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SF Themes: Discussions & Reads > Self Destruction - Post & Apocalyptic Novels

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message 1: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
Some of the best books in SF have discussed how we've brought ourselves to the brink or into self-destruction without the help of invading aliens or worlds colliding. Some make the planet uninhabitable, others just wipe out humans or bring our current civilization down.

What are some of your favorite apocalyptic novels & why?

How have they varied over the years: types of threats, ability to recover, & such. Are various periods more or less hopeful?

Spoilers will abound in this topic, so be warned.


message 2: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 899 comments George Orwell's 1984 usually isn't thought of as a post-apocalyptic novel, but it was an atomic war in 1960 that led to Winston Smith's world of Big Brother.

1984 is the most chilling novel I know.


message 3: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
Earth Abides, On the Beach, Alas, Babylon & A Canticle for Leibowitz are 4 of my favorite post apocalyptic novels & I tend to group them together even though the first was published a decade before the others & isn't all that similar in many respects. I guess that's because I read them all about the same time.

When Earth Abides was written, the public thought only the US had the atomic bomb & Stewart had an unknown disease wiping out most of the human race very quickly. There really wasn't much science behind it, just a what-if. The overall theme was the reversion to savagery through loss of knowledge.

By the time the other 3 were written, we were in a nuclear arms race with the USSR & an atomic war seemed inevitable. When I read these books in the early 70s, that war seemed imminent & overdue, but tensions had eased & it was a threat we were used to - a very strange state - resigned paranoia, I suppose. We really thought it would happen. 2 of these 3 had us wiping ourselves out, at least on this planet.


message 4: by Rosemarie (last edited Oct 19, 2017 05:39AM) (new)

Rosemarie | 472 comments I don't know if this book would be part of this category, but The Last Man by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is about the human race being destroyed by a plague.
She writes well and raises some interesting ideas in an era when this topic was unusual and uncommon.


message 5: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 472 comments Buck wrote: "George Orwell's 1984 usually isn't thought of as a post-apocalyptic novel, but it was an atomic war in 1960 that led to Winston Smith's world of Big Brother.

1984 is the most chilling novel I know."


That description is entirely accurate. Reading that book was a sombre experience.


message 6: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
The human race was still going strong in 1984, but it is chilling. People giving up freedom in the name of safety...

I've often thought about, but never got around to reading The Last Man. I don't care for her style of writing. Maybe someday. I should try it in audio. I'm sure Librivox has it.

I Am Legend is another where a plague 'kills' off humans, but in a particularly grizzly fashion since many aren't really dead, just so changed.


message 7: by Gregg (new)

Gregg Wingo (gwingo) As always there is a whole lot of Dick that qualifies. With "Dr. Bloodmoney" and its reference to "Dr. Strangelove" being one of his most interesting.

Technically, "Blade Runner"'s inspiration "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep"'s setting is an ecologically devastated world with only the genetically failed still inhabiting the Earth - the rest have immigrated to the Offworld Colonies and formed a human-replicant based civilization.


message 8: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 899 comments Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents were post apocalyptic though the apocalypse is never really spelled out. It was climatic, economic, and social collapse, all interrelated. I read these two a couple of years apart and my impression was that Talents was the better of the two.


message 9: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
Butler's Pattern Master series also deals with an apocalyptic event in Clay's Ark. It comes between Mind of My Mind which I read first & Patternmaster which I read second, but was published well after both. It was hinted at in the second, so it was nice to finally read it. I never bothered reading the others in the series, though.


RJ - Slayer of Trolls (hawk5391yahoocom) | 669 comments The Road by Cormac McCarthy is post-apocalyptic, although the book avoids the details of how the world arrived in the shape it did and focuses more on how people react to anarchy.


message 11: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1983 comments Mod
Jim wrote: "Butler's Pattern Master series also deals with an apocalyptic event in Clay's Ark..."

I've only read the last book in that series (because it was the shortest). I liked it enough that I want to read more from her.


message 12: by Ed (last edited Oct 20, 2017 10:45AM) (new)

Ed Erwin | 1983 comments Mod
One of my favorites post-apocalyptic novels is Quinzinzinzili.

I predict that none of you will have read it, and most won't have heard of it, since it hasn't been translated to English and is mostly forgotten in France. Nonetheless, I love it.

My review is here.

In brief, this was written in 1935, predicts that WWII will involve Japanese and Germans united against USA and USSR and start with an attack on Hawaii. And that it will result in the death of everyone except one adult and a handful of children. (Ok, that prediction didn't come true.) The adult watches the children develop their own language and culture and start on a path to a bloody new future. Darkly funny.

