I got an advanced review copy of this anthology as a PDF a little while back, but heigh-ho I spend all day at the Day Jobbe staring at a laptop screen often reading PDFs, reading a PDF is not that’s not much of an evening’s relaxation!
But one of the stories in the volume was made available on the ios9.com website and it was plenty good enough to encourage me to go ahead and get the print version from Amazon. Turns out the anthology is available in a whole host of e-formats, of course, and available in print via something called Createspace for a 90-day period, so whilst it is a ‘real book’, it doesn’t have a publisher’s name on the title page, which for an old-school librarian like me, does not compute Captain.
Anyhoo, whatever the new paradigm we’re in, if it enables a well-established editor with a track record, to get an anthology out in quick time, then it works for me.
And what Adams and Howey (who he?)* have put together is a Baldrickian Cunning Plan. A three-volume anthology – The End is Nigh, The End is Now, the End Has Come – which each look at a different stage of the forthcoming apocalypse. And double cleverly, many of the authors will be continuing their stories in the other volumes. (Cleverly, that is, providing that they’re good stories of course!). Let’s hope all three volumes get to see the light of day, as ‘twould be terrible to suffer from anthologis interruptus.
So I’ve been making my way through the volume at my usual leisurely pace, particularly as with themed anthologies I find reading too many stories on a similar subject in quick succession doesn’t do favours to the later stories as I get a little ‘themed-out’.
The reviews have been appearing on Best SF over the past few months, and are brought together below.
Of course, best you buy the book, in whatever format takes your fancy. Of course my fancy is to line my walls with shelves of books. Ironically, the house will probably go up in a book-fuelled inferno with me in it, or one of the shelves will fall on me and squish me flat.
Robin Wasserman. The Balm and The Wound.
Wasserman, an author new to me, gets the ‘End is Nigh’ anthology off to a great start.
She’s an author new to me, but is clearly well known for her children and YA books, and short stories in the likes of The Atlantic and The New York Times. And you don’t get to write in those two latter markets without being a damn good writer, and by golly, this is a damn well written story. One where you just appreciate the smoothness of the writing, and the clever turn of phrase, use of voice, and so forth. So my question to the SF editors out there : why has it taken so long to get her into an SF anthology for adults??
So, I’m hoping this is one of the stories that the editors have said will continue in the subsequent volumes of the anthology.
The story ends with a biblical apocalypse, biblical in the sense that it’s been foretold by a cultist. Thing is, the cultist has made a living over the years setting up cults in advance of the apocalpyses he claims are imminent, and he’s quite surprised, and rather put out, when the apocalypse he’s been foretelling, does actually turn up this time. On time.
The protagonist is a believable character that you can engage with, and it would be a shame for him not to appear in the second volume. If it were an HBO TV series I’d put money on him surviving being on the wrong side of the survival camp, but being a ‘proper’ story, I’m not wagering any money.
Desrina Boskovich. Heaven is a Place on Planet X.
A slightly unusual apocalypse – aliens have arrived, and humanity is to be transported en masse, instantaneously, to a far distant planet. We don’t have any say in the matter, and indeed one in a thousand of our population are required by the unseen aliens to carry out a role amongst the community.
With 5:00pm EDT approaching, the time for the mass transit, those with that role have some food for thought…
Charlie Jane Anders. Break! Break! Break!
Neat story from Anders, in which the fact that the world is going to hell in a handcart isn’t that much of an issue for the hyperactive teen with challenging behaviour which even Ritalin can’t stop.
It’s a high-ocatane pell-mell rush his schooldays/daze with the background about just how society in the USA is struggling clearly leading to the apocalypse the anthology promises, with a lot of inventiveness.
Ken Liu. The Gods Will Not Be Chained.
A teen girl, victim of bullying at school, finds a strange source of help through an emoticon exchange with an anonymous online person. Just who that person is becomes the turning point, as …. (spoiler) … it is what left of her father, who died a little while back, but whose meg-corp employer managed to capture a significant part of his brain. With armageddon looking likely, a backup generator, with dad’s AI running in grandma’s remote house, sees her and her mother/grandmother prepare themselves….
