Best Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian SciFi?

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Royce Sears, May 14, 2016.

  1. Royce Sears

    Royce Sears Well-Known Member

    Post-Apocalyptic / Dystopian Scifi was sort of my introduction to Science Fiction. I found a copy of "Daybreak 2250" by Andre Norton in my grandparent's old house when I was about eleven years old or so.. I was hooked. The idea of humanity falling apart and trying to rebuild itself became a part of my worldview. I would love to hear more of your favorites so I can add them to my reading list...

    Other Favorites in this genre include:

    The Stand by Stephen King
    Ill Wind by Kevin J. Anderson
    Maze Runner James Dashner
    World War Z-Max Brooks
    I Am Legend-Richard Matheson
    The Handmaid's Tale-Margaret Atwood
    Brave New World-Aldous Huxley

    On my reading list in this sub-genre:
    A Canticle for Leibowitz
    The Road
    Lucifer's Hammer
    Under the Dome
    Boreas likes this.
  2. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I like those subgenres but haven't read much in them. The only titles from your list I've read are I Am Legend, A Canticle for Leibowitz and The Road, all of which I thought were excellent in their ways. But if I had to recommend only one out of those three, it would definitely be A Canticle for Leibowitz. These are all post-apocalyptic rather than dystopian.

    Do you differentiate between post-apocalyptic and dystopian? I don't consider them then same even though there is a fair bit of overlap. A lot of post-apocalyptic fiction takes place shortly after the 'lifting of the veil', so everything is still chaotic and in flux. There aren't any discernible, organised and seemingly 'stable' [albeit oppressive & controlling] societal structures in place, and these are elements that I associate more with dystopian fiction. So, I would consider The Handmaid's Tale and Brave New World as dystopian (titles where I'm a little familiar with the plot without having read the books). I Am Legend is straight up post-apocalyptic without any dystopian qualities, and The Road is basically a doomsday novel.

    Then again, you can also have fiction with very stable societal structures and governments in place after post-apocalyptic events, and that's the case with Neal Stephenson's Anathem. In that novel, there are multiple 'apocalyptic' events that have taken place in the past, but the story is set much after the fact in a stable, non-dystopian setting. But I think this is a lot more uncommon. At least, I've not heard of too many examples of post-apocalyptic fiction that are non-dystopian.
    Last edited: May 14, 2016
  3. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    I loved The Road for its bleakness and character portrayal, and thought I Am Legend was good. Others I've read recently are Station Eleven, which was set during and after a mass flu epidemic - it was pretty moving stuff - and I, Zombie, which I really enjoyed - set in a post-apoc New York, written (almost) entirely from the viewpoints of the zombies. Canticle I liked, although my memory is sketchy on its contents.

    As a whole it's definitely a sub genre I rate highly, and I definitely want to read more of it!
  4. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    @TomTB, how does Station Eleven compare with The Road? It's also considered 'literary', right? Does it pack the same kind of emotional punch as The Road?
  5. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    It doesn't compare .. doesn't even come close, but that's not to say it's not an enjoyable, fairly emotionally charged read, because it is. It doesn't drag you into the story though, not in the way The Road does, I felt drained after reading The Road (in a good way); it's more a bunch of intertwined POVs, concerning how these people are affected by and how they come to terms with the apocalyptic event, both at the time of the event and also quite a few years after. It's worth a read, but it's not one that will linger with you for a long time, like The Road.
  6. Royce Sears

    Royce Sears Well-Known Member

    While I recognize, and appreciate, the literary devices that differentiate Post-Apocalyptic and Dystopian, you almost can't have one without the other. When you have a catastrophic event that affects societal structures on a global scale, you will almost inevitably have societal upheaval in the form of Dystopian elements, unless you have something like "I Am Legend" wherein nearly all of humanity is wiped out. I think, for a Dystopian story to unfold, (sociologically and/or psychologically speaking) one needs to address HOW things happened and WHY events have shaped the world to become what it is, thereby including the Post-Apocalyptic elements, either through flashbacks, expository narrative, or character dialogue. So, in answer to the differentiation, most of the time I do not differentiate between the genre's because they blend so easily, but based on the world and the story line, there may very well be a definite difference.
  7. ofer

    ofer Regular Member

    I also read Station Eleven. Can be described as a character-driven post apocalyptic book. Certainly worth a read, although it's not your typical disaster book.

    Another one I can recommend is Swan's Song by Robert McCammon. Similar to King's The Stand.

    Edit: forgot another book - Dinner at Deviant's Table by Tim Powers. A little weird but a very effective story.
    Last edited: May 16, 2016
  8. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Another post-apocalyptic book I read early one and liked very much was Earth Abides by George Stewart. Quite a few Biblical motifs running through the novel. It's a work that I've wanted to re-read for a long time now along with A Canticle for Leibowitz.
  9. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    Edward Robertson's eight book Breakers series is hugely popular and very good post-apocalypse. He's a major indie talent and adept at both epic fantasy (The Cycle of Arawn trilogy) and sci-fi.
  10. ecgordon

    ecgordon Well-Known Member

    I have Station Eleven on my Kindle. One of these days I'll get around to it.

