The end of the world as we know it (TEOTWAWKI) has always been a reliable premise for science fiction and horror novels. From nuclear annihilation (Nevil Shute’s On the Beach) to eco-disaster (The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard) to the zombie apocalypse (World War Z by Max Brooks), writers have been fascinated with doomsday scenarios both scientific and spiritual.
In Stephen King’s masterwork, The Stand, the horror novelist explicitly pits good and evil against each other when an accidentally released bio-warfare weapon causes a catastrophic pandemic.
What’s different about King’s post-apocalypse novel, though, is that it ends with optimism—a reminder that when Pandora’s Box was opened and all the evils of the world were released, there was one thing left in the box—hope.
If you love The Stand (and who doesn’t?), here are some books that share the same sense that man will not merely endure, he will prevail:
A man’s discovery of a sack of mail after a catastrophic EMP event becomes an unwitting symbol of hope to other survivors who latch on to his stories about a “Restored United States.” His road trip across a devastated country is a journey of hope that what has been sundered can be mended, what has been lost can be found.
A monumental epic of redemption, Swan Song is a treat for those who like character-driven stories and interwoven plotlines. Like The Stand, this book has a humans-against-an-ancient-evil plot with a villain known by many names, including “The Man with the Scarlet Eye.” With a “magical artifact” created by the apocalypse, Swan Song has something for everyone.
A man who survives a plague that has decimated the planet starts over with the help of a farmer, a doctor, and his dog Jasper. This is ultimately a “triumph of the human spirit” kind of book that takes a right turn into the philosophical, baking less of a zombie story and more of a reverie on the nature of civilization.
After the collapse of civilization, a few survivors struggle for a normal life, buoyed by the motto: Survival is insufficient. The novel is both persuasive and compelling, and it weaves dozens of plots together in a cinematic way. And that’s just the beginning. The story is full of flashbacks, side-trips, and looping narrative with a Shakespearean bent.
The first of a series, Black Feathers tells parallel stories of the pre- and post-apocalypse while introducing us to a group of 21st-century characters who cling to hope even as their world crumbles around them. There’s a strong element of dark fantasy here in the mythos of the “Crowman,” an enigmatic figure who may be a savior but might also be something else.
Like the much-admired A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., Stewart’s novel predicts a post-apocalyptic world that only flourishes because it has relinquished technology. Though written decades ago—it won the very first International Fantasy Award in 1951—Earth Abides has an intriguing older-versus-younger generation conflict that feels millennial.
Katherine Tomlinson is a former reporter who prefers making things up. She was editor of Astonishing Adventures Magazine and the publisher of Dark Valentine Magazine. She edited the charity anthology Nightfalls. Her dark fiction has appeared in Shotgun Honey, A Twist of Noir, Luna Station Quarterly, and Eaten Alive, as well as anthologies, including Weird Noir, Pulp Ink 2, Alt-Dead, Alt-Zombie, and the upcoming Grimm Futures, which she also edited. Her most recent collection of short stories is Suicide Blonde. She sees way too many movies.