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15 Influential Early Works of Apocalyptic Fiction

( Listverse )

by Čapek, Karel

R.U.R (aka Rossum’s Universal Robots) depict th horrors of a regimented technological world and the terrible end of the populace if it fails to rise against its oppressors. The play reflect the world the Capeks lived in and comment on its grosser follies. Distributed by Syndetic Solutions, Inc.
Call Number:
PG5038.C3 R6
Publication Date:

by Asimov, Isaac

Nightfall is the only one of these works that doesn’t take place on (or near) Earth, but it’s definitely apocalyptic. Six stars continually illuminate a civilization far away. Scientists discover that every 2,049 years, the most visible sun is eclipsed, causing temporary darkness. But because the civilization only experiences light, past eclipses led immediate to the fall of civilization—which is, of course, what happens. A highly influential story (Asimov later expanded it to a novel with Robert Silverberg).
Call Number:
Publication Date:

When worlds collide
by Balmer, Edwin

This intriguing tale and its sequel, After Worlds Collide (1934), had tremendous influence on sci-fi and fantasy. Echoes of When Worlds Collide can be seen in the comic strips Flash Gordon (started in 1934) and Superman (who first flew in 1938). Although the science in these two apocalyptic tales is sketchy, they’re still fun (if a bit turgid in places). The story: Two “rogue planets” are heading to our solar system. “Alpha” will cause much destruction when it passes near Earth before it swings around the sun to come back and annihilate the planet, while “Beta” will assume a stable orbit. A group builds spaceships to travel to Beta and escape the holocaust. The 1951 George Pal movie version, which changes some of the characters, is my favorite flick from the golden age of popcorn sci-fi. It’s supposed to be remade for the 2010 movie season.
Call Number:
PS3503.A45 W5 1933B
Publication Date:

Machine Stops (The collected tales of E.M. Forster)
by Forster, E. M.

A highly praised novella (a type that’s longer than a short story but shorter than a novel), The Machine Stops should seem familiar to latter-day readers. Echoes of this gem can be found in The Matrix, the Internet, video-conferencing and more. Forster wrote about a post-apocalyptic humanity that lives underground and is fully connected to The Machine for all their needs. Unlike The Matrix, humans are fully aware of their situation and can freely leave, but are discouraged because of the toxic conditions on the surface. The Machine eventually becomes an object of worship. It’s a nice, early entry in the man-vs.- machine concept.
Call Number:
PR 6011 O58 C6 c. 2
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Scarlet Plague
by London, Jack

This apocalyptic tale, which takes places in 2072, 60 years after the “scarlet plague” killed most everyone on earth. One of the survivors realizes that he needs to pass on humanity’s knowledge or it will be lost forever. Interesting note: Six years after London published his novel, a terrible plague did in fact grip the world. The Spanish flu killed at least 50 million people in 1918-1920 (some sources say as high as 100 million people, which would make the death toll more than both world wars combined).
Call Number:
PS3523.O46 S3
Publication Date:

by Rand, Ayn

Ayn Rand's Anthem is a hymn to man's independent spirit and to the highest word in thehuman language - "Ego."First written in 1937, Anthem was published in England, but was refused in publication inAmerica, for reason which the reader might discover by reading it for himself. In 1946, it appearedas a pamphlet, issued by Pamphleteers, Inc., of Los Angeles. This is its first American publication inregular book form.Anthem tells the story of a man who rediscovers the individualism and his own "I" - in a world ofabsolute collectivization, a world where sightless, joyless, selfless men exist for the sake of servingthe State; where their work, their food and their mating are prescribed to them by order of theCollective's rulers in the name of society's welfare - a world which has lost all the achievements ofscience and civilization, when it lost their root, the independent mind, and has reverted to primitivesavagery - a world where language contains no singular pronouns, where the "We" has replacedthe "I," and where men are put to death for the crime of discovering and speaking the"unspeakable word."The story tells of one man who rebelled, of his struggle and his victory. Assigned to the life work ofstreet sweeper by the rulers who resented his brilliant, questioning, unsubmissive mind - hebecomes a scientist, secretly, risking his life for the sake of his quest for knowledge. In the midst ofcollective stagnation, where men toil at manual labor by the light of candles - he discoverselectricity. In the midst of eugenic planning and State-controlled Palaces of Mating - he discovers apersonal love and a woman of his own choice. In the midst of brutal morality which proclaims thatman is only a sacrificial animal to the needs of others - he discovers that man's greatest moral dutyis the pursuit of his own happiness. He endures danger, denunciation, imprisonment, torture - buthe breaks the chains of the Collective, he escapes with the woman he loves, to start a new life inan uncharted wilderness, and he reaches the day when he is able to predict that "my home willbecome the capital of a world where each man will be free to exist for his own sake."Anthem presents not merely a frightening projection of existing trends, but, more importantly, apositive answer to those trends and a weapon against them, a key to the world's moral crisis andto a new morality of individualism - a morality which, if accepted today, will save us from a futuresuch as the one presented in this story. Distributed by Syndetic Solutions, Inc.
Call Number:
PS3535 .A547 A7 2005
Publication Date:

Last Man
by Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft

A futuristic story of tragic love and of the gradual extermination of the human race by plague, The Last Man is Mary Shelley's most important novel after Frankenstein. With intriguing portraits of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, the novel offers a vision of the future that expresses a reaction against Romanticism, and demonstrates the failure of the imagination and of art to redeem the doomed characters. Distributed by Syndetic Solutions, Inc.
Call Number:
PR5397 .L3
Publication Date:

Time Machine
by Wells, H. G.

No “best-of…” science fiction list can fail to include at least one work by H.G. Wells, one of the most critical authors in Western civilization. Wells makes his first appearance on this list with The Time Machine. The tale is long-since familiar: A man in Victorian London builds a time machine and travels hundreds of thousands of years into the future, where he meets up with both the docile and the savage descendants of humanity. The Time Machine was twice translated to the big screen. (Because of its various components, The Time Machine fits into the genres of general sci-fi, time travel, apocalyptic and dying earth.)
Call Number:
PR5774 .T5 1984
Publication Date:

War of the Worlds
by Wells, H. G.

Link to record for more information.

Call Number:
PR5774 .W3 1983
Publication Date:


Award Description
Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic literature involves any of the following: alien invasions, pandemics, severe natural disasters, the fall of civilization, the end of the world (“dying earth”) and massive wars. Most of the works on this list were influential to some degree, whether they influenced other authors or the wider genre in general. Some of these works can be found at online literature sites such as Project Gutenberg.

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