A few years ago, I got absolutely hooked on two books: The Postman by David Brin, and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I was obsessed with the bleak and beautiful pictures they painted, of a world destroyed and a society torn to pieces. I was fascinated by the way civilisation had crumbled, and how a handful of desperate survivors set out to survive in their new world.
I was obsessed. I read and re-read the stories, savouring every second of destruction and darkness and chaos. I wanted more, but I didn’t know where to look – right until I stumbled upon the term ‘post apocalyptic fiction‘.
What is Post Apocalyptic Fiction?
Turns out, there’s a whole genre of books, films, TV series, poems and games dedicated to my obsession: it’s called post apocalyptic fiction, and it deals with life after the apocalypse. As well as the post apocalyptic genre, there are a couple of other related niches that look at similar themes, so to further our understanding of this kickass niche, let’s clear up some of the blurred definitions.
Apocalyptic fiction takes place during the end of the world, with society beginning to crumble and collapse as the story unfolds. There are no hard-and-fast rules for the type of tragedy that besets mankind: only that a monumental event takes place during the course of the story, changing the world irreparably, and forcing its survivors to fundamentally change their way of life just to survive.
Post-apocalyptic fiction is set after the apocalypse, and typically follows the day-to-day lives of the survivors of the end of the world. Set anywhere from a few days to a few thousand years after the apocalypse, this genre focuses on the breakdown of society, and the problems that follow: from scare food and water to a complete lack of communication, from vampire uprisings to roaming bands of murdering savages.
Dystopian fiction is a slightly different take on the same theme. In dystopian fiction, society still exists – but for reasons of corruption, oppression, disease or war, the world has been transformed into a living hell on earth. Dystopian fiction is the polar opposite of utopian fiction, which centres on beautiful, perfect societies, and differs from apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic scenarios because in a dystopia, society still exists.
A Brief History of Post Apocalyptic Fiction
Fear of the end of the world has existed for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the genre first manifested in its current form. Mary Shelley’s ‘The Last Man‘ is widely regarded as one of the first modern works of post apocalyptic fiction, telling the story of a plague that eradicates humanity until, you guessed it, there’s a single man left standing.
However it wasn’t until the 1950’s that the genre really hit its stride. Fuelled by the end of World War II, and the development of the nuclear bomb, growing numbers of novelists turned their thoughts to doomsday scenarios. With total annihilation now possible at the push of a button, once far-fetched visions of the end of the world now seemed terrifyingly plausible – leading to a pantheon of novels and works of fiction often referred to as ‘the Golden Age of Post Apocalyptic Fiction‘. These classic stories typically revolve around scientific innovation pushed to its destructive limits, a theme which has continued into some of the genre’s best modern tales.
Since then, other types of apocalypse have taken precedence – from zombie pandemics to alien invasions, catastrophic climate change to genetic superbugs run wild – but one fact remains constant: post apocalyptic fiction mirrors one of humanity’s deepest-seated fears. For as long as we exist, and society continues to thrive, a part of our subconscious fears the unknown, and the end of everything. Post apocalyptic fiction allows us to explore this dark side of the psyche, and revel in all-manner of fictional disaster scenarios.
Examples of Post Apocalyptic Fiction
Post Apocalyptic Books
- I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
- The Passage by Justin Cronin
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy
- Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
- Wool by Hugh Howey
Learn more: The 50 Best Post Apocalyptic Books
Post Apocalyptic Games
- State of Decay
- Fallout 4
- Left 4 Dead
Learn more: The 16 Greatest Post Apocalyptic Games for PC
Post Apocalyptic Films
- Mad Max
- Dawn of the Dead
- 28 Days Later
- On the Beach
- The World’s End
Learn more: The 50 Best Post Apocalyptic Movies
Post Apocalyptic TV Shows
- The Walking Dead
- Battlestar Galactica
- The 100
Learn more: The Top 10 Post Apocalyptic TV Shows
Subscribe to the Ash Tales blog, and get the latest and greatest in post-apocalyptic fiction delivered straight to your inbox!