Reading At The End Of The World

Finding quite a few apocalyptic works on the list of books to read

I’m reading too much about the end of the world.

As I’ve mentioned before, I try to have a fiction and non-fiction book out to read when I’m brushing my teeth, have a bit of time before bed, enjoy a meal out in the coffee shop, and so on. And recently I wound up with a glut of post-apocalyptic or end-of-the-world novels on the “to read” list. It was enough that I decided to space out my books even more, to alternate between apocalyptic and non-apocalyptic fiction in my reading schedule.

Perhaps it has something to do with the rumors that the Mayan calendar running out on December 21 signals the end of the line for existence. But if the Mayans couldn’t foresee the Spanish conquistadores in their much more immediate future, I have little faith in them accurately predicting the demise of humanity as a whole in this year. Although I am writing this in advance before starting a vacation, so we’ll see if it ever actually gets read by other eyes.

No, it’s more the result of finishing up a trilogy by John Birmingham. Inspired by a person at an Australian antiwar protest who complained that the world would be better if the United States disappeared, Birmingham crafted an alternate history story with just that premise. In Without Warning, the population of the United States is almost entirely wiped out by a mysterious energy disturbance which parks itself over the most of North America on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The novel follows the fallout from such a cataclysmic event and keeps the story going in a rather disappointing follow-up entitled After America. As I write this, I’m progressing through the third and final book in the series, Angels of Vengeance, which is proving to be a bit of an improvement although nowhere near as intriguing as the first in the series.

So if you’re also in this mindset despite the lack of a Dec. 21 apocalypse, I thought I’d share some year-end End Times picks:

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins: The first in a trilogy and the first to get a movie version, the story follows an iniquitous society that has arisen several decades after the collapse of the United States. In the first book, the protagonist finds herself in a brutal death match staged for entertainment.
On The Beach, by Nevil Shute: A sobering look at a world demolished by nuclear war, the novel follows an Australian community and their interactions with an American submarine crew as they await the inevitable approach of deadly radiation.
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy: Be warned that this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is the most disturbing of the lot. After an unnamed cataclysm, a father and son take to the road in a forlorn journey in search of unlikely salvation.
The Stand, by Stephen King: Often hailed as King’s best work, this doorstopper of a book tracks the spread of a deadly superflu and the battle between good and evil waged in its aftermath.
The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman: The only non-fiction choice here, Weisman tries to answer the question of what would happen if all humans just up and disappeared one day. The book has a decidedly ecological theme as it ponders subjects such as how many years a giant garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean will be around and how long the effects of numerous nuclear meltdowns would last.
World War Z, by Max Brooks: A lighter look at the whole topic, Brooks offers plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor with this oral history of a world recovering from a zombie apocalypse.

Happy reading!

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