Tuesday, 8 January 2008
‘Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse’ – Edited by John Joseph Adams (Nightshade Books)
As a child, I was vaguely aware of the threat of apocalypse (I’m talking world shattering events of a biblical scale, not the mutant master of evolution!) but never really paid it much attention. I mean, that’s what parents are for right? If I had thought about it I’d have probably believed that the world would end in nuclear war (the eighties being big for that kind of thing, as I seem to remember). These days I tend to lean towards the world ending in an uprising of zombies (way too much George Romero!) so it was really interesting to pick up this collection of post-apocalyptic tales and find out how this sub-genre of speculative fiction has inspired some pretty well known spec-fiction writers…
Having just put the book down, the first thing I can tell you is that the world is likely to end in any number of ways if these writers are anything to go by! It will mostly be through mankind’s own stupidity but not all the time. For example, Jerry Oltion asks his readers how it would feel to return to Earth from an interstellar voyage only to find that the Rapture took place while the crew was away… Also, for every story of nuclear hellfire there’s at least two that take a different route. Octavia Butler suggests that humanity losing it’s ability to communicate would be an apocalyptic event while Richard Kadrey’s ‘Still Life with Apocalypse’ says that sometimes these things just happen all by themselves…
This collection isn’t just a snapshot of how things could go (although the contributing authors get pretty inventive), it’s also a series of visions of how humanity might adapt to conditions after the apocalypse and this is where the collection really shines. There is heroism (which seems to be a staple in the post-apocalyptic genre) but what you mostly get are examples of people doing whatever they can to survive regardless of the cost. Sometimes they don’t succeed and events become tragic; Stephen King’s ‘The End of the Whole Mess’ is an exercise in the futility of good intentions and George RR. Martin’s ‘Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels’ is a poignant tale of ‘first contact’ gone horribly wrong. While John Langan’s characters rail against their fate, Dale Bailey’s Wyndham cannot even work up the enthusiasm to procreate preferring instead to drink gin on someone else’s porch. It’s this diverse mix of reactions that make the collection a gripping read instead of a cheap ‘Mad Max’ rip-off.
The danger with collections of this kind is that not all the stories are going to appeal to everyone. This was certainly the case with me, Elizabeth Bear’s ‘And the Deep Blue Sea’ was one tale (along with a couple of others) that didn’t maintain my interest as much as others. What I will say though is that there was enough of a spark in each story to make me finish it, even if I didn’t enjoy it. I’ve mentioned a couple as examples but the real ‘stand out’ tales for me were Paolo Bacigalupi’s ‘The People of Sand and Slag’ (a tear jerker tale of people who really didn’t know any better) and Gene Wolfe’s ‘Mute’(a ‘stripped to the bare bones’ tale that resonates purely through what it leaves unsaid).
Not all of the tales will be to your liking but all of them have something to say, ‘Wastelands’ is well worth a look in my opinion.
Nine out of Ten
PS The cover art shows the current 'working title'. According to the information I received, the title I've given will be the final one.