Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse
Edited by John Joseph Adams
Review by Mary Rose-Shaffer
Night Shade Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781597801058
Date: 15 January 2008 List Price $15.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse is an inspired collection. Be prepared; as the title suggests this is in no way light reading. The introduction by John Joseph Adams gives a short history of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction. Closing the collection with a lengthy list of "Recommended for Further Reading" Adams highlights some seminal works and some of the current ones representing the genre. The talented authors' stories collected here are diverse and challenging – intellectually and emotionally. It is a credit to the realistic and intriguing portrayals that I can only read one piece at a sitting, needing an interval to think and do something else before reading further.
This is an anthology of works previously published between 1973 and 2008 with one published here for the first time – Jerry Oltion's "Judgment Passed." The story, "The End of the Whole Mess" by Stephen King, opens the collection with a description of the end of humanity in a misguided humanitarian impulse. Interestingly, this is the only story that has no evident survivors; the end really is the end. "Judgment Passed" shares the elimination of humanity on Earth, leaving the world to a handful of returning space-travelers.
There are intentionally no zombies or extra-terrestrial aliens here but there are genetically and scientifically modified humans (Paolo Bacigalupi's "The People of Sand and Slag") as well as the accidentally mutated (James Van Pelt's "Last of the O-Forms"). There are stories of every ilk: the gruesome, the sad, the ironic, the religious, the irreverent, and the blackly humorous. A common thread through all of these post-apocalyptic pieces is the certainty that an element of the human race will survive "the end" of the world.
Adams and I disagree as to the most optimistic of the stories in the collection. He states it is "Waiting for the Zephyr" by Tobias S Buckell while I believe it is a toss up between Nancy Kress's "Inertia" and Octavia Butler's "Speech Sounds."
In "When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth" Cory Doctrow speculates: what if the only survivors were systems administrators? Gene Wolfe provides the requisite "What the …?" for the volume with "Mute." My favorite trope, the Deal with the Devil, is given a new approach with Elizabeth Bear's "And the Deep Blue Sea." Graphic Novels are used by the main character to round out his survival techniques in "Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers" by John Langan. Requiring several readings, "Bread and Bombs" from M. Rickert is one of the most interesting and puzzling approaches to the darker side of human nature as revealed under stress, reminding me of Bradbury's theme that children are not always what they seem.
In Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse many futures are possible. One constant is the idea that survival requires change on the part of humanity as individuals and as a whole. Impressive in its scope and diversity this anthology is thought-provoking and highly recommended.