Eight SF&F Road Trip Novels to Get You Ready for Mad Max: Fury Road
For some, the Mad Max movies set the tone for grungy, violent post-everything cinematic science fiction. For others, these movies might be remembered hazily as the butt of Mel Gibson jokes and the triumph of one really, really good Tina Turner song. Either way, Mad Max is back this weekend with the release of the new film (no one knows what to call it: Reboot? Recharge? Cash grab?) Mad Max: Fury Road. Like its predecessors — Mad Max, The Road Warrior, and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome — Mad Max: Fury Road is an original screenplay that is not based directly on any novel or short story. And yet, a dark and fantastical road trip is something that crops up in plenty of science fiction and fantasy novels. Here are eight fantastic road trip books to give your Mad Max diet a little more literary flavor.
The Deadlands by Benjamin Percy
Set in a devastated future America, Ben Percy’s new novel might be the literary equivalent of a Mad Max-style narrative. The novel is a re-imagining of the path taken by Lewis & Clark, but plotted through a dystopian, bombed-out version of the West. Part political thriller, part survival story, Ben Percy has proven again (as he did with the werewolf novel Red Moon) that he is one of the best contemporary genre-benders out there.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien is obsessed with road trips! If you don’t believe me think about this: the subtitle (or alternate title) to this book is actually “There and Back Again.” True, there’s some battles with various armies toward the end of this book, but what’s a magical road trip without some dwarf-war action? Tolkien liked this format so much that one could also argue that the entirety of the Lord of the Rings is a massive road trip too. Most of us wouldn’t want to take a road trip to a giant volcano where a certain Dark Lord was hanging out, but then again, maybe we would?
The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne
Definitely not a vision of the future that is apocalyptic (post or otherwise), Byrne’s 2014 novel bridges a futuristic India and Africa with a literal futuristic bridge. Told from two parallel narratives, occurring at different times, Byrne science fiction future is certainly dark, but it’s not exactly the same level of cynicism you might normally associate with a near-future novel.
Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson
While the film adaptation of this book sees Logan and Jessica escaping an enclosed city to discover a decimated Washington D.C. around them, the novel is totally different. There is no enclosed city, but instead an entire futuristic and totally insane America which can be traversed by a high-powered underground subway. From the East Coast to North Dakota, and eventually even to the planet Mars, the 1967 book version of the iconic 1976 film is really, really BIG.
If you’re worried ever about superhero narratives just not being down-to-Earth enough, then check out this memorable storyline from the 70’s. Here, Green Arrow convinces Green Lantern and Green Lantern’s outer-space bosses that it’s time to see how America really lives. Everybody gets into a pick-up truck and drives across America discovering mostly economic and racially charged injustices. While reading a little clumsy and preachy today, it’s still hard to wrap your mind around the fact that DC even attempted this concept. The politics are super left and totally on the nose, which makes it not only a great historical comic artifact, but also a really compelling read.
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
The last book in The Hunger Games trilogy is also a road trip of sorts. In an attempt to restore freedom to Panem, Katniss, Gale and her coterie of freedom fighters go on a variable tour of each of the “Districts” of this post-apocalyptic world. Though vaguely believed to some version of North America, Collins never tells us outright where and what Panem is specifically. Like a lot of great science fiction dystopias, the various cultural trappings of each of the 12 (well, sometimes 13) districts serves a political and sociological analog to real life problems. One-percenters are certainly a target of both Katniss’s arrows and Collins’s prose, but figuring out where they live versus everyone else is what makes this kind of world building a perfect blend of analogy and imagined reality.
Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Whoa! Do the ends of popular “kid’s” series always result in a giant road trip? Breaking with the format of every single previous Harry Potter novel, Rowling sent Harry, Ron, and Hermione on a full-on quest across a England. Notably, a lot of this has the Hogwarts wizards chilling out in the “non-magical” world, trying to keep a lid on their wand-waving ways. But, the book is also a grand tour of all sorts of stuff that was mentioned in previous installments, including the house where Harry’s parents were murdered, a favorite pub in Hogsmeade, and more. My favorite part of reading Deathly Hollows when it first came out was thinking to myself “they’re not out of the woods yet,” and then realizing the characters were literally camping in the woods.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
You knew this one was going to be on here. We couldn’t resist. You get one guess as to why this is a sci-fi/fantasy road trip that should remind you of Mad Max.