzes with the news, and other alien races vie to take control. These aliens don’t want peace.
Donovan is just getting his life back together, but he soon realizes Sapience could be the key to stopping another war. The only problem is that it’ll take all the species on Earth working together … and even that might not be enough.
Sometimes the world ends with a bang. Other times, civilization just stops. Electricity ceases working. Most of humanity vanishes without a trace.
In this empty world, magical creatures have returned and now wander freely. What happens when a young man befriends a unicorn, whose horn has become a much-coveted resource?
Not a Drop to Drink
Scientists thought they'd found a way to save the ozone layer. Instead, a convergence of events leads to an atmospheric catastrophe.
In the aftermath, environmental disasters become commonplace, and technology fails. People cope with the man-made apocalypse in different ways.
Some revel in drugs and excess. Others try to keep signs of the apocalypse out of their home for as long as possible. It's up to you to decide which way is better.
The Last Day
In an alternate timeline, 2019 saw the passing of an asteroid that caused the earth to stop rotating. Needless to say, this event causes massive problems.
Half the world plunges into freezing darkness. The other half transforms into desert, thanks to scorching daylight.
While a narrow strip of land remains inhabitable, the situation is clearly untenable in the long term. But then a scientist is called to her dying mentor's bedside. There, she learns of a secret that could change the fate of the human race.
Many apocalypse books hinge on the specter of nuclear war. Swan Song is no different.
When the Cold War conflict eventually boils over, the United States is left a twisted landscape filled with mutants and vicious marauders.
Despite this, a group of survivors must come together—because in addition to dealing with life after a world-changing apocalypse, an ancient evil has awakened and must be stopped.
The Last Man
Mary Shelley wrote this apocalyptic novel after her more-famous tale, Frankenstein. The Last Man chronicles what happens when a plague spreads across the world in the late 21st century.
Considering that Shelley wrote this book in the early 19th century, her vision of the future is quite different from what ours would be in the modern day.
What may interest modern readers most is how this novel reimagines the relationships between Shelley, her late husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron.
I Am Legend
Many apocalypse novels use a plague to destabilize civilization, ultimately leading to humanity's downfall. In Matheson's classic novel, the disease transforms people into monsters. Are they vampires? Are they zombies? Does it matter in the end when you're the last man on earth?
World War Z
Many people might be more familiar with the film adaptation, but the original novel takes a less action-packed approach.
Set a decade after the official end of the Zombie War, a U.N. agent travels the world and conducts interviews.
The resulting narrative reconstructs the initial outbreak, the various ways different countries handled the threat, and ultimately, the desperate struggle to defeat the Zekes.
Oryx and Crake
Oryx and Crake focuses on Snowman, the lone human survivor of the before times. He lives in a changed world with the genetically-engineered results of human experiments meant to cure the ills of society. Through him, readers learn how and why these experiments came about and how their creation led to the downfall of humanity as we know it.
Blood Red Road
Saba scavenges the landfills, barely scraping by in the wasteland. As long as she has her twin brother Lugh, though, she doesn’t mind. That is, until a vicious sandstorm brings four cloaked men with it and they take her brother, forcing Saba into the desert to get him back. The world outside of her small town is lawless, but surprisingly, so is Saba. She’s fierce with an unrelenting determination to survive. Teaming up with a handsome boy and a group of rebel girls, Saba has to use all her cunning to fight the corrupt society that took Luca. She just might change the course of civilization while she’s at it.
In Dawn, a nuclear holocaust destroys all life on earth—or rather, almost all life. An alien race sweeps in at the last moment and saves a few members of humanity. Centuries later, the aliens awaken the humans from their deep sleep.
It's time to reinhabit the earth. There's just one little catch.
In the Drift
In 1979, a nuclear reactor located in Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania underwent a partial meltdown.
Inspired by this actual incident, Swanwick spins a tale about what would happen if the reactor experienced a full meltdown, with far more serious consequences.
According to his creative vision, the accident contaminated the atmosphere and left a wasteland surrounding the nuclear plant filled with disease, monsters, and mutants. But that doesn't mean the people living in that forsaken territory are without their own hopes and dreams.
The Book of M
In The Book of M, the apocalypse doesn't come in the form of a nuclear holocaust or a plague. It comes when people begin losing their shadows.
The loss of shadows heralds something else: the gradual loss of their memories. As the phenomenon spreads, society begins breaking down.
And in this new world, one couple struggles to both protect and remember each other when one of them loses her shadow.
