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top picks for post-cataclysmic fiction?

Yesterday I played for my class the original 1938 "The War of the Worlds" radio broadcast by the Mercury Theatre of the Air led by Orson Welles (based, of course, on the 1898 novel by H.G. Wells). No matter how many times I listen to that dramatization, I always seem to hear something new and relevant. It's a truly remarkable and chilling work.

Thanks to all of you who responded to my earlier post on dystopian fiction. I've been thinking about the relationship between dystopian works and post-cataclysmic (or post-apocalyptic, or post-holocaust, depending on which term you prefer) works. On the one hand, they are different literary creatures: to quote The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction by John Clute and Peter Nicholls, dystopias create "hypothetical societies containing images of worlds worse than our own," and post-cataclysmic works focus on "the aftermath" of a disaster, "the kind of world the survivors build for themselves." So dystopias are warnings meant to inspire the reader to change the human behaviors and patterns that will lead to an inferior or undesirable future, while post-cataclysmic works focus on recovery from dire happenings that are not always under humanity's control.

The two seem to me to overlap at points. Some of the societies that emerge from cataclysms in science fiction literature are dystopian. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., which I mentioned in my last post, is a classic example. A Canticle imagines a dystopian world emerging after a devastating World War III - so, too, does Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, for that matter. (Of course, calling a war a cataclysm neatly sidesteps the issue of culpability, the fact that humans are responsible for war in a way they are not for other cataclysms such as meteor hits, alien invasions, or sudden plagues.) But of course in the literature many dystopian societies become what they are simply because current trends run amok, and not because some terrible disaster or violent clash helps those societies along. Think Brave New World.

It struck me that there also are post-cataclysmic works I find to be noteworthy just as post-cataclysmic works, all discussions of dystopias aside. The Last Man by Mary Shelley, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank, and The Postman by David Brin immediately come to mind.

Now that I've thought out loud and rambled quite a bit, I come to my question. Whether they have dystopian ingredients or not, which books would be on your list of the best post-cataclysmic literature?

A quote for the day:

"My wife, my colleagues, my students, my books, my observatory, my... my world... where are they? Did they ever exist? Am I Richard Pierson? What day is it? Do days exist without calendars? Does time pass when there are no human hands left to wind the clocks?"

from "The War of the Worlds" radio broadcast by the Mercury Theatre of the Air,
October 30, 1938


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 11th, 2005 02:16 pm (UTC)
Great - many thanks! And terrific call on "Last of the Winnebagos" - augh, that made me cry! Definitely post-cataclysmic. I appreciate it!
Sep. 9th, 2005 12:25 am (UTC)
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card is my favorite book ever. It's pretty post-cataclysmic.

Also, The White Mountains, but I don't remember the author because I don't have a copy of it. Excellent, creepy book reminiscent of War of the Worlds (teachers, for some strange reason, were always giving me post-cataclysmic books when I was a youngin').
Sep. 9th, 2005 09:42 am (UTC)
I know The White Mountains as one of the Tripods series by John Christopher. The others are The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire; there's also one I haven't read called When the Tripods Came. I loved that trilogy as a kid, I have to find it.

John Christopher wrote quite a lot of post-cataclysmic books: I liked the post-plague love triangle of Empty World, and there was a future feudal series, The Prince in Waiting, but I can't remember much about them now.

Oh, and he wrote The Guardians! Which I think has a post-cataclysmic setting, but is mainly about the politics of a future Britain divided between the (rural) County and the (urban) Conurb. Terrific book.

Wow, this is bringing back memories. I must just go and hit the library...
Sep. 11th, 2005 02:24 pm (UTC)
Oooh, great information on John Christopher! Very useful indeed. I feel the need for a library run now, too! ;)

Thanks again!
Sep. 12th, 2005 09:07 am (UTC)
He's a children's/YA author. Actually, most of the post-apocalyptic books I thought of were children's books - I don't know if that's because I started thinking of books like John Christopher's, or whether there's something else going on...
Sep. 14th, 2005 04:37 pm (UTC)
This makes me think of Frank Bonham's The Missing Persons League, a post-cataclysmic YA novel I devoured when in elementary school...

I still give major props to Mary Shelley's The Last Man as a favorite, by the way - so much more sophisticated and pointed than Frankenstein, and that's saying something! There's been some really good scholarship published about it, but I'm still surprised there isn't more.
Sep. 14th, 2005 05:45 pm (UTC)
I keep on meaning to read The Last Man, there is an excellent hypertext edition.

BTW, a post on my friends list today reminds me of another post-cataclysmic/dystopian book, Facial Justice, by L.P. Hartley, in which a uniform society is maintained by compulsory facial surgery. (Another one I haven't read, despite there being a copy not three feet away from me...)
Sep. 12th, 2005 09:13 am (UTC)
Oh yes, forgot to say - there was a TV adaptation of The Tripods back in the mid-80s, but they only made two series, which left the narrative at an extremely depressing point. I think it's out on DVD now.
Sep. 14th, 2005 04:38 pm (UTC)
Oooh! Thanks for the heads up!
Sep. 11th, 2005 02:17 pm (UTC)
Great stuff! Many thanks! (The teachers obviously recognized your brilliance even at your young age! :) )
Sep. 9th, 2005 09:52 am (UTC)
The Stand, of course! It is the Great American Novel!