Probably influenced by La Mort de la Terre (1910) (Included in collection The Navigators Of Space) and probably an influence on Malevil (1972) and Ashes, Ashes (1943).


message 13: by Rafael (new)

Rafael da Silva (morfindel) | 142 comments Ed wrote: "One of my favorites post-apocalyptic novels is Quinzinzinzili.

I predict that none of you will have read it, and most won't have heard of it, since it hasn't been translated to Engl..."


Looking it I discovered that it was translated to portuguese (the only other language besides french, in GR at least), and the edition it's from this year. I added it to my to read shelf. I added La Mort de la Terre and Malevil too.


message 14: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1983 comments Mod
That is cool that Quinzinzinzili is available in Portuguese! (Note that since I read it in a second language, that may have influenced my rating. Since it takes extra effort to read, I may exaggerate how good or how bad a book is.)

I also have Malevil on my to-read shelf. But that shelf keeps growing!

Most of the "classic" post-apocalyptic books I know of imagine the apocalypse to be some sort of global war. Conan-Doyle's The Poison Belt (1913) is an exception, that imagines death from a space poison. Recently we read Galápagos in this group, where it is a contagion. Plenty of recent ones seem to be about environmental collapse.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) This thread needs to be revived, imo. I'm very interested in the Recovery. What books give us a bit more hope?

Station Eleven is a beautiful book and I've loved it twice. And in it some recovery is starting to happen. I'd love to see a sequel in which some of those threats that seem to be looming are overcome!


message 16: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 472 comments I recently read After London: or, Wild England by Richard Jefferies, a relatively early post-apocalyptic novel. It was interesting but finished very abruptly.


message 17: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
L.E. Modesitt Jr. has several books about recovering the Earth after it's been very screwed up. There's his Silent Warrior trilogy which starts with Dawn for a Distant Earth. A feral child is captured & civilized. He goes on to oversee the restoration of Earth by different means. He spends more than a normal lifetime fostering businesses that develop plants that clean up toxic wastes & such. It's pretty action oriented.

Adiamante is about an Earth that is recovering from us wasting it with pollutants. When cyborgs come back to Earth to take the place over, they don't find what they expect. One of the really neat threads is the personal ecological responsibility that all the inhabitants of Earth share. The guy in charge doesn't want to be & bears the brunt of the costs of dealing with the situation.

Modesitt has done a lot of things in his life, but he spent a lot of time in DC working with the EPA & as an environmental consultant. He also has a strong background in economics, so his books always have a very tight budget that the characters must adhere to. IOW, resources, money, time, & tech are always more limited than they'd like.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) Rosemarie wrote: "I recently read After London: or, Wild England by Richard Jefferies, a relatively early post-apocalyptic novel. It was interesting but finished very abruptly."

We should nominate that for Proto-pre-1920 BotM.

Modesitt sounds interesting... I always like stories that are thoughtful and smart, not just enthusiastic.


message 19: by Peter (last edited Oct 11, 2019 07:20PM) (new)

Peter Tillman | 573 comments Jim wrote: "L.E. Modesitt Jr. has several books about recovering the Earth after it's been very screwed up. . . .

Adiamante! My take: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
"An excellent novel, well worth rereading. This is my third read, and I think this is his best straight-SF novel. Moral philosophy *plus* exploding spaceships! "
I sure miss Gerald Jonas's peerless SF reviews for the NY Times!

Another 5-star Modesitt: "The Ecolitan Enigma ": https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
"A/A+": a hard-eyed look at an ancient human dilemma

Monsters as political leaders have been a recurrent nightmare in our history - from Lenin, Hitler, Stalin & Mao to such comparative small- timers as Idi Amin, Pol Pot & Saddam Hussein. The record of "good governments" in dealing with monsters is not encouraging. Millions of lives could have been saved with a few snipers' bullets... why weren't they?"


message 20: by Peter (last edited Oct 11, 2019 07:27PM) (new)

Peter Tillman | 573 comments More on "The Ecolitan Enigma":
"Shadowy organizations of dedicated, competent fighters-against-evil are a classic SF trope, and Modesitt knows the classics. "Enigma" is the latest and one of the best: thoughtful, well-written, an accurate and disturbing portrait of the dark side of humanity: "Greed and force - that's all most people listen to."

Moved to the "reread soon" pile. I'm pretty sure I kept my copy.


message 21: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
I don't think the Ecolitan novels fit with Cheryl's quest since they're not set on Earth, but other planets. Still, they're pretty good & certainly on the right topic. I find Modesitt's love interests too gooey & fairly ridiculous, especially in the Jimjoy books. He's always wrong & must earn his way into the lady's good graces by changing.

It's great to meet another Modesitt fan. Have you read The Green Progression? It's not SF, but a mystery-thriller set around breaking the economy with too stringent ecological rules. I first read it about the time they closed the last lead mine in the US for that reason.


message 22: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1983 comments Mod
Jim wrote: "... It's not SF, but a mystery-thriller set around breaking the economy with too stringent ecological rules. ..."

