bookrev: Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, edited by John Joseph Adams

A large percentage of science fiction writing is tied to some kind of apocalyptic event. AndWastelands a large portion of the daily news actually portends such an event (for a lighter look, read The Thinking Man’s Guide to the End of the World).

John Joseph Adams, assistant editor at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, has gathered apocalyptic stories by the heavyweights. This is the 3rd collection I’ve read put together by Mr. Adams, and his mix of stories and introductions pull the collections together. We are ready for the next one, John.

In this volume, I especially enjoyed:

  • How We Got In and Out of Town Again by Johnathan Lethem;
  • Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels by George R. R. Martin;
  • When SysAdmins Ruled the World by Core Doctorow;
  • Artie’s Angels by Catherine Wells;
  • Judgement Passed by Jerry Oltion (fav of the bunch);

Notes on each story follow:

  • The End of the Whole Mess by Stephen King – leading off with the master is always a great decision. This story of a genius making the world passive without understanding the consequences is eerily reminiscent of the Firefly movie Serenity, just much better written; King’s character development is almost always spot on and this short story is no exception.
  • Salvage by Orson Scott Card – apocalypse with a Mormon tinge to it. A slice of life piece about a post-apocalyptic settlement near the “Mormon Sea” still keeping the faith, except for the protagonist who thinks there’s gold in the now underwater Mormon temples.
  • The People of Sand and Slag by Paolo Bacigalupi – humans are now self-regenerating beings, turning sand into food, cutting off their limbs for entertainment to watch them grow back. A dog that hasn’t been biologically modified becomes a pet of sorts for three warriors that have been modified, providing them a small and mostly unwanted glimpse of what they were before.
  • Bread and Bombs by Mary Rickert – a post 9/11 story of prejudice and pre-judgement, looking back at the world of abundance before war and a nice twist ending on how children can view what is really good vs. evil;
  • How We Got In Town and Out Again by Johnathan Lethem – instead of the traveling circus, after the fall of society we have traveling virtual reality. Like the circus, they are rigged. Two wanderers join the traveling VR gang, get into a town to put on a contest to see who can stay in the VR world the longest. Very well written.
  • Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels by George R. R. Martin – men from the moon return to Earth many hundred years after the surface was nuked, looking for survivors. The survivors, who have mutated/evolved to survive underground, are observing the visitors, to determine if they are truly men; excellent contrast between the two viewpoints.
  • Waiting for the Zephyr by Tobias S. Buckell – a very short vignette about a young girl leaving a small town in search of something more in a time when the only transportation (there is no more oil) is a sail Zephyr that only comes through every few years.
  • Never Despair by Jack McDevitt – treasure seekers / explorers, tempted to turn back because of death and hardships, happen on an ancient intelligent hologram of Sir Winston Churchill…”never despair, never surrender”.
  • When SysAdmins Ruled the World by Cory Doctorow – the end of the world from the point of view of the computer jocks; as an old IT guy (well, not so old), the descriptions reminded me of the all nighters in the computer room doing upgrades with cases of beer under the raised floor to keep them cool. The obsessive nature of sysadmins is excellently portrayed.
  • The Last of the O-Forms by James Van Pelt – a traveling circus of mutants that was once something extraordinary becomes ordinary when mutants are everywhere…then another unique attraction is required;
  • Still Life with Apocalypse by Richard Kadrey – a very short slice-of-life story about cataloging what humans and animals died how and where after the apocalypse;
  • Artie’s Angels by Catherine Wells – Artie bands kids together with a Code, inside a radioactive protection habitat in Kansas, where outside the dome is death and the only safe place is a transport off Earth…but Artie’s Angels are the poor kids, protected by Artie and the code. Great story where the apocalypse takes a backseat to the characters.
  • Judgment Passed by Jerry Oltion – original to this volume. An excellent story with a new perspective on the apocalypse: a starship returns to Earth to find that Judgement Day has come and gone, taking all humans from Earth and Moon. The starship team is left to figure out why they were left behind, and what they should do about it, if anything. Great premise and excellent follow through.
  • Mute by Gene Wolfe – two children mysteriously arrive home, alone on a bus, to no parents and a TV stuck on mute. They are forced to mature quickly, cooking, cleaning, striking out to find any other people left alive. Lots of questions left unanswered (where did all the people go? why is the TV under it’s own control?) but well written perspective.
  • Inertia by Nancy Kress – unique perspective from the Inside of a quarantined area after a virus hits…but the Inside community is calmer though poorer than the people unaffected, who continue bombing, fighting and killing. Does the virus making them more socially adaptable citizens?
  • And the Deep Blue Sea by Elizabeth Bear – a “Ghost Rider”meets the apocalypse story with a female courier racing across a radioactive West while Nick wants her to handover the cargo or give back the protection he has placed on her and her bike;
  • Speech Sounds by Octavia E. Butler – a virus takes away speech in some, reading in others, reducing humans to grunting communication ala Planet of the Apes. One woman tried to take what would be an ordinary journey. A hard story to right, with almost no dialog, but a pleasure to read.
  • Killers by Carol Emshwiller – women survive on their own after a war comes to the US, taking most of the men. Some of the men have returned to live as hermits and continue the fight, threatening the relative safety and sanctuary of one community.
  • Ginny Sweethips’ Flying Circus by Neal Barrett Jr. – Ginny’s surface sells sex, tacos and drugs after the apocalypse. But is Ginny a robot, and is she really selling sex? The mutant possum as the muscle and enforcer steals the story!
  • The End of the World as we Know it by Dale Bailey – the world ends when tragedy strikes the people we love, no matter how many other people are taken in the disaster; this is the point driven home in Mr. Bailey’s story, as Wyndham’s world is over when is wife and daughter die of a disease…the fact that most everyone else in the world has died as well doesn’t matter after that.
  • A Song Before Sunset by David Grigg – after the apocalypse and surviving for a while, an old piano player finds an old grand piano and restores it, just as vandals are moving through the city to destroy all of man’s past works of art.
  • Episode Seven by John Langan – a stream of conscious story wrapped around a short narrative of Wayne and Jackie, as the fight the Pack of mutant dogs following them as they try to get pregnant Jackie to the hospital. Somewhat hard to follow (this reader is not big on stream of consciousness stories).

The anthology also has a set of Further Reading, listing novels that cover version of apocalypse.

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2 Responses

  1. Have you read any Charles Stross yet? I have been enjoying his work of late :). My favorite of his is still accelerando.

    • admin says:

      I am about to try an experiment with Stross’ Accelerando. A web site called Daily Lit will email you books to read on a schedule. They have Accelerando available now. I’m not certain if I will enjoy reading a book like that, but I think I will try it out.

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