“Ten Post-Apocalyptic Novels Written by Women” by Nicolette Stewart

20 May

There are 1000 ways to end the world, and fictional explorations of those possibilities have been popular (more so whenever disaster seems near at hand) for going on 200 years. But why do we love to watch the world burn?  Is it a desire to start over?  A catharsis for our fears about things out of our control? Or just a fun thought experiment in which we can examine the actions and reactions of humans put in the most extreme of situations?

In order to understand why I love this genre so much and why it has been such an enduring part of popular literature for so long, I have set out on a mission to read All of the Apocalypses and to write about them every Thursday on a column called 1000 Ways to End the World.  These ten novels are some of the best entries in the genre—and they all happen to be authored by women.Into the Forest by Jean Hegland

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland (1996)

One of my favorite post-apocalyptic books of all time, this story focuses on two sisters whose parents’ deaths (one before and one after the collapse of society) leave them to fend for themselves in a house in the woods.  Where most apocalyptic literature is obsessed with the recreation of civilization as it was pre-collapse, Into the Forest looks in another direction. It is about family relationships, but specifically those between women, and it has my favorite surprise ending of all apocalyptic reading. It is truly unique among post-apocalyptic novels.Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

Bones of Faerie by Jani Lee Simmer (2009)

This 2009 novel details a magical apocalypse—another rarity in a genre full of EMPs, nukes, and environmental catastrophe.  The world has been destroyed by a war with the inhabitants of faerie, leaving the faerie world completely destroyed and the human world reduced to small agricultural communities deeply suspicious of anything magical. Though written for younger readers, Bones of Faerie manages to have the creepiest enchanted forest I’ve ever read (as a result of the war, plants are hazardous to humans and crops must be wrestled from the fields, trees avoided) and contains more darkness and death than most adult novels. Read my full review of it here.A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren

A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren (1990)

Two women, an artist and a writer, survive a nuclear event, and together they attempt to save books so that they are not lost to future generations.  However, they come into conflict with a group of religious survivors who believe The Bible is the only book that matters. This is the only book on this list that I have not yet read, and I am incredibly excited to find out how Wren deals with so many themes so close to my heart.

Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler (1993, 1998)

Butler’s post-apocalyptic books are my favorite of her many (wonderful) (stunning) works. Lauren Olamina is a teenager when the story starts, and the world is already well on its way to a full economic collapse. As she prepares for the inevitable chaos, she begins to write short poems that become the foundations for a religion she calls Earthseed, which is based on the belief that the only constant is change (an element that, unfortunately, is an irritant for many readers). It’s follow up, Parable of the Talents, is more dystopia than apocalypse, an intelligent decision for a post-apocalyptic follow up as dystopian governments often follow the chaos of a collapse situation in real life. As usual, Butler looks at race, relationships, religion, and women’s stories with depth and nuance. Read my review of Parable of the Sowers here.Angelfall by Susan Ee

Angelfall by Susan Ee (2011)

Fans of Cassandra Clare are likely to love this Biblical apocalypse based on the idea that angels have come to Earth to destroy humanity. No one has been saved, and the angels are cold and violent. After saving his life, Penryn ends up traveling the dangerous country with an angel in search of her wheelchair-using sister (kidnapped by angels) and sometimes her schizophrenic mother (who comes and goes throughout the story).Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett

Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett (2014)

Brissett’s debut is a delightful experiment in fluid identity, gender, and story structure, held together by the idea that a computer program running the stories we are reading keeps rebooting again and again and again.  It has been impressing readers all year, and it earned an honorary mention for the Philip K. Dick award.  Some sections of the novel contain more apocalypse than others because this is ultimately a story about the end of love as the end of the world, though the literal end of the world also features prominently. Read my review of it here.The Last Man by Mary Shelley

The Last Man by Mary Shelley (1826)

