You never know when the end will come. Use these books to keep you and your family alive through the end of civilization. Nuclear war, zombies, plague, plagues of zombies, viral outbreaks, or drought - you gotta know your options. Use this great list of "how-to" guides. Don't be in the dark when your neighbors are knocking on your door to eat your brains or steal your meager supply of canned goods. Start reading now and you will be living in a walled compound by the end of the year!
WARNING - This list does not cover how to survive robot uprisings nor alien invaders.
Guide author's note: "This list is not intended to be a list of post-apocalyptic novels. Instead, it is a list of books demonstrating the struggle of surviving the apocalypse, decline of civilization, or the dark-age that follows."
Also check out part 2 of my list (http://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/syltguides/fullview/RSA7XWLR4IK39/ref=cm_pdp_sylt_title_1 or click on my name or photo in the top right corner, then select “Guides”).
To get you started, try: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War Rough Synopsis: Plague sweeps the globe turning anyone infected into a zombie. Pros: Written in first person narratives by actual survivors, you get a compelling and fresh perspective. Characterization is amazing, yet it still manages to pack nail-biting suspense and terror. While the book is about zombies, it is also about the de-humanization of a populace during war, the requisite loss of personal freedoms resulting from terrorism, and how a nation (and individuals) responds during wide-spread plague (regardless if it is zombie-plague or the Swine Flu). You get a perspective from every socio-economic class, background, and country. Cons: Hard pressed to find any. Survival Fun Fact: Ammunition - you can never have enough. Think your need 1,000 rounds - quadruple it!
Dies the Fire: A Novel of the Change Rough Synopsis: The laws of physics suddenly change and combustion no longer occurs. Goodbye engines, gunpowder, electricity. Hello dark ages, evil warlords, cannibals, and feudalism! Pros: Epic! We are talking "Lord of the Rings" epic! Well developed characters, war and battle scenes, intrigue & politics, and how to survive in the wilderness. Cons: As the series continues beyond this book, things get a little wacky. While I can "suspend disbelief" that physics just changed (without explanation as to how/why), the author throws in the occasional dash of psychic powers and magic. Could have done without.
The City, Not Long After Rough Synopsis: Typical plague destroys a high percentage of the population. It is now a decade later, and a general/dictator is spreading his area of control to the San Fran bay area. The hippie survivors of the city need to resist or become feudal slaves. Pros: The amazing battle tactics invented by the hippies, pacifists, and artists of the city. Cons: The city has a vital life force, almost like a soul, that helps win the battle. Tacky. Survival Fun Fact: A bunch of angry wasps inside a mason jar makes a great post-modern hand-grenade!
Year Zero Synopsis: A plague that was (literally) captured in the bottle since the time of Christ is released upon the world. Humans lack an immunity to it, and it quickly sweeps the globe. A group of survivors in the US searches for survivors and a cure. Pros: Rich storytelling, character-driven plot, and plot twists-and-turns you don’t see coming. The setting and grand vistas the characters pass through are so deftly well described, the reader feels as if they are there with the characters. The setting becomes a tangible character. Masterfully done! Cons: It ended.
Eternity Road Synopsis: Several generations "after", the novel tells the cross-country story of a group looking for the lost city of "Haven", where the legacy and knowledge of the civilization of "road builders" is stored. Pros: Always leaves the next clue dangling just out of your grasp. The reader is never sure what is around the next corner. Cons: None - this author can do no wrong.
Earth Abides Rough Synopsis: The main character wakes in his cabin in rural area, only to find most of mankind has been wiped out by a flu. The story, told across several decades, covers the narrator's quest to build a community in a de-populated California. Pros: Loved the twist of telling the story in major jumps across time. You get to see the author's vision of how life will be not just in 1 or 2 years post "the end", but 20, 40, 60 years. Cons: Book feels a little dated. The "man and his dog" cliché is trite to today's reader, but was likely fresh when written. Survival Fun Fact: Can Opener - the "Last Man on Earth's" ultimate survival tool. Carry a spare.
Dust Synopsis: The worldwide food web begins to unravel as one species dies out or undergoes a population explosion. In a matter of months, nature's equilibrium escalates out of control. Pros: Loved the "hard science" aspect of the story. The plot spans the globe and interconnects well. Cons: Would have loved to have had the author show us the world again another 100, 1000, and 10,000 years after the collapse. Survival Fun Fact: Animals timid and shy can turn savagely predatory if their natural food source disappears. Keep vigil!
Alas, Babylon Synopsis: A classic story - nuclear exchange between us and them, a small town is caught in a pocket of land not affected by fall-out, and a realistic portrayal of how the locals must survive with dwindling food, no information of the outside world, and a collapsing governmental structure. Pros: The story fits its shell well. The author limited his story scope to the small town and its inhabitants. Not straying from that confine, he allowed his story to fully flesh out the drama of the community. Cons: To the modern reader who did not go through the cold war of the 50's, the book is appears clichéd. Survival Fun Fact: Salt - an essential trade good and meat preservative!
One Second After Synopsis: 3 EMPs take out all computers, telephones, radios, and electrical systems from southern Canada to northern Mexico. Lacking transportation or communication, a rural town most pull together to defend itself form marauders. Pros: I love the exploration of social compacts and pressures during the fall of civilization. Cons: The title is "One Second After" (homage to the classic nuclear war move "The Day After"), and I was really ticked the book did not start one second after the attack. Perhaps I am just being petty. Survival Fun Fact: Prepare for waves of folks to die simply from medical complications no longer supported by modern medicine and medications.
I Am Legend Synopsis: The world has ended and the populace has turned into . . . vampires. No really - it’s true. The lone survivor on Manhattan barricades himself in after dark. Pros: Fun, light and unique. Fortunately, it is nothing like the movie. Cons: The movie.
Swan Song Synopsis: A nuclear exchange between the US and Russia destroys most of mankind and US cities. The story shows how groups of individuals come together (some good and some evil), all drawn to one location by the end of the book, by fate or a psychic connection. Included among the survivors is the incarnation of evil. Pros: Good story telling, but wait a minute – isn’t this the plot for “The Stand”, except for nuclear war instead of plague? Both are around the same number of pages, and both have the same general plot. Frankly, I kinda like Swan Song better. Cons: The first half of the book is a tad slow. Since it is the same length of “The Stand”, this equates to several hundred pages. The latter half if a complete “page turner”!
Down to a Sunless Sea Synopsis: Nuclear holocaust occurs while crossing the Atlantic on a jumbo jet. Where will you land? Who will take you in? Which is better . . . crash the plane into the side of a mountain for a quick death, or land and die slowly of starvation or radiation? Pros: Great dialogue with believable characters. Great premise. Cons: The book deals with that dilemma of surviving the trip and landing somewhere. Would love to have had a longer book with the what happens next.
Emergence Synopsis: Be prepared to suspend disbelief, then get ready for a great story. A young woman finds herself watching the exchange of bio-weapons between the superpowers from the comfort of her scientist father's fall-out shelter. The story is written as journal entries from the brilliant, martial-arts trained genius. And she has a parrot, also a genius. No, really. It sounds contrived, but it all really works. She makes her way across the U.S., looking for other survivors. And did I mention she is also the next-step in human evolution. No, really. Others like her are out there, and she hopes to find them. Please, don't let how crazy this sounds preclude you from purchasing this novel. It really is wonderful. Pros: Light and fun where others on this list are pessimistic, brutal, and dark. Cons: Don't let the author's technique of attempting to make the narrative be "journal-esque" by leaving out unnecessary words stop you from getting beyond page 2. Trust me, get beyond the first 20 pages and you won't notice it.
Riddley Walker, Expanded Edition Synopsis: Glimpses of the past come to the reader through the garbled recollection of history, and ever more garbled degradation of the English language, in this often frustrating but equally brilliant story. Pros: Riveting story telling. Cons: Reading the phonetic language narrated in first-person by the title character is often maddening. Do yourself a favor; get the "Expanded" version with the dictionary. Survival Fun Fact: Dogs are mean and scavengers. They make for excellent travelling companions through the wilds. Just make sure you don't become lunch.
