Books to read at the end of the world

If you want to pretend, for a moment, that today’s reality is really fiction, try one of these novels, which imagine the end of the world, sometimes from a pandemic. [The Stand is not on the list; a worldwide pandemic that wipes out the human race is scary enough. Adding God and the Devil makes it all ridiculous.]

Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel.

A nearly perfect, non-linear story, which follows three timelines: as the virus spreads, and the world begins to realize that nothing will go back to normal; Year 20 after the pandemic, when the Traveling Orchestra roams the ravaged landscape under the banner, “Survival is insufficient”; and right after the pandemic has wiped out 99% of the human race and scattered survivors settle into a lonely new reality. Some details are unnervingly familiar.

The Last Man on Earth, edited by Isaac Asimov

A really terrific, occasionally silly collection of short stories edited by Isaac Asimov, early efforts by 20th century science fiction writers like Lester Del Rey and Roger Zelazny (and more obscure writers as well) to imagine a disaster that wipes out most of Earth’s population, and what it would all be like for the rare survivors (or, in some cases, for the very last human alive).

The Tenth Plague by Alan N. Levy

This geo-political thriller imagines a government created pandemic as the inevitable result of Middle East chaos, a common conspiracy theory that is portrayed with particularly gripping detail and resonance; Levy died weeks before its publication. This book was always deadly serious and believable, which added to its thrills. You don’t have to be paranoid to enjoy it.

Valerian and Laureline: The City of Shifting Waters / Earth in Flames

At Oblivioni, we loved the Valerian movie, and we also love the French comic books on which the film was based. This two-part adventure, from 1970, which is included in Valerian: The Complete Collection, Volume 1, is a beautiful drawn tale of the human race in 1986, when Earth is nearly destroyed. More escapist than some of the other selections, it may make you feel lucky these days.

Blakely’s Ark by Ian MacMillan

A barely known, long out of print novel about a teenager in a post-pandemic world in which survivors scavenge for food while still practicing social distancing, as the virus has never quite died out. Off in the distance, a government financed “ark” welcomes the uninfected and immune to live in supposed safety. An exciting, highly unpleasant and in some ways outdated novel; today’s readers will relate to the now-realistic portrayal of government incompetence.

Ice by Anna Kavan

Another last novel: authors on the verge of death are uncanny in their depiction of end-of-world times. The dreamlike nature of this novel may resonate with readers who cannot believe they have not dreamed up the new reality.

On the other hand

If you want to get away from the virus, and you cannot even focus your mind enough to concentrate on a book, we recommend that you binge-watch The New Girl, the adorkable sitcom that ran for seven years on the Fox network. It’s streaming on Hulu and Netflix.


Oblivioni is a blog about “Obscure or Overlooked Books, Movies, People, Television, Artwork and Whatever.” Read more here.

Image by Edwin Hooper, Unsplash.

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