My Top 10 Post Apocalyptic Novels: Plagues and Pandemics

24 02 2012

This week on "Welcome to the Apocalypse" we are dealing with one of my favorite Post Apocalyptic subcategories, Plagues and Pandemics. This is in honor of the release for the first time of Stephen King’s The Stand in Unabridged Audiobook Format.

"That stuff is lying around, just waiting to be picked up." The Stand

Apocalyptic Plagues are one of the most feared and most realistic potential apocalypses. Not just potential, The Black Death is estimated to have killed 45 – 50% of the European population in the 14th Century. One of the things that set Plague tales apart is that it kills off humanity, but unlike nuclear war and ecological disasters, it leaves the planet pretty well untouched. Once the plague has run its course, the survivors are left to pick up the pieces. There is no nuclear winter, or Zombie’s chasing you. The greatest threat you will face is yourself, and your fellow survivors.

The following is a list of my favorite Post Apocalyptic Plague novels. It was a hard list to make, and I was adding, cutting and revising up until I posted this list. I attempted to pick not just my favorite novels dealing with Plagues and Pandemics, but good examples of the genre. There are some that I cut, because they were far future, well past the time where the plague was an issue, or that had plagues as an issue but wasn’t the focus of the novel.  All in all, I am happy with this list.

 

 

The Stand by Stephen King

The Stand is my favorite all time novel, and really the catalyst for my love of Apocalyptic fiction. I have read it in full six times, and have a well worn paperback version of it next to my bed where I will occasionally reread some of my favorite parts. It is the story of Captain Trips, a military made Superflu that wipes out 99.4% of the population. King’s tale is full off memorable characters, and contains a classic good vs. evil plot.

Audiobook Version: Random House Audio just released an Unabridged version of The Stand narrated by Grover Gardner.

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

Earth Abides tells the story of Isherwood Williams, one of the last survivors of a plague that devastates humanity. Much of the novel is focused on nature taking back the earth, with plants tearing apart roads and domesticated animals going wild.  In some ways, it’s the story of civilization in reverse, starting with modern man, and allowing us to witness its gradual degradation.

Audiobook Version: There is an audiobook version released by Audible Frontiers narrated by Jonathon Davis.

Mister Touch by Malcolm Bosse

Not a well known example of the genre, Mister Touch is definitely one of my favorites. Aids has mutated, devastating the population and leaving the survivors with multiple physical ailments, including blindness and respiratory problems. A group from New York City called The Skulls, led by a former Wall Street swindler travels across an Apocalyptic America looking for a climate more suitable to their needs. It’s full of dark humor and an almost poetic use of pop dialogue.

Audiobook Version: There is no audiobook version of this novel.

Dark Advent by Brian Hodge

Brian Hodge’s Dark Advent has a similar theme to The Stand, a weaponized plague, good survivors and bad survivors, and an evil antagonist. Yet, it is definitely a darker, tighter novel than The Stand. Hodges created a nightmarish landscape and one really bad dude determined to bring about the end of the world.

Audiobook Version: There is no audiobook version of this novel.

 

The Peshouse by Jim Crace

Unlike most in this list, The Pesthouse is a far future Apocalypse, taking place an unknown amount of time after a devastating plague. America is now in a new Dark Age. While the Plague was years ago, it is still a factor in the lives of the populace, and any sign of sickness will get a person sent to isolation in a pesthouse. It is a fascinating tale of survival and a road trip through a dark version of a future America. 

Audiobook Version: There is an audiobook version of The Pesthouse from Books on Tape, narrated by Michael Ktamer.

 

Emergence by David R. Palmer

Candy is a young girl, yet she is seemingly stronger, smarter and faster than the typical human. After a biological weapon kills off over 99% of the earths population, Candy escapes from the bunker her father has constructed and sets out in search of other survivors. Emergence is stylistically unique, written in a short hand style similar to telegraph type.

Audiobook Version: There is no audiobook version of this novel.

Survivors by Terry Nation

This is the novelization of the hit 1970’s British television series. Survivors follows a group of plague survivors as the figure out trying to relearn the old was of doing things. It is also the tale of a mother searching for her lost son in an Apocalyptic landscape. Survivors is one of the most detailed and realistic apocalyptic plague novels.

Audiobook Version: There is no audiobook version of this novel.

Year Zero by Jeff Long

While full of a lot of religious and scientific subplots, the essence of Year Zero is a plague tale, and a pretty good one at that. It contains one of the most harrowing apocalyptic journeys, across Asia, as the main character tries to return to the United States amidst a global pandemic to find his daughter. There are some strange turns along the way, but overall this is a darn good read.

