The top 10 post-apocalyptic books of all time.

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Ordered from 10 to 1 below based on your votes, this week we've got your top 10 choices for best post-apocalyptic sci-fi books of all time.

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10. The Postman by David Brin

He was a survivor–a wanderer who traded tales for food and shelter in the dark and savage aftermath of a devastating war.  Fate touches him one chill winter's day when he borrows the jacket of a long-dead postal worker to protect himself from the cold.  The old, worn uniform still has power as a symbol of hope, and with it he begins to weave his greatest tale, of a nation on the road to recovery.

Rounding out the top 10 list is “The Postman” by David Brin. This is the story of a lie that became the most powerful kind of truth.  A timeless novel as urgently compelling as War Day or Alas, Babylon (which also made this list), David Brin's The Postman is the dramatically moving saga of a man who rekindled the spirit of America through the power of a dream, from a modern master of science fiction.

9. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.”

At number 9, Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Road by Cormac McCarthy is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, “each the other's world entire,” are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

8. Farnham's Freehold by Robert Heinlein

“Farnham is a self-made man who sees nuclear war coming and who builds a shelter under his house; only to find it thrust into a strange universe when the bomb explodes. In this future world all civilization in the northern hemisphere has long been destroyed, and Farnham and his family are fit to be slaves under the new regime.”

Heinlein's story is as engrossing now as it was in its original form decades ago. In it, a nuclear holocaust throws a brave and tough-minded family into a future where they are considered traitors and sub-humans and where they must fight tooth-and-claw to avoid becoming slaves to the benighted survivors of the war.

7. Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

“Alas, Babylon.” Those fateful words heralded the end. When a nuclear holocaust ravages the United States, a thousand years of civilization are stripped away overnight, and tens of millions of people are killed instantly. But for one small town in Florida, miraculously spared, the struggle is just beginning, as men and women of all backgrounds join together to confront the darkness.”

Coming in at #7, “Alas, Babylon,” is a harrowing, human story published 50 years ago, in 1959. The novel, set in a small Florida town after a nuclear attack on the United States, was an instant hit. It’s been reprinted many times; it’s found on high school reading lists; and it’s invariably put high on lists of the best post-apocalyptic fiction – including this one.

6. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

“Shortly after astronomers observe explosions on the surface of Mars, meteor-like objects begin crashing into Earth. Martians emerge from their craters in large tripods, wiping out army units with heat-rays as they roam the English countryside. When the order is given to evacuate London, all seems lost. But there is one minor detail that the Martians did not plan for.”

H. G. Wells is credited with the popularisation of time travel in 1895 with The Time Machine, introducing the idea of time being the “fourth dimension” a decade before the publication of Einstein’s first Relativity papers. In 1896, he imagined a mad scientist creating human-like beings from animals in The Island of Doctor Moreau, which created a growing interest in animal welfare throughout Europe. In 1897 with The Invisible Man, Wells shows how a formula could render one invisible, recognizing that an invisible eye would not be able to focus, thus rendering the invisible man blind. With The War of the Worlds in 1898, Wells established the idea that an advanced civilization could live on Mars, popularising the term ‘martian’ and the idea that aliens could invade Earth.

5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. 

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television. 

When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life.”

Coming in at #5, Ray Bradbury’s internationally acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451 is a masterwork of twentieth-century literature set in a bleak, dystopian future. 

4. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr

Down the long centuries after the Flame Deluge scoured the earth clean, the monks of the order of St. Leibovitz the Engineer kept alive the ancient knowledge. In their monastery in the Utah desert, they preserved the precious relics of their founder: the blessed blueprint, the sacred shopping list and the holy shrine of fallout shelter.

Watched over by an immortal wanderer, they witnessed humanity's rebirth from ashes, and saw reenacted the eternal drama of the struggle between light and darkness, life and death.”

Coming in at #4, “A Canticle for Leibowitz” was one of the first novels to escape from the science-fiction ghetto and become a staple of high-school reading lists. Its legacy can be seen in the works of Gene Wolfe, Margaret Atwood, and many other speculative-fiction authors who came after him, as well as in the current flood of end-of-the-world novels, TV shows, and movies.

3. Childhood's Ends by Arthur C. Clarke

In the near future, enormous silver spaceships appear without warning over mankind's largest cities. They belong to the Overlords, an alien race far superior to humanity in technological development-and their purpose is to dominate the Earth. Their demands, however, are surprisingly beneficial-end war, poverty, and cruelty. Their presence, rather than signaling the end of humanity, ushers in a golden age-or so it seems.”

Originally published in 1953, Childhood's End is Clarke's first successful novel-and is considered a classic of science fiction literature. Its dominating theme of transcendent evolution appears in many of Clarke's later works, including the Space Odyssey series. In 2004, the book was nominated for the Retro Hugo Award for Best Novel.

2. Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

In this bestselling novel by the authors of THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE, a massive comet breaks apart and bombards the Earth, with catastrophic results: worldwide earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, thousand-foot tidal waves and seemingly endless rain… With civilization in ruins, individuals band together to survive and to build a new society.”

Published in 1977, Lucifer's Hammer, #2 on our list, was the first major science fiction novel to try to deal realistically with the planetary emergency of an impact event. It plumbs those depths of fascination on an epic scale, rewarded at the time with sales far beyond the normal expectations of the genre.

1. The Stand by Stephen King

“This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.

And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides — or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abigail — and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man.”

Coming in at #1 is Stephen King'sThe Stand, the novel that is now considered to be one of his finest works. But as it was first published, The Stand was incomplete, since more than 150,000 words had been cut from the original manuscript.

Now Stephen King's apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil has been restored to its entirety. The Stand : The Complete And Uncut Edition includes more than five hundred pages of material previously deleted, along with new material that King added as he reworked the manuscript for a new generation. It gives us new characters and endows familiar ones with new depths. It has a new beginning and a new ending. What emerges is a gripping work with the scope and moral comlexity of a true epic.

For hundreds of thousands of fans who read The Stand in its original version and wanted more, this new edition is Stephen King's gift. And those who are reading The Stand for the first time will discover a triumphant and eerily plausible work of the imagination that takes on the issues that will determine our survival.

Well, what do you think of that list? Do you agree, or do you feel as though your most-loved book is missing/didn't place as you think it deserved? Feel free to join us here in our Facebook group to chime in on the debate, and then check out our most recent poll while you're there. Don't have Facebook? Feel free to add to the comments below.

*All book-related text in this post was pulled from Amazon.

4 replies
  1. Jim Tepper
    Jim Tepper says:

    Finally! I have been reading sci-fi and horror for the better part of 56 years (I am 65). I have long thought that THE STAND was one of the best books I have ever read, way back to the edited version I first read when it was first published almost 50 years ago. If one constrains the population to post-apocalyptic novels (one of my preferred genres- and I have naturally read all of the others on the list), I have always rated THE STAND as the par exemplar of the genre. I am delighted to see that others agree.

  2. Katherine
    Katherine says:

    Wow! I missed this poll, but you have my favorites on the list. A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ was my first and favorite post-apocalyptic read. Now I have to read the ones I’ve missed. Monstrous TBR list grows again!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] War of the Worlds is the second H.G. Wells book-turned-movie to appear on this list. It also came in at #6 on our top 10 list of best post-apocalyptic books of all time. […]

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