That sounds exactly like SF to me! Social SF, but still SF. Of course, I haven't read it and you may be right.


Cheryl has hopes her life will calm down soonish (cherylllr) Yeah, when I type SF I actually say "speculative fiction" in my head, to be more encompassing. I like speculation... the 'what if' aspect of SF.... So, *Green Progression* does sound interesting, too.


message 24: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
Ed wrote: "Jim wrote: "... It's not SF, but a mystery-thriller set around breaking the economy with too stringent ecological rules. ..."

That sounds exactly like SF to me! Social SF, but still SF. Of course,..."


Modesitt is actually just pointing out an existing issue in a fictionalized setting, so that removes it from 'speculative' or 'science' & puts it firmly in fiction to my mind.


message 26: by Gregg (new)

Gregg Wingo (gwingo) This might be relevant to the discussion:

While some reviewers regard the novel as a thriller, others see it as an example of post-millennial science fiction with stories set in the "technocultural future-present". Some reviewers note that the novel furthers the post-millennial trend in science fiction of illustrating society's inability to imagine a definitive future and the use of technologies once considered advanced or academic now commonplace within society and its vernacular. Gibson said that the only science fiction elements are "[t]he Footage and Cayce's special talents" but that he "never bought that conceit that science fiction is about the future". Dennis Danvers explained the use of science fiction as a narrative strategy:

[s]cience fiction, in effect, has become a narrative strategy, a way of approaching story, in which not only characters must be invented, but the world and its ways as well, without resorting to magic or the supernatural, where the fantasy folks work. A realist wrestling with the woes of the middle class can leave the world out of it by and large except for an occasional swipe at the shallowness of suburbia. A science fiction writer must invent the world where the story takes place, often from the ground up, a process usually called world-building. In other words, in a science fiction novel, the world itself is a distinctive and crucial character in the plot, without whom the story could not take place, whether it's the world of Dune or Neuromancer or 1984. The world is the story as much as the story is in the world. Part of Gibson's point ... is that we live in a time of such accelerated change and layered realities, that we're all in that boat, like it or not. A novel set in the "real world" now has to answer the question, "Which one?"

This is from a discussion of "Pattern Recognition" and the Blue Ant Trilogy in general. It has also be called "near future" SF.


message 27: by Jo (new)

Jo | 1092 comments Peter Hamilton has just written an article on his favourite 10 books about remaking the future. The list is quite varied and I hope some qualify as post-apocalyptic....

https://www.theguardian.com/books/202...


message 28: by Dan (new)

Dan | 52 comments Jo wrote: "Peter Hamilton has just written an article on his favourite 10 books about remaking the future. The list is quite varied and I hope some qualify as post-apocalyptic....

https://w..."


Thanks so much. This is an interesting list.


message 29: by Leo (new)

Leo | 607 comments Great list, we read a few here already.
"... Simak, who writes pastoral SF" - nice put.


message 30: by Peter (last edited Jun 24, 2020 01:59PM) (new)

Peter Tillman | 573 comments Jim wrote: "It's great to meet another Modesitt fan. Have you read The Green Progression? It's not SF, but a mystery-thriller set around breaking the economy with too stringent ecological rules. I first read it about the time they closed the last lead mine in the US for that reason."

Re: GP. I've looked for it. Hard to find.
Re: LEM: I like most of his SF. Read one or two of the "Soprano Sorcerer" things, which were inspired by his wife, a singer. Not my sort of thing, but I think those are what pay his mortgage.
Re: Last lead mine in US. You read wrong. I used to work for St, Joe Lead. The big Pb-Zn mines in SE MO are going strong, & will be for the foreseeable future. World-class ore deposits. The one thing I would have liked to see there, and didn't: when the miners break into a new "crystal cavity", there's a rush for the best specimens, and for photos first! The bosses hate this, but screw 'em. Famous specimen locality.

Probably the only UG mines in the US where miners (& geologists, & bosses) drive to work UG in pickup trucks! Successor company: https://doerun.com/
"Missouri’s mining industry provides nearly 9,800 jobs across the state. Metal mining has been vital to Southeast Missouri for more than 300 years."
Photos:
https://www.mininghistoryassociation.... Whoa! Not OSHa approved....
Video will give you an idea of the scale. Not a small-scale operation.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruVCy...


message 31: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 4209 comments Mod
Peter wrote: "Re: Last lead mine in US. You read wrong...."

Oh, good. I don't remember where I read or heard that.

I didn't care much for the Soprano Sorceress series. The first book was good, but it went downhill for me quickly.


message 32: by Peter (new)

Peter Tillman | 573 comments I don't recall if I even finished the first. Much prefer his SF -- & his best can be very, very good!


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