Disaster Reading for Disastrous Times


I’m stuck at home bored, like almost everyone else, so I thought I’d indulge in my favorite pastime and put together some reading lists! I see a lot of lists like this one on Electric Literature and Book Riot — some of them really good, some of them just frankly a hodgepodge of books the list author quickly Googled — but my book recommendations are certified because I’ve actually read and enjoyed all of the books that make my lists.

This first list is certainly appropriate for these times, if you’re the kind of reader who prefers to escape reality by diving into much worse versions of it.

Ten Books about Disasters of All Kinds

1. The Apocalypse Triptych edited by John Joseph Adams: Three books, or a “triptych,” of anthologies of apocalypse-themed stories; in the first volume, The End Is Nigh, all of the stories take place just before an apocalypse, while in the next two volumes, connected stories by the same authors take place during and after the apocalypse. Contributors include Seanan McGuire, Nancy Kress, Paolo Bacigalupi, Charlie Jane Anders, Tananarive Due, and many others you may or may not have previously encountered. Anthologies like this series are great vehicles for discovering new authors.

2. Lexicon by Max Barry: Members of a secret shady organization have the ability to control people using only words, but when one of them gets hold of a bareword, which has the power to compel everyone who sees it, an internal war breaks out. A cinematic page turner of a book, with chases and shootouts galore.

3. The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian: In a future America, a few centuries after a mysterious “Storm” has wiped out most human life on Earth, Natasha works for the Office of Mercy, which is charged with euthanizing any humans or animals Outside to spare them the suffering of being alive.

4. The Wall by John Lanchester: In the near future, the world has been devastated by rising oceans from climate change, and England has literally walled itself off from the rest of the world and their refugees. Every citizen under a certain age must serve a term as a Defender of the Wall, where the punishment for allowing a refugee to get through is exile.

5. The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville: Somehow, surrealist art has physically manifested in Nazi-occupied Paris, acting as a chaotic-neutral force that keeps the war going well beyond its historical end.

6. The Last One by Alexandra Oliva: Zoo (so nicknamed because she works at a wildlife-rehabilitation center) is a contestant on a survival-type reality TV show where she is dropped into the wilderness and must complete silly challenges; she doesn’t know, however, that a horrific pandemic has pretty much wiped out everyone on the East Coast in the span of a few days, so she makes her way home thinking the devastation she sees around her is all part of the game.

7. Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich: Mitchell is a futurist who predicts disasters, and then an actual disaster of extreme magnitude hits New York City. He finds himself living an entirely different kind of existence in the flooded, deserted city.

8. Lock In by John Scalzi: An epidemic sweeps the world, leaving a sizable percentage of the population “locked in,” still conscious but unable to move their bodies. The disease makes changes in their brains, though, that enable neural networks to be connected to virtual environments and remote-controlled robots, allowing the Hadens, as they’re called, to live their lives.

9. The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer: Area X is a weird, unsettling, indefinable place where disquieting things happen that appeared along the coast without apparent cause, and it seems to be growing. In the first book, Annihilation, four scientists venture into Area X, searching for the previous expedition, which never returned.

10. The Last Policeman Trilogy by Ben H. Winters: A police detective discovers a “hanger,” an apparent suicide, in a McDonald’s bathroom, but inconsistencies in the crime scene lead him to believe his hanger is actually a murder. So he sets out to find the murderer, doggedly following the clues where they lead him. The twist is that all this is happening during humanity’s last days, and everyone knows it. An asteroid is going to slam into the Earth in about six months. Yet the detective keeps pursuing his case obsessively, even when it begins to affect the lives of people close to him.


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