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Best post-apocalyptic books you should read

Best post-apocalyptic books you should read

Best post-apocalyptic books you should read

We have been worried about the end of the world ever since we made up the word “world,”. And in the past twenty years or so, we’ve been really worried about it, based on how many post-apocalyptic books we’ve written. We’re stressed about war, viruses, natural global disasters, genetically modified humans, multiple flavors of zombies, and so on.

This list focuses on the best post-apocalyptic books, with a number of exceptions because those books were amazing and I felt like it.

The top 5 best post-apocalyptic books to read are:

  1. The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R. Carey
  2. The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
  3. The Metro series – Dmitry Glukhovsky
  4. ICE – Anna Kavan
  5. Watchmen – Alan Moore



The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R. Carey

I recently read The Girl With All the Gifts and it instantly became among my top three favorite novels. I loved it. Personally, it tops the best post-apocalyptic books list.

As always, I looked at many reviews for the books after reading it (it may be strange to some, but I *never* read reviews before buying a book/game/movie, only afterward), and I found a few, not many but a few referring to the book as a YA fiction.

And I absolutely don’t see that. It’s a brutal, Zombie-Fungi-infested apocalyptic setting with a surprising amount of scientific explanations. The setting is often compared to the game “The Last of Us”, a game certainly not for anyone under 18.

12 and 18-year-olds?

According to Wikipedia, Young Adult Fiction has been mostly aimed at 12 and 18-year-olds.

Yes, it has among others a 10-Year old as a protagonist. But that alone can’t make it a YAF, right? After all, books like “The Exorcist” or “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” also have children as main protagonists. Also the 10-Year old is Zombie-Fungus-Infected and literally eats people in the book alive.

So am I wrong? Am I missing something? Is this book really a YA Fiction? To be clear, it’s not that I mind having read a YA Fiction Novel, or it possibly being one, it’s just that based on the definitions of YA Fiction I read I cannot for the life of me see how this Book is one.

I don’t understand how then a book is a YAF just because one of the POVs is a child or teen, just as a book is not suddenly a children’s book just because one of the POVs is a child.

Some here said the only thing that classifies something as a YAF is the age of the POV character. But that a. is not the most common definition of the term Young Adult Fiction I read in many other places and b. it would conflict with what you wrote, a book not being a children’s book just because of a child as a Protagonist.

"The Girl With All The Gifts" - M.R. Carey

“The Girl With All The Gifts” – M.R. Carey

The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham

I’ve been reading a lot of John Wyndham books lately and am about halfway through all of them. The latest I’ve read is The Chrysalids (definitely recommended to anyone who likes books!), but before that, I had The Day of the Triffids, and because the message in Chrysalids is so crystal clear, I was wondering a bit about Triffids. I’m generally not good with themes, but I liked Triffids more than Chrysalids, so I wondered why.

Here’s my take on the message of the book: “Don’t put missiles, that blind anyone who sees them explode, into orbit! Be wary of untested new crops. And NEVER EVER underestimate plants. Underneath that calm, green, exterior they are unstoppable, ruthless, killing machines.”

No doubt it’s one of the best post-apocalyptic books.

In essence, I think it’s a cautionary tale of “life finds a way” that we as humans may not particularly like. I’ve thought it sort of a follow up to HG Wells’ “War of the Worlds” as it dealt with the dethronement of man & how it impacts the remaining social structures.

It teaches us that disasters can interact in unpredictable ways. The rhetorical “what’s the worst that could happen” usually doesn’t take into account two unrelated worst cases happening at the same time.

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To be fair to Wyndham it’s more like don’t trust anyone. In Web, the apocalypse spiders are created by British nuclear testing and IIRC The Trouble With Lichen is a fairly vicious satire of capitalist greed.
"The Day of the Triffids" - John Wyndham

“The Day of the Triffids” – John Wyndham



The Metro series – Dmitry Glukhovsky

I was really blown away by this series and Glukhovsky’s writing style. To be fair, I didn’t care much for Metro 2034, but 2033 and 35 were superb. I loved how in both books, Artyom was constantly lifted up and then shoved face down in the mud, losing everything, and then was picked back up again. Every time this happened was like a mini-adventure.

I loved how in the first book, the scariest thing was the Dark Ones, and everything was about the darkness, and the tunnels, and the monsters that lived in them. In all honesty, I loved how in the third book, the people have become the monsters and Artyom is relentlessly fighting for what he feels is right, but it seems like the whole Metro is against him. I felt full of hope in some moments, only to have it dashed a few pages later by the brutal reality around Artyom. There was so much about people and nature, and I thought it was brilliant. I thought the ending especially really wrapped it up properly and put the issue straight to your face.

Issues on Metro 2035

I think there are some issues with Metro 2035, certainly, the weird sexual abuse stuff didn’t really see a point of that, and it turned me off to the book for a while. It was fucking brutal book, the main character was battered and alone pretty much the whole book and the glimmers of hope were far and few between, but I thought that was in itself a really strong part of the book.

