The Stand is Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic story about the scattered survivors of a deadly, engineered plague. King’s a master at worldbuilding and character work, and those skills are on full display in this novel of good versus evil. It fundamentally shifted what was acceptable in the horror genre in terms of scope and subject matter, and solidified King’s position as one of the most successful—and important—writers of the modern era. If you loved this horror classic and want to simulate the reading experience, here are 10 books like The Stand.
1. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
If you loved King’s vision of a dead world, McCarthy’s challenging, grim, and nearly humorless story is a great follow-up. It’s both more depressing and more of a fable than King’s work. Where King seizes on detail and description to present a fictional universe that feels real, in The Road McCarthy crafts a nightmarish vision of desperate survival. After an unspecified extinction-level event, an unnamed father and son make their way through a ruined world filled with cannibals and suffering. Unremittingly bleak, the power of the story lies in the characters’ resilience in the face of absolute darkness.
2. World War Z, by Max Brooks
The Stand is so long and complex that it should be appreciated in sections. For some, the best part of the novel is King’s meticulous detailing of society’s collapse. If that’s your jam, World War Z is a perfect fit. Brooks tells the story of the Zombie Apocalypse as an oral history, using different styles and formats to illuminate epic battles, horrifying mistakes, and glorious victories as humanity scrambles, organizes, and fights for survival. Where King was almost solely focused on the United States, Brooks takes a wider view of the end of the world, somehow making his story even more epic.
3. The Children of Men, by P. D. James
One of the most fascinating aspects of The Stand is King’s study of human nature—how different people react differently to the end of the world. Mystery writer James broke out of her genre to deliver The Children of Men, a near-perfect piece of science fiction depicting a future where mankind has apparently gone sterile. Two decades after the last birth, the world has almost wholly collapsed—save for an increasingly fascist England. As a thin ray of hope emerges, the story hums with a powerful emotional resonance, but the real treat is James’ clear-eyed view of humanity’s collective insanity in the face of extinction.
4. Swan Song, by Robert McCammon
If you want to replicate the reading experience of The Stand as closely as possible, Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon is the ideal choice. Set in the aftermath of a nuclear war, the story parallels King’s in many ways, from the disparate groups of survivors drawn together via mysterious forces to the gritty, detailed descriptions of ruined cities and towns. As in King’s novel, the survivors find themselves locked in a battle between good and evil, with the dark side guided by a cheerfully evil figure who gives Randall Flagg a run for his money. The story ups the ante on The Stand, too, with not just the destruction of the survivors but the destruction of the entire planet in play.
5. The Postman, by David Brin
In the universe of The Stand, the survivors of the viral apocalypse take sides in a battle between good and evil—but they both immediately get organized. King understood that after the fall, the survivors will have an instinctual drive to rebuild because the symbols of civilization are powerful. In The Postman, David Brin demonstrates the same understanding. After a series of man-made disasters leave civilization in ruins, a man puts on an old postal uniform and takes a bag of mail, becoming a symbol of a “Restored United States.” The future Brin depicts is violent and chaotic, but even the hint of the old order and authority is enough to change the course of humanity’s fate.
6. A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller Jr.
A “fix-up” novel created from a series of short stories Miller published in the 1950s, A Canticle for Leibowitz has attained legendary status in the science fiction genre. After a nuclear war destroys much of the world, a rabid campaign against knowledge and science sees mobs destroying books and killing the learned. A man named Isaac Edward Leibowitz becomes a Roman Catholic priest and dedicates his life to preserving learning. As centuries pass, his work forms the foundation for a recovery of scientific knowledge—and a battle between good and evil. Stories don’t get much more epic than this one. Miller explores many similar themes as King two decades later.
7. The Drowned World, by J. G. Ballard
The Stand is a powerful and entertaining story, but it’s also conventional in many ways. For one thing, King assumes that the first order of business after an apocalypse would be to get back to “normal” as quickly as possible. J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World is set in a future where rising sea levels have destroyed much of civilization. But Ballard is more interested in questioning how such an event might change human evolution, both physically and psychologically. As the world becomes less familiar in its new reality, the men and women struggling through it find themselves changing, and not always in ways they would choose.
8. Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart
Stewart’s classic 1949 novel is the obvious choice for your next read—King himself acknowledged that it inspired his novel. After a mysterious disease kills almost everyone, a man named Isherwood Williams explores the desolate new world and eventually settles in with other survivors to form a new society. Ish tries to preserve knowledge and skills, but his efforts run up against a less-than-interested population. Society slowly evolves into a more primitive form. Thoughtful and realistic, Earth Abides remains a powerful story perfect for fans of post-apocalyptic doom.
9. On the Beach, by Nevil Shute
Where The Stand is more interested in what happens after the death of civilization, On the Beach focuses on the horror of impending doom. After a nuclear war devastates most of the world, the only habitable areas are Australia, New Zealand, and parts of South Africa and South America. But even as life is bizarrely normal in those places, air currents are slowly bringing radiation, ensuring the end of all life. The slow, grinding end of all things allows Shute plenty of room to contemplate existence and how different souls will meet oblivion, making this a perfect complement to King’s book.
10. A Boy and His Dog, by Harlan Ellison
A good rule of thumb is that anything by Harlan Ellison is worth reading. A Boy and His Dog is no exception. Although not a novel—it’s a story cycle with an overarching narrative more implicit than explicit—it’s a terrific complement to The Stand. Set in the future of an alternative Earth, the stories focus on a teenager named Vic and a telepathic, genetically engineered dog named Blood. Vic and Blood form a co-dependent relationship. Vic is ignorant and driven by appetites while Blood is educated and manipulative, but the two have a deep bond that leads to one of the darkest endings in the history of science fiction.