If you were one of the millions of viewers who tuned in to watch HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us… we don’t have to tell you how popular apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic stories are!
After living through a pandemic not so dissimilar to the fungal infection that leaves Joel, Ellie, and the rest of this alternate world in survival mode, one would think audiences would not find an end-of-the-world story as appealing.
And yet, they continue to be written and devoured by readers looking for more ways the world can end.
Another good example is Netflix’s recent mini-series release, Carol & The End of the World. Like a lot of the audiobooks we’ve published, this existential dramedy is a meditation on finding joy in everyday life – even if life as everyone knows it is over:
Carol, a quiet middle-aged woman, uses the impending destruction of Earth via planetary collision for self-reflection. Over its 10 episodes, the show explores the stories of characters navigating massive change in the 7 months they have left before extinction.
It feels too easy to say our interest in this sub-genre of speculative fiction is because of morbid curiosity (especially after Carol & The End of the World’s release), though I’m sure that’s part of the appeal.
The world can be a terrifying place with crises that can sometimes feel insurmountable. Reaching for these types of stories can then be a good retreat for those anxious about what the future can bring. When an end-of-the-world scenario is worse than the current threats we’re living through, post-apocalyptic stories can be an outlet for our shared cultural anxieties about contagions, nuclear warfare, or natural disasters.
Chris Begley, associate professor of anthropology at Transylvania University and author of the book The Next Apocalypse: The Art and Science of Survival, writes
Our apocalyptic fantasies capture something we long for: the chance to do it all over, to simplify, or to get out from under something like debt or loneliness or dissatisfaction.
In the case of Carol & The End of the World, simply knowing that extinction is imminent has wiped the slate clean for most and liberated them to pursue their dreams. Money, employment, and the peskier responsibilities of modern life no longer matter.
But even in the grittiest and darkest of apocalyptic stories, there’s an emotional thread that keeps survivors going: hope. Being able to feel like everything will be okay in a situation where everything is most definitely not okay, to find some sort of comfort in the worst-case scenario, is important not just for our main characters but for the reader as well.
The Last of Us has always been more than just a “zombie story”; it uses the post-apocalyptic genre to examine love, loss, and grief on a personal level. It studies how important community and relationships are and reminds us there’s still hope in connection with other people, even as the world seemingly ends.
The passing of time from one year into another can feel like the world has ended in a small way. Let’s celebrate endings and new beginnings with audiobooks to make the end of the world feel a bit more manageable.
The Ballad of Ami Miles
Written by Kristy Dallas Alley, narrated by Brittni Pope
A queer coming-of-age tale set in a post-apocalyptic America where a virus has caused many to become infertile.
Ami Miles, raised in isolation at her family’s trailer-dealership-turned-survival compound, realizes her “destiny” as a woman capable of bearing children isn’t something she’s ready to face. With the help of one of her aunts, she flees and embarks on a quest to find her long-lost mother. But as she journeys, Ami discovers many new things about the world… and about herself.
About her debut young-adult novel, Alley says
[Ami] has to face a big decision between does she have an obligation to her family to do what they have trained her and raised her to believe is her destiny, or does she have a right to choose a different kind of life than she ever imagined she could have.
End of Days: Books 1-7 Box Set
Written by Sam J Fires, narrated by Seth Podowitz, Gerald Hill, Jorjeana Marie, Stephanie Willing, Stacy Gonzalez, P. J. Ochlan
Binge the entire End of Days series from a bestselling author of thrilling post-apocalyptic fiction!
An electromagnetic pulse attack cripples the nation, forcing investigative journalist Cassandra Drews and her rescue dog Daisy to walk from Portland to her parents’ home in Oregon. Help comes in the form of ex-marine Isaac Winters, who slips back into soldier mode. The trio must work together to escape the city before violence or the bitter wintry storm can claim them.
Written by Kay Chronister, narrated by Gail Shalan, Thom Rivera, and Samara Naeymi
This feminist eco-horror follows a girl’s coming-of-age trek through the post-apocalyptic American West, searching for a miracle cure in the holy city of Las Vegas.
Nine-year-old Magdala and her father have been exiled from their home. As they search for refuge, they join a group of survivors on a pilgrimage to Las Vegas where it is said saints reside and Magdala’s clubfoot can be healed. However, one by one the pilgrims fall victim to a hideous sickness in the Sonoran Desert – leaving Magdala to fend for herself.
After surviving for seven years on her own, Magdala is tired of waiting for her miracle. She recruits an exiled Vegas priest at gunpoint as her guide, forming a fragile alliance as they navigate the desert.
In Paul Di Filippo’s review for Locus Magazine, he writes
…the ultimate theme of the book is family. The family one is born into, and the family one makes. When Magdala becomes a guardian to a young girl… we see that even in a hellish place, our commitments to one another can transcend and sanctify the tortures.
Into the Mist Duology
Written by P. C. Cast, narrated by Lorelei King
Into the Mist – Book 1
Out of the Dawn – Book 2
Fans of Naomi Alderman’s The Power and Stephen King’s The Stand will enjoy this duology, described by Cast as apocalypse fiction with a feminist focus.
In Into the Mist, the U.S. unleashes bombs causing fire and biological destruction, and the introduction of a green mist that is deadly to men, but alters women’s body chemistry and imbues them with superhuman abilities. A group of high-school teachers experiences firsthand the strength of these new powers and now must use them to find a safe place to ride out the apocalypse.
In Out of the Dawn, the teachers have created a small community in the John Day Fossil Preserve in Oregon, hoping to rebuild a better world. But something is hunting them and it will take all of their newfound strengths to fight for a new dawn.
The Past is Red
Written by Catherynne M. Valente, narrated by Penelope Rawlins
Did you enjoy the “Three Robots: Exit Strategies” episode of Netflix’s animated anthology Love Death + Robots? Then perhaps you’ll like this satirical commentary on the climate crisis, overconsumption, and humans’ role in the destruction of our environment.
Tetley Abednego is a resident of Garbagetown, formerly the Great Pacific Garbage Patch before the world flooded. She knows that Garbagetown is the most wonderful place in the world, that it’s full of hope. But Earth is a terrible mess, hope is a fragile thing, and a lot of people are very angry with her. Then Tetley discovers a new friend, a terrible secret, and more to her world than she ever expected.
Don’t let the novella length fool you; this book had me running the gamut of emotions by the time I reached the last chapter. It’s a story I continue to think about long after I finished it.
Megan Otto writes for the Chicago Review of Books:
Valente has written a novel for readers who see how bleak the world is but want to feel hope anyway. The Past is Red is a book to tether us to the inherent hope within ourselves, at the core of humanity’s endurance. Humans still exist, and for however long that may be true, there is more life to live.