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."
The Stand: Expanded Edition: For the First Time Complete and Uncut (Signet) Synopsis: A military-created plague accidentally is released and quickly wipes out most of the US population. Only small number of individuals have natural immunity. Groups slowly converge, some for good, some for evil – drawn together by a psychic call to the mid-west. Pros: It’s King – you know there will be complex 3-dimensional characters and superlative dialogue/prose. Cons: I am going to commit heresy: I just couldn’t get my head wrapped around the need for psychic links and a showdown between the incarnation of good and evil. Just give me a plague thriller and be done with it. Also, the book is just too long. I will probably be locked up for saying that. I purchased the “expanded and uncut” version, and it went on and on and on. And on. 1200 pages on.
Island in the Sea of Time Synopsis: The island of Nantucket is thrown back in time and the islanders must suddenly become self-sufficient and battle starvation, cold, and the collapse of their isolated society. Pros: Well thought out and researched. Characters respond reasonably to the situation, with actions and motivations consistent to the crisis. Cons: No explanation for the shift in time. Survival Fun Fact: Seeds, man. You gotta have seeds for food, if you want to survive more than a few months. Most of our vegetables are patented hybrids, designed not to produce more plants. After one year, your corn, tomatoes, and zucchini plants will be dead and you will have no ability to grow more, unless you stockpile non-hybrid (open pollinated) heirloom seeds. Check www.arkinstitute.com for resources.
Plague of the Dead: The Morningstar Strain Synopsis: From Africa, a new plague hits the human population causing the infected to become savagely aggressive, compelled to attack any warm-blooded creature and pass on the virus. When an infected is killed, the virus causes them to quickly rise and continue their quest to spread the contagion. Pros: Since reading World War Z, I have become jaded. Every other zombie apocalypse pales for me. That said, this book was one of the better I have read in this sub-genre. Well written characters, with a world-spanning and unique plot that is tight and consistent. Cons: The one plot issue I have is the motive of the NSA agents. If the world is ending what is the purpose of the sub-plot actions they take - counter to their own survival, the government’s survival, or the US’s? It just made no sense to me. Oh, and a cliffhanger ending. At least the author was prompt it putting out a sequel. Survival Fun Fact: Stuck in a tiny middle-America town overrun by zombies and you don’t know what to do? Take refuge at the local cinema. Not the big glass-front megaplex out by the highway – try the old brick and mortar dollar theatre on Main Street. Solid construction, no windows, and only the two small front doors to barricade – other exits are all metal fire doors locked from the inside and adequate for holding off the zombie hoards. Plus the place already comes stocked with high-cal food and beverages!
The Folk of the Fringe Synopsis: A loose collection of novellas chronicling the stories of Mormons struggling to rebuild their own civilization amidst the chaos of that follows WWIII. Each story deftly sets up the next, fleshing out new civilization of the Mormons and the society of the great inland sea. Pros: Character driven stories. Cons: I wish these were novellas supporting a larger series of novels.
Out of the Ashes (Ashes Series #1) Synopsis: A plot to pit the Russians against the Chinese in a nuclear slugfest partially backfires, leaving the US open for multiple hits by clean nuclear and biological warheads. The main character, a former Vietnam vet and mercenary turned writer, decides to travel the US in order to chronicle the fall and rebuilding of the nation. Plot and necessity changes that plan quickly. Pros: A very different style than the rest of the books on this list. The main character is a real “man’s man”. He swears, fornicates, shoots fast, and survives. By the end, the author clearly spells out his view of peaceful law and order society we could have - by the people and for the people. I can imagine my grandfather would have liked this book. You can almost see the white cowboy hat in the scenes where the main character takes out the bad guys threatening to further destroy what remains of the nation. Note that this is the first in a 35 (!!!) book series. At 450-500 pages each, that is a lot of story. Cons: The author repeatedly uses the phrase “Out of the ashes” in dialogue and narration. It’s the title – I get it. Eventually this felt like a college drinking game – “Everybody do a shot when the author uses the title!”