Jake Kerr. Wedding Day.
One of the more straightforward apocalypse stories in the volume so far – an asteroid is headed for North America, and those who can are fleeing. Those who can’t (most of them) are reliant on a government lottery to get one of the small number of places on transport off the continent.
The same sex couple who are the protagonists are frustrated as their legal inability to marry leaves them disadvantaged, for lottery winner’s can take their marital partners and children with them. It’s a potentially bleak ending – unless the pair pop up in book 2 having got out of the USA (or survived the impact!)
Tananarive Due. Removal Order.
A close up, personal take on the apocalypse, with the setting a suburban housing estate where a teenage girl is looking after her terminally ill grandmother. Most people have been evacuated, but she is staying there with her gran, taking care of her every need.
But the inevitable cannot be put off forever, albeit one element being hastened by a hard-pressed cop, as the young girl has to finally turn her back on her home and see what the future holds.
Tobias Buckell. System Reset.
Head over to io9.comto read this story online.
It’s very near-future. Too near-future for anyone who reads boingboing.net, or who knows who Edward Snowdon is!
There’s a hacker on the loose – is he a whistleblower or a terrorist? Two bounty hunters are hot on his heels, and find that when they get him, things suddenly become very, very serious. It’s a spare, taut little story that ends with a bang (a big one), not a whimper!
Jamie Ford. This Unkempt World is Falling to Pieces.
A fractionally lighter tone in this story in the apocalypse anthology, as an end-of-the-world party in a swanky hotel is in full swing and there’s a moment when the threatened comet extinction appears to have be a publicity stunt, until..
Fingers crossed for the below-stairs staff rather than the rich partygoers!
Ben H. Winters. BRING HER TO ME.
A dark, quite unsettling story from Winters.
The premise itself is unsettling – the word of God is being heard abroad, and the end times are nigh, and the population have been given the wherewithal to join him. It appears to be bona fide, not KoolAid madness, but unsettling even more, is the fate of one young child, one of the rare ones who does not hear the summons, whose parents are concerned for her.
But BRING HER TO ME the BRING HER TO ME word of the Lord is BRING HER TO ME is insistent, albeit capitalized…..
Hugh Howey. In the Air.
If you co-edit an anthology, you’ve got to make sure your story stands up alongside the rest, and fortunately Howey does so.
It’s a neatly constructed story, with the narrative opening with a very stylishly handled opening paragraph, to set the scene, with flashbacks from the protagonist. We quickly see the shit hitting the fan, and gradually find out what the shit is and the role he had in the fan (hmm, not sure where that analogy came from, best I make clear the story does not feature a faecal apocalypse..).
The story gets into the protagonists head, and he is left standing on a lakeside, wife and daughter, but little else left, you want to find out what happens next.
Annie Bellet. Goodnight Moon.
A short and fairly straightforward story. As the title suggests, the moon is facing an apocalyptic event, and the small scientific crew know that only a couple of them will survive, those we take up the seats in the only spacefaring vessel to hand.
There’s no drama around the choosing of who will take the places, and the protagonist and those who stay behind with her are largely resigned to the fate, with only the final sentences with them holding hands as impact happens, having any impact on the reader.
Will McIntosh. Dancing with Death in the Land of Nod.
The only thing I don’t like about the story is the title, which references the fact that the apocalypse in this story in the apocalypse-themed anthology is one where people are struck by a virus that causes them to instantly vegetate, immobile, save for the nodding head, but otherwise alert, although unable to communicate or move.
There’s a touch of The Last Picture Show, as there’s a quite vivid and memorable setting to open (and close) the story – a drive-in movie theater. Johnny’s elderly dad bought it not long ago, but it’s proven to be a bust, especially so now that people are staying in to avoid getting infected. Worse still, his dad has dementia. Could it get any worse.
Of course it can, and as neighbours fall victim, it’s left to Johnny and another neighbour to look after them, and the closing scene it at once heart-breaking and affirming.
Megan Arkenberg. Houses Without Air.
Seven sections, or in fact seven matches, each match, like those of the fairytale Little Matchgirl, throwing light.
