How does your world end? Common causes of fictional apocalypses (and examples)
Writers have been creating end-of-times scenarios for centuries. Even Noah and his ark is a tale about a watery apocalypse survived only by a chosen few who eventually repopulate the earth. The same can be said of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
There is no end to the ways an author might end his world, but a survey of the genre reveals several common causes for the end of the world. The quick list below identifies them as well as provides some examples of each.
Plague that kills people: Earth Abides (George Stewart); Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel)
Plague that kills food supply: The Death of Grass (John Christopher)
Plague that causes zombies: World War Z (Max Brooks); Forest of Hands and Teeth (Carrie Ryan)
Plague that causes vampires: The Passage (Justin Cronin); I Am Legend (Matheson)
Plague that causes indeterminate problems: The Wanderers (Chuck Wendig); The Book of M (Peng Shepherd)
The Genocides (Thomas Disch)
Roadside Picnic (Arkady and Boris Strugatsky)
The Tripods (John Christopher)
The War of the Worlds (HG Wells)
Technically, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) takes place after aliens arrive at Earth, although it certainly doesn’t read like your usual post-apocalyptic novel.
Plants that turn on humanity: The Day of the Triffids (John Wyndham)
Volcanoes: Ashfall (Mike Mullin); Memory Boy (Will Weaver)
Earthquake: A Wrinkle in the Skin (John Christopher)
Wind: The Wind from Nowhere (JG Ballard)
Running out of natural resources: World Made by Hand (James Howard Kunstler)
Life as We Knew It (Susan Beth Pfeffer)
Lucifer’s Hammer (Larry Niven)
Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler)
The Water Knife (Paolo Bacigalupi)
On the Beach (Nevil Shute)
Z for Zachariah (Robert C. O’Brien)
Cell (Stephen King)
One Second After (William Forstchen)
Dies the Fire (SM Stirling)
Apocalypse + Alternative History
The Peshawar Lancers (SM Stirling)
The Calculating Stars (Mary Robinette Kowal)
For more lists of post-apocalyptic novels, take a look at my series Reading List for the Post-apocalyptic Writer, here.
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