Surviving and Thriving in a Post-Apocalyptic Novel

I asked ChatGPT this question:

“What are the traits of characters in post-apocalyptic novels that help them survive and thrive?”

The software replied:

“Characters in post-apocalyptic novels often possess a combination of traits that help them survive and thrive in the harsh and uncertain environments they find themselves in. Here are some of the key traits that tend to be common among such characters:

1. Resilience: Characters in post-apocalyptic novels must be able to bounce back from adversity and keep going despite the many challenges they face.

2. Adaptability: Survivors in a post-apocalyptic world must be able to adapt to new circumstances and environments as they arise, often without access to many of the resources they were used to before the apocalypse.

3. Resourcefulness: With many of the traditional systems and structures of society gone, post-apocalyptic survivors must be able to find and create their own resources and solutions to the challenges they face.

4. Self-reliance: The characters in post-apocalyptic novels often cannot depend on others to help them, and must be self-sufficient in order to survive.

5. Courage: In a world where danger lurks around every corner, characters in post-apocalyptic novels must be able to face their fears and act courageously in order to survive.

6. Strong social bonds: Although self-reliance is important, post-apocalyptic survivors also need strong social bonds and relationships to help them navigate the challenges of their new world.

7. Willingness to take risks: Survivors in a post-apocalyptic world must be willing to take risks in order to find food, shelter, and other necessary resources, as well as to defend themselves against potential threats.

These are just a few of the traits that tend to be common among characters in post-apocalyptic novels. Different characters may exhibit these traits in varying degrees, and other traits may also be important depending on the specific post-apocalyptic scenario portrayed in the book.”

– Paraphrase from OpenAI’s ChatGPT AI language model, personal communication, February 15, 2023.*

For inspiration and guidance in these challenging times, I have looked to the creative artists who have imagined humans or human-like beings meeting challenges in alternative or post-apocalyptic worlds. Having felt alarmed and helpless in the face of real and distant violence, and having experienced the recent deaths of my father and former boyfriend, I currently seek out stories that, simply put, are not too dark.

The novels below are listed in rank order based on my subjective view of the extent to which the main characters meet the synthesized criteria offered by ChatGPT, plus have awareness and skill, acknowledge errors and learn from them, and survive and thrive.

  1. Burn for Me, Ilona Andrews, pseudonym for a wife-and-husband team. First in the stellar Hidden Legacy series with main characters who are aware of their feelings and thoughts, do cost-benefit analyses with rank ordering when faced with choices, devise strategies, engage in understandable self-blame when things don’t go well, then move ahead based on their values and priorities. First series I have listened to twice since Harry Potter.
  2. When Women Were Dragons, Kelly Barnhill. First book I have broadly recommended since Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House. (The Dutch House link is to Audible version narrated by Tom Hanks.)
  3. Shanghai Immortal, by A. Y. Chao, released June 1, 2023. Link is to the brilliant Audible recording. Lady Jing is aware of the need to regulate her emotions and uses skills to do so. (Added 7/4/2023).
  4. Graceling, by Kristin Kashore. Link is to The New York Times book review. (Added 7/4/2023). Katsa lives her values in astronomically extreme circumstances.
  5. A Magic Steeped in Poison, Judy I. Lin. Link is to exquisitely read Audible version. A gift to people who treasure finding meaning from the surprise of related things and times.
  6. The Liar’s Crown, Abigail Owen. Her world is inexplicable to us, then to her, then she bravely sees reality as it is.
  7. Legends & Lattes: A Novel of High Fantasy and Low Stakes, Travis Baldree. Link is to Audible version, brilliantly read by the author. An odd title for a startlingly imaginative archetypal heroine’s journey story.
  8. The House Witch: A Humorous, Romantic Fantasy, Delemhach. A creative, kind treatise on carrying on after trauma.
  9. Joan Is Okay, Weike Wang. Without support, with opposition, a neuroatypical inner life movingly handles the beginning of the atypical, apocalyptic beginning of this pandemic.
  10. The House in the Cerulean Sea, TJ Klune. The characters work hard to champion their own humanity against powerfully held beliefs about how people should be.


  • Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse. Astonishingly powerful, on the edge of too graphic for me. Link is to Kirkus Reviews. Tried second book but a little too dark, at least for now.

Other recommended books are here.

*Guidance on the citation style for ChatGPT came from The University of Queensland, Australia: “Content from generative AI is a nonrecoverable source as it can’t be retrieved or linked.”

Last updated 2023/07/04

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