The end of the world is popular, apparently, considering all the dystopian novels glutting the book world. I love a good doom and gloom story one in a while myself, but I prefer the adult versions rather than all the YA blockbusters out there (sorry, Hunger Games and Divergent fans, but it’s not for me). In no particular order, here are my favorites:
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
I loved this novel of the world decimated by a flu-like virus, leaving pockets of humanity behind to fend for themselves and try to stitch a meaningful life back together. Kirsten is a performer in an entertainment troupe called The Travelling Symphony (“Because survival is not enough”) that performs Shakespeare and plays classical music. They travel from town to town, trying to bring a bit of civilization back to the ragged bit of survivors. There is some trouble and a sense of menace from someone called The Prophet, but this is more than a good guys vs. villain story. It switches back and forth in time, beginning with Arthur Leander, an actor performing King Lear on what is to be the last day of the known world, and who suffers a heart attack on stage. The story spins out from this moment, and many of the characters are linked to Arthur and his legacy. This is what I’d call a “literary” dystopian novel, about the fleeting nature of fame, the meaning of art, and what human beings require not just to survive, but to live.
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
This Pulitzer prize-winning book is the darkest of this group, telling the story of a man who wanders a post-apocalyptic world with his young son, heading south on foot to a warmer place, and basically just trying to stay alive–searching for food and shelter, and trying to avoid cannibalistic marauders. No one knows what caused the catastrophe (and so neither do we), but the man is determined to survive and to protect his son, whom he tells they are “carrying the fire”. An amazing read, but be warned: it pulls you into a dark, dark place. The 2009 film starring Viggo Mortensen is excellent, capturing both the darkness and the spark of hope the man clings to for the future of mankind.
The Passage, by Justin Cronin
This is the first book of a trilogy (The Twelve and City of Mirrors completes the trio), about our world devoured by another virus, this time man-made, an experiment gone terribly wrong. This virus causes some victims to become vampire-like creatures, with an insatiable desire for human blood. This book also toggles back and forth in time, from one hundred years after the catastrophe, to the time leading up to it, and centers around a special little girl named Amy who is somehow linked to the virus. A complex, absorbing story that was a page-turner for me. I’ve heard rumors of a movie, but haven’t seen any evidence yet.
The Stand, by Stephen King
Arguably King’s most famous (and favorite among fans), The Stand remains the benchmark among end-of-the-world novels. Yet another virus has been unleashed upon the unsuspecting world, and its survivors have organized into two groups that will ultimately face each other in a showdown between good and evil: those who flock under the guidance of Mother Abigail, and those who follow the devilish Randall Flagg. King’s cast of characters are always vivid and relatable, his attention to detail prodigious, and his plots (and subplots) compelling. The 1994 TV series with Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald is watchable and fairly true to the book, but do yourself a favor and just read it instead.
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
The most political of this group, The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of Offred, a woman in the near future who serves as a “handmaid” in a world where women have been subjugated to serve their patriarchal masters. The U.S. government has been overthrown by a Christian theonomy (which posits that Biblical Law is applicable to Civil Law). Women’s rights have been denied, and their primary function is to bear offspring to their masters. Not strictly “end of the world” material (though it probably would be for me and most women I know), but it’s certainly dystopian. I’m chomping at the bit to watch the new Hulu series based on the book, which has received rave reviews.
Have you read these books? What’s your favorite dystopian novel? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!