Tales from the End of the World

Occasionally, I get stuck in a genre. I go on binges reading fantasies, biographies, or historical fiction. I often have author binges or series binges. One time I read so many Murakami books, I had to switch to nonfiction for a while just to get back to a more solid reality.

Recently, I unintentionally got stuck on a theme: the end of the world. It is a theme I can’t escape. It seems there has been a resurgence in the popularity of books about the apocalypse and dystopian futures. Can’t imagine why . . .

The first book I read, Station Eleven, kept popping up on so many reading lists and recommendations with books like 1984 and Brave New World that I had to read it. Next, I knew I needed to make progress on the Dark Tower series before the movie comes out this summer, so I read The Waste Lands. Finally, from my stack of books I got from Christmas, there was Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights. I didn’t think of any connections at first. Before I started reading the book with the very long name that I am already tired of typing, all I knew was there were genies. All of these titles take very different approaches to the end times, but here they are, united by happy accident.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This book was terrifying to read while traveling. A superbug seems so probable a way for most of humanity to get wiped out. Prior to reading this book, my first bet would have been a robot apocalypse, but now I get jumpy when someone sneezes. Unlike my other selections, this novel takes a very realistic approach to telling the story of those who survive. Despite the horrors of a new world left devastated by a plague, a group of traveling actors and musicians put on concerts and perform Shakespeare at settlements amid the ruins of the world that once existed. Painted on the side of their caravan is a line from Star Trek: Voyager – “Survival is insufficient.” The story is told through flashbacks between the pre and post time of the cataclysmic event. Flashbacks can go badly, but this book manages them well. Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)

The Waste Lands by Stephen King

This is the third book in the Dark Tower series. I struggled through the first half of the first book in the series because so much of the plot is unclear, but I know King to be such a masterful storyteller that it would ultimately be worth it. It most definitely is. The Drawing of the Three pulled me in even further, with the introduction of two amazing new characters. The story is about the end of a different world that overlaps sometimes with our own. The world is “moving on” and Roland (aka The Gunslinger) and his new gunslinger recruits are in search of the Dark Tower. Reasons for this search are still unclear, but following along on the journey is fun. There is even an insane train. I recently learned King has published a vaguely disturbing children’s book inspired by The Waste Lands called Charlie the Choo-Choo and I WANT IT. Rating: ★★★★★

Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

I am a fan of magical realism, which draws me to many of Rushdie’s books. However, this one may be making that step into full fantasy. I also think I like Rushdie’s books so much because his sense of humor seems similarly warped like mine. This book maintains its sense of humor as humanity is destroyed in the wake of some vengeful djinns. The book is narrated 1000 years into humanity’s future, so not everything is a total loss. This is thanks to a djinn princess who found love in humanity. Her love of a human long ago led to birth of many, many children. Through the progeny of her progeny, she is able to assemble an army of humans who get in touch with their genie genes in order to fight back. Rating: ★★★★

I just realized as I was writing this, Norse Mythology (recently reviewed) also deals with the end of the world. All of the stories build to Ragnarok. Hmmm . . . now to figure out what to read next. I’m thinking historical fiction or a graphic novel.

Do you have any apocalyptic recommendations? Or how about books with cheerier themes to balance out all the doom and gloom?


4 thoughts on “Tales from the End of the World

  1. On the Beach by Nevil Shute is from 1957. It was made into a movie but the novel was very popular as well. I’m sure it’s still available. In the 1950’s school children practiced hiding under their desks at the first sign of a ‘flash’.

    I’m going to check my library to see if any of your recommendations are available.

    BTW: I pre ordered Murakami’s ‘Men without Women’. Released May 7, it is all short stories. He has at least one new novel, not yet translated, that I wish they would speed up. I’m pretty sure the publishers figure sales will be stronger if they slow down the release rate.


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