Tag Archives: Cormac McCarthy

What to Read If You Liked The Walking Dead

Since the first post in this series was about a book published almost forty years ago, I thought the second post should feature something more contemporary from the speculative fiction genre.

I try not to make assumptions about what my followers already know about any book or graphic novel I blog about, so I’ll summarize The Walking Dead in one spoiler-free sentence for anyone who isn’t familiar with it:

After waking up from a coma, a police officer must find his missing family and adjust to a world that has somehow become overrun with zombies while he was unconscious. 

Obviously, there’s a lot more going on this world, but that sentence will give you the gist of it.

As a fair warning, the graphic novels as well as the TV show based on them are both incredibly violent. I actually had to stop reading and watching both of them a while ago due to this, although I’m still intrigued by the characters Robert Kirkman first created in 2003 and the assumptions he made about what life would be like in this sort of world.

If zombies and post-apocalyptic worlds are things you enjoy reading about, here are some other books that might be equally appealing.

Some of these titles have popped up in many similar lists online, but I’ve come up with a few classic novels I thought would work as well because of how many themes they share with this series.

Humans have dealt with plagues for millennia. For most of that time, we didn’t know why someone would seem to be perfectly healthy one day only to become dangerously ill the next.  You might be surprised to see how many similarities there are between an outbreak of cholera or rabies and a zombie infestation.

What happens when a society breaks down is another string connecting all of these recommendations. While I tend to have a much more optimistic view of how the average person would behave in that situation, not every writer agrees with that. It’s always interesting to see more pessimistic takes on the topic.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Imagine trying to stay alive in a world where nothing grew anymore. Now picture doing it while raising a child by yourself.

The relationship between the main character and his son reminded me a lot of how Rick Grimes interacted with his son in The Walking Dead. Both of these parents had been pushed to their limits by worlds they couldn’t possibly have predicted or prevented. Their love for their children was what kept them going in impossible situations.

Fair warning: this is a pretty violent story. Be sure to read some full reviews of it before checking it out if you’re sensitive to or triggered by acts of violence.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

In this tale, a group of schoolboys were stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash. They needed to figure out how to survive there without any adult supervision for a long period of time.

This was one of the first classics I thought about after I discovered the zombie genre. True, there weren’t any monsters on the island, but the unstable, dangerous community these kids developed reminded me a lot of how many living characters behave in typical zombie movies.

If only William Golding were still alive. I’d sure like to see what he thought of the similarities between this book and today’s horror movies.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Zombies attacked. Humans fought back. Eventually, society stabilized enough for researchers to begin collecting stories from the survivors of this apocalypse.

I liked this more hopeful approach to how people might respond to a zombie invasion. People banded together in many of the anecdotes the narrator collected, and not all of them were the folks you might necessarily expect to make alliances with one another. Some characters also survived circumstances that seemed like they should never have worked out okay in the end. It wasn’t all doom and gloom.

Oh, and do not watch the film based on this book. The only things it shared in common with the original version were the title and the fact that zombies exist in both universes.

Yes, I might still be a little vexed about that.

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik, Monica Murphy

If you think about it, rabies shares many similarities with whatever virus, bacteria, plot hole, or magical disease that creates zombies depending on which universe we’re talking about.

This disease is spread through bites and scratches.

Once symptoms appear, death is certain.

People and animals unlucky enough to be infected with it become agitated and unpredictable.

Sometimes I wonder if rabies was one of those real-life diseases that encourages creative minds to come up with fictional versions of it. They certainly have enough in common for me to think this is a likely explanation for at least some of the zombie folklore out there.

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaugh

This is one of those graphic novels that I keep waiting for Hollywood to discover and turn into a TV series. It was a post-apocalyptic story what happened to the world after a virus killed off all but one man on Earth while leaving everyone who had two X chromosomes unaffected.

It was much less violent than The Walking Dead has been so far, but humanity still had to figure out how it was going to survive in the longterm. Since even frozen sperm and male embryos died out in this plague, humanity would only continue to exist for at most another century if the characters couldn’t figure out a way to create the next generation without the help of the Y chromosome.

Most of the storyline dealt with the main character’s quest to travel to the other side of the globe and find his estranged girlfriend. That journey was far from an easy one, but it did introduce the audience to all sorts of interesting characters along the way.