What wasn’t Mary Shelly first at?  She has been lauded as the mother of science fiction and the first woman to write a post-apocalyptic novel. Though harshly reviewed at the time, it is notable both as an early entry to the genre and for its semi-biographical portraits of Lord Byron and Shelley’s husband Percy.  The story takes place at the end of the 21st century and tells the story of a catastrophic plague that, though long-winded, remains an important foundation stone in apocalyptic literature.Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (2010)

I have my qualms with filing Who Fears Death in the post-apocalyptic genre because though the world is technically post-apocalyptic, it is not a story about the apocalypse, nor one that wears that setting on its sleeve.  However, it is an excellent book—about magic and the consequences of rape and sexism and power with a focus on women’s perspective and stories—and its prequel, The Book of Phoenix (coming out this year) is likely to bring the story’s post-apocalyptic elements into focus.The Last Children of Schewenborn by Gudrun Pausewang

The Last Children of Schewenborn by Gudrun Pausewang (1983)

I’m reading on the theory that Germans, particularly Germans who lived through World War II, write some of the darkest apocalypses out there (I’ll get back to you on whether or not that turns out to be more than a hunch). Gundrun Pausewang is a giant in German young adult literature, and she tends to focus on big societal issues with a hope of empowering young people to acting against the wrongs they see in the world. The Last Children of Schewenborn has been translated into English, but its simple language should be no problem even for a beginning German language learner. If you want to watch the world end in a setting outside of America, Last Children will give you a look at Germany at the end of the world, though from a young male perspective.California by Edan Lepucki

California by Edan Lepucki (2014)

This recent post-apocalyptic tale represents sexism and women’s lives — as seen through both male and female eyes — at the end of the world really well. Though the first third will be familiar territory for anyone well-read in the genre (people surviving in the woods, and the main drive is the question “what has happened to this world?”), the tension built around a mysterious collective of survivors is gripping and gets into family relationships, dystopias/utopias, and community. It also grapples with the fact that at the end of the world, it might not be possible to make a good decision.

What female-authored apocalypses should I add to my reading list?


About the author:

Nicolette Stewart is a freelance editor and travel writer based in Frankfurt, Germany. She specializes in post-apocalyptic fiction, alternative dwellings, urban exploration, and time travel. She is the author of The Hunt Frankfurt and her work can be found in Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter, New Escapologist, MOVE Guides, and Mama Liberada. She is the co-editor of Book Punks, and you can also find her writing, editing, and rambling at Young Germany.



20 Responses to ““Ten Post-Apocalyptic Novels Written by Women” by Nicolette Stewart”

  1. Joachim Boaz May 20, 2015 at 10:08 am #

    I’d add Walk to the End of the World (1974) by Suzy McKee Charnas…

    • nikki @bookpunks May 20, 2015 at 1:42 pm #

      I have that one on the master list (which lives here http://www.bookpunks.com/history-post-apocalyptic-lit-chronology/, if you’re interested and think you might have something I could add to it). Have you read it? Is it wonderful?

      • Joachim Boaz May 20, 2015 at 2:04 pm #

        Yes, I have read it — it is brutal, disturbing, and fantastic — The Handmaid’s Tale pales in comparison (it has a similar premise). And it is ten years earlier…. Why people don’t read it is beyond me — well, I know, radical 70s feminism doesn’t appeal to everyone.

      • Joachim Boaz May 20, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

        Yes, I probably do have some to add to the list — but would have to think about it. The Long Winter by John Christopher for example…

    • S. C. Flynn May 20, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

      I thought you’d have something for us, Joachim!

  2. Loopdilou May 20, 2015 at 10:37 am #

    I would add The Memory of Water by Emmi Iteranta. It’s closer to the dystopic end of the post-apocalyptic spectrum, but it’s clearly marked as only being that way because of the apocalypse.

    • nikki @bookpunks May 20, 2015 at 1:45 pm #

      Is it really both PA and dystopian? Curious, as I don’t see those two as a spectrum, but rather two genres that are often used simultaneously. Still, I have been uncertain from what I’ve read about Memory/Water so far as to which side of the fence it falls in or if it is both according to my nitpicky definitions.