There are only a few weeks left for humanity, as atmospheric pollution has passed the tipping point. Beth’s room-mate decides to leave some mementoes, and there’s a palpable sense of loss as they make their little worlds…
The reference to The Little Matchgirl took me back to the mid-1960s and our FairyTale Treasury book, which had several stories gorgeously illustrated with photographs of puppets. However, there was one story that was only ever read to the Watson boys once, as it gave us the heebeejeebees, and that was The Little Matchgirl, which closed with this picture of the little girl, all alone in the world and frozen to death, being taken to heaven by her grandma. My god I’m welling up now…
Scott Sigler. The Fifth Day of Deer Camp.
Camp being deer camp, out in rural USA in deep midwinter, and five days in a group of friends from a tight-knit community have settled in nicely. Not much in the way of hunting deer, but plenty of alcohol consumed and late night conversations.
The rural idyll is however, disturbed, and things aren’t going to be the same again, and they are likely to be grateful that they haven’t wasted bullets on hunting deer.
Some particularly nice characterisation by Sigler, with me keen to find out more…
Jack McDevitt. Enjoy the Moment.
Scientist Maryam, turning thirty, worried that she’s not going to get her name attached to a scientific principle, decides to go comet-hunting – getting a comet named after her being an alternative.
And she does get to do this, although (bearing in mind the theme of the anthology) perhaps she should have been careful of what she wished for…
Nancy Kress. Pretty Soon the Four Horsemen are Going to Come Riding Through.
Another classy Kress story, with a working class single mom who stumbles across just exactly what the impact the volcano eruption that happened when she was pregnant a few years back actually was. Kress gets the voice of the mom absolutely right, and the observations of societal hierarchies amongst school moms is painfully accurately observed.
Seanan McGuire. Spores.
A slightly more traditional end of the world story than some in the anthology, with biotech scientists finding they have inadvertently opened Pandora’s box, and the protagonist has some painful decisions to try to save herself and her daughter. But the story is a strong one due to the protagonist (her OCD) and her wife, which make her a more rounded and interesting character
Jonathan Maberry. She’s Got a Ticket to Ride.
A private detective specialising in locating and returning young people who have run away from home to join a cult, finds his latest case. However, whilst she believes in the imminent Nibiru Cataclysm she’s far too level-headed and balanced, and not the usual tin-foil on the head case.
But he has a scientist who knows this, who has all the facts to debunk the mooted imminent catastrophe. Or rather, he had…
A short, but effectively chilling story..
David Wellington. Agent Unknown.
A story that is well, well short of the high standard set by other stories in the anthology.
It’s a bog-standard zombie story that rattles through without any depth or subtlety, and some pretty average writing, and it feels like something that’s been dashed off in an afternoon.
Matthew Maher. Enlightenment.
A story that gets increasingly macabre as it unfolds, as the shy, overweight, vegan scientist protagonist finds the true path for herself, through the assistance of a group for whom eating the flesh of animals is deemed immoral, but if the meat comes from a willing source…
Paolo Bacigalupi. Shooting the Apocalypse.
Socio-economic apocalypse being the order of the day, with borders in the USA closed and states wary of their neighbours, and Texans being viewed now in the same way than many currently view Mexicans. There’s a touch of the Breaking Bad vibe about it, with a corpse strung up alongside the barbed wire canal whose flow of water is keeping the state alive. It looks like there’s a story for the photojournalist, but by the end the story has got a whole lot bigger.
Nice to have a story from Bacigalupi – quite some time since I’ve read anything by him!
Sarah Langan. Love Perverts.
Langan closes an excellent anthology with a strong, albeit dark and bleak (although ultimately human) story.
The approaching apocalypse is one of the common forms in the anthology – a planet-killer impact is imminent, and Langan describes the final hours in a small community in which most of the human behaviour is at the other end of the spectrum from ‘noble’.
Tom’s parents have left him behind, their own tickets for an underground refuge trumping family ties, and he’s left with an emotionally damaged and needy companion, as the final hours tick away. Looking forward to the continuation of this story in the next volume, although the opening and closing sentences suggest….
An excellent anthology, with only a couple of weaker ones, and the majority strong and impactful. And the second volume has already arrived!