Top Ten Tuesday: this is how the world ends

Text only: top ten TUESDAY

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It’s all about books, lists and sharing the love we have of both with our bookish friends. This week is a Thanksgiving freebie, so I’m sort of cheating as I want to talk about apocalypse novels for SciFiMonth – but I am thankful it’s not the end of the world, so only sort of.

I mentioned a couple of days ago that my favourite SF subgenre is space opera, but if you’d asked me a few years ago, I’d likely have mentioned my love of post-apocalyptic fiction. I’ve been looking for more positive escapism in my reading since then, but I retain a great deal of affection for a well-executed end of the world. I particularly love stories that ask ‘but what happens after the end of the world?’, especially if they sidestep dystopia.

I discussed why I enjoy an apocalypse narrative a while back, but today let’s celebrate the ingenious ways in which authors have ended the world as we know it.

Book cover: Shelter - Dave Hutchinson (a man walks towards a cottage against a lurid red-yellow sky)

Mary Robinette Kowal has won awards for using a meteorite to reinvent the space race in The Calculating Stars. Dave Hutchinson takes a bleaker view in Shelter, trapping his survivors on-planet in a world of diminishing resources and focusing on a very localised, very personal conflict as farming communities become trapped in a bitter cycle of violence.

Book cover: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

Flu is a common theme in apocalypse fiction, although it can be uncomfortable reading in 2020. Personal favourites: Meg Elison’s dystopian debut The Book of the Unnamed Midwife puts gender and reproductive politics front and centre; Emily St John Mandel finds hope in art and connection in the hauntingly beautiful Station Eleven.

Book cover: The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham (stylised triffid on a khaki green background)
Carnivorous plants

Look I was never going to quote Wyndham in the post title and not mention The Day of the Triffids. I could argue that the vector here is human greed, but it’s far more fun to stay specific. And yes, I know, it’s not really the triffids that end the world – they just take advantage of a sudden change in circumstances. Shh.

Book cover: Feed - Mira Grant (RSS icon painted in blood)

We’re pretty obsessed with eating each other, although we don’t always both to explain where the zombies came from. The ever-reliable Mira Grant makes it clear it’s all our own fault, but leapfrogs the end of the world to examine what living with zombies might entail – Feed stands out in the genre for being a post-apocalyptic political thriller rather than just another book about keeping your brains where they belong.

Book cover: The Stars Seem So Far Away - Margret Helgadottir (a woman on the edge of an Arctic shoreline, in shades of blue)
Climate change

Rising sea levels, crop failure, searing heat – there’s lots of ways to explore this end of the world and it’s a popular choice for obvious reasons. The Ice People by Maggie Gee uses it as a satirical segue into gender wars and inter-generational conflict, but I enjoyed Margrét Helgadóttir’s unexpectedly gentle collection of stories of young people trying to make their way off-planet in The Stars Seem So Far Away.

Book cover: Nod - Adrian Barnes (a bloodshot eyeball on a field of off white)
Sleep disorders

Left-field? Sure. Terrifying? Well, yes. Sleep is an essential process for our physical and mental health – turning it against us is frankly inspired. Nod by Adrian Barnes really wasn’t my cup of tea, but the idea is brilliant.


Book cover: Annihilation - Jeff Vandermeer (patterned hardcover, white flowers or spores on a grey background)
Alien invasion

It’s nice to think that first contact will be an uplifting experience, but from HG Wells onwards, SF has suggested it might be rather less pleasant. The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham is a personal favourite – blending first contact with climate apocalypse – but more recently I’ve been entranced by Jeff Vandermeer’s weird, transformational Annihilation (both books and movie).

Book cover: The Gone-Away World - Nick Harkaway (cream background with a jagged crack zigzagging across it)
Weapons of mass destruction

I grew up when nuclear holocaust was a constant threat and Z for Zachariah was sure to be found on the classroom shelf (cheery, I know). The madcap SFnal child is Nick Harkaway’s debut The Gone-Away World where a bomb that simply makes your target cease to exist has unexpectedly messy side effects (turns out breaking the fabric of reality has consequences, who would have guessed?)

Book civer: Worlds End (Age of Misrule) - Mark Chadbourn

Sure, we’re straying onto fantasy turf, but I love a magical apocalypse. Aliette de Bodard destroys the world with angelic magic and lets her characters live in the ruins in the Dominion of the Fallen; Mark Chadbourn follows in Peter Dickinson’s footsteps and has magic disrupt technology in The Age of Misrule, giving his characters an unreliable weapon with which to fight back against the onslaught of faeries and dragons.


Do you enjoy a post-apocalyptic story? What are your favourite ends to the world?