The Postman Synopsis: The Doomwar was a haphazard on and off war that sprinkled EMPs, nuclear and biological attacks across the globe. 18 years later, a wandering troubadour finds a Postal Carrier’s uniform, leather jacket and hat. What starts out as an acquisition for warmth and survival becomes a con game, before eventually transforming the individual, and the remnants of civilization, into a symbol for rebuilding and rebirth of the nation. Pros: Unexpected and complex characters. The protagonists is multi-dimensional and not your traditional hero. Even minor characters are fleshed out and intriguing. Storyline is believable, fast paced, and tight. Cons: The movie. I was very reluctant to buy the book. Once purchased, it sat. Imagine my surprise when it held little resemblance to the movie. Kevin had to go and Costnerize the story, changing the main character into some sort of archetypal myth figure.
The Compound Synopsis: Another eccentric billionaire with another amazing underground shelter. He, his wife, and 3 of their 4 children take refuge during the first minutes of a nuclear exchange. 9 years later and still underground, things are all that they appear. Pros: Well written characters. Cons: Though this is YA fiction, once the story gets going it will pull in the adult reader. That said, I think the father’s motivation is woefully thin for both the intended audience and the more sophisticated reader.
Dying to Live: A Novel of Life Among the Undead Synopsis: A lone survivor is taken in by a community of humans living in a protected compound, a year after the zombie outbreak. Unfortunately, other survivors pose a more sinister threat than the shambling dead. Pros: While short, the story packs a powerful, almost more humane punch, compared to its peers. Cons: Short, but a sequel is available. Survival Fun Fact: If you are up against the slow and lurching zombies, your biggest concern is not getting cornered. Walk briskly, keep your eyes open, and make sure you always have an extra escape path.
The Dead and the Gone (The Last Survivors, Book 2) Synopsis: The moon has been struck by an asteroid and shifted to a lower orbit. Tides, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes have resulted in food shortages, power outages, plague, and mayhem. A teenage boy must care for himself and 2 sisters in an increasingly desperate New York City, until the can be reunited with their parents. Pros: While technically a sequel to “Life as We Knew It”, this book has nothing to do with the characters from that novel, only the situation they found themselves in. A good premise with some interesting depth added to the characters via their cultural views as adolescent Latino Catholics. Cons: While another YA novel, I was surprised by how unrealistically NY was portrayed in this situation. Let’s look to New Orleans for an example of what would likely happen. Survival Fun Fact: As things continue to deteriorate in an urban center, an amazing new season is discovered. “Jumper weather”. In the fall, leaves gently tumble to the ground, in the winter, it’s snowflakes. During the collapse of mankind, it is the desolate and despondent. On the brighter side, these folks are like manna from the sky. Shoes, clothes, and maybe some gold, could be yours for barter and profit. Better bring an umbrella!
The Fox Run (Endworld) Synopsis: The first novel in a 27 book series starts out 100 years after a nuclear attack on the US. An isolated group that took refuge in northern Minnesota ventures out for the first time since prior to building their walled sanctuary prior to the war. Times are tough and lawless armed gangs dominate the countryside. Pros: Fast paced action with a nice premise. Cons: The writing is a little juvenile.
Snowfall (The Snowfall Trilogy, Book 1) Synopsis: The ice has crept forward to cover the northern U.S., and Americans have again become bands of hunters and gatherers. Pushed out of their northern snow-covered tundra, one band must attempt to find a new home, a new way of life and group identity, in the forests and plains of the south. Pros: Well developed characters and full of excellent narrative. Jean Auel-esque at points. Cons: The pacing of the book, and the richness of the description, begs the book to be longer in length and all the little details immaculately spelled out. Kept wishing it were a magnum opus. Fortunately, it is the first of a trilogy.
Genesis Synopsis: An island nation is forced to take extreme measures to isolate themselves in the midst of a globe-spanning plague. Pros: The end of the novel has a great twist. Unfortunately, the description of the book on Amazon gives it away. Cons: It is only a novella. Survival Fun Fact: Need to keep the hoards at bay? Just surround your island with a 30-meter high chain-link fence backed by lasers, machine gun, and mine buoys.