Audiobook Version: There is no audiobook version of this novel.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake alternated between the present story of Snowman, and Apocalyptic Hermit who must deel with a group of genetically changed humans, and the dystopian past that led to the eventual disaster. It’s often weird,but fascinating. It’s a dark but often humorous look at science and greed run amok.

Audiobook Version: There is an audiobook version of Oryx and Crake read by Campbell Scott for Random House Audio.

‘48 by James Herbert

‘48 is a post apocalyptic alternate history where Hitler releases a devastating bioweapon as a final act of hate. It is a non-stop race through a decimated London as an immune American pilot tries to escape from a neo-nazi clan who believes there survival depends on a transfusion of his blood.

Audiobook Version: There is no audiobook version of this novel.

 

As an added treat, I asked a few Post Apocalyptic experts and fans for their picks for best Plague novel. Here are their answers.

Megaton is a Post Apocalyptic blogger and founder of Post Apoc.net. You can find him moderating The Post Apocalyptic Forum or on Twitter at @Megaton_us.

The Scarlet Plague by Jack London

Apocalypse by plague has always been my favorite sub-genre of post-apocalyptic fiction, and one of the books responsible for that is The Scarlet Plague by Jack London.  The Scarlet Plague might not be the absolute grand-daddy of plague stories (Mary Shelley’s The Last Man was written 75 years earlier) but it’s certainly one of the first, and it’s obviously a base on which more recent authors have built their works.  The events of the story will be instantly recognizable to anyone who’s read Stephen King’s The Stand or similar books – the plague comes on without warning, and kills within an hour, people try to sequester themselves in their homes, but once one person is infected the disease ravages entire families, and the narrator specifically mentions governments covering up the reality of how dangerous the plague is, bodies piled in the streets, violence, murder and mayhem.  All of that in a book written a full 100 years ago; it’s definitely a true pillar of the genre.

Tim aka Fear Death by Water runs the Post Apocalyptic Blog Cozy Catastophe and is an Apocalyptic superfan, whose Post Apocalyptic reading list eclipses my own. You can find him on twitter at @CosyCatastrophy

Dark Advent by Brian Hodge

The book I’d like for you to use on your list is Dark Advent by Brian Hodges. The cause of the end is a weaponized version of the bubonic plague. Unlike some books its release into the population is not an accident. It is done for the sole purpose of wiping out most of the population.

This book is most often found in the horror section and I’d bet that most people would pass on it based on the cover alone. Even the author doesn’t know what happened with it. Trust me it’s the cover that makes it a worthwhile item to track down.

As is the case with all plague novels there are survivors. Also some of them are more good and some are not so good. The guy who releases the plague is of course very bad. Also immune. As the book gets rolling, the good clump together and the bad clump together. Most books will focus on the good group. Not Dark Advent. It evil and has a tight focus on the actions of Peter Soloman, plague releaser.

If you wondered what Flagg may have been up to in Vegas while Abigail was doing her thing in Boulder, this book might give a window to it. It’s sort of a Flagcentric version of The Stand.

I’d like to thank my guests for their input. If you are interested in contributing to a future “Welcome to the Apocalypse” Favorites post, please feel free to contact me through email or twitter (@guildedearlobe). If you have a favorite Plague novel that isn’t covered on this list, feel free to leave a comment.

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10 responses

24 02 2012
Jess Wilson

Hi, interesting post, thanks. I have read few of these so it’s given me some ideas. Could you recommend some post-apocalyptic short stories and/or poetry? One of my high school students is asking for suggestions for short texts in this genre.

1 03 2012
February Month in Review, March Preview « The Guilded Earlobe

[…] Top 10 Post Apocalyptic Novels: Plagues and Pandemic […]

6 03 2012
16 05 2013
clemenssuter

Check out my post-apocalyptic novel http://www.amazon.com/Clemens-P.-Suter/e/B005C1GXTE

2 01 2014
blindguard

Some nice examples, I didn’t know Jack London had written a plague book, I will have to read that.
Day of the Triffids, is might favourite, of this genre.
The devastation of most of the world going blind, the carnage, the horror, the horror.

25 12 2014
nikki @bookpunks

Ooo, I am really in endtimes stuff and just stumbled upon this old post. Are you still writing about this?

29 12 2014
Avatre

One I’ve recently read is ‘The Redaction’ by Linda Andrews. There’s three books to the series, and while not as brilliantly written as Swan Song or The Stand, it’s right up there with my favourites of the genre. I recommend giving it a try.

17 01 2015
theferkel

Thank you for the list. I have read The Pesthouse at your suggestion and it was soooo goood! Finished The Stand years ago. Will pick another one now.

28 10 2016
nick veitch

surprised “The road” by cormac mccarthy is not in the list i thought was an excellent book, stunning visual imagery, bit like Mr King is so good at providing for his readers

15 01 2017
John Lardieri

I have just written one called “Vixen”

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