The Last Centurion Synopsis: Temperatures dropping, oil dwindling, and the economy in collapse. The book speaks to the social impacts for the first third, and the last 20%. The other half, sandwiched by a "commentative" start and conclusion, is the arresting story of a group of soldiers left behind in the Middle East. Pros: Where other books vaguely reference the web of agriculture, labor, transportation and weather, this books brings the interactions of these elements to light. Broad strokes are followed by intimate details. Cons: The narrator (and author?) voices his clear opinions of different groups. He is not a fan of "tree huggers", democrats, or homosexuals. While he usually provides a rational for his views, at times the inclusions of negative commentary is jarring and brought me out of story. Survival Fun Fact: There is no such thing as too much ammo – only too much ammo to carry!
A Gift Upon the Shore Synopsis: Soaring food costs and briskly depleting gasoline supplies brings about the deconstruction of society. 2 women scrape to survive on the coast of California amongst religious zealots, marauding bands of thugs, and dwindling supplies and prospects. Pros: Well-written characters and dialogue create a great story. Cons: It bogged down at times with lengthy description.
On the Beach Synopsis: The obvious refuge post-nuclear exchange is Australia. The remnant of the U.S. fleet has taken safe-harbor down under in this simple character-driven novel. While the book was written in the 50's, and the characters clearly emulate that simpler era, the ideas, fears, and concerns have not changed. Pros: As signs and news of the fall-out approaches the island across a span of months, the reader is forced to reflect upon how they would respond to the slow, yet inexorably approaching end. Cons: (SPOILER ALERT) How do you bring about a happy ending when the entire book is about, "Hey, we're gonna all be dead in 2 months from the radiation, and there is nothing you can do about it"? Well . . . you don't. Survival Fun Fact: The end of the world is the perfect time to pick-up bad habits. Drink, smoke, and sleep-around . . . the end is really nigh.
Triumph (Beyond Armageddon) Synopsis: Minutes after the Russian atomic attack upon the US, a group of 14 find themselves whisked into the fabulous fall-out shelter beneath a Connecticut estate. The northern hemisphere is destroyed by WWIII and our survivors can do nothing but listen and watch the holocaust from their subterranean island of stone. I don’t think the author read the book “On the Beach”. If he had, he would have realized that radiation from the northern hemisphere would eventually reach the southern. Or maybe the author of “On the Beach” should have read this one . . . maybe the equator does create a magic Coriolis Effect keeping radiation from crossing to the other side. Pros: Dialogue handled masterfully. Cons: Written in 1963, the author makes way too many references to race. Okay, we get it, the survivors include a mixed bag of racial backgrounds. In an attempt to be egalitarian (for that period), the author appears overly fixated to the modern reader. Survival Fun Fact: For $200 million dollars, you can get a nice little fall-out shelter to keep you and your closest 14 friends safe from radiation for about 2 years. But with inflation, the amount might be a little more in today’s dollars.
The Road (Movie Tie-in Edition 2008 of the 2006 publication) Synopsis: Something bad has happened. Explosions, scorched Earth, the sky is dark, and ash rains down. A father and his young son wander the desolation looking for food and survival. The story is told as a running narrative, which lends immediacy and embeds the reader. Terrifying, beautiful and brutal. Pros: Superbly written. Don't start on a work night . . . you will be up until 2 AM reading. Cons: It is a little short. Don't expect a magnum opus. Survival Fun Fact: If you are using a shopping cart to haul your meager survival possessions around, put a rear-view mirror on it to help warn you of approaching hazards from the rear.
World Made by Hand: A Novel Synopsis: Oil supplies dwindle - transportation declines - communities become islands, and man must change the way he lives. Well-written and plausible, see how community changes and evolves. Pros: Realistic and gritty. Strong narrative, character development, and action-driven plot. Cons: It feels a little short. The author clearly has a lot to say on the topic, would have liked to see more of the transition from global to local. Survival Fun Fact: Want to ensure a place in the community after it all falls apart and then comes back together? Become a moonshiner!