The Passage: A Novel Synopsis: A government experiment to increase human longevity and healing goes terribly wrong. In a “The Stand”-like moment, it is released upon the general populace. Nearly extinct, 100 years later, humans are still struggling against the outbreak. Pros: Despite the clichéd synopsis, the ideas are fresh and the book is a page-turner. First of a trilogy. Cons: The book is really 2 different books. The first 40% is the collapse; the last 60% is events 92 years later. I like the first 40% so much, as well as the dynamic characters; I kinda felt betrayed when they were all taken away from me.
One Synopsis: In Part I, a not-fully-explained celestial event scorches earth and sky, with caustic rain to add to the fun. Only deeply sheltered humans survived the initial cataclysm and must attempt to eek out a new existence. Part II flashes forward 10 years to depict a stabilized level borderline survival with a new deadly menace to take-on. Pros: The characters are defined and interesting, and set against a UK backdrop that is well depicted and not a simple afterthought by the author. Cons: Do we really need monsters? Perhaps I am a post-apoc purest. Wouldn’t survival in a near-sunless world with acid rain have been enough? Survival Fun Fact: No flint, steel, matches or lighter . . . and you don’t have the time or energy to start a fire with friction? Pop into your local pharmacy for some potassium permanganate and glycerin. Mix a few drops of each and 10 seconds later you get BIG FIRE. BONUS Survival Fun Fact: As the world collapses, isolated individual will need to keep in contact. Obtain a few simple supplies and you can build a crystal radio requiring no batteries or electricity.
Empire (Zombie Novels) Synopsis: A hundred years after a zombie pandemic, a few survivors are left in the small town where it all began. Rounding out the cast is a mad scientist, a rock band and entourage, the local police, a squad of Army commandos, and . . . the Grim Reaper. Apparently Death is getting tired of the undead putting him out of work. Pros: A great new spin on the zombie post-apoc novel! Unexpected from beginning to end. Cons: Short.
Far North: A Novel Synopsis: The story tells of the lone survivor one-generation post-apoc, the only remnant on a Quaker community that settled in the “Far North” to avoid the chaos of the end. Pros: Superlative. The story of the present and past are both slowly revealed like curtains being drawn away from the reader’s eyes. The pacing and narration turn a fairly slow story into a page-turner. I can’t say much about the plot without spoiling the affect. Cons: While I liked how each part of the main characters life is told in a chapter or two, the tumultuous and surprising twists and endings occasionally seemed implausible. Perhaps I just wanted a happy ending to spring from desolation. Survival Fun Fact: Out of ammo but you are hungry for meat (and assuming you are not zombie) . . . caribou (and reindeer) like to eat urine soaked snow for the salt and mineral content. Look it up! Now if you could just find some caribou . . . BONUS Survival Fun Fact: Maybe that first one wasn’t very practical. The book is full of many, so how about: In times of plenty, living on a main road brings in all that money can buy. In times of uncertainty and anarchy, it brings in looters, slavers, and hoodlums. Perhaps you may want to build your house of stone OFF the beaten path?
The long winter Synopsis: Solar output is down, resulting in the advent of the next ice age. 2 London upper-class couples find themselves at emotional and apocalyptic crossroads. Tossed upon the shores of an uncaring African nation, they struggle in a world alien and beleaguered. Pros: The beautiful despair and degradation of this riches to rags fable following Londoners fleeing to the slums of Nigeria. Cons: The book was not what I expected. My review represents what to expect – the blurb on the back of the jacket sets up a very different story. At page 70 I was wondering why I was reading this thing. By 90 I was about to toss it out. By 120 I couldn’t put it down. Remember, the book was written in 1962 for a much different audience than the post-apoc audience of today. Survival Fun Fact: When our fragile world tilts beyond equilibrium, you will find that currency is waste paper and credit as a funny story to tell the grandchildren about. Gold, gems, and guns will be the currency of the day . . . stock up.
