We’re All Gonna DIE! (Literature for the Apocalypse)

Greg Zimmerman

Staff Writer

Greg Zimmerman blogs about contemporary literary fiction at The New Dork Review of Books and holds down a full-time gig as a trade magazine editor. Follow him on Twitter: @NewDorkReview.

If the Mayans are to be believed, we have just over a year and a month left here on good ‘ole planet Earth. So to help prepare ourselves, why not dive into some good Apocalypse/Rapture/End Times literature?

Even if you don’t believe we’re all going to die on a winter’s day in December 2012, reading “what if” apocalypse novels sure is fun. You can have your vampire and zombie and werewolf (and the coupling thereof) novels. My favorite books about things-that-aren’t-real-and/or-probably-won’t-really-happen are stories that ask us to consider how it might all go down and what it will be like after it does. It’s fascinating, and only slightly frightening, to consider. So let’s take a look at a few good ones.

The “Whoops! That Was Unexpected” Apocalypse Novel — Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers. The novel examines the aftermath of the Sudden Departure — a Rapture-like event in which people seem to have been raptured at random. Now, people have to return to their normal modern lives of grocery shopping and high school-ing and mayor-ing a town and stuff. And they have to effectively deal with the grief of lost loved ones, all the while dodging creepy new cults. It’s an inventive novel and a swift, entertaining read.

The “What’s This Life For?” Apocalypse Novel — Ron Currie, Jr.’s Everything Matters. The rub here is that the protagonist — Junior Thibodeau — knows the exact moment the world will end from the moment he is born. But Junior’s not a Chosen One, and thankfully, the novel steers far clear of any sort of messianic trope. Instead, it asks its readers to ponder some semi-important questions; what is the meaning of life?, i.e.

The “Silly But Smart Thrillers” Apocalypse Novels — Mark Alpert’s The Omega Theory and Greg Iles’ The Footprints of God. Technological calamities threaten to destroy the universe. Will our heroes arrive in time?

The “Cornerstone of the Genre” Post-Apocalypse Novel — Stephen King’s The Stand. I first read this brick-of-a-book in high school, and still have nightmares about Randall Flagg.

The “Just-Short-of-Pretentious” Post-Apocalypse Novel — Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. If King’s not your thing, try this novel. It’s a profound, sparse piece of literary fiction. And it’s friggin’ brilliant. And terrifying. It’s one of those novels you never quite feel comfortable reading, but when you’re done, it stays with you…haunting your dreams, as they say.

Here are a few more suggestions, if the Apocalypse (or Post-Apocalypse) Novel is your thing: On The Beach, by Nevil Shute; Kalki, by Gore Vidal; Swan Song by Robert McCammon; The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood; The Children of Men by P.D. James; Zone One by Colson Whitehead; etc.

Anything I forgot here? What’s your favorite Apocalypse Novel?