by Stephen King
Stephen King’s epic has a weaponised superflu germ escaping a military facility and wiping out 99 per cent of the world’s population. Guided by shared dreams, the isolated survivors form up in opposing groups and ready themselves for a showdown of Bibical proportions. The scope of the devastation is breathtaking, with scenes of New York City clogged with corpses utterly indelible.
Of the fiftysomething novels King has published, fans most often nominate The Stand as their favourite – and I’m with them. I read it as a kid and have revisited its 1000-plus pages several times since.
The idea, too, that the end of the world is but the beginning of a new battle is hugely fascinating.
by Lord Byron
After she created Frankenstein, Mary Shelley pioneered the apocalyptic novel with 1826’s The Last Man, to which The Last Girl is partially indebted for its title. But her pal Lord Byron beat her to the end-times punch with his poem “Darkness”, which was inspired by the real-life “year without summer” following the massive Indonesian volcanic eruption in 1816.
Byron’s premise is that the sun goes out, Earth is plunged into darkness, humanity burns its cities for light – and then things get really bad. “All earth was but one thought – and that was death.” Yowza. Read it online and be freaked out.
by Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic meditation won the Pulitzer Prize for good reason. To match its elegantly stripped-back prose, The Road discards many end-of-the-world genre tropes. We never find out the names of the Man and the Boy. Nor are we afforded even the modest comfort of knowing how the entire earth became a burning and blackened wasteland.
Instead the focus is on simple survival, whether it’s filching a can of Coke from the innards of a fossilised drink machine or preparing to kill yourself and your son to avoid a fate worse than death at the hands and teeth of the terrifying road cannibals.
by Robert O’Brien
Long before “YA” was a phenomenon, Z For Zachariah had a 16-year-old girl surviving a nuclear war and nerve gas attack on her family farm in a remote valley. But her safe haven is threatened by the appearance of a man in a radiation suit.
Told in diary form, Robert C. O Brien’s novel makes the apocalypse into an intimate battle between a surprisingly wise teenage girl and the supposedly smart adult scientist whose ideas for creating a new world are scarier than the wasteland. Emotional and exciting, Z4Z is also a winner because it’s not afraid of ambiguity.
by William Golding
Fleeing London to escape an apocalyptic war, a plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean and the surviving adolescent boys who wash up on a remote island are forced to fend for themselves. Their spiral into barbarism, whipped into hatred by Jack and his Beast, reflects the dark extremes we’ll resort to for power and survival.
What’s always lurking in the background of William Golding’s novel is the knowledge that the blood spilled by the boys is but a drop in the ocean compared with the war engulfing the globe.
Michael Adam’s new book, The Last Girl is published by Allen & Unwin.
The end of the world happened quickly. The sun still shone, there was no explosion – just a tsunami-sized wave of human thought drowning the world in telepathic noise as everyone’s inner-most secrets became audible. Everyone’s thoughts, that is, except sixteen-year-old Danby.
Everyone looked like bad actors in a poorly dubbed movie. Their expressions didn’t match their emotions and their lips didn’t sync with what they were saying. But they were all so loud.
The end of the world happens in the blink of an eye…