Stephen King’s Post Apocalyptic Books

Stephen King is a writing powerhouse, responsible for 59 novels (and counting), many of which have been hailed as some of the greatest stories of the modern age.

With such a prestige,  I found myself practically giddy with delight when I realised that, amidst his pantheon of works, there simply had to be a few post apocalyptic books. The idea of Stephen King lending his inimitable writing style—rich, nuanced character development, and a penchant for terrifying climaxes—to the post apocalyptic genre was almost too good to be true.

Thankfully, some of King's best works deal with the end of the world, and today, we're rounding up all of Stephen King's post apocalyptic books.

1) The Stand

To many people, The Stand is Stephen King's magnum opus, a sprawling epic that almost single-handedly popularised the post apocalyptic genre. To me, it's the first book I fell in love with.

The story follows two disparate bands of survivors as they make their way across a US ravaged by a deadly viral outbreak—known colloquially as Captain Trips. While some of the wanderers fall under the guiding influence of an aged survivor called Mother Abigail, others are drawn to the influence of a man called Randall Flagg. Flagg is a recurrent character in King's work, known alternately as R.F, Walter o'Dim, or the Walkin' Dude. Regardless of the name used, one thing is clear: Randall Flagg is bad, bad news. Though Mother Abigail's followers strive to rebuild civilization in the aftermath of Captain Trips, it soon becomes clear that Flagg's plan for the post-apocalyptic US can't be left unchallenged. As Winter falls on their first year, post-outbreak, a handful of Abigail's survivors set out for Las Vegas to confront Flagg... and make their stand.

Regardless of your attitude towards King's work, or the post apocalyptic genre as a whole, The Stand is hands-down a masterpiece, packed full of vivid, multi-dimensional characters and gut-wrenching emotional climaxes. If you only read one of the books on this list, make it The Stand.

2) Cell

Though The Stand (rightly) receives most of the limelight, there's another Stephen King novel which masterfully explores the end of the world: Cell.

The premise of the novel is simple: an unknown entity manages to commandeer the USA's entire cellphone network, using it to broadcast a mysterious signal known as the Pulse. Every cellphone user unlucky enough to be exposed to the signal is immediately transformed into a mindless, zombie-esque killing machine. The story follows Clayton Riddell, a graphic artist visiting Boston on business. Separated from his family, he heads North with a group of survivors, in a last ditch attempt to find his son. Despite the slightly dated premise, Cell is a violent, engrossing, A-Grade post apocalyptic romp. Best of all, it answers a question I've had burning inside me since I first read The Stand: what would happen if Stephen King wrote a zombie novel? The answer is as gore-drenched and wonderful as you could hope.

Cell also received a film adaptation, starring none other than the legendary Samuel L. Jackson. It isn't exactly a piece of art-house cinema, but it's a great movie to watch with a couple of friends and a couple more beers.

3) The Dark Tower

I've written about The Dark Tower series several times, but it bears mentioning again. Though it's effectively King's homage to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, behind a layer of classic fantasy tropes lies a hard, irradiated core of pure post apocalyptic fiction.

The book follows legendary gunslinger Roland Deschain as he sets out on an epic (truly epic—we're talking eight books) journey to find the mysterious Dark Tower, the pillar around which all universes—including Roland's Mid-World, and our own world—are built. At the behest of the evil Crimson King, and his meddling second-in-command, Walter o'Dim (remember him?), the radiating beams that support all of existence are being destroyed. Mid-World is already a dying, irradiated mess, and without intervention, our own world is soon to follow. The scope of The Dark Tower is hard to over-state: it's a story designed to tie together every single one of Stephen King's previous works, placing every book he's ever written squarely in the same, single universe. It's huge, complicated, and above all else, a breathtaking story. If you're looking for a novel that seamlessly blends classic fantasy with the gritty, dark world of post apocalyptic fiction, you'll do no better than The Dark Tower.

Honourable Mentions

If you've read The Stand, Cell, and all eight of The Dark Tower books, and you're hungering for more post apocalyptic Stephen King, there are a couple of novels which might hit the spot. Though they aren't true post apocalyptic fiction, they share many of the hallmarks that make these previous works so compelling:

  • Under the Dome. One quiet October day in 2012, the residents of a small Maine town awaken to find themselves trapped by an indestructible force-field, encompassing the entire town. Isolated from any outside intervention, the town quickly falls into a state of dystopian paranoia, in a micro-level version of the collapse of civilisation found in King's post apocalyptic works. If you enjoy the story, there's a 39-episode TV series based on the novel.

  • The Running Man. Written under King's short-lived psuedonym, Richard Bachman, The Running Man takes place in a US ravaged by economic collapse. Amidst the ruins of civilisation, a game show brings hope and relief to the country's beleaguered residents. The catch? The show's contestants are hunted by merciless killers. It's a great book, and for once, the movie adaptation (starring the Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger) is kickass too.