Yeah, 2020 has been a nightmare thus far—and the pandemic is just one burning bag of garbage in this blazing dumpster fire of a year. Every day seems to introduce some new horror, and—to no one’s surprise—people are turning to novels to temporarily escape all of the stress and existential angst.
Digital sales in the first half of 2020 are, predictably, way up, in large part due to the temporary closure of so many brick-and-mortar stores—but unit sales of print books were also up 2.8% over the same period in 2019, according to NPD BookScan. 322.1 million print copies were sold in the first six months in 2020, up from 313.5 million in the first half of 2019.
The data shows that many of us turn to reading to temporarily escape the chaos.
Literary escapism comes in many forms—steamy romances, breakneck-paced thrillers, knotty mysteries, and (my personal favorite) works of apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. I’ve been a lifelong fan of these kinds of stories since I was a kid growing up in the ‘70s when movies like The Andromeda Strain, Earthquake, Soylent Green, and The Omega Man were phenomenally popular. I’ve come to realize that these disturbing storylines are so satisfying because regardless of how horrible my current situation is, at least I’m not living through a meteor striking the earth or trying to survive a zombie apocalypse or struggling to find food in a terminally overpopulated and dying planet.
If immersing yourself in a future much starker than our current reality appeals to your literary escapist tendencies, here is a list of some stellar end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it novels. 2020 seems like a walk in the park compared to some of these dark visions of the future!
• The Apocalypse Triptych edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey
These three anthologies (separated into The End is Nigh, The End is Now, and The End has Come) were self-published by Adams and Howey and feature original stories by a laundry list of genre fiction luminaries, including Paolo Bacigalupi, Seanan McGuire, Ken Liu, Tananarive Due, Jonathan Maberry, Nancy Kress, Charlie Jane Anders, Mira Grant, Elizabeth Bear, and Carrie Vaughn, to name just a few. You want a weighty literary diversion? These anthologies collectively offer up 1,000+ pages of top-notch end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it stories.
• The Nothing Within by Andy Giesler
Giesler’s debut novel is a post-apocalyptic epic set in northeastern Ohio’s Amish country. It seamlessly blends elements of science fiction, dystopian fiction, horror, and mystery, with a healthy dose of social commentary thrown in for good measure. One of the most memorable I’ve read recently—highly recommended.
• The Perfection of Fish by J. S. Morrison
In the near future, feminist influencers have promoted testosterone-suppressing drugs to decrease male aggression. To combat a perceived erosion of masculinity, misogynist billionaire Berky Benson leverages geneticists and artificial intelligence to exploit the genes of his old science teacher—meek, agoraphobic Nadia Holkam—hoping to create future generations of subservient women.
• Dystopia Now by Harvey Hiestand
Hiestand’s debut novel is not only a disturbingly plausible vision of a future America on the verge of economic collapse and political upheaval but also a satirical gem replete with subtle social commentary in the vein of Philip K. Dick. This novel is timely and timeless—an emotionally powerful and thematically profound novel that will resonate with readers long after the book is finished.
• Purged Souls by Kagan Tumer
In Tumer’s futuristic thriller, California descends into a state of chaotic war a quarter-century after a virus decimates the state. A professor of robotics and artificial intelligence, Tumer introduces a chilling, gritty and realistic dystopian future. The setting is California, although entirely unlike the one we know. New California is divided and at war, reluctantly ruled by Governor Amy Chipps after her predecessor’s assassination.
• Waterdown by Anastasia Slabucho
Anastasia Slabucho’s Waterdown is a dystopian, cyberpunk novel—a cautionary tale about genetic engineering that skillfully explores themes of choice, redemption and absolution.
• The Nosferatu Conspiracy Book One: The Sleepwalker by Brian James Gage
The first installment of Brian James Gage’s Nosferatu Conspiracy saga is a deliciously dark blend of occult fantasy, alternate history, and apocalyptic fiction that will have readers furiously turning pages until the end.
• Reality 2048: Watching Big Mother by Derek Cressman
After two critically acclaimed nonfiction releases (The Recall’s Broken Promise and When Money Talks: The High Price of “Free” Speech and the Selling of Democracy), voting rights advocate Cressman’s first novel gives readers a glimpse into the near future—an Orwellian cautionary tale where the populace is force-fed propaganda and mindless entertainment to keep them in a state of ignorance and tractability.
• Meridian Six by Jaye Wells
A deliciously dark vampire thriller that was a dramatic departure for Wells. The story is set in a future where vampires rule the world with an iron fist. The Blood Wars are over and a vampiric regime known as the Troika rule through fear and propaganda. Most of humanity is enslaved but there are small groups of rebels who are still fighting to regain their freedom—and their planet.
• Opposable: The Halteres Chronicles, Book One by Kirk E. Hammond
Equal parts drug and alcohol-fueled road novel, bizarro science fiction, and apocalyptic thriller, Kirk E. Hammond’s first installment of his Halteres Chronicles follows a misfit group—including a writer whose ideas may be thought spores from an omniscient alien fungus, a telepathic cat with bionic hands, and a sexy assassin—as they try to stop an alien invasion and save the world.
Paul Goat Allen has been reviewing books for more than 25 years. In addition to BlueInk Review, his work has appeared with BarnesandNoble.com, The Chicago Tribune, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and more. He also teaches in Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction graduate writing program. Readers of this blog are offered a $50 discount on a BlueInk review by using the “key code” Allen. (This in no way guarantees a review by Allen.)