Reading the end of the world


Dystopia is great, and life-after-apocalypse even better, but my special sweet spot is for impending doom. Books set when the whole world is dying (and it’s usually our fault). This genre tends to lend a certain urgency to books, making me want to devour them as quickly as I can.

I love these books because it’s a mix of futurism, sci-fi and horror that feels realistic. These situations are not beyond the realm of possibility – it’s that very fact which makes them so important. These stories stick with me; I can’t get them out of my head.

It’s also a way to play out these scenarios at a distance. Flooding, climate change, failing governments and prejudices magnified a thousandfold; we can avoid this. Who says history is doomed to repeat itself?

Most books I’d place in this category see the earth at a critical tipping point where things begin to fall apart. Natural disasters batter humanity’s ability to keep calm and carry on, and the more systems that break, the greater the pressure society faces.

The Stone Gods, by Jeanette Winterson, is a tale of impending doom and the book I recommend to everyone. It’s got all the features dystopiaphiles have come to expect, from people who have relied too long on technology and can now do nothing for themselves to environmental meltdown and a widespread sense of unease. What is considered ‘normal’ in this world is profoundly disturbing. But it’s the similarities to our own society that scare me the most.

The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber’s last novel, is also a good example. Here, the destruction of life as we know it is secondary in plot. It serves as a slow-boiling wash of discontent, and helps to balance the novel’s more fantastical elements. Set in the not-too-distant future, it details the derailing of our world as seen from another world, gradual at first, and then bubbling with disaster.

You see, I don’t want to read about one big asteroid that spells the end. It’s not about any one thing, easily preventable or conquerable. It’s the creep of disaster that I find truly terrifying, and completely engaging.

By reading about the ending of the world, perhaps we can increase awareness of the things we have the power to change; the things we can save. This dark future is only inevitable if we do nothing.

PS: I re-read The Stone Gods a lotThe story never gets old.