Some people have a ton, some people have a few, but just about everybody has a book, or books, that they love. I asked author Richard Cox and...
The Stand by Stephen King 1978 & 1990
The first post-apocalyptic fiction I ever read remains my favorite. Stephen King blew me away by writing high concept fiction with the style and depth of a literary novelist and created a photorealistic world dying a slow and painful death. Characters like Larry Underwood and Stu Redman and Frannie Goldsmith feel like old friends to me, people I once knew but haven’t spoken to in many years. The uncut version of the novel is set in the early 90s and tells the story of a world devastated by an aggressive, man-made virus where only a chosen few are left behind. The survivors eventually align themselves into camps of good and evil, which precipitates a clash of cultures in the final battle between these eternal opposing forces.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski 2000
At its most straightforward, House of Leaves is about a house, and a family who moves into that house, and a father who discovers that the interior of his new home, impossibly, measures larger than its exterior. Also, sometimes the doors and hallways move their positions or disappear and reappear without warning
The novel is also the story of a film, The Navidson Record, made by the father as he investigates the impossible properties of his home, and the eventual discovery of something terrible inside.
We learn of the film by reading a critique of it written by a man named Zampano, who is blind, and we learn of Zampano’s critique because his manuscript was discovered by Johnny Truant, who edits and critiques Zampano’s work and eventually learns The Navidson Record may not exist and may never have.
And of course the existence (or nonexistence) of the film eventually drives everyone in the novel mad, including the narrator and possibly you as well.
The Passage by Justin Cronin 2010
A modern-day cousin to The Stand, the world in The Passage is post-apocalyptic by way of vampirism, specifically an attempt by the military to extract the properties of South American vampires to create indestructible soldiers. Naturally, their plan doesn’t work out as intended. After the Army injects twelve death row inmates and one little girl with a serum they’ve developed based on the biochemistry of the vampires, these twelve “virals” escape imprisonment from their experimental laboratory/prison cells and wreak havoc upon the world.
Some years later, in a compound that contains one of the last remnants of previral culture, children are raised to believe their compound is essentially the world, at least until they reach an age where they are told the truth and lose their innocence. The way the virals are kept at bay is by a huge bank of floodlights powered by a source of electricity that is gradually running out. They’ll have to leave the safety of their compound in order to save their way of life, an in the process embark on a journey that changes the world.
Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis 1998
On first glance Glamorama seems like a shallow exercise in 90s excess, a story about vapid male models constantly doing drugs and drinking too much and always looking for the most famous person in the room. It appears to go nowhere except to the bedrooms and extravagant parties of these morons who wear expensive clothes and never eat and say “baby” at the end of every sentence.
But all this seemingly mindless dialogue and interplay is really a scathing parody of the archetypes that populate the story, and beneath the glitzy sheen of name-dropping, brand-naming, and label-obsessed characters lies a reality-bending story that owes much to Philip K. Dick. Why is everyone always so cold? Why is there confetti everywhere? Why does only the main character smell shit all the time? And is he really being followed around by a camera crew? Is any of this even happening?
A bit off the beaten path but definitely worth the time to read if you stick with it.
The Leftovers, Tom Perrotta 2011
When an event something like the Rapture disappears millions of people across the globe, known in the novel as the “Sudden Departure,” those who don’t disappear are left to wonder why others did, where the departed went, and what should happen now.
Set in the small fictional town of Mapleton, New York, the novel examines the emotional landscape of the population who are left to get on with their lives in the midst of a post-Departure world. Clearly, something supernatural has happened, and despite its similarity to the Christian Rapture, the event doesn’t seem to bear a relationship to any particular belief system.
The Leftovers was adapted as a television series by HBO, and its second season effectively serves as a sequel to the novel. The realism Perrotta evokes in a story that exists outside of reality is what makes it so effective. Its characters become acquaintances that you feel like you’ve always known, and you share their melancholy as they struggle to accept their new world and what may lie beyond it.
Richard Cox is author of the recently-released novel The Boys of Summer. After a massive tornado devastates the city of Wichita Falls in 1979, nine-year-old Todd Willis is left in a coma and doesn’t wake up until four years later. The new friends Todd makes in 1983 become mesmerized by his strange relationship with the world, and together the five boys come of age during a dark, fiery summer where they find first love, betrayal, and a secret so terrible they agree to never speak of it again. But when darkness returns to Wichita Falls twenty-five years later, the group is forced to reunite and confront the wounds from their past. When their memories of that childhood summer refuse to align with reality, the friends embark upon a search for truth that will threaten their lives and transform their understanding of each other--and the world itself--forever.
Cox is also the author of Thomas World, The God Particle, and Rift.
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