Earth Day Special: Post-Apocalyptic Literature

image At some point in elementary school I got into the habit of reading Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis every time that I got sick. I found it strangely comforting to be reminded that while I might have scarlet fever and be intermittently hallucinating about Mickey Mouse, at least I had not been (spoiler alert!) turned into a giant cockroach and disowned by my family. Today is Earth Day! The earth has seen better days, and I got too depressed googling various environmental problems to even come up with a suitable list of examples. However, look on the bright side: things could be much, much worse. To explore how much worse it could be, here’s a few of my favorite works of post-apocalyptic fiction - perfect reading for Earth Day. Skip past the cut to check them out. In no particular order, here’s some of my favorite post-apocalyptic fiction. Many of these are aimed more toward young adults, and since this is a science blog, I’ve also tried to score them arbitrarily on their scientific plausibility (0-10). Check out the associated amazon pages for better descriptions and reviews.

  • Z for Zachariah
    • Robert C. O’Brien - Where’s the best place to be when a nuclear war goes down? In a isolated valley in upstate New York, apparently! Z for Zachariah follows a 16 year old girl who is left to fend for herself after the bombs go off, until a Cornell chemistry postdoc shows up in a radiation suit. 7/10
  • The Postman
    • David Brin - Another in the post-nuclear war sub-genre. The story gets bogged down in weird survivalist themes in the second half, but paints a rather believable portrait of the aftermath of a nuclear winter. 5/10
  • A Canticle for Liebowitz
    • Walter Miller - Have you ever been stuck in a waiting room at the dentist’s and the only thing to read is a Reader’s Digest from 1983? In the future, it’s like that, only way worse. 6/10
  • Childhood’s End
    • Aurthur C. Clark - Sometimes the end of the world is surprisingly zen. 3/10
  • A Gift Upon the Shore
    • M. K. Wren - Rural Oregon also turns out to be a decent place to ride out a nuclear winter. Everything is great, unless your only surviving neighbors are fundamentalists. 7/10
  • Emergence
    • David R. Palmer - This is probably my favorite work in this genre. Emergence is the diary of a very plucky Candidia Smith-Foster, who, along with a pet parrot, has survived a communist bio attack. Things get a bit nutty in the end, but overall a very enjoyable read. Despite great reviews it’s currently out of print, although a movie may be in the works. 8/10
  • I am Legend
    • It turns out that Will Smith was actually playing an older white dude. Who knew? It shares strange religious overtones with the movie, but much better written and with a totally different ending. 4/10
  • The Pesthouse
    • Jim Crace - Society has gone a long way backwards, but they hear everything is better in Europe. 5/10
  • The Road
    • Cormac McCarthy - I can’t say I’m a huge fan of his writing style, but the world that Cormac McCarthy creates here is very compelling, although mind-numbingly depressing. 9/10

This is by no means an exhaustive list - there’s a lot of classics that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet such as On the Beach. I also have high hopes for Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Wild Shore since I enjoyed his Mars series. Anyone else have anything to add? Happy Earth Day!

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By Alex