Pandemics. Natural disasters. Political manipulation. Technological upheaval. There are many ways for an apocalyptic future to arrive in a novel, but it’s often the rebuilding of a society, instead of the collapse, that holds the most interesting story. These tales of struggles, defeats, and endurance can serve as both warnings about what the future could hold and reminders of the beauty of our world as we know it. Heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure, each of the books on this list will remind your book club that, for the human race, survival will always be insufficient.
Zazen by Vanessa Veselka
“An ambitious encapsulation of our modern times, Zazen tackles counterculture hipsters, geology, Buddhism, consumerism, terrorism, veganism, family drama, and, above all, love.” —Judges’ Citation, PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize
From the author of the National Book Award longlisted epic The Great Offshore Grounds, Zazen is the debut novel that launched her career—a story of activism, police violence, and white guilt in a not so distant dystopian America.
The country is poised on the brink of war. Curfews and other restrictions give the police an excuse for violence. Then a bomb goes off: some shallow place of capitalistic worship demolished. Inspired, for reasons not entirely clear to herself, Della calls in a second—fake—bomb threat. But a bomb goes off there, too, and soon Della finds herself pulled in by a group of people who, for once, are promising to actually do something. No matter the consequences. Prescient when it was first published, Vanessa Veselka’s debut novel is even more revolutionary now.
“With The Second Sleep he cracks open The Time To Come, making his new book a barnburner, leaving the reader wanting only one thing: more, please.”—Tom Hanks
From the bestselling author of Fatherland and the Cicero Trilogy–a chilling and dark new thriller unlike anything Robert Harris has done before. When a local parson of a remote village dies under mysterious circumstances, Christopher Fairfax, a young English priest, is dispatched on horseback from the cathedral city to conduct his burial. His orders are to give the sermon and leave as quickly as possible. But when he arrives in this distant hamlet, haunting questions arise. Why did the parson possess heretical texts? How did he come to own banned ancient relics? Did these possessions lead to his death?
“Deeply melancholy, but beautifully written, and wonderfully elegiac…. A book that I will long remember, and return to.” —George R. R. Martin
A finalist for both the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, Emily St. John Mandel’s stunning novel opens with a production of King Lear on the night when a fast- moving flu epidemic sweeps into the city. Within weeks, civilization has crumbled. As the story moves between life before the collapse and the glittering world that exists after it, we begin to see the strange twist of fate that connects each of the characters. Thrilling, audacious, and told in spellbinding prose, Station Eleven is a book to savor.
“A gripping, sinister fable!” —Margaret Atwood, via Twitter
King has tenderly staked out a territory for his wife and three daughters, Grace, Lia, and Sky. Here on his island, women are protected from the chaos and violence of men on the mainland. The cult-like rituals and therapies they endure fortify them from the spreading toxicity of a degrading world.
But when King disappears and two men and a boy wash ashore, the sisters’ safe world begins to unravel. Over the span of one blistering hot week, a psychological cat-and-mouse game plays out. Sexual tensions and sibling rivalries flare as the sisters are forced to confront the amorphous threat the strangers represent.
A haunting, riveting debut, The Water Cure is a fiercely poetic feminist revenge fantasy that’s a startling reflection of our time.
“Simple yet mysterious, simultaneously cryptic and crystal clear. The Road offers nothing in the way of escape or comfort. But its fearless wisdom is more indelible than reassurance could ever be.” —The New York Times
Gray snow falls from the sky as father and son move through the ravaged landscape of what was once the United States. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. Imagining a future in which there is no hope left, this Pulitzer Prize winner is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destruction, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.
“This end-of-the-world novel [is] more like a rapturous beginning…. Remarkable.” —San Francisco Chronicle
A flu has swept across the globe, and Hig has no one left except for his dog, Jasper, and his gun-obsessed neighbor, Bangley. Hig is, however, a pilot, so he spends his days flying the perimeter of his limited world, occasionally taking trips to the high country to fish and bask in the fresh air. One day, Hig hears a random radio transmission and decides to discover what lies beyond the limits of the gas tank in his plane—his point of no return. His choice to leave leads him on a journey through the best and worst humanity has to offer as he searches for hope in a world that might have none.
“An elegantly told, compulsively readable parable.” —Vanity Fair
When Mae Holland scores a job at the Circle, the world’s most powerful Internet company, she can’t believe her luck. Set on an idyllic, green-lawned campus in California, the Circle is a place where dreams come true. From banking to social media, the Circle provides a single online identity for everyone, and for Mae, it is the place where she can finally reach her full potential. But not everything is as it seems. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.
“Lights a fire from the fears of our age…. Miraculously balances humor, outrage, and beauty.” —The New York Times Book Review
The Waterless Flood has wiped out most of humanity, but a small band of survivors carry on in order to teach the Children of Crake, the gentle, bioengineered quasi-human species who will inherit this new Earth. Blending action, humor, romance, and an imagination at once dazzlingly inventive and grounded in a recognizable world, MaddAddam is vintage Atwood—a moving and dramatic conclusion to her epic work of speculative fiction.
“While anyone can tell a story that resembles a dream, it’s the rare artist, like this one, who can make us feel that we are dreaming it ourselves.” —The New York Times Book Review
The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo. A young woman named Aomame begins to notice that the world isn’t quite right; she’s entered a parallel existence she calls 1Q84. Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo becomes obsessed with an enigmatic ghostwriting project. As these two stories converge, we learn of the complicated and meaningful connections they share. A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.