I gruesomely enjoyed I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. I remember loving The Changes trilogy by Peter Dickinson as a kid, but I wonder what I'd make of it now. Children of Morrow by H.M. Hoover was another one I devoured as a child. I went through John Christopher's books below...

But, apart from The Stand, my favourite post-cataclysmic story is Day of the Daleks, novelized by Terrance Dicks. Cataclysms! Time travel! Daleks!

I'll continue thinking and maybe come up with some more, or even something thoughtful ;-)
Sep. 11th, 2005 02:22 pm (UTC)
LOL! I didn't dare post on your LJ this confession, but I've never read The Stand, though I did see the mini-series. I'd tried a few other King novels by that time and I simply detested his writing style. Is The Stand a very different creature? Because your advice hasn't steered me wrong yet...

I Am Legend was the basis for both The Last Man on Earth and The Omega Man, wasn't it?

Daleks! We can never have enough Daleks!!! Thanks SO much for your recommendations...
Sep. 12th, 2005 09:19 am (UTC)
I didn't dare post on your LJ this confession, but I've never read The Stand

LOL! Did you like the mini-series? I think it does a good job of catching the 'feel' of the book.

I'd tried a few other King novels by that time and I simply detested his writing style. Is The Stand a very different creature?

What was it you didn't like about his style? I know some of his earlier books like Carrie have that disjointed, stream-of-consciousness style, not so good. The Stand is a lot more fluently written; very character-driven, very fast-moving. All about magic and rationality and religion and America... damn, it's a good book!

I went through a period of reading a lot of King, not so much now. I think he's a great short story writer, and a great novella writer. His novels are a bit bloated, and often go for the gross-out, which does little for me (in print - love film gross-out!). The Stand is his longest book, but I don't, personally, find it bloated, although the publishers did - it was originally published in a cut-down form. The one on the shelves now is generally the uncut version, which came out in 1990 (once the market could sustain a book that size by King).

I guess you could get a library copy and try the first few chapters? (I couldn't put it down - I think I read it in two or three nights.) I think he's a devotee of Lovecraft, if that makes you warm to him at all!
Sep. 14th, 2005 04:47 pm (UTC)
LOL! I have read his essays and introductions re: Lovecraft, so he does have a warm place in my heart!

All about magic and rationality and religion and America...

You mean, like Neil Gaiman's American Gods? *wink* (Yes, I know Gaiman came after King...)

I thought the mini-series was fine. As I recall it lost a bit of momentum at the end, but that might be the medium, not the story. I wish I could give you specifics about what I didn't like about King's writing, or what it was of his that I read, but my impressions were that he was gimmicky and unimaginative in his word choices, and as a whole his prose was very disposable. People like Bujold can use ordinary language and still write passages you want to commit to memory: King's style seemed more like that of a short-order cook than a chef.

I don't mean this to be insulting - I know it's a question of taste. But I may have to give him another try, thanks to your posts!
Sep. 14th, 2005 05:41 pm (UTC)
American Gods is one of those books in one of the piles on top of the piano... I definitely need to move it up the pile if those are the themes.

King's style seemed more like that of a short-order cook than a chef.

Heh, that's good! There are some bits in The Stand that make I can quote from memory - and given that my memory is awful, he must have been doing something right. But I absolutely 'get' him not being to everyone's taste.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 11th, 2005 02:23 pm (UTC)
Excellent - many thanks! I teach The Gate to Women's Country (still relevant after all these years!), but I've only read about Riddley Walker. Clearly I need to read it. Thanks so much for your recommendations! I owe you one.
Sep. 11th, 2005 06:26 pm (UTC)
You must read Riddley Walker. I found the annotations on this site extremely helpful as I read. One of my favourite books.
Sep. 14th, 2005 04:48 pm (UTC)
Outstanding! I really owe you one. This will be on my "must read" list for certain.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 12th, 2005 09:05 am (UTC)
That's very interesting - I had my copy for years before reading it too. I would pull it off the shelf every few months and read the blurb and then think about it, and then put it back on the shelf again. Once I was in the right place, I raced through it.
Apr. 2nd, 2006 06:18 pm (UTC)
Post-cataclysmic literature
Yes Im a little late on this discussion. I have to say I found "Alas Babylon" a good read. "The Stand" is the only Stephen King book, I have completed and I really did enjoy it. Very intersting good/evil dark/light themes. I have heard that "On the Beach" by Nevil Shute is after end of world stuff, but I've not yet read it so can't be sure.

There was a trilogy of books I read several years ago, which took place in America after we had lost all electricity and other modern necessites. It was not post end of world but we just lost the use by using all the natural resources (I think). Everyone was very medieval and the states had seperated and some had formed together to form new independent countries and they would spy on each other and fight each other, anyway it was really interesting. It was a whole new way of looking at what might happen in the future. I have no idea who the author was on the names of the book. I'm pretty sure it was a female. If anyone know what I;m talking about please let me know
Apr. 2nd, 2006 06:21 pm (UTC)
Post cataclysmic literature
Oh my gosh, I so can't believe I forgot Fahrenheit 451. I'm writing a paper on it this term. I completely forget about it. Yea definitly.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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