Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Are You Ready for the Apocalypse?
Here's our list of the best ten post-apocalyptic yarns. We may have missed some, so please let us know your favorites.
10.) Alas Babylon by Pat Frank. This was required reading when I was in school. That's not usually a good sign. Those books stuck with me because it was such a chore to read stuff because you were told to, rather than to read stuff because you wanted to. This one, though, has remained with me through the years. This was the first time I was fearful of the end of times. The Cold War had that effect on the world. And this portrayal of family and community coming together after a Russian nuclear attack set the pace for countless television shows, movies, and books aspiring to reach this level. If you've never read it, you should head to the library and find a copy.
9. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Some have decried that this is not a novel of the apocalypse. I disagree. This is a brutal telling of the last survivor on the Earth - and neither The Omega Man or I Am Legend films got it right. The first time I read this piece, I truly wondered what it would be like if I was all that remained, if every day could be the last. Matheson has a fan base, but this is by far his best work.
8. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Bleek. That's the best descriptor for it. Most people rank this one higher than I have. I get it. McCarthy is a asterful writer and storyteller. And the book is solid enough for contention in the top ten. But, the story feels like something we've seen before (better, bolder, et al than the other copies), but it does not feel quite as fresh as it should. Still, the visuals are stellar. Scenes haunt the reader (a scene involving a baby, specifically). This is a rare occasion where I thought the movie better captured the vibe.
7. World War Z by Max Brooks. One of the best books in decades. Brooks carefully captures the style of Studs Terkel and recants the end of the world - at the hands of he uprising dead - through witness encounters, soldiers and mercenaries, and the survivors. Travelling the world, we find the virus started in China. We're taken to the US and the Battle of Yonkers. We're taken to Canada, Russia, Egypt. It's an amazing portrayal of the end of the world. By far one of the most unique takes on the zombie genre (which is overflooded with so much of the same). If you want to take this experience to the next level, I cannot recommend the audio drama enough. Mark Hamill, Henry Rollins, Carl and Rob Reiner, Alan Alda, Jurgen Prochnow and so many more.
6. The Complete Drive-In by Joe Lansdale. Probably one of the most bizarro of Lansdale's book, the Drive-In series tells of boys that head to, well, the drive-in theatre one night. A comet, though, swallows the drive-in whole and leaves this smattering of survivors to a new hell, where the concession stand offers the only nourishment and the Popcorn King is god. It's a brutal viewing of how quickly societal collapse can occur. All three parts are available now. Finally.
5. Swan Song by Robert McCammon. It's better than the Stand. It's similar, but it's better. McCammon is one of those writers, I think, that other writers aspire to be. I do. While, he has books that are better than this one, I believe that this is the one that will mark his immortal classic. The common theme of survivors gathering together in the finality of the world is not new. It's all in execution, and McCammon can execute.
4. Should Have Killed the Kid by R. Frederick Hamilton. Speaking of execution of a common theme, this one hits a homer. It's a dark, raw, and brutally descriptive. The concept is what it's all about, though. Hamilton takes a premise that sounds a little off kilter and sells the crap out of it.
3. Children of Men by PD James. The movie is as chilling as the book. Zombies, disease, nuclear holocaust, the rapture - these are all things that are chilling to think on. James, though, finds a much darker, more realistic ending to the world - infertility. No doubt it can happen. In fact, the odds are better for us going out this way than at the hands of raging and rancid corpses. Hearing of the youngest child dying, and knowing there are no more on the way is terrifying. The prospect of the legacy not inching any further is nightmaric. What works here, is the shred of hope. Most post-apocalyptic tales have no silver lining. There is finality. This one, though, makes us question rebirth.
2. The Postman by David Brin. FAR and AWAY better than the Kevin Costner flick, which isn't too bad. The movie strays a ways from the book, but the concept is the same. Basically, Gordon Krantz is a survivor of a nuclear war and the following winter it's birthed. Not so much about the end of the world or surviving, this one is really about rebuilding. It's a fascinating look at how one man, one ordinary soul, can be responsible for so much. Oddly, Brin is a sci-fi writer who probably had no lofty idea he'd write a pro-government book, but that's what this is. It's really quite good.
1. On the Beach by Nevil Shute. If you like your revelations laced with arsenic and the bitter reality that you'll not be coming back, this is the one for you. Shute's 1957 classic is harrowing, it's a downer, it starts in the dumps and hangs there. Following nuclear devastation, the survivors - in Australia - face the facts that they're waiting to die of radiation poisoning or they can pop an arsenic pill. Really? Yup. It's one of the most devastating tales I've read. But it has resonated with me these years. Shute's not the best writer, but it's amazing that this one has withstood the test of time.