Do away with The Stand: we’ve all read it (hopefully) and seen the TV movie. I am Legend as well – you’re not welcome here. Anything with zombies spelling the end of mankind? Please leave the building in an orderly fashion, kindly taking any severed limbs with you.
It’s all the Mayan’s fault. They ran out of days on their calendar and created a concern that touched almost every man, woman and child on the planet in the process. The big day came and went with about so much as a plane falling from the sky: an incorrect belief that circled the globe because an ancient mathematician was too lazy to count any further than he had too. 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 all worthwhile.
Death is our last fetish and is as inevitable as taxes, as the adage goes. It greets us on the news, in soap operas and in our own little lives with our own sequence of tragedies that pepper our existence. There are many books that 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 and the ultimate torture room, Hades. The recent surge in post-apocalyptic fiction, with the rise of The Walking Dead series for example has further cemented the end of days into popular culture. The end sells.
Many writers have explored this, some more popular than others. So I’d like to introduce you to five 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 the dangers of meddling with nature in The Day of the Triffids.
John Christopher created a story that is as relevant today as it was the day it was released, as the debate with GM foods rages on. Imagine a world where a disease quickly wipes out all grain and crops that all mammals on Earth have come to rely on for daily sustenance. Food shortages escalate and social disorder soon prevails. Famine is only a meal away as mankind fights his brothers for another mouthful. Christopher (who, of course, also wrote the magnificent Tripods series) simultaneously makes man both the monster and the victim as the society we’ve created suddenly 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 which haunts every mouthful thereafter.
A modern soldier known only to the reader as X-127, pushes buttons in an underground bunker, miles beneath the surface of an unnamed country with his fellow numbered survivors. With nuclear war having decimated the surface, Roshwald’s discourse on the finalities of war hammers home the point that war solves nothing; it merely propels us to confront one another, one tribe against another, pissing into our neighbour’s territory because that’s what we think we’re meant to do. But war isn’t that simple, if slings and arrows are thrown at us, it’s in our nature to retaliate instead of leaving our enemies as survivors in order to propagate the race. It’s the self destructive side of us that says ‘If I’m going down, I’m taking you with me.’
Bleak but modestly brilliant, anybody who’s argued for or against nuclear armaments needs to read this. As Roshwald proves in Level 7, even when one bomb is dropped, we all lose out.
Set in a future where oil is scarce and food is expensive, (not too hard to imagine, I’m sure), a passenger plane bound for London from New York suddenly finds itself without a destination as nuclear war kicks when friction in the Middle East boils over, bringing the rest of the world into the fight (again, not hard to imagine). London is now nothing more than a hole in the ground. Every other major city around the world suffers the same fate.
What follows is a white knuckle pot-boiler which plays out the ticking tension like an episode of 24. Every second counts and every drop of fuel matters as the passengers and crew struggle and debate what to do with what 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. Why this hasn’t been made into a film is beyond me.
A massive tremor erupts through a small English town, tearing a massive chasm around the borders, effectively marooning 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. Part fantasy, part horror, but altogether something more. It transcends reality and dimensions and it’s little understood why this isn’t a more regarded novel in the genre. With Chasm, Stephen Laws creates a universe which exists alongside our own with its own rules and realities, similar to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.
The entire planet has been decimated by a horrific disease called “The Slick”. 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 has given him a free pass through the end of the world. He’s alive, everybody else isn’t.
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. But it’s more than 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 followsis 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 that something was once considered poison is now a cure. Garrison makes this powerful point throughout his work: all it takes is for society to turn inside-out to make something we once view as evil into 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 www.snakebitehorror.co.uk. He’s had many short stories published in numerous anthologies. His debut novel ‘Starers’ was published by Severed Press and received rave reviews. He released his short story collection ‘Devil Let Me Go’ in 2013 and his novella ‘Ketchup with Everything’ is gathering much praise since its release by Snakebite Publishing in April 2014.
This article originally appeared on www.thisishorror.co.uk