Do away with The Stand. We’ve all read it and seen the TV movie. I am Legend, as well. They’re not welcome here. Anything with zombies spelling the end of mankind? Kindly leave the building in an orderly fashion, taking any severed limbs with you.
It’s all the Mayan’s fault. They ran out of days (or couldn’t be bothered to count any further) and created a panic that affects every man, woman and child on the planet.
The Doomsday scenario
Every soothsayer and psychic since we’ve been able to put quill to papyrus has had the fantasy of getting it right and guessing humanity’s ultimate demise. As if correctly guessing our extinction would earn them bonus points in the afterlife or perhaps to be smug for that last second before we’re all wiped out would make it worthwhile.
Death is our last fetish, as inevitable as taxes as the adage goes. We all think about it at some point, it greets us on the news, in soap operas and in our own little lives with our own sequence of tragedies. And a fair few of us obsess about the ultimate, the big Kahuna, the be all, end all, final roll of humanity’s credits.
It’ll happen to us all, but if we all slip from this mortal coil at once does this make it romantic? If we’re all in it together that’s what links us in the end. Let’s all hold hands as we slip into the great beyond.
There are many books which speculate on our end. Nostradamus had a good go. The Bible dwells on fire, brimstone and punishing sinners with the arrival of the Four Horsemen. The recent surge in post-apocalyptic fiction, with the rise of The Walking Dead series, for example, has cemented the end of days further into popular culture. The end sells. Whether we like it or not, we all die and with our insatiable thirst for knowledge we will all speculate at some point during our lives as to how our society will crumble.
I’d like to present to you five novels which be unfamiliar to you. This isn’t a best of, more a should-read. Whilst not populist, they are nevertheless powerful novels which treat the end of us just as brutally as Stephen King preaches in The Stand, Richard Matheson explores in I am Legend and John Wyndham shows in The Day of the Triffids.
John Christopher created a story that is as relevant today as it was the day it was released. Imagine a world where a disease quickly wipes out all the grain and crops which mammals on Earth have come to rely on for their daily sustenance. Food shortages escalate and social disorder soon rules the streets. Famine is only a meal away as mankind fights its brothers for every mouthful. John Christopher simultaneously makes man the monster and the victim as the society we’ve created implodes, no longer able to support the many mouths that hunger. A startling read that holds a mirror up to our dinner plate, making the reader immediately grateful for the tins they have in the cupboard and haunting every mouthful thereafter.
A modern soldier known to the reader only as X-127, pushes buttons in an underground bunker, miles beneath the surface of an unnamed country with fellow numbered survivors. Nuclear war has broken out and Roshwald’s discourse on the finalities of war proves the point that war solves nothing. War merely propels us to confront one another – one tribe against another – as we piss on our neighbour’s territory, because that’s what we think we’re meant to do. Bleak but modestly brilliant, anybody who’s argued for or against nuclear armaments needs to read this. As Roshwald proves in Level 7, if even one bomb is dropped upon this earth, we all lose out in some way.
Set in a future where oil is scarce and food is expensive – not too hard to imagine, then. A passenger plane bound for London, from New York, suddenly finds itself without a destination as nuclear war kicks off after friction in the Middle East boils over, bringing the rest of the world into the fight (again, not hard to imagine). London is nothing more than a hole in the ground. New York follows as does every other major city around the world. This book is a white knuckle pot-boiler which plays out the ticking tension like an episode of 24. Every second counts, every drop of fuel matters as the passengers and crew struggle and debate what to do with the little resources and choices they have left. There’s no anti-war message here, just everyday people making hard choices and trying to survive in an upturned world.
A major tremor erupts through a small English town, tearing a massive chasm around the borders, effectively marooning the survivors to a quarter mile chunk of land. From the point of view of the survivors, the world as they knew it has gone. But the end is only the beginning. An old evil awaits in the depths of the chasm and starts to pick them off one-by-one. In Chasm, Laws creates a world left over from the wreckage of our own, birthing new terror and villains born from something that you couldn’t even begin to describe as the apocalypse. It’s something more, it transcends reality and dimensions and it’s hard to understand why this isn’t a better regarded novel in the genre.
The entire planet has been decimated by a horrific disease called ‘The Slick’, of which no one is immune and the only way to alleviate the symptoms is take a hefty dose of opiates every four days. The End of Jack Cruz follows the thoughts of Jack ‘Colonel’ Jones, a junkie whose addiction to narcotics enabled him a free pass to the end of the world.
Whilst scrounging for his next hit, the Colonel stumbles across Jack Cruz, a gun-toting survivalist with supplies up to the eyeballs. Seemingly he’s the answer to any survivors of the apocalypse dreams and nightmares. Just two men in a room at the end of the world. One might be the saviour to the few humans that are left. On the other hand he could be a psychopath. What follows is 259 pages of fraught power play between two very damaged characters, whilst they both deal with having lost everyone and everything they’ve ever cared about they still have to deal with each other. The use of drugs as a McGuffin is an interesting concept, in which something that was once considered poison is now a cure. Garrison ingrains this as a powerful point throughout his work; all it takes is for society to turn inside-out before we view something once evil, as something necessary for survival. The End of Jack Cruz is Fight Club for the apocalypse; a haunting and tense piece that strikes the reader with furious originality, leaving the scenes of horror branded on the mind long after you’ve finally put it down.
Nathan Robinson is a book reviewer for Snake Bite Horror. He’s had short stories published in numerous anthologies. His debut novel Starers has been published by Severed Press and is available in paperback and on Amazon Kindle.