This Is the Way the World Ends
Morrow's novel takes an unusual approach to the nuclear holocaust. In exchange for a survival suit to protect his daughter, a man signs a document that makes him complicit if a nuclear war breaks out.
The very idea may be absurd, but when the unthinkable does happen, our everyman protagonist must now stand trial as one of six survivors.
The Hunger Games
After a devastating war that destroys North America, a new society is formed: Panem. Panem consists of thirteen Districts and a Capitol that rules over them. The Capitol's oppressive rule, however, incited a rebellion.
Alas, it failed, and District 13 was completely annihilated. And to prevent history from repeating itself, the Hunger Games were formed as means of social control.
The Day of the Triffids
After recovering from an eye injury, a biologist wakes up in the hospital to discover that most of the population has been left blind by a passing meteor shower. The mass blinding plunges society into chaos.
People who retained their sight attempt to reform civilization, but their plans are stymied when carnivorous plants begin killing them.
California has been in a drought for as long as anyone remembers—long enough that everyone knows you can’t water your lawn or fill up your pool. Even long showers aren’t okay. It’s a harsh facet of life, but things could be worse … until the taps stop.
Now, life in Alyssa’s neighborhood unravels. Neighbors turn against each other, friends fight, and families are torn apart in the search for water. But when her parents don’t come back from a water run, Alyssa and her little brother’s lives are threatened. To survive, Alyssa has to make impossible decisions, and she has to make them quickly.
The Netflix adaptation may have spawned countless memes, but the novel's premise remains spellbinding.
Five years ago, something descended upon the world. No one knows what exactly the "something" is, but they do know that looking at it drives people to madness, violence, and suicide.
In a new world where people wear blindfolds and block their windows, Marjorie embarks on a journey with her two children to find a safer place to live. But as you can expect, the path is filled with many dangers.
The Lightest Object in the Universe
We usually associate apocalypse books with grim fates and dark outcomes. But even during the hardest times, there are spots of hope.
Economic collapse isn't good. Neither is the failure of the electrical grid. Combine the two, and you have a problem. In Eisele's novel, both things happen, and society falls apart.
Despite the obvious challenges, two lovers living on opposite sides of the United States attempt to reunite. The story of their journey lingers not on the destruction of the world, but instead focuses on human connection, building community, and working toward a better future.
The western United States is now a Republic that’s constantly at war with the surrounding nations. June was born into one of the wealthiest sectors and is being groomed for a high military position.
Day was born in the slums and is currently the Republic’s most wanted criminal. But when June’s brother is murdered, Day becomes the prime suspect. All Day wants is to protect his family and survive while June hunts for vengeance and justice. Neither one of them ever expected to stumble on the shocking truth of what really happened, or how far their country is willing to go to keep that truth buried.
After the Seven Stages War, the planet is little more than ashes and wasteland. It’s up to future generations to rebuild—starting with the chosen few who will be given the opportunity to pass The Testing for their one shot at a college education and a prestigious career. Cia Vale is a candidate. She’s prepared for this moment her entire life. Or so she thought. When her childhood friend Tomas asks to form an alliance, Cia’s certainty wavers. Her father told her not to trust anyone. But Tomas seems to care about her more with every deadly Test. Can she survive her temptation to trust? Or is love more dangerous?
After decades of climate change and nuclear disasters, the planet Earth has seen better days. Most of it is unlivable and the lucky few escaped to space colonies in the stars. In war-torn Nigeria, soldiers are outfitted with bionic limbs and artificial organs. It’s the only thing that protects them from the high levels of radiation.
Onyii and Ify are sisters who dream of escaping the constant civil wars and violence that has marred their entire lives. Survival is all they’ve ever known, but they dream of a life without endless fighting and conflict.
And if they have to fight a war to get it? Then they will.
The Gulf Coast is under quarantine. A series of hurricanes sparked an outbreak of Delta Fever. Years later, the Outer States believe Delta is extinct. But a new society grew instead. Fen de la Guerre lives in the Delta. When her O-Positive blood tribe is attacked, she and her leader’s newborn are the only survivors. If Fen can get her over the wall before her blood is contaminated, she can live a better life.
A scientist named Daniel may be her best shot. He snuck into the Delta, and he might be able to get the baby out. Together, they navigate Orleans, each becoming the other’s only chance for survival.
This post is sponsored by Open Road Media. Thank you for supporting our partners, who make it possible for The Portalist to celebrate the romance stories you love.