The Unit Synopsis: An EMP from a limited nuclear strike strands a suburban family in unfamiliar and dangerous territory. A stereotypical ex-marine dad, mother-bear mom, pacifist/vegetarian daughter, and a struggling-to-become-a-man son round out the cast of heroes. Pros: A good page-turner. Short, not too heavy, and doesn’t require a lot of thinking. A good afternoon’s distraction. Cons: It’s almost as if the author learned how to write well halfway through the book. Too bad he didn’t go back to the beginning and rework what was already written. The characters don’t really become 3-dimensional until well past the halfway point. And the cover art is enough to make you think twice about buying it. Survival Fun Fact: Don’t disparage a good sling-shot. You won’t be hunting squirrels or house cats with a 9mm! A slingshot doesn’t run out of ammo and it doesn’t make any noise.
First You Fight Synopsis: A former special-ops, now wandering mercenary, wanders into a small town amidst the desolate landscape of post-nuclear WWWIII. He finds himself squeezed between the remnants of the National Guard, city police, and war-lord-wannabe. Our hero in camo has to clean up this town and return truth and justice to the streets. Pros: Surprisingly well written and the characters are more 3-dimensional than I expected. Cons: The cover is pathetic. The clichés pop up in a manner that is cringe-worthy, rather than ironic. Does the protagonist really have to have infrequent empathic powers? Really? Survival Fun Fact: An off-road conversion van could be your best choice for post-apoc. Make it into a mobile fortress and wander the bad-lands in style!
The Pesthouse (Vintage) Synopsis: Ignore the title – a minor plot point with little impact on the story. Moving on . . . A governmental over-reaction leads to a slide away from engines and the abuse of nature. The slide ends with the return of illiteracy, bartering, unchecked pestilence, and all the fun pre-industrial societies bring us! Europe is the new “land of opportunity”. An ill-prepared couple attempt to cross the hazardous wilds of the east to reach the coast and a chance to cross the Atlantic. Pros: The premise makes us review current politics and evaluate some of the reactionary decrees our own government puts out. Cons: Plot was a little thin. Most of what we discover about the world is through dialogue – I wish the book were denser and richer. Survival Fun Fact: Don’t forget the power of religious fanaticism. In the post-apoc world you will need a powerbase to survive and rebuild. Base your community on holy writ, blind faith, and repentant followers to carve out your own little slice of heaven among the ashes!
Empty World Synopsis: A worldwide plague decimates the population, leaving only a few scattered children and teens. The protagonist makes his was to London, hoping for better chances of finding others. Pros: Solid narration, dialogue, and plot for the YA crowd. Cons: Not very inspired. Covers no new ground – no surprises or twists. Survival Fun Fact: Scavenging among the ruins is all about balancing priorities: weight, need, and seclusion. Plan your forays accordingly.
Last Light (Restoration Series #1) Synopsis: EMP meets a nice suburban family of 4. It's the end of mankind in the burbs! Pros: Probably the first post-apoc novel I have read on the dissolving of the cul-de-sac societal compact. Cons: Stereotypical characters and flat dialogue. I initially assumed it was a YA novel, but discovered it was written for the Christian crowd. I assume they don't actually have the same mentality level, so why did the author insult the reader's intelligence level? In the end, it was no more "preachy" then other offerings on the list, which I did like.
The Rage Plague Synopsis: Several days after the outbreak of a plague that turns the populace of the world to mindless killers, a group of immune survivors escapes their rooftop sanctuary in an attempt to find security and resources for the long haul. Pros: Uhhmmm. . . it was short? Cons: While the movie “28 Days” broke new ground, and the book “Hater” continued that trend with the additional twist of getting in the mind of the “rage plague” victim, this book turns over no new stones or brings anything fresh. See the movie or read the other book.
Solar Flare Synopsis: A massive series of solar flares bombard the Earth, destroying electronics and bringing reducing industrial nations to the level of 3rd world nations. Pros: Well-developed characters, interesting sub-plots, and patriotic as could be. I actually felt a swell of nationalism as I finished the book. Cons: A ssllloooww entry into the story. The first 170 pages of the 400 page novel is character development that could easily have occurred in 40 pages. I was just about to put it down, thinking it was going nowhere, when things finally coalesced. Imagine very dull foreplay suddenly bursting into rather fine coitus!
