Not with a Bang. . .
Post-apocalyptic stories - a sub-genre of science fiction - usually are misnamed. Instead of focusing on what happens after society collapses, they narrate the dramatic, action packed moment of crisis in which the world as we know it ends. These books are often very plot focused, moving at a quick pace with little character development. But there is another kind of post-apocalyptic book: one that is not really about the apocalyptic event at all. These books - a few of which are listed here - tend to be more literary fiction. They use the world after the crisis to slowly unveil the characters and something about human nature in general. They are more slowly paced and may be long on description and short on action. A few of these stories don't even clearly explain what led the world to be in the deteriorated state the book describes. So, if you'd like to reflect on human nature in crisis, marinate in a sense of loss and have a peak at what may be, this list is a great place to start.
California by Edan Lepucki
This book follows a young couple from southern California who decide to leave the dense city they live in - where things are slowly and dangerously falling apart - to start a new life together in the northern California wilderness. The narration moves back and forth between Frida, who is pregnant, and her anxious husband, Calvin. Spurred by the coming birth of their child, they leave the life they've built and walk through the Spikes, large ominous structures which seem to warn them away. Past the Spikes, they find a thriving community where they hope they can raise their children in health and safety. But, of course, all is not as it seems in their new home. This story focuses a lot on what it means to be in a romantic relationship with someone and the intimacy or lonely distance that can entail. Moving back and forth from the present to the past, the reader slowly learns what has brought Frida and Calvin to this moment. This book is not for those who can't handle a hopeless ending.
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
Hig lives a lonely but structured life at a small municipal airport in rural Colorado after a devastating flu wipes out almost everyone. His only companions are his dog and a strange, gun-toting neighbor. While there is some danger from marauding pillagers, his life is mostly quiet and full of his grief. One day, however, he gets a radio transmission that gives him hope. The risk is that its source lies past the point of no return at which he won't have enough fuel to get back home. He has to decide whether leaving what he has is worth gaining what might be out there. A nice, easy to read and compelling book, this story gives you deep insight into one man's ability to deal with loss.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This award-winning book follows several main characters, one of who dies during the first day of the book but around whom everyone else in the work seems to orbit. Taking place around the Great Lakes after a flu wipes out most of the population, the main plot follows a traveling troop of actors who put on Shakespearean plays as a way of rebuilding civilization. But travel is dangerous and human beings have complex pasts which no one seems to quite be able to leave behind even in this new world. Full of intriguing and strong characters, this book is a must read for anyone who loves literature, Shakespeare, the Midwest or books with multiple narrators.
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
This is pretty much your run of the mill coming of age story, except that while 11-year-old Julia is growing up, the earth's rotation is gradually slowing. This makes the days and nights both longer and shorter. While people around her try different ways to adjust to this new, cataclysmic reality, Julia is missing her best friend and trying to grow a romantic relationship with her crush. Like many children entering adolescence, Julia and her friends are trying to answer questions about who they are, if their lives will matter and how to be mature when the adults around them seem to be failing.
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
This is another book featuring people fleeing rainless Los Angeles in the hopes of finding a better life for a child. Luz, a former model, and her boyfriend Ray, a former soldier, are some of the few people left in the city as it crumbles into dry dust. When they find a mysterious toddler, they are forced to make a long and perilous journey in the hopes of finding a desert settlement which might allow them and the child to have a future. This book's leisurely pace allows the reader to become absorbed in the characters and the beautiful but deadly landscape they inhabit.