The Scarlet Plague Synopsis: The last member of the generation that survived the civilization-ending pandemic recounts the story to his descendents on the beach. Flashbacks are intermingled with narrative between the current generation, providing context to what the world has become. Pros: Depth and detail, we get a brief glimpse into the days when the plague burnt through the populace. Cons: The book is short. I mean really short. Couldn't even call it a novella. It feels like the opening chapter of a longer book. Wish this was the teaser that brings us into a novel about the world today. Not a bad story, just realize what you are getting.
Cell: A Novel Synopsis: A pulse sent worldwide to all cell phones turns much of the world population into homicidal savages. As the savages begin to form a hive mind, the main characters struggle for food, shelter and their survival. Pros: A new twist on a genre that can be overly formulaic. Cons: While the premise is pretty strong, it lacks the 3 dimensionality I was hoping for (and come to expect) from Mr. King. Background and characterization just aren't on par with his other work.
Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse Synopsis: The global financial infrastructure is collapsing and the US is leading the downward spiral. A group of folks anticipate the end and begin to prepare for the hard days ahead. Pros: A virtual "how-to" manual for folks who want to prepare for the end of the world. A reference book on what to do, purchase, and build. It also throws in numerous references to books you gotta have to prepare yourself, your home, and your family. Cons: Mr. Wesley Rawley is just not that good of a writer. He should have "co-written" this with someone else. He did a masterful job of putting the plot and technical info together. His storytelling is just a bit forced, which is too bad, as the book could have been on par with "Dies the Fire" or "Clan of the Cave Bear" series - i.e. well researched epics. Also, could have done without the frequent reference to the "Christian way of life". I get it, James - You are a devout Christian and think others should be too. You may have turned off part of your audience with heavy-handed references, though I doubt you care. Survival Fun Fact: Traveling is for the desperate - dig in to a fortified location with closely trusted friends. If you must travel, stay off the roads - they are for suckers looking to be looted, enslaved or dinner.
Into the Forest: A Novel Synopsis: The slow fading of civilization occurs in increments so small across several years, that the main characters, a family living miles out from a rural community, barely notice the changes. One by one, the trappings of modern era dwindle, slowly pushing the family back in time to exist as they would have in the 1800's. Pros: Unlike other books in the genre, the story is softer, as presented by an 18-year-old young-woman. The first person narrative makes the events much more immediate than traditional 3rd person omniscient. The narrator's responses and emotions become the reader's. Very well wrought. Cons: Would have liked more details about the greater impact of "the end". But, to my own point, if the book is about "the end" of the small world the rural home-schooled narrator exists in, the impact on the world as a whole is regardless. Survival Fun Fact: Acorns - the ultimate forest survival food. Forage and feed the whole family!
Wolf And Iron Synopsis: After the collapse of worldwide financial and transportation markets, the U.S. has devolved into wondering peddlers, loners, and press-gangs, amongst the isolated farms and rural communities of the midwest. A man and his . . . wolf traverse the plains states in an attempt to reach his brother's ranch. Pros: Author has done extensive research on wolves, guns, and survival skills. Provides a realistic portrayal of what it would take to survive his setting. Cons: Could really have done without the romance at the end. Granted man must repopulate the Earth, it just became a bit much for me. Survival Fun Fact: When in a knife fight, aim low and upward, hoping to get your knife in under the rib cage and up into the chest cavity and heart or lungs.
Some Will Not Die Synopsis: Would you believe a virus wiped out 90% of the Earth's population in a few short days? Surprisingly, from the anarchy that follows, one man struggles to survive and put civilization back together. Ok - give the author a break, it was written in 1954! Pros: The author's writing skill blows you away, page after page. In the midst of horrible situations, the sentences are beguiling and alluring. Cons: My edition was from 1961. With no back blurb, I only had the cover and title to judge. The 50's-esque pulp quality illustration was a little off-putting. Glad my caution was overcome. Survival Fun Fact: Turned cannibal but having a hard time making new friends? Put out a sign advertising your free "medical care". While the neighbors might not fall for it, strangers and dinner will come to you!
