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Genre Guide: Post-Apocalyptic Fiction for Teens

By Artiom P from Vilnius, Lithuanian (The Forgotten Veteran 1920 x1200) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Artiom P from Vilnius, Lithuanian (The Forgotten Veteran 1920 x1200) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Definition
Post-apocalyptic fiction is a sub-genre of science fiction. For a novel to be post-apocalyptic, the setting must be one where the end of the world has already taken place and characters are trying to survive and start anew. The end of the world event that occurred can be anything from war, to plague, to natural or man made disasters. Post-apocalyptic fiction differs from apocalyptic fiction, where the end of the world is currently taking place and the characters and fighting to survive it.

Characteristics

Post-apocalyptic fiction can be set in the current day or the far off future. Additionally, the story can take place right after the cataclysmic event or years after the event. In post-apocalyptic novels, technology can be that which we have never seen before, or there can be no technology at all. Also,  characters can remember what the world was like, or they can’t remember at all what the world was like and will fantasize about the way it used to be or even go so far as to create myths about the world before the destruction (often our current day).

The stories of post-apocalyptic novels are often action and adventure, survival stories. When post-apocalyptic fiction is written for teens, the protagonist or protagonists are  surviving on their own or in packs, and oftentimes the “hero” of the story has outstanding survival skills and can figure out how to survive in this new world. As with most novels written for teens, adults can be absent in post-apocalyptic novels.  However, it is not uncommon to have an adult in a post-apocalyptic novel positioned as an evil figurehead, or the one person our hero or heroes are trying to find or keep safe. Post-apocalyptic novels can have elements of other genres in their story.  The most common is to have dystopian governments in place.

Appeal
Post-apocalyptic novels appeal to readers who like action and adventure.  They also appeal to those who want to wonder, “what if?”  They like stories where you have to figure out how to survive along with the main character(s). Would you do the same thing that the characters choose to do?  Can you figure out the consequences of their decisions before they do?  Additionally, there is the appeal of post-apocalyptic fiction to teens because of how many of the stories are set where the end of the world came about in a way that we can imagine happening in our own time (extreme weather, man made destruction, war, and even disease are all events we are seeing in our present day).  Teens who may feel a lack of control in their everyday lives, may find post-apocalyptic novels appealing because the teens in these novels have to face far bigger issues and even survive day to day.  It makes the reader’s problems more manageable, or at least, let’s them let go of their problems while they read.  Finally, post-apocalyptic novels may appeal to teen readers who enjoy reading about a world where there are no rules, where teens are not necessarily just teens and they hold far greater power than would ever be allowed in our reality.

Readers
The post-apocalyptic genre has a wide range of readers, though typically they are those who already enjoy science fiction stories.

Trends
Some current trends in post-apocalyptic fiction include incorporating a dystopian government, focusing on the destructive effects of warfare, having a virus or plague as the cause of the end of the world, and/or having environmental disasters as the source for the apocalypse.

Reference Books

  • Dark Futures: A VOYA Guide to Apocalyptic, Post-Apocalyptic, and Dystopian Books and Media by Brandy Danner (VOYA Press, 2012)

Publishers
Most publishers both large and small produce post-apocalyptic novels. However, Tor Teen specifically publishes science fiction and fantasy for teen readers.

Awards

The Locus Awards have a young adult category, where post-apocalyptic titles are often chosen.

The Andre Norton award is a sub-category of the Nebula Awards that is presented to the year’s best sci-fi or fantasy novel for teen, and will consider post-apocalyptic titles.

The Bram Stoker Awards, an annual award for horror books includes a young adult category, and will consider post-apocalyptic novels.

Recommended Titles

–Colleen Seisser, currently reading Fun Home by Alison Bechdel