Romance, Sex, & Survival In a Post-Apocalyptic World
Post-apocalyptic romance provides yet another setting readers can visit to indulge their fantasies of alternate worlds. These stories take place after a major disaster of some kind and in sci-fi romance, the cause is technology-based. Post-apocalyptic romances can be set immediately after the catastrophe or years later and are primarily concerned with how a couple survives in a world with little-to-no technology as well as environmental threats.
Oracle by Katherine Greyle (1998) is possibly the first official post-apocalyptic romance. Since then, some post-apocalyptic romances lean more towards paranormal while others straddle the fence between PNR and SFR (e.g., Claire Delacroix’s Fallen). There are stories that feature zombies (like Delphine Dryden’s Love With A Chance of Zombies), werewolves (e.g., Charlotte Stein’s Raw Heat), and a bit of time travel (Joss Ware’s The Envy Chronicles). Still others explore epidemic-based catastrophes, such as Reawakening Eden by Vivi Andrews and Nico Rosso’s The Last Night.
A post-apocalyptic setting can feature erotic adventures, action-adventure romances, and ways of exploring the theme of love against all odds. Post-apocalyptic romances are very much character-driven, as evidenced by Alyssa Cole’s cozy Radio Silence. Against a backdrop of a massive power outage, this story takes place mostly in a remote cabin, focuses tightly on the romance, and includes the hero’s family. On the other end of the action continuum is Anna Hackett’s Hell Squad series, which features a battle for survival after an alien invasion made Earth a post-apocalyptic wasteland. And in P.J. Dean’s The Felig Chronicles, an alien invasion has limited the resources available to humans.
Finding stories that strike a satisfying balance between romance, sex, and a post-apocalyptic setting/plot can be challenging, but on the other hand, finding any kind of balance might not even be the point if one has strong preferences one way or another. Erotically-charged stories may eschew plausibility for raw/edgy/dark/explicit sexual fantasies, while action-adventure ones place more emphasis on survival or battling antagonists bent on hoarding all the resources. Which ones you want to read will depend on your taste and mood.
Post-apocalyptic romances involve unique elements and stories vary in how much emphasis is placed on each. For example, in a post-apocalyptic environment, many societal and environmental elements are in upheaval. Can people still grow crops for food? If not, what are they eating? Are there limited food and clean water resources? What kind of medical care is available? How much did the catastrophe impact the society’s infrastructure, such as food and power distribution? Do survivors rely on solar power or just natural light? How much time per day must the couple devote to survival?
Post-apocalyptic romances can also reframe how a romance develops since the world has changed so vastly. If characters are at a point where survival mode is paramount, what will the couple’s courtship be like? Ella Drake’s Badland’s Edge features a courtship rooted in action and tense face-offs between the hero and heroine, while the lesbian romance of Jacqueline Carey’s Santa Oliviaproceeds at a more leisurely pace and includes subversive elements.
How often will couples or threesomes be thinking about sex in a post-apocalyptic world? Is the setting used as a way to depict the heroine’s sexual awakening such as in Kit Rocha’s Beyond Shame? Where are the safe spaces the couple can use to satisfy their physical urges? Are they having sex on the run (Eve Kenin’s Driven>) or perhaps virtual encounters like in Alisha Rai’s Night Whispers? Then there’s the issue of birth control. Do we want characters to be concerned about bringing children into a dangerous post-apocalyptic environment? This type of story often allows a different way of envisioning a couple’s Happily Ever After.
How a story accounts for various issues determines what readers can expect. Post-apocalyptic romances seem to either ask us to suspend our disbelief regarding the true demands of such a scenario in order to explore sexual fantasies (e.g., ménage à trois is alive and well in Kylie Scott’s Flesh), or it will invite us to contemplate the more realistic ways in which romance and sex can bloom even in the bleakest of times.
In general, post-apocalyptic stories veer unrealistically to a landscape featuring mostly white characters. The erasure of anyone who isn’t white and cis gendered is one of the flaws of this genre. So it’s important for us to examine 1) why only certain people get the privilege of surviving catastrophes and 2) why we reward those particular stories with our time and money. On a related note, it’s also important for authors to be aware of unexamined biases while creating post-apocalyptic tales. This is especially true for romance because people of all types deserve a chance to survive in a world where love, at least, is still possible.