SF/F Genre Glossary

Defining Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

This is a continuation of the Science Fiction / Fantasy Genre Glossary Project posts. For the complete genre index click here.

War of the Apocalypse by bigTaki

What is Apocalyptic Fiction?

Apocalyptic and fiction is concerned with the end of the world. Common apocalyptic scenarios include:  nuclear war, religious end of days (Armageddon), extraterrestrial disaster (asteroid or alien invasion), pandemic, oil has run out, or the breakdown of technology. A common theme of apocalyptic fiction is an attempt to prevent or stop the disaster.

What is Post-Apocalyptic Fiction?

Post-apocalyptic fiction focuses on what happens after the apocalyptic event. It is concerned with how people survive in the new world when most people have been killed off, and all familiar infrastructure has been destroyed. It may be set immediately after, or many years after the apocalypse.

Literary Examples:

  • Dark Tower by Stephen King
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • World War Z by Max Brooks
  • I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
  • Children of Men by P.D. James

Movie Examples:

  • Mad Max
  • Planet of the Apes
  • 2012
  • The Seventh Sign

Thanks to Stephen Watkins and John Wiswell for the help with this one! Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories seem to translate well into film. Do you have any favorite movies or books?


  1. I really loved the movie I AM LEGEND. Cried a lot, lol.

    In YA, there’s a zombie series that starts with THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH that I think is very interesting and well-conceived. Well, I’ve only read the first book, but it’s a trilogy that I’d like to finish at some point.

  2. Everyone seems to think it was an awful movie, but I’m partial to “The Postman” (though never read the book). Kevin Costner’s other post-apocalypse (the one that had probably too much water in it), however, was much less great, IMO.

    Also… not as familiar with King’s “Dark Tower” series… but his “The Stand” is very Apocalyptic/Post-apocalyptic.

      1. The Stand stands out (pun intended, dammit) for being a straight-up apocalypse novel. We see the world before, during and after the plague takes us down the drain. I give King big props for doing the whole thing. Much easier to start your story in a wasteland and have zany horrors unfold.

  3. Obviously I’ve had my input in some of this. Dark Tower’s world is one of my favorites given how different King went, drawing on Westerns and a bizarre literal post-modernism to fill out the wastelands.

  4. One of the great, and I do mean wonderful, grand-daddy’s of SF-post-apocalyptic is “The Night Land” by William Hope Hodgson. Because of its writing style it can seem difficult to get through, but the imagery is unforgettable and hasn’t been bested. Ever. And getting through it will improve your skills as a writer.

    Also, Sterling E. Lanier did “Hiero’s Journey” some time after the invention of the modern digital computer and before the introduction of the PC. It should be required reading for anyone wanting to write P-A, and it is also amusing from a “history of the future” standpoint to see where things could have gone. I will also admit that there are several mind-level psycho-creepy aspects of this story that still scare the sh*t out of me when I read it. (The sequel, “Unforsaken Hiero” isn’t bad, either, but is a very different book from the first.)

  5. Ellen Russell

    Please consider this a polite invitation to friend us on FB created by Sterling Lanier’s family. (please excuse me for interrupting your comments-I wasn’t sure how to post. Thank you, Ellen

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