© 2016

The Post-Apocalyptic Novel in the Twenty-First Century

Modernity beyond Salvage

  • Authors

About this book


Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, major Anglophone authors have flocked to a literary form once considered lowbrow 'genre fiction': the post-apocalyptic novel. Calling on her broad knowledge of the history of apocalyptic literature, Hicks examines the most influential post-apocalyptic novels written since the beginning of the new millennium, including works by Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Cormac McCarthy, Jeanette Winterson, Colson Whitehead, and Paolo Bacigalupi. Situating her careful readings in relationship to the scholarship of a wide range of historians, theorists, and literary critics, she argues that these texts use the post-apocalyptic form to reevaluate modernity in the context of the new century's political, economic, and ecological challenges. In the immediate wake of disaster, the characters in these novels desperately scavenge the scraps of the modern world. But what happens to modernity beyond these first moments of salvage? In a period when postmodernism no longer defines cultural production, Hicks convincingly demonstrates that these writers employ conventions of post-apocalyptic genre fiction to reengage with key features of modernity, from historical thinking and the institution of nationhood to rationality and the practices of literacy itself.


Britain English literature Europe fiction history of literature literature North America novel twentieth century British and Irish Literature

About the authors

Heather J. Hicks is Associate Professor of English at Villanova University, USA. She is author of The Culture of Soft Work: Labor, Gender and Race in Postmodern American Narrative and has published in several journals including Postmodern Culture, Arizona Quarterly, Camera Obscura, and Contemporary Literature.

Bibliographic information


“Hicks survey is potentially overwhelming. One can readily sympathize with these critics’ leeriness towards tidy solutions to such massive and systemic dangers.” (Derek C. Maus, Orbit, Vol. 7 (1), 2019)

“This is a book about the decline of the nation-state, the different ways to understand time, the many potential faces of human slavery, the evolving aesthetic of the sublime, the muddled balance sheet of postmodernism and dehumanizing labor, the power of language, the threat of human ignorance, and the seeming omnipresence of war. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above.” (P. L. Redditt, Choice, Vol. 54 (4), December, 2016)

"When the world ends in post-apocalyptic fictions, what is it, exactly, that ends? Maybe modernity, clearing the way for a return to the premodern; or maybe postmodernity, freeing the world to move 'forward into the past' of a renovated, reconceived modernity. Heather Hicks pursues the paradoxes and switchbacks of the post-apocalypse genre through a series of smart, resourceful, adventurous, and sure-footed readings of six of the genre's most accomplished twenty-first-century practitioners – Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Cormac McCarthy, Jeanette Winterson, Colson Whitehead, and Paulo Bacigalupi. It's the end of the world as we know it, and we feel . . . well, if not fine, then edified and illuminated, thanks to Heather Hicks' stirring book." - Brian McHale, Distinguished Professor of English, The Ohio State University, USA, and editor, Poetics Today 


"In this timely work, Hicks investigates one of the most prolific genres in contemporary literature – the post-apocalyptic narrative. Her theoretical interventions will surprise you. Whether reading Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake series in relation to the Book of Revelation, applying postcolonial theory to the work of David Mitchell, or finding examples of Benjamin's dream kitsch in Whitehead's Zone One, Hicks's original approach helps us to rethink the meaning of modernity in the twenty-first century." - Lee Medovoi, Professor of English, University of Arizona, USA


"Hicks generates sophisticated thematic readings informed by psychoanalysis, studies of the novel, and cultural theory/anthropology. The method does not subordinate the novel to the historical context in which it was produced but rather situates it within a literary/generic history and web of thematic and textual referencing. The volume should prove central to any studies of twentieth-first-century apocalyptic fiction." - Amy J. Elias, Professor of English, University of Tennessee, USA