Metro 2035 was definitely more confusing in some parts, and the translation I read was riddled with grammar mistakes, but it really felt like the page-turner to me. Like when they finally find the radio station East of Moscow and they realize it’s just a bunch of jammers to keep everyone underground? That got me good.

What did you think of the series? Are they really one of the best post-apocalyptic books?

"The Metro Series" - Dmitry Glukhovsky

“The Metro Series” – Dmitry Glukhovsky

ICE – Anna Kavan

This is was an incredible, enigmatic read for me. I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into but ICE ended up being a surprising, daring, and powerful work of fiction that I will be thinking about for some time to come.

The world is being consumed by this encroaching, unexplainable wall of ice like some kind of sub-kelvin reality virus that freezes time and space. It is not so much an ice-age as it is an abstract, alien horror whose origin is beyond what can be known. Entire countries become dark and inaccessibly frozen while the remaining habitable zones are being slowly consumed by bureaucracy, suspicion, panic, and murderous fascist-costumed blood lust.

An unnamed chameleon with a compulsive urge to possess and destroy something beautiful seeks a monochromatic girl from his past with “albino hair that illuminated my dreams, shining brighter than moonlight.” Whether he intends to rescue her from the cold or if he is chasing a claim of ownership over her body is unclear and possibly even one and the same. There is this element of his past self, or his true self, being a separate entity, and the voice that haunts the first-person account of ICE could be the split personality of a military dictator rising to power in a world on the brink of its own destruction, or maybe even something more subconsciously Jungian and alchemical is at play.

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“She herself did not seem quite real. She was pale and almost transparent, the victim I used for my own enjoyment in dreams.”

“It was clear that he regarded her as his property. I considered that she belonged to me. Between the two of us, she was reduced to nothing; her only function might have been to link us together. His face wore the look of extreme arrogance which always repelled me. Yet I suddenly felt an incredible affinity with him, a sort of blood-contact, generating confusion, so I began to wonder if there were two of us.”

I really dig these strange dark odyssey books like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Steven Wright’s Going Native, and J. G. Ballard’s The Drowned World where characters driven by ambiguous motivations trespass deeper with each chapter into stranger and stranger territory where the stakes feel more real than real, becoming lost in this like primal underverse of reality, almost leaving their lives behind and transgressing physically into a cavernous psychological realm of no return.

Highly recommended. Definitely deserved to be on the best post-apocalyptic books list.



"ICE" - Anna Kavan

“ICE” – Anna Kavan

Watchmen – Alan Moore

I can’t remember when or why I first picked up my copy of Watchmen other than it being some time before the 2009 film adaptation. I don’t say that to make myself out to be a more worthy fan of the book, it’s simply my only point of reference. Watchmen seems to be a novel that, once read, can never again be separate from your life. Though I know I didn’t, I feel like I grew up with the characters and have memorized dialogue for decades. Perhaps like one of its leads, Watchmen exists in the past, present, and future simultaneously. Hopefully, that’s not the only superpower that rubs off on readers.

First published in 12 issues over 1986 and 1987, Watchmen is often considered the best graphics novel ever created. As well as traditional comic book panes, the first 11 chapters include supplemental material published within the fictional Watchmen universe.

Watchmen follows the lives of a group of superheroes in an alternate 1985. Following the murder of one hero, we follow the investigation through the eyes of his former colleagues. Weaving through time periods, the narrative builds layer after layer of drip-fed information about each character, whilst pushing forwards as the world tries to avoid nuclear war.

By far one of the best pieces of fiction ever created, Watchmen is a masterpiece of storytelling and design. Complex, deep, and morally ambiguous, it tackles questions most stories would never mention. It offers all sides of society a mirror but no judgment. Moore and Gibbons ripped the superhero comic to shreds with Watchmen and somehow made something even better from the remains.

The single best highlight

It’s next to impossible to choose a single highlight from Watchmen and no doubt each reader has their own view. For me, it’s the detail in Dave Gibbons’ artwork. Every re-read, even now, seems to reveal another secret. Whether it’s a newspaper headline flapping on the wind, the brands that seem to fit the world around them better than anything, or the many echoes of the doomsday clock, each panel is a true piece of art.

For Alan Moore’s writing, it’s his inventiveness and audacity in changing perceptions of an entire medium and a whole genre. Speaking to The Guardian around the release of the Watchmen movie, he said:

To me, all creativity is magic,” he says. “Ideas start out in the empty void of your head – and they end up as a material thing, like a book you can hold in your hand. That is the magical process. It’s an alchemical thing. Yes, we do get the gold out of it but that’s not the most important thing. It’s the work itself. That’s the reward. That’s better than money.

Everyone should read Watchmen at least once. It’s one of the finest examples of how stories and entertainment can transcend genres and formats to teach us about who we are. It’s great literature, brilliant art, and essential reading.



Watchmen is one of TIME’s Best 100 Novels and one of the best post-apocalyptic books to read. 

"Watchmen" - Alan Moore

“Watchmen” – Alan Moore