Making Gumbo

Essential Readings of The Apocalypse

Apocalyptic fiction; novels of the end-of-days are very popular right now. But I have read only two that I would call essential.



“Station Eleven” is one.  All of the action of the story is set off by a viral pandemic that kills millions and millions of people.  But what makes this novel essential is that through this story we are shown how very interdependent are our everyday lives.

There is one paragraph in the novel that is startling with the truth it reveals of our day to day interdependence with each other. What would make daily life fall apart so quickly as portrayed in all apocalyptic fiction?  Well, in an airborne pandemic that sickens and kills people in twenty-four hours, death would quickly spread to workers who keep everything going; people who go to work to keep the power going, to keep the water running (and sanitary), to keep food produced and being delivered to stores, to keep planes, trains and automobiles running.

That would be the human apocalypse.  With that collapse of our human infrastructure, what would prevent the slow demise of the human spirit too?  Station-Eleven ask that too.  Station-Eleven answers with its focus on human spiritual survival through the art of a traveling band of actors who act out Shakespeare, even at the end of days, uplifting the human spirit.

I read Station-Eleven two years ago (March, 2015) and that still sticks with me.

December 2-3, 2017, a weekend, to begin my recovery from the end of the semester push, I picked up “When the English Fall.” That novel is the second story of the apocalypse that I say is essential.

Always, novels of the apocalypse focus on mainstream, every day existence and the collapse of technological infrastructure. But when that part of human life is given attention, we seem to have forgotten that not all we humans, even in America, live lives dependent on technology.  What about the Amish?  What about the plain-folk, religious folk who have chosen to and have been living as survivalists, without store-bought stuff, without technology, even electricity for hundreds of years? When our electrical infrastructure dies, do their lives change at all?

“When the English Fall” ask that question.  More important, the novel takes us through a spiritual meditation on modern human life and the way we are all interdependent with technology and ourselves. Telling the story and speaking to us through an Amish man’s diary that is found after the end of days, the narrator, that Amish man writes:

“Because we know, now, that as the world of the English fails around us, we [Amish] are not separate. Yes, we have the Order, and yes, we have our way, but the time when that meant we stood free from the world has passed. I am not sure, as I think about it now, that has ever been true. We are never really apart, as much as we choose to set ourselves different from the world that surrounds us. The English are like the Earth, or the air. And if the rain falls, it falls on all alike the Bible says.”

I read “When the English Falls” in the quiet of my home; away from the hustle and bustle, the hard work, of the end of the semester.  Reading it was a balm to my spirit; a retreat that my soul needs, every now and then.

“Station-Eleven” and “When the English Fall” are not just stories of the end-of-days collapse of the modern.  Both novels are about what we must always do to hold on to the gift of our human spirit, no matter the troubling circumstances of the day. That is why I say, if you want to read apocalyptic fiction, these two novels are essential reads.


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