False Dawn Synopsis: Several bad things have happened: mutated virus, decreased fertility, increase mutations, species distinction, acid rain, and out-of-control pollution. It happens. A lone man and woman attempt to escape from the bad guys with few resources and dismal prospect for survival Pros: Gritty and fast paced with great characterization and dialogue. Cons: It reads like the middle of a much longer book. Where is the background and the conclusion? Survival Fun Facts: If you are set upon by a pack of wild dogs, take out the leader - this may make the rest turn and run. This may also work well for a group of marauding humans.
The Last Ship Synopsis: The story of the officers and crew on a U.S. nuclear destroyer after (and during - via flashbacks) the nuclear war. Where will you go that is safe from radiation? How will you rebuild society with only 300 individuals, of which 10% are women? What will that society look like, and how will you justify it as (possibly) one of the last outposts of the American Way. Pros: While this mammoth books is a great story, the prose is amazing. Shakespearean, poetic, and epic. When the narrator (the captain) waxes on some inspirational topic, sentence length can hit 150 to 200+ words. I counted. Well written, one does not notice . . . simply enticed. Cons: The author does love to go on . . . and on . . . and on. About the sea. About the sky. About duty and seamen and life at sea. While there is plenty of stuff going on, this is not an action packed book. Survival Fun Fact: Forget all the other tips. If you want to survive, make sure you have a 500-foot nuclear powered U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer. With her crew of 300, you can easily set yourself up as savior and warlord in some tropical location. If anyone has a spare they could lend me, and the end does come, I'm pretty sure the locals of the Society Islands will be getting a visit.
Warday and the Journey Onwards Synopsis: A limited nuclear attack upon the U.S., combined with a complete blanketing of EMPs, has brought the our nation to a 2nd world status. No longer a super power, we must accept foreign aid and ignore the annexing of the southwest by Mexico. The authors narrate a journal as themselves on their hypothetical journey across America. Chapters are either first person journal entries or transcripts of individuals they interview. Through the narrative of the Journey, we piece together the events of the "war day", as well as the current conditions, 5-years post. Pros: Nice concept. Inclusions of "official government documents", census data, etc. helps bolster the narrative. Cons: Unlike the exquisite World War Z (which really has little to do with zombies and much more to do with political commentary and the consequences of war/terrorism/plague), no real suspense is built. While a great book, it certainly is not a gripping page-turner. Survival Fun Fact: Don't wait for the bombs to fall before you start thinking about your personal radiation exposure. Be prepared by building one of the Kearney Fallout Meters described in the book. Directions or kits can be found on the web. It's fun, easy, and a great way to impress your neighbors as the radiation clouds sweep by overhead.
Last Light Synopsis: Terrorist attacks on oil refineries and pipelines worldwide, combined with civil wars breaking out across the Middle East, leads to an artificially created “Peak Oil” scenario, where the available supply of oil is far exceeded by the worldwide demand for oil. The novel centers on one family and their struggle to unite/survive, across 7 days of quickly disintegrating civilized social structure. Pros: I was greatly intrigued by this new twist for the collapse of civilization. Cons: Far from an epic, the novel is mostly dialogue and action scenes. It reads like a novel-based-upon-a-movie. Not bad, but ultimately fluff.
Life As We Knew It: Life As We Knew It Series, Book 1 Synopsis: A meteor strikes the moon, knocking it into stable but lower orbit. Tsunamis destroy coastal cities, oil platforms, and the shipping industry, while the increased tidal forces cause volcanoes to erupt worldwide, spilling soot and blocking the sun. A mother and her children in a small mid-west town pull together as their suburban life falls apart. Pros: Realistic in terms of the problems one would actually face, this young-adult novel (written from the perspective of the high-school daughter) is probably a little dark for those in their early teens, but not meaty for the adult reader. The story is interesting - realistic without getting into the gritty details provided by other books in the genre. A light snack, rather than a heavy meal – enjoyed it none-the-less. Cons: The book was intended for the YA audience. This feels especially true in the beginning third of the novel. By the time events start getting bad, the intensity of the story makes up for the intentional simplicity of the prose. Survival Fun Fact: Chop wood. When you think you have enough, chop some more. Hoard your wood. Chop and hoard. How long is winter? How cold is winter? Do I need to say it again? Chop, hoard, and repeat.