  3. DMS May 20, 2015 at 11:36 am #

    Elysium has been on my to-investigate list for a while. Thanks for putting Angel Fall and California on my radar.

    Brown Girl In The Ring by Nalo Hopkins
    After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh (short fiction collection – I see you have already reviewed this – just giving it an additional shout!)
    Orleans by Sherri L. Smith (also already on your mega list, but doesn’t look like you’ve gotten to it yet. It’s great. I really hope Smith writes more speculative fiction)

    For something lighter:
    Zombie Iceland by Nanna Árnadóttir (a travel guide, really)

    • nikki @bookpunks May 20, 2015 at 1:47 pm #

      Elysium is well worth your time for sure. Yey. I didn’t like Angel Fall myself, but I know a large number of people who LOVED it, so it is worth a recommendation at the very least so the people who will love it too can find it.

      You know, I never realized that Brown Girl in the Ring was apocalyptic. And I have even had it on my to-read list for ages, but just because I want to read some more Nalo. Excellent!

      After the Apocalypse is really excellent. And I say that as someone who has a hard time getting into short fiction.

      And thanks for the reminder on Orleans, I have seen that one mentioned a few times and it sounded really interesting.

      As for Zombie Iceland, I tend to stay away from the zombies actual. I prefer them on screen.

  4. S. C. Flynn May 20, 2015 at 2:00 pm #

    Great suggestions here!

  5. Glaiza May 20, 2015 at 9:50 pm #

    I love Octavia E. Butler’s writing. Body of Glass by Marge Piercy is also brilliant look at a post-apocalyptic world that deals with privatised communites and artificial intelligence. Exodus by Julia Bertagna is a young adult read but the worldbuilding is interesting because it looks at a speculative world of rising sea levels.

    Also, Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody (Set in a world that survived a nuclear event but with technology buried afterwards. It reads like epic fantasy but it’s also very much a post-apocalyptic novel. ) The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina which is more young adult but noteworthy because it comes from an Aboriginal perspective.

  6. Helen Lowe May 21, 2015 at 6:55 am #

    A recent post-apocalyptic novel that I highly recommend is “Station Eleven” by Emily St John Mandel, which recently won the Arthur C Clarke Award.

  7. jacqie May 22, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

    Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri Tepper. Actually, most books by Sheri Tepper.

  8. Mike White May 31, 2015 at 6:49 pm #

    I’m sure this is on your list, but I’ll make a plug for Angela Carter’s Heroes and Villains. It’s a post-apocalyptic/reversion to barbarism novel that explores of Rousseau’s concept of the Noble Savage. A great work in the genre by a superb writer.

  9. Susan Swan November 7, 2015 at 9:55 pm #

    Fuse, Pure, and Burn by Julia Baggott. They’re amazing.


  1. today's apocalyptic lit discussion is on skiffy and fanty - We are book punks.We are book punks. - May 21, 2015

    […] Check out the list over on Skiffy and Fanty. […]

  2. Apocalyptic Women | Paper Planetariums - November 8, 2015

    […] Ten Post-Apocalyptic Novels Written by Women […]

  3. Podcast and Blog Stats for 2016: Most Popular, Most Downloaded, and Other Oddities | The Skiffy and Fanty Show - February 24, 2017

    […] Ten Post-Apocalyptic Novels Written by Women by Nicolette Stewart […]

  4. Top 10 Posts and Episodes for April 2017 | The Skiffy and Fanty Show - May 11, 2017

    […] Ten Post-Apocalyptic Novels Written by Women by Nicolette Stewart […]

  5. Top 10 Posts and Episodes for May 2017 | The Skiffy and Fanty Show - June 9, 2017

    […] Ten Post-Apocalyptic Novels Written by Women by Nicolette Stewart […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: