I know we’re all living through a semi-apocalyptic event right now, but they do say fight fire with fire. So, reading books about the apocalypse or post-apocalypse could be just the ticket. Seeing how the worst did happen in these books and how people (mostly) made it out the other side makes me feel better and perhaps a bit more prepared—at least emotionally if not with a stockpile of toilet paper.
The apocalypse is definitely territory (terrortory?) well-populated by horror novels, but there is also a softer side to the apocalypse. These horror-adjacent apocalypse reads are less interested in zombies eating brains and more interested in ruminating on the nature of the end of the world—who or what is to blame and what’s next in rebuilding civilization?
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Set in the (now) not-too-distant 2025, this spec fiction classic was originally published in 1993. In this book, the end of the world is due to global warming. Through journal entries, it follows Lauren, a young Black woman with a special ability as she navigates a post-apocalyptic America.
The book has been seeing boosts in sales this year—while it isn’t necessarily a horror novel, it is a scarily prescient read, especially in light of 2020. Fire and floods everywhere. Rampant designer drug use. People don’t trust the police. Oh, and a president who promises to dismantle the government and bring back jobs. Hmmm, I wonder how that will turn out.
Severance by Ling Ma
This brilliant book is best described as an apocalyptic coming-of-age novel for millennials.
This time, the end of the world comes about because of a virus that spreads from China, turning people into a type of lackadaisical zombie.
With themes of anti-consumerism, the immigrant experience, the meaninglessness of office jobs, and a darkly satirical tongue-in-cheek narrative style poking fun at the lackadaisical nature of our generation, Ling Ma manages to write a compelling story that still has a lot to say about the nature of our modern day society.
Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton
Have you ever thought about what happens to animals during the zombie apocalypse? Welcome to their side of the story.
Shit Turd, a domesticated crow, and his dumb-but-loyal doggie companion Dennis take on the wider, wild world of Seattle after the downfall of humans in this dark comedy. Their goal? Free the domesticated animals who are trapped inside and find a way to stay alive in an increasingly strange world that is ruled by the animals.
The Book of M by Peng Shepherd
There certainly is something about our current state of social and political affairs that puts us in a bit of an apocalyptic state of mind, am I right or am I right?
In this narrative, the world begins ending when people start losing their shadows. It turns out that the shadow is connected to memory and without it, we forget everything—and I do mean everything. It’s not just our memories about our past and our families and how to tie our shoes. It’s things like: how animals don’t talk, that statues don’t get up and rove around, that lakes can’t appear and reappear on their own. And if you can’t remember the way things are supposed to work, things aren’t fixed and it turns out that just about anything is possible.
Cradle and Grave by Anya Ow
This story features a blasted wasteland of an apocalypse where the survivors have to fight to keep living. For a shorter read, this novella packs in some epic world-building. It’s a strange, bio-mechanical ruin of a world, and Ow’s stylistic economy of language brings this sci-fi/adventure/horror story to life.
What I appreciated the most is that Ow doesn’t hold the reader’s hand—she just writes the story, and the reader is along for the ride.
Afterland by Lauren Beukes
This one is for the fans of The Handmaid’s Tale—so, everyone, right? After a pandemic know as the Manfall, there are very few men left and the world is run by women. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a utopia.
The story follows a mother and her son, whom she fiercely protects, disguising him as a girl as they travel across the US. Beukes has already proved herself a versatile writer, her works often slipping into horror-adjacent. This fierce feminist tale is no exception.
Ghost Summer: Stories by Tananarive Due
Perhaps this is more straight horror than adjacent, but these stories are too good to pass up. This story collection by horror queen Tananarive Due features five apocalyptic stories, ones that felt unnervingly prescient as I read them over the summer.
The stories all appear in the “Carriers” section of the book, but even though this post is about apocalyptic reads, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not reading every single story. Due is a master of the short story (as well as the novel).
“Patient Zero” reads as a diary from a young boy who doesn’t quite realize that the world is crashing down around him. “Danger Word” is about a grandfather and grandson trying to survive when not all the people are people anymore. Then, there are three stories about Nayima and her experiences before, during, and after the end of the world. Put together, they read almost as a novella.
Audra helps manage the Ladies of Horror Fiction Instagram page and composes author profiles. She also contributes articles and helps maintain the website.