Seven books about the end of civilization

Why am I fascinated by books trying to describe what happens to survivors after the end of civilization? And am I the only one to be spellbound with such a rich topic for writerly invention?

Here, in no particular order, are seven books working on the premise that civilization as we know it is either about to collapse or has been wiped off the map.

  1. In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster. Once, as a final essay for a voice training program I took at an acting school, I chose to read from this book.
  2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Beautifully written.
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Yes, with Atwood you get two books, not just one. The Handmaid’s Tale is the more haunting of the two.
  4. The Children of Men by P.D. James. I haven’t read her crime novels, but I found this one riveting.
  5. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Perhaps the bleakest read in this list. Nevertheless, an Oprah’s Book Club selection.
  6. The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq. This book takes to the extreme the apocalyptic streak already evident in Houellebecq’s other fiction, with, however, less success.
  7. We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick. Not all the stories in this collection happen after life on Earth has been eradicated, but some do. Others have humans colonizing other planets, at great cost and risk, because Earth has become impossibly overpopulated. Funny how stories, forty years ago, showed the era’s Malthusian preoccupation. Even slightly more recent ones (The Children of Men, The Handmaid’s Tale) start from the opposite scenario: that there won’t be enough people to keep up the civilization we have built.

I have found that I am the only LibraryThing user to have tagged her books with “end of civilization“, with the exception of one more reader, who used it for the German translation of Paul Auster’s book. Other interesting tags used for these books are: “speculative fiction“, “dystopia“, “future“, “futurology“,”totalitarianism“, “apocalypse“, “apocalyptic“, and “post-apocalyptic“, which thread through writers from George Orwell to Aldous Huxley to Stephen King to Neil Gaiman. And, of course, “science fiction” in its numerous variations (“sf“, “sci-fi” among the most common), which opens up a whole different journey.

And you? What are your favorite end-of-civilization stories?

6 thoughts on “Seven books about the end of civilization

  1. Ooh, thank you – I loved The Handmaid’s Tale and Children of Men, so I’ll be looking out for the rest. The Road keeps floating into my consciousness, so that’s first on my list.

    Also thank you for “Malthusian” – yay, a new word!

  2. I loves me some apocalypse. Right now I’m in the middle of reading “Y: The Last Man,” a graphic novel series about a plague that wipes out every man on earth (save one) but doesn’t harm the women. It’s actually funny, which is something you don’t normally get from stories in this genre which tend to take themselves very seriously.

    I remember being jarred in the filmed version of The Handmaid’s Tale when the commander announced that they were going to do something different, and Offred says “what now, chinese checkers?” There’s no reason why the end of the world can’t also be a laugh riot.

  3. Pingback: Three more books about the end of civilization « Live from Planet Paola

  4. I loved The Day of the Triffids. Somehow it captures my imagination. It’s almost like I would finally come alive if such things would happen to the world. Don’t know what this says about me and people like me

  5. Pingback: Recent Science Fiction. With Women | Live from Planet Paola

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