    I may be older than most who post here, so The Road is probably the most recent title I'll mention, and many might not be in print. I do recommend it.
    I also highly recommend A Canticle For Leibowitz and Earth Abides. A notch below those I would list John Wyndham's The Chrysalids ("Re-Birth" is the U.S. title), and Leigh Brackett's The Long Tomorrow.
    Quite a bit of what Edgar Pangborn wrote falls into the category: Davy, The Company of Glory, The Judgement of Eve, Still I Persist in Wondering.
    Same goes for several early books from J. G. Ballard: The Drowned World, The Burning World, The Wind From Nowhere, Vermillion Sands.
    Can't get much more post-apocalyptic/dystopian than Brian Aldiss' Greybeard, Hothouse and Earthworks.
    One of the best debut novels I've ever read is David R. Palmer's Emergence from 1984. He only wrote one other book, the first in a projected series, but that's it as far as I know.
    You may have already gathered that I lean toward literary SF, so it shouldn't surprise you to know I loved John Crowley's Engine Summer.

    I guess I will mention something a bit more recent. I can recommend at least the first four books in E. E. Knight's Vampire Earth series. It's not supernatural horror, the alien invaders just exhibit many of the same characteristics as vampires. It was supposed to be a six book series, but it's up to at least eleven last time I checked, although I stopped with #7.
  11. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    So, I realised that I'd never actually looked up the word Dystopia before.

    Oxford Dictionary
    an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one;
    the opposite of utopia

    Merriam-Webster Dictionary
    an imaginary place where people are unhappy and usually afraid because they are not treated fairly;
    an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives

    Cambridge Dictionary
    (the idea of) a society in which people do not work well with each other and are not happy

    According to the above definitions, specifically the "everything is unpleasant" bit, any turmoil can be termed dystopian. The immediate scenarios after catastrophic events (be they environmental or man-made) or apocalyptic revelations are undoubtedly unpleasant. I can see why you'd want to couple them and say they go hand-in-hand. The overlap between post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction seems strongest in those works featuring post-apocalyptic elements. Most fiction of this kind focuses on events immediately [or very shortly] following the event.
    But I think it is very possible to have dystopian elements without any catastrophic or apocalyptic events, and that's when the real difference between these two sub-genres of science fiction is very strongly evident. Like I've said before, I associate a purely dystopian work to be one where stable systems of control with their attendant organisations are already firmly established. The key point is that these systems of control are dehumanising and oppressive. This can certainly happen in a post-apocalyptic environment, but it doesn't have to. A steady consolidation of central authority exerting more and more power and limiting more and more freedoms is a perfect explanation for a dystopian environment without any major catastrophic event.

    Take a look at the European Union's political project as a hypothetical example by taking it to it's logical conclusion. There are already strong dystopian elements that are associated with this example. The EU is already dictating limitations on free speech on social media. Their regulatory edicts have no constitutional checks. There's already a movement to implement an EU army. The EU is refusing to accept any populist but legitimately elected officials from member states who are not invested in the EU project. Some of this is at a nascent stage, but the direction is most definitely dystopian in outlook no matter the initial claims of it being otherwise. Just replace EU with any fictional supra-national state attempting to do (or doing) the same and you have the makings of one dystopian scenario for a story without any major calamities like world-wide financial collapse or nuclear annihilation or viral pandemics.

    Another dystopian scenario would be oppressive environments with dictatorial war-lords. Doesn't have to be an apocalyptic event, just violent power take-overs and then decades of cruel oppression.
  12. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I've only read one J. G. Ballard work so far: High-Rise, from his mid-period writings. I've got Concrete Island waiting for me next.
    Totally forgot about Crowley! Yes, I loved Engine Summer, too, including his other early works like Beasts and esp. The Deep.
  13. Royce Sears

    Royce Sears Well-Known Member

    An eloquently written point that I agree with. I hadn't considered the broader definition of Dystopia beyond the idea of catastrophic/apocalyptic creation.
  14. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    I'm really digging the Wool trilogy by Hugh Howey at the moment. Has anyone else read it? Shift, book #2 is so far a slight improvement on Wool.
  15. ecgordon

    ecgordon Well-Known Member

    I've had Wool on my Kindle for quite a while, not sure when I'll get around to it, and I can say that about so many others as well, both Kindle and print copies.

    I thought of another P/A book I liked. Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban.
  16. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    I've recently gotten into HH in a big way .. I read a couple of standalones before dipping my toes into Wool. Each one has been great; he's such an easy to read author, who does characters like they should be, with well written plots to boot. I can see myself working my way through his whole back catalogue before too long ..
  17. georgehudson

    georgehudson New Member

    The Divergent series is good too :)

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