Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Review: "Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse"

Title: "Wastelands: Tales of the Apocalypse"
Editor: John Joseph Adams
Pages: 352
Publisher: Night Shade Books

“Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse” has been the first anthology presented to me and a very big burden, since reviewing a book consisting of twenty three stories and do it the right amount of justice is a hard task on its own. But I clench my teeth and prepare for the feat by laying down the first words of the review: You need to read this anthology…

Death has occupied the top ten lists of all human fears for the better half of the time since it dawned on our species we are mortal and since then a lot has been speculated what happens after death. Do we just decompose into the Earth and become one with the ecosystem? Do we sit on metal scales and wait for a ticket either to heaven or hell? Do we just drift around as a ball of light or we just get reborn? Death has inspired many artists and writers, posing the same questions and with this anthology this isn’t any different. But instead of death of the individual the twenty three writers involved pose the question: What happens when a world dies?

Twenty three stories of various lengths examine different angles, causes and effects on the world, stress on the environment, society, human drama or sheer survival. Earth turned to a glowing nuclear night lamp in the solar system, done. God taking all of his children and leaving the planet a barren park, also done. Humanity reduced to idiocracy by man’s best intentions and forced to extinct by a genetic fluke, done and done. Whatever apocalyptic scenario you can think of and the casualties thereof, has been incorporated here.

“The End of the Whole Mess” by Stephen King is rightfully chosen as the heading story, since it is the only one to portray the events building up to the end of the world. The apocalypse in this story is man-made plan to turn the world into an utopia gone wrong and it follows the old proverb that the path to hell is paved with good intentions and warns people of ever attempting to alter the world.

The majority of the stories focus on the psychological effects on both individuals and as a society and nations. “Salvage” by Orson Scott Card follows the path of a man in a ruined city mostly under the waters of an overflowed Salt Lake whenever belonged to as he searches for a place for himself, where he could fit. “The End of the World as We Know It” by Dale Bailey shows an even grimmer story of the sole man to ever wake from the night’s sleep and his silent alcoholic breakdown into oblivion. “Mute” by Gene Wolfe targets another group of survivors and portray the adaptation to minor siblings as they have to face the reality they might be the only humans left in the world. Of course there are sheer survival stories like “How we got in and out of Town Again” by Jonathan Lethem, which shows how much humans are willing to subjugate to in order to receive some small meals and a place to stay overnight. “When Sysadmins Ruled the World” by Cory Doctrow toys with the idea what happens when the Internet is the only thing to survive a nuclear wave, which destroyed the world and the people who survived the teams behind the Internet.

My favorites personally lie in the twilight zone, when authors speculate about how the human race will handle the effects of the apocalypse physiologically. And there is a wide diversity of such titles. The central theme in most of these stories are the dehumanization of the human race. “People of Sand and Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi is the grimmest of all, because the humans of the new world are rational and high technological, but feel nothing emotionally or physically for they have changed their body to regenerate amazingly fast and can eat soft materials like sand and rubble. “Dark, Dark were the Tunnels” by George R.R. Martin although its morbid prognosis how life under the Earth’s surface, when the surface is a nuclear waste land, it abides the laws of evolution and amassing what the life in darkness requires, nature has rolled its dice.

Of course there are some positivity that a bright future is possible after the end as nature has shown us, everything is a cycle and after a great fall there are always chances for things to pick up. “Waiting for the Zephyr” by Tobias Buckell carries the spirit of adventure and freedom and proposes a chance to detach oneself from the painful past and start anew with more perspective in a desert world. “Artie’s Angels” by Catherine Wells aims to underline to the readers that even under the most degrading of circumstances the human soul can carry a pure spark of nobility, generosity, general philanthropy and compassion and that to preserve the image goodness one is compelled to lie in order to show that good is rewarded, when reality kills it off.

These are just around the half of the stories between page one and 344, all worth reading and experiencing as they try to explain the past, reason with the present and regain enough of their sanity to look up to the future.

What other people are saying:
1) Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews
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Bookfool said...

Ooooh, I like the sound of this one! Great review, thanks!

Dark Wolf said...

Thank you for the mention :)

daydream said...

Thanks!! It is a good one not to pass and sure Mihai, I would never have forgotten your mention.

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