Station Eleven asks the question that has stumped the greatest minds of our time: what do theater troupes do after the world ends? The answer, it seems, is to try to revive humanity’s hope in life, rather than merely survive to fight another day. Station follows a set of strange folks, which is to say theater geeks, during rebuilding.
This is slightly uncharted territory, as most novels about the end of days focus on the catastrophe, rather than the age of healing. If this is what suits your armaggeddon fantasy, here’s seven apocalypse novels for fans of Station Eleven.
The Stand by Stephen King
You can’t really have an apocalypse list without King’s The Stand, particularly when you’re talking about plague stories. This nicely dovetails a believable blight with biblical stories of humanity being eradicated by God’s wrath.
Not only do you get people fighting to survive, but also follow a good vs. evil contest where the righteous aren’t always who we think they should be, and the monsters among us are often made through ordinary decisions and tragically common wounds that come from nothing more than living.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Most apocalyptic fables put the cause of annihilation front and center. In The Road you’re left guessing exactly why everything is dying and people are acting like the feral cats that roam Cleveland. It hardly matters, because almost nothing does in this deeply nihilistic story.
Instead what is highlighted is the bonds that keep us going in the face of catastrophe, when there’s absolutely no football teams to root for anymore. It captures not only how love can keep us sane and provide us with purpose, but also shows that without it we’re no better than members of the paparazzi, complete with cannibalistic tendencies.
Blindness by José Saramago
Ask most people what sense they least want to lose and they’ll tell you taste, because otherwise they could never again enjoy the Colonel’s mix of 11 herbs and spices. Shortly behind that is sight. In Blindness there’s an epidemic of blindness sweeping through the people, and many of those people are quarantined far from the nearest KFC. However, it’s not really about vision, except in how losing the sense upon which we most depend can bring out all of our most loving traits, and our most vicious.
There’s very little good and evil here, except insofar as they underscore how the best intentions can lead to cruelty, and our most selfish needs can transcend to unbearable beauty.
The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya
Russian writers have overtaken Irish wordsmiths when it comes to real bleakness. In The Slynx, a “game with arms” has led to a return to medieval times, right down to the midden filth. Mice are the coin of the realm, books are outlawed, and many people have the types of superpowers usually associated with radiation exposure, such as clawed feet, ears all over their body, or disfiguring facial growths.
The land in which the people live is ruled by a despotic overlord, a reality Russians know all too well, and even when they reach revolution, corruption taints it back to another sadly repetitive chapter of more oppression. Poignantly pointless, even the narrative style will make you feel as if everything is a worthless, empty slog.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
You can’t swing a mutated, disease-riddled, vampiric cat without knocking fifteen zombie books off the shelves of the abandoned bookstore. However, this one is strikingly different. The focus isn’t on the flesh-eating undead, but on how people behave. From stories of LaMOEs–Last Men On Earth–to people who flee with laptops instead of food, this does what an apocalypse tale should, which is hold up a mirror to ourselves.
Rather than following a scrappy group of survivors, World War Z provides a wealth of narratives that show there’s more than one way to make lemonade out of a world gone lemon. If the Z crowd is your forte, also consider Ling Ma’s Severance for a new kind of zombie disease that wonders if our worker drone existence doesn’t make us halfway dead already.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood stands out among dystopian writers for her powerful political insight and ability to show reality taken to far too logical extremes. Lovers of both Station Eleven and The Handmaid’s Tale will find a feast of terrible fare for their mental bellies here. Environmental destruction, bioterrorism, and designer genetics have ravaged the world and its people until most of humanity has become predatory horrors of body, mind, and spirit.
Think a land run by reality TV stars. While most broken futures are parodies of life, Oryx and Crake is a masterful roman à clef, often showing exactly the world in which we live and simultaneously try to ignore through as many pleasures and as much booze as we can find.
The Last Man by Mary Shelley
Ms. Shelley captured the monstrous nature of humanity and the humanity of monsters in Frankenstein. Apparently, her insight didn’t end there. The Last Man is a tragedy of entirely human proportions. Yes, it’s about an unstoppable plague eroding away the population, but it’s also about deeply personal loss.
Seeing the varied reactions of characters as they try to cope with the light of their life being snuffed out, both figuratively and literally, shows how something as simple and common as dying is somehow the font from which flows myriad diseases that exist entirely in our minds. Then are given form through our actions.
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