In the process of making the huge chart featured earlier in the week, I spent a lot of time thinking about the genre. There are so many good stories about terrible things happening! Here are some of my personal favorites.
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller
This tri-part classic of Science Fiction is about the rebuilding of society after a nuclear holocaust. In the aftermath of devastation, the world rejected technology. The novel follows the monks of the order of Saint Leibowitz over hundreds of years as they attempt to preserve relics of the world’s technological past until civilization is once again ready for them.
The Gate to Women’s Country by Sherri S. Tepper
A devasting post-nuclear dystopia where women have decided that the only way to protect the vestiges of civilization is to keep men isolated in military garrisons, deeming them incapable of controlling their war-like and violent tendencies. Eventually one woman questions the status quo. Although it sounds like a strident man-hating diatribe on the surface, it has surprising depths.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
Environmental (and economic) disaster has driven Los Angelinos into gated communities, where they hope high walls will keep out the hordes of homeless and bizarre pyromaniacs. 18-year-old Lauren Olamina suffers from a condition where she literally feels the pain of others, which is going to be a handicap when her community is destroyed and she has to survive outside the walls.
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Rising seas, genetic mutation, and failing crops have caused wide-spread food shortages in Bacigalupi’s future world. Anderson Lake is working undercover for an agriculture conglomerate in Thailand looking for new calorie sources when he meets Emiko, a new post-human creature. A windup girl.
Disease Disasters (my personal favorites)
Sleepless by Charlie Huston
Huston also wrote one of my favorite vampire series (the Joe Pitt books, starting with Already Dead), but this blend of SF and noir is even more chilling in a lot of ways. The plague is sleeplessness and it is always fatal, although the terrible symptoms can be alleviated with an illegal drug called Dreamer. Parker Hass is a cop in LA who is trying to do the job, but his wife is one of the sleepless and there is corruption all around him. Insomniacs should probably not read this one, but I loved it.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Oh Atwood, always claiming that you don’t write SF and then writing such awesome SF that I can’t hate you for it. A man who was once Jimmy but now is just the Snowman might be the last human on an earth wiped out by a bioengineered plague. He remembers old friends and scavenges to survive while thinking of how the world got this way. HBO is apparently working on a adaptation of this and the other books in the Maddadam trilogy. Can’t wait.
Blindness by Jose Saramago
This is one of the most frightening disease stories that I have ever read, maybe because it strikes at one of my biggest fears: losing my sight. An unnamed city is stricken by a contagion that causes a weird white blindness, and the afflicted are herded into an asylum to try to quarantine them and stop the spread of the disease.
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
I loved this as an audiobook, where the large cast being to life the various stories being presented as an oral history of a war against the zombies that almost wiped out humanity. It works because it darts around, giving stories from doctors, soldiers and regular survivors, all creating a mosaic picture of a plague that caused the dead to rise and attack the living. When all the other zombie books are forgotten, I bet this one remains.
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
The powerful story of a man who is possibly the sole survivor of a pandemic that swept the world, killing millions and turning the survivors into bloodthirsty vampires. All except Robert Neville. Don’t bother with any of the film adaptations of this one, as the book is so much better.
The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
I push this book and its sequels on everyone I know. For me, it is a perfect blend of SF and mystery. Hank Palace is a cop, newly promoted to detective due to a rash of retirements. You see, there is an asteroid hurtling towards earth, a planet-killer, and in the months before everyone on earth dies it becomes hard to get people to care about law and order. But Hank cares.