If you are strange like me, and dealing with today’s pandemic-saddled world by devouring novels, television shows, and movies about the apocalypse, pandemics, and post-apocalyptic existence, then you have probably come across these five novels. All five describe either the threat of human extinction — and the struggle to prevent it — or an Earth nearly-devoid of human life, with small groups of remaining humans struggling to survive. Some face the threat of disease, some threats from other humans, and some come up against the supernatural (as well as diseases and other humans). Four of these are fairly recent best-sellers, one one is from the late 1980s. All five could do with a modern-day cinematic treatment, on either the big screen or small. And all five are a great read.
“Swan Song,” by Robert R. McCammon
This 1987 novel is part horror, part science-fiction, and all post-apocalyptic fun. It describes a United States in the wake of a nuclear holocaust in which radiation has poisoned the land, and humanity has undergone a strange evolution (which reveals itself throughout the novel). A little girl seems to hold the key to rejuvenating the world again, and a demonic figure roams the land sowing chaos, death, and destruction. It is gory and disturbing, in parts, and probably the darkest of all the books on this list. How it has not already been given the film treatment is a mystery.
“Seveneves,” by Neal Stephenson
This sweeping, generations-spanning 2015 science-fiction novel deals with the near-destruction of humanity on Earth in a paradigm often-utilized in space fiction, where salvation lies off-Earth, be it on another planet, on an Ark-like space vessel, or through some other means of salvation. What sets the novel apart is its generations-long arc, and its foundation in realistic, logical science, as opposed to seemingly-impossible leaps in technology like space travel at the speed of light, and other physically dubious tropes. The movie, series of movies, or mini-series would have to be ambitious as hell, but could also be just as entertaining, if done right.
“The Dog Stars,” by Peter Heller
Published in 2012, this post-apocalyptic novel is probably the most anchored-in-reality of all of these selections. There are no supernatural forces, no great scientific leaps, and the setting is pastoral and familiar, in the American west. A man — with his beloved dog — lives out his days in a near-future United States depopulated of most of humanity thanks to a flu epidemic. The man deals with loneliness and fear (of both catching the disease and facing other, violent humans), and what it means to maintain a human connection in a terrible new world. The novel has plenty of action, a good plot, and enough characters to prevent it from becoming bogged down in a lonely man’s psyche. It is also touching and redemptive, and who doesn’t love a good dog in a movie?
“Station Eleven,” by Emily St. John Mandel
Probably the most critically-heralded of these five selections, this 2014 novel was a National Book Award Finalist and is reportedly already in the works to be adapted to a film or mini-series. It follows a troupe of musicians and actors who perform throughout the Great Lakes region of North America, in a world ravaged by the “Georgia Flu” — a pandemic that wipes out most of humanity. Told in both the present and in flashbacks to the beginning of the pandemic, the novel weaves a web of intrigue that centers around events in the life of an actor named Arthur Leander, a young actress who is obsessed with him after seeing him die on stage before the pandemic, and a sinister “prophet” who leads a dangerous cult that threatens the group of artists in the present day. The prophet might also have some mysterious connection to the dead actor. It is an absorbing tale, with enough suspense and foreboding to balance the character studies done so well throughout.
“Chronicles of the One” (a three-part series), by Nora Roberts
This is actually a trilogy of books written by Nora Roberts and published between 2017 and 2019 (Year One, Of Blood & Bone, and The Rise of Magicks). The three books present the story of a post-apocalyptic Earth ravaged by a disease that is unleashed through an (inadvertent) pagan-like ritual that takes place in Scotland and wipes out most of humanity. It also happens to unleash dormant magical powers and creatures, who rise up to challenge humanity for control of the Earth. That all sounds very “Lord of The Rings” mixed with “The Stand,” and in some ways, that is pretty much how the book is. However, it is more grounded than that, and centers on a messiah-like figure and her journey to become the world’s savior (seeking to defeat the forces of darkness). It is epic post-apocalypse fantasy from an author who has written hundreds of romance novels. Go figure. It could be a great movie, though!
So there you have it. Until these come to a big or small screen near you, maybe give them a read. You know, to take your mind off of the current pandemic.