Robert Reed. Pallbearer. (The Mammoth Book of Apocalyptic SF)

It just so happened that I’d been on a run of mostly relatively short stories, and this substantial story by Robert Reed, on top form, has been a treat.

It’s a cleverly constructed story, interweaving historical issues with his now-dead mother (whose religious objections to taking a plague jab perversely helped her family to survive), a wife who has been shunned by the extreme Christian community living in an Earth depopulated by plague, changes to that community that are happening, ecological change, and the key element of the story – a group who arrive in the township, passing through.

But there’s more to the people passing through than meets the eye, and a lot is revealed, leaving the protagonist with a microcosmal issue of his own as to whether there is a price which is worth paying for a greater good. There’s a lot of issues handled in the story, all done through the impact of those issues on individuals, families and communities, done very cleverly, with strong characterisation.

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