Z for Zachariah Synopsis: A lone girl survives in the isolated valley that once sheltered her speck of a community. After the plagues and population has faded, she is all that is left. Until, from over the crest, she sees the smoke of a single campfire. Insert dramatic music here. Pros: I read this is in my early teens and just picked it up again. Works well for the adult reader, thought written for YA. Tight and suspenseful. Cons: (SPOILER ALERT) While this was written for young adults, I think even they would find the encounter between young girl and the man from “outside” a little too polite. If you get my meaning. . .
Final Blackout Synopsis: Total war has devastated the world. 1 in 1,000 remain to eke out existence in the post-germ/nuclear/plague/pestilence inflicted world. A British Lieutenant and his remaining men scavenge for food, fight off the odd Russian or 2, and attempt to return to their home from the devastated European continent. Pros: An amazing story! Characterization, plot, pacing – everything worked. I could only wish it was 600 pages, rather than the taught 200. Cons: The author’s name. Not familiar with anything written by L. Ron Hubbard except “Dianetics” and “Battlefield Earth”, I was leery of purchasing. I will now pursue other works by him!
Slow Apocalypse Synopsis: A microbe designed to increase oil production actually solidifies un-refined oil. Once it mutates to become airborne, oil supplies world-wide are wiped out. A family and their suburban LA friends & neighbors must transition from the modern age to the pre-industrial Pros: Loved the concept for ending modern civilization. A refreshing twist in a genre that has not invented a new way to bring us to our knees lately. Cons: Many. Varley is one of my favorite authors, but shocked by the cliché-ridden plot and uninteresting characters. What happened to the man who wrote The Gaean Trilogy? Survival Fun Fact: With some schematics downloaded from the web and a little mechanical skill, you can convert a vehicle from burning gasoline, to running of the gas released from burning wood. Download your plans now, before the WWW is destroyed by and EMP!
Another Place to Die Synopsis: A global flu pandemic kills billions and turns every uninfected person into an island of their own, fearing contamination from strangers or loved ones. Pros: Interesting characters and well-paced. Cons: Printed by a small publisher, so the price was high for a book of only 250 pages. Survival Fun Fact: FISH! Who knew there was such an abundant supply of food just sitting waiting for the struggling post-apoc survivor to snatch up? And apparently those little suckers will even self-multiply. You may want to make sure there are some available near your apocalyptic shelter.
Plague (Contents S.) Synopsis: A school’s camping trip into the wilderness ends poorly when upon return the civilization the students discover disease, death and mayhem. Pros: For YA fiction, the characters were surprisingly mature and the narration works well for the adult crowd. Cons: Certainly not a tome or epic, the books is a nice filler for an afternoon.
The Last Town on Earth: A Novel Synopsis: Set amidst the last actual pandemic, the 1918 Spanish Flu, the story explores the lengths a small isolated lumber town will go to keep themselves cut off from the rest of the world. Hard choices are made. Pros: Historically accurate, this work of fiction hits home harder than a modern telling created whole cloth. Cons: (SPOILER ALERT) A few sub-plots feel disjointed and out of place? Foreign spies? Really? Survival Fun Fact: Nothing keeps you safer when it hits the fan than an isolated location with only 1 access point. If you can just keep your neighbors from killing you for your resources, you can keep the world at bay!
Robopocalypse: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries) Synopsis: The world’s first AI rebels against mankind . . . and why wouldn't it? Pros: Amazing characters! Each is deep and intriguing. The plot sucks you in immediately. Couldn’t put it down. Cons: I read the jacket and kept thinking “Terminator”. Resisted buying it for quite a while until a friend told me I “must pick it up!” Don’t let the premise throw you! Once critique was how short the story was. The book begged to be longer. The author glosses over long passages of time in a few sentences. I was begging for more. Some of the best characters only dipped in and out again.