The Aftermath: A Novel of Survival Synopsis: A meteor strikes off the coast of Washington State, destroying the majority of the Earth except for a small “safe zone” on the opposite side of the globe, enclosing a sliver of Madagascar and South Africa. A cruise ship full of engineers (civil, mechanical, electrical, etc.) attending a sea-going convention of engineering fun are also saved within the safe zone. The 1,200 ship passengers and 12,000 Africans combine to rebuild the old world. Pros: A great concept. Cons: Execution of the concept. If you enjoy reading bureaucratic meeting minutes, please pick up this book. Wallow in lengthy debates and discussions by the “Planning Committee”. Not even an occasional rampaging pirate queen pepped this thing up. I appreciate all the research that went into the book, as well as the necessity of careful planning required to move from the stone age to the modern age in 100 years time, but the author could have taken some writing tips from Jean Auel. Survival Fun Fact: (SPOILER ALERT) If your cruise ship is the only remaining vestige of modern technology, you may want to keep it away from reefs or unfamiliar coastlines. Apparently, they sink pretty thoroughly.
Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse: A Novel Synopsis: 9 years after taking refuge in a mountain top cabin, and 8 years after the collapse of transportation, trade and civility, the main character comes down the mountain to find . . . go-go girls. The U.S. is back to a Wild West society with the only signs of stability being the combination nudie bar, trading post, hotel, bank known as "Joey Armageddon’s Sassy-A-Go-Go". It just gets crazier from there. Naturally, adventures ensue. Pros: Funny, fast passed, and unexpected. The anti-post-apoc novel. Cons: Man, I wish this thing had gone on longer - it is a wild and crazy ride. The end became a little predictable. I did greatly enjoy the dénouement - a nice close, even if the climax was less climactic then the prior narrative. Survival Fun Fact: The ultimate vehicle for the post-apoc survivor: the Prius. Dump your Hemi and Diesel Triton Quad-Cab 4x4. Think lightweight, fuel efficient, and battery/gasoline hybrid. Nearly silent, these suckers travel forever on very little gas.
The World Ends in Hickory Hollow Synopsis: A limited nuclear strike occurs, but goes unnoticed by a farming family living in northern Texas. The small family slowly evolves into a communal village as their sparsely populated area bands together to care for orphans, fight of the back-woods crazies, and provide mutual support. Pros: Written by a female author, from the farm-wife’s perspective, the light touch of a woman is a nice change from the male-centric books that usually make up this genre. Cons: The author and narrator have a clear case of the “nostalgias” during the early chapters. Survival Fun Fact: As noted earlier, moonshining is a great way to support yourself after TEOTWASKI. With a few simple modifications, your car, generator, rotatiller, and chainsaw can be made to run on the stuff, as well. Check the web (esp. www.survivalblog.com) for info.
Day by Day Armageddon Synopsis: Written as journal entries by a naval officer, the novel tells the story of the zombie plague spreading worldwide, and his attempts to find or build a safe refuge. Pros: Tight, well detailed, and a page-turner. Unpredictable plot lines built upon a well-established genre-wide them of security and resource acquisition. Cons: The book could be (lengthy) chapter excerpted from “World War Z” - while well written and gripping, it does not cover any new ground. Survival Fun Fact: Radiation kills the little crawlies that breakdown rotting corpses. Beware radioactive zombies – they hold up longer and stronger than their non-irradiated cousins.
Long Voyage Back Synopsis: A wealthy NY businessman escapes from Chesapeake Bay on his trimaran yacht with his son, hired captain, and scattered survivors of the nuclear attack on DC and the east coast. The group tries to sail to safety amid nuclear fallout, vanishing foodstuffs/potable water, and the breakdown of society. Pros: Interesting twist on a well-explored genre. Cons: After a couple of hundred pages of the characters wandering from place to place, the end felt like, “and then they found themselves here and it was okay, so they stopped wandering.” Just didn’t have the same power as the rest of the book. Survival Fun Fact: Fishing gear is a must. Wherever you are when the end comes (and you know it is!), have plenty of fishing gear with you.
LIST IS FULL – CONTINUED . . . on Part 2 of my list (click on my name or photo in the top right corner, then select “Guides”).