This Is the Way the World Ends

I mentioned that book club had inspired a couple of posts. This is one of them. We were talking about past picks, and The Road came up. I mentioned that I generally enjoyed post-apocalyptic fiction, but this was the bleakest one I’d read yet. Someone asked what else I’d read in that vein–and the only thing I could come up with was The Stand (Stephen King). Which I believe I read at least three times between the ages of 12 and 16. I even read the unedited version when it was released (if you’re reading it for the first time, go with the edited if it’s still available).  I later thought about Susan Beth Pfeffer’s YA novel Dead and the Gone, which I read after our editor said how much she loved the first novel in that series. And Children of Men, by P.D. James, which is also a film.

But that was the end of my list. Technically, post-apocalypictic fiction takes place after a world-changing event, like an environmental catastrophe, a major war, or an epidemic. The others I’d been thinking about are more accurately categorized as dystopian novels, set in a world that’s radically changed and is probably in decline, but for other reasons. Most of the ones I’ve read seem to fall into two categories: one, where the main character tries to break out of the role they’re forced into by society, with a thriller-like plot, and the other, where the character’s complete acceptance of their place in a world gone mad is pretty much just chilling and depressing.

  • Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall. In a world ravaged by environmental issues (as in The Road, exactly what has happened is left unspecified), a young woman sets out to find a group of rebel women who live in the wilds of the north (of England). It’s kind of a hybrid of the two, since the woman narrator is describing thrilling events that happened in the past in a detached manner as a military debriefing.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I know, everyone reads this — but there’s a reason for that.
  • Divided Kingdom by Rupert Thomson. England has been divided up into four sections based on Hippocrates’ humors–melancholic, choleric, etc. When one man decides to escape his quarter, a life-changing journey ensues. Fascinating, and really should be a movie.
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Most dystopian works force us to examine what it means to be human by turning society on end. This one does that more than most, as it is revealed gradually that the characters are considered something less than that for a horrifying reason. Falls into the “chilling and depressing” category, but the writing is beautiful.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Perhaps this is better categorized under “fantasy,” but any world that forces children to fight to the death counts as a dystopia for me. Another YA novel I picked up after two of our reviewers stayed up all night to finish it. Katniss, who takes the place of her younger sister in the tournament, is a strong female heroine, something I look for in a novel.

Anyone else have any favorites that I should pick up? Of course, there are the classics, like Brave New World and 1984

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2 responses to “This Is the Way the World Ends

  1. I can’t think of any. I’m not a fan of reading those kinds of books and it took me forever (as in, 2 years) to get through The Handmaid’s Tale.

    Unless something like Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading or Kafka’s The Trial count. I’m not sure that’s quite the same thing, but I love that kind of thing.

  2. Just so you know, I was practicing how many times I could use the words “thing” and “kind of” in one comment. Completely intentional.