The Plague by Albert Camus

This tale was written at a time when epidemics happened more often than they do in most countries today. I’ve read that Camus was influenced by the Cholera outbreaks that happened both in the setting of this novella as well as closer to home. While the storyline doesn’t mention this disease by name, it does give clues that this might be what was killing off the characters so quickly.

If you’re not familiar with Cholera, know that it’s a bacteria that causes such severe, persistent diarrhea that people die of dehydration. In short, it is an awful way to die, and the plot did go into detail about what happens to the human body after being exposed to this illness. (So maybe don’t read this while eating lunch….)

Like fictional zombie diseases, Cholera didn’t have a cure and was poorly understood. I’m not surprised Camus was inspired to write about it. It struck communities without warning and spread like wildfire through fecally contaminated water and food. Seeing how the main character reacted to an illness that no one could stop reminded me so much of Rick Grimes’ reaction to the many deaths he saw while trying to survive in a zombiepocalypse.

What other books should be added to this list? Have you read any of these titles?

Previous posts in this series:

What to Read If You Liked Clan of the Cave Bear

5 Sci-fi and Fantasy Novels About Climate Change That Everyone Should Read

Spring was technically supposed to begin in Ontario almost a month ago, but I don’t think Old Man Winter ever received that memo. The last several weeks have been filled with snow, sleet, cold temperatures, and the annoyed mutterings of millions of Canadians who are beyond ready for a proper spring now.

While we’re waiting for the snow to melt away for good and the sun to eventually peek out from behind the clouds again, I’ve been thinking about how often climate change is talked about in the SFF genre. All of the books I’m about to discuss today show what happens to a civilization (or the lack thereof) long after the weather patterns destabilized and the seasons people thought they could count on became unpredictable.

1. The Book of Dave: A Revelation of the Recent Past and the Distant Future by Will Self.

It’s easy to forget what the past was really like when a society has to struggle to survive every day. This is even more true when it comes to documents that aren’t easy to understand to begin with and when the people reading them are only barely literate at all. This tale showed what happened when the journal of an frustrated cab driver was accidentally discovered five hundred years after his death and fashioned into a harsh, new religion.
The satirical elements made me laugh, but it also made me think about how easy it is to misinterpret something that was written a long time ago in a culture that was nothing at all like your own.

2. Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1) by Octavia E. Butler.

I must be honest with you here. Water isn’t something I ever worry about running out of in Ontario. It’s so abundant here that I can’t see us running out of it anytime soon.
Not everywhere on Earth is like this, though. There are places like California that are using water faster than it can be replenished. They’d be in trouble even if the climate in their area wasn’t already becoming drier than it has been before.
The characters in this book had to face the threat of running out of water at the same time their government collapsed, their home was destroyed, and their family was torn apart.
3. Mara and Dann  A Novel by Doris Lessing.
Take the crises of one country in Parable of the Sower and expand them to the experiences of millions of people across an entire dying continent in the distant future.
This was actually the first science fiction book about climate change that I ever remember reading. The fact that it was told through the perspective of an orphaned and often painfully hungry child only made her observances of how climate change can destroy entire civilizations even more poignant. Mara and her brother did nothing to deserve all of the suffering they experienced, and yet that couldn’t save their parents’ lives or fill their stomachs with food when all of the rivers dried up and the crops failed.
4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  by Philip K. Dick.
Climate change has already begun driving far more species to extinction than is typical in our world. How many more species we’ll lose forever depends on many factors, and I can’t even begin to guess what the final tally will be.
The interesting thing about the setting in this book is that it happened after humans have killed off so many other species that we began making robotic versions of various animals to keep us company. There were even robotic people who had no idea they were robots because they looked, felt, and sounded exactly like biological people.
 It wasn’t addressed clearly in the plot from what I can recall, but I always wondered what everyone was eating to stay alive in this universe after all of the old ecosystems had been destroyed.
5. The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
Only read this book if you’re comfortable with very dark and disturbing plots. I’m glad I read it once, but I was so saddened and horrified by certain plot twists that I don’t think I could stomach them again.
The Road could be the logical conclusion to any of the books listed above. It was set at a time when there were no plants and animals left on Earth and the few remaining humans were all slowly starving to death. The main character, an unnamed father, must try to keep himself and his young son alive against impossible odds.
What is your favourite science fiction or fantasy novel about climate change?