Listen to the Fallout: Top Picks for the Best Post-Apocalyptic Audiobooks

Whether or not listening to an audiobook delivers a more enjoyable way to consume a story than actually reading printed text is a matter for another discussion. With certain books, however, the stories feel more realistic when the characters tell their stories as if they are talking directly to your ears. While the argument doesn’t always apply to any book of every genre, it most likely is the case when it comes to post-apocalyptic narratives. Some of the best post-apocalyptic audiobooks can capture the essence of dreadfulness, fear, desperation, and ignorance in a way that printed text can never replicate.

Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

The storyline revolves around the discovery of a comet on a collision course with the solar system and its effects afterwards. Narrated by Marc Vietor, the unabridged version of Lucifer’s Hammer audiobook consists of 21 CDs, covering a duration of more than 24 hours 30 minutes long. About the first one-third of the narrative talks about the discovery, leading to the impact. The remainder of the book is filled with detailed expositions of both short-term and long-term effects of the event.

One of the strongest points of Lucifer’s Hammer is how the delivery very rarely – if ever – takes references from fictional science. It is a properly well-written story of how the apocalypse can happen, what the outcomes might be, and how people react in the event of an asteroid impact. Thanks to a solid scientific foundation and a fascinating cast of characters, the long story never fails to present one suspenseful excitement after another throughout the lengthy duration.

On the Beach by Nevil Shute

Some say the book is a ridiculous, unrealistic take on the apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic narrative, while others regard it as one of the genre’s all-time greats. Unlike in most stories where people are panicking in the face of nuclear disasters and the threat of worldwide radiation, On the Beach offers an image where people in Melbourne choose to be oblivious of the inevitability of impending horrible deaths.

Following a nuclear war in the Northern Hemisphere several years earlier, lethal radiation has been swift in its life-taking crusade southward. Melbourne becomes one of the last few remaining places where human civilization remains pretty much intact, albeit not for much longer. Although everybody knows death is coming, no one is showing any real sign of distress despite the predicament. It is not even “ignorance is bliss” but “resistance is futile” put into practice.

World War Z by Max Brooks

Many consider the audiobook version of World War Z the gold standard, mostly thanks to its full all-star cast giving voices to the characters involved. In addition to Max Brooks, the author himself, such big names as Martin Scorsese, Mark Hamill, Simon Pegg, Rob Reiner, Alan Alda, John Turturro, Alfred Molina, and Henry Rollins also narrate the story from the viewpoints of their respective characters.

Because the book is presented as an oral history of the zombie apocalypse, you get to hear survivors tell their tales of survival as they escape the undead. Each portrayal of events, tragedies, deaths, sorrows, and relief is perhaps as accurate as it can be, at least as far as fictional zombie apocalypses are concerned. The result is a series of made-up stories that sound almost like an actual documentary.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

It is not easy to paint a post-apocalyptic picture that sparks real senses of hopefulness, vigor, love, and humor in a single frame without sacrificing the dark, bleak nature of a doomsday. The Dog Stars is one of very few novels to be able to pull it off with flying colors. The story revolves around a man named Hig amid a flu pandemic that has killed everyone dear to him. With nowhere to go, he chooses to stay in a hangar with his dog, Jasper, and a gunman named Bangley.

The world has been in a state of literal radio silence for quite a while, probably because everyone is dead now. When suddenly an unknown transmission comes through, Hig embarks on a search for the unlikely existence of another lonely soul. A blend of brave, thoughtful hero, cruel villains, a hint of love story, and perfectly-paced action sequences makes The Dog Stars a true rarity in the genre.

Cold People by Tom Rob Smith

The premise of Cold People presents nothing unusual to the point where it might sound like a cliché. Alien invasion has almost obliterated the entirety of the human population. The few remaining survivors are forced to relocate to Antarctica, solely for an experiment to see how resourceful the species is. They will either adapt to the harsh environment or be driven to extinction.

Soon enough, some people realize that modern humans are simply not built to live in the frozen desert, so they devise a project to create new species engineered to survive in the region. The question remains if the new species is truly human and whether the superb invention will save or destroy their creators.

We think there is not much of a difference in terms of comprehension level between reading a printed book and listening to an audio version of it. The narration tone and voice play huge factors because they may affect the overall mood of the story, which is important to help you absorb the details and trigger visualizations. As for the choices of books, the post-apocalyptic genre offers a myriad of choices with varied complexity to hone your information-retention ability, memorize sequences of events, and capture subtle details in the story.

Do you find it easier to understand a story by reading written text or listening to it? Can you recommend any specific audio player, earphones, or earbuds for audiobook playback? We’d love to hear from you.

Other things you might want to know:

Some popular dystopian/post-apocalyptic books for middle-graders:

•        The Root of Magic by Kathleen Benner Duble

•        The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel by Sheela Chari

•        Hunters of the Lost City by Kali Wallace

•        The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm

•        Futureland: Battle for the Park by H.D. Hunter, illustrated by Khadijah Khatib

•        Hana Hsu and the Ghost Crab Nation by Sylvia Liu

Recommended post-apocalyptic short stories:

•        Night Surf by Stephen King, 1969

•        Non-Zero Probabilities by N. K. Jemisin, 2009

•        Salvage by Orson Scott Card, 1986

•        Finis by Francis Pollock, 2015

•        By the Waters of Babylon by Stephen Vincent Benét, 1937

•        There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury, 1950

Why are audiobooks often very long?

As a rule of thumb, audiences listen to around 10,000 words every hour. A 300-page book typically contains anywhere between 80,000 and 100,000 words. However, the narration style also affects the overall duration; if you think the narrator speaks too slowly, you can speed up the playback to 1.5 times faster or more.

Check out other articles by month: