If you liked John Joseph Adams’ ‘Wastelands’ anthology; then this one is a must. The stories range from good to excellent.
This is an independently released anthology, but it’s got the right names behind it and I’d expect it to succeed, because this is a fully professional, high-quality collection.
**** The Balm and the Wound—Robin Wasserman
A cult leader is adept at providing platitudes and fleecing his flock. But after his young son is dropped off at his place; the leader, along with the rest of the doomsday cult, finds himself swept along in a survivalist current, with the boy at the helm. Very nicely done. I really enjoyed the ironic tone.
**** Heaven is a Place on Planet X—Desirina Boskovich
Aliens have arrived; and informed the planet that at the end of the month; everyone will be zapped into oblivion/transported to a distant paradise planet. Everyone, that is, who continues about their business as usual. Enforcers are nominated to shoot anyone who acknowledges that the end is at hand. Eliminating their fellow citizens is hard; but paradise is at stake… or so they believe.
**** Break! Break! Break! —Charlie Jane Anders
Starts off feeling like a high-school-memoir, telling the story of a nerdy stuntman’s kid and an aspiring filmmaker to team up to create a viral Internet sensation. And then it becomes a cautionary tale about how art can be co-opted for political gain… and it gets a lot better.
*** The Gods Will Not Be Chained—Ken Liu
Not bad, but I feel like I expect better from Ken Liu. As far as themes, it starts out with cyberbullying, and has some interesting insights into the uniqueness of communicating with emoji – and gets into the nature of human intelligence vs. AI – rolled into a story that I found a bit more sappy than genuinely moving.
*** Wedding Day—Jake Kerr
A super-contemporary feel to this one. A long-term lesbian couple want to get married, but their long-deferred plans go awry when it’s announced that an asteroid impact will soon devastate America – and only some of our citizens, determined by lottery, will be able to travel to safety in time. Again, a bit sappy, and I really didn’t agree with the conclusion, either.
*** Removal Order—Tananarive Due
What this story made me think about is how very peculiar it is that our society values keeping people alive when they have no hope of recovery from illness, and they are in horrible pain. This story has that situation: a young woman has stayed in an evacuation zone to care for her dying grandmother. The situation is believable, and is dealt with in a sensible manner, but I don’t think I had the empathy with the main character that the author intended.
*** System Reset—Tobias S. Buckell
A hacker and his buddy try to stage a citizen’s arrest of another hacker – one with terrorist tendencies. But they screw things up, an the situation ends up worse than they imagined.
**** This Unkempt World is Falling to Pieces—Jamie Ford
Halley’s Comet is scheduled to sweep by Earth in 1910, and doomsday fever has swept society. Darwin Chinn Qi is a young Chinese man working a menial job at a fancy comet-themed party. Few of the sophisticated partiers seem to really believe the end of the world is at hand… But telling more would be spoiling. Really liked it.
**** BRING HER TO ME—Ben H. Winters
Twenty-odd years ago, pretty much everyone on earth started hearing the voice of God inside their heads, telling them what to do. And what God wants everyone to do now is to commit suicide by poison. However, one girl has been ‘deaf’ to this voice since birth. One of her parents wants to ‘hide’ this defect and give her the poison. The other wants to turn her in to the authority… A much more horror-genre feel to this than most of these stories. The ending is a bit ambiguous – but that’s OK, ’cause it was good and spooky.
*** In the Air—Hugh Howey
A government agent was privy to the knowledge that the government planned on blowing up the vast majority of humans via nanomites in the bloodstream. But he remained silent, and said nothing – and opted to try to save his family. Nice exploration of ethical issues, but the story itself could’ve had a bit more…
*** Goodnight Moon—Annie Bellet
No relation to the Margaret Wise Brown classic kids’ story!
A team of seven researchers on an international moon base discover a huge asteroid heading straight for them. Their emergency shuttle can only hold three, at a pinch. The team must decide who has a chance at life; who will die, and face their fate. It’s an emotionally wrought situation, but stops just short of sentimentality. Still, I wished there was some sort of new twist to this familiar scenario.
*** Dancing with Death in the Land of Nod—Will McIntosh
A pandemic brings an unlikely couple together. Forty-something Johnny helps his aging dad with his failing drive-in theater. Twenty-something Kelly, who never completed nursing school, bonds with him over their mutual inability to get out of their stifling small town. Together, they try to care for the townspeople who’ve been struck by a new, incurable illness.
*** Houses Without Air—Megan Arkenberg
Roommates Beth and Fatima deal with the approaching end of the world through their vocations. Volcanic explosions mean that everyone will soon be suffocating. Beth has been working on an immersive virtual reality experience. Fatima is a well-known artist who creates memorials. OK, but I wanted a little more from it…
*** The Fifth Day of Deer Camp—Scott Sigler
Five buddies on a camping trip are snowed in to their hunting cabin – when a UFO lands right near them. The news lets them know that it’s a large-scale alien invasion. They prepare to try to defend themselves.
*** Enjoy the Moment—Jack McDevitt
Physicist Maryam Gibson is desperate to get her name on a major discovery and cement her scientific reputation. But does anyone really want their name applied to the phenomenon that will be responsible for the end of life on earth?
**** Pretty Soon the Four Horsemen are Going to Come Riding Through—Nancy Kress
Sophie and Cassie’s mom might not be educated herself, but she’s gone out of her way to make sure that her two girls go to a good school. It’s not surprising that her kids get picked on for their old clothes and obvious lack of wealth. The teachers may think that aggressive, older Sophie is the problem, with her tendency toward fighting. However, mom knows that younger, sweet but passive Cassie might be the real problem – and that it could be a bigger issue than anyone’s guessed. The story’s a very effective illustration of how revelations don’t have to come from the halls of academia, but can come from native intelligence and common sense. Not that that will save the world…
***** Spores—Seanan McGuire
Lab worker Megan is known for being paranoid. Her OCD means that she’s always cleaning, and her co-workers and loved ones are on the lookout for her ‘episodes.’ However, just cause you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there’s nothing to worry about. Megan works in a bioengineering lab… and not all of her colleagues share her focus on safety and caution. Excellent, truly horrific story. (I’ve really got to get around to reading Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant’s other work…)
*** She’s Got a Ticket to Ride—Jonathan Maberry
A hired ‘deprogrammer’ specializes in getting young people out of cults. But one particular assignment: extracting an heiress from a doomsday cult, might cause him to see things a bit differently.
**** Agent Unknown—David Wellington
Straight up zombie medical-thriller. Really very good – it’s a prequel to an upcoming novel, and I just might go out of my way to read it when it comes out.
*** Enlightenment—Matthew Mather
Hey! There’s no end-of-the-world here! This is a horror story about a sort of religious group that likes to throw very special dinner parties. It’s quite disturbingly horrific, but it also sounds quite a lot like the premise of Graham Masterson’s ‘Feast’ (aka ‘Ritual.’)
**** Shooting the Apocalypse—Paolo Bacigalupi
One of Bacigalupi’s favorite topics – water shortage. A border conflict, a corpse hung up a a fence, left to animals and the elements. A drug war casualty, or superstitious sacrifice? Two journalists are in search of the story, in hope of a scoop. As always with Bacigalupi, this is really, really well done. The different, contrasting motivations here are played against each other really well – from petty personal arguments to decisions that will have far-reaching consequences – and the agonists are, always, all too human. However, I had mixed feelings about the depiction of journalism as utterly predatory and ultimately selfish. It’s an argument I’ve seen a lot of lately, and I’m on the other side of it.
**** Love Perverts—Sarah Langan
An asteroid is heading for Earth. The chosen few have been issued tickets to get into underground bunkers, where they hope to live and survive for generations. Teenage Tom Crawford’s wealthy family had tickets – but they left him behind. He thinks maybe it’s because he’s gay. His best friend, Jules, never had a chance. A nicely crafted tale of different kinds of love – and how some love is real and true, even when the kinds of love we expect to receive turn out to be false.