I have just finished reading an anthology of short stories. They were all stories about just before the end of the world; they were all rather good. They were interesting takes on the end, looking at it from perspectives I haven’t encountered in my recent attempts to read all the classics of post-apocalyptic literature. I have a lot to say about these stories, but I don’t know how to talk about them. If I tell you about every single one—22 in all—I doubt you’ll stay until the end. I wouldn’t. I have never made it to the end of a review of a short story anthology, ever.
Maybe this is, in turn, because I have trouble getting into short fiction in the first place. When I do finally force myself to read it, I often like it, but when I want to dunk my head into some other world, I don’t like the thought of being pulled back out so quickly, just when I’ve finally gotten used to the temperature of the water. Maybe it’s the same with reviews. Jumping between stories and authors and opinions; it is just so much. Information overload.
Is it possible to review an anthology as a whole? As if it is one block? Damn it, I can try. If I look at this anthology’s big picture, I can say that it is well built. Most anthologies have a handful of stories that I don’t like, and I get stuck on those stories, never making it past because I feel obliged to read everything. In The End Is Nigh, there was only one story I couldn’t get through, and at first its presence was like a towering, barbed-wire-lined wall that I couldn’t climb over. I put The End Is Nigh down for a couple of months. Then I gave myself permission to just skip the damn thing. You don’t have to climb the wall, Stewart, it’s only a couple of meters wide; you can just walk around. I find doing this difficult, but geezus, if I’m going to read more short fiction and more anthologies, I need to get over the fucking OCD reading habits. You don’t need to read every story in an anthology and finding a few that you don’t like is not reason to give up or call the book a failure. It just means there is a little something for everyone (usually; sometimes it means it is a shitty anthology, but not in this case). Maybe you already know this, do this. So in part with everything anthology I read, it is my reading habits and compulsions that fail, not the book.
To get back to The End Is Nigh specifically: When reading anthologies I always find myself asking if the editor’s had a plan, if an anthology-specific philosophy guided the choice of authors and stories and chronology. Was there a blueprint? Start with x kind of story, build up to y, go out with a z? Perhaps. The End Is Nigh starts out very strong—the first story, “The Balm and the Wound” by Robin Wasserman was one of my favorites and works well as an opening hook—and saves some of its strangest and most disturbing tales (“Enlightenment” by Matthew Mather takes the prize for both titles) for the end, perhaps in hopes of not scaring readers away prematurely. But I found the quality of stories in this anthology, on a whole, to be very high, their content and approach fresh and original and sometimes deliciously strange. There are man-eating spores, a volcano, a singularity, and more than a few outlandish and interesting religious cults.
While the stories did better than average as far as representation of non-hetero sexualities goes and almost managed gender parity among its authors (nine stories written by women, 13 by men), it is very, very white (19 stories written by white authors, 2 by authors of color, 1 undetermined). So there’s that.
But get this. The big-BIG-picture plan for The End Is Nigh is what has me really excited. Really fucking excited. Because it is not just one anthology, it is the beginning of a three-part anthology series called The Apocalypse Triptych that will collect short stories about the end of the world in all its glorious progression. The End Is Nigh (out at the start of 2014) covers just before the shit hits the fan; The End Is Now (out now) looks at the shit hitting the fan; and The End Has Come (out soon) watches as it careens across the room, splatters on the wall, and some poor sucker comes and tries to clean it up with a bucket of dirty water.
That so much new short PA fiction is coming into the world via these anthologies is exciting in and of itself, but it gets better: many of the stories throughout the three anthologies will be connected. So you could read them as stand alones or you could think of these three books as intertwined serials, as a collection of serialized novellas. So. Cool. What a great way to sell anthologies, I thought to myself when I first heard. Funny thing? According to Adams he and co-editor Hugh Howey (of Wool fame) decided to self-publish them because this is exactly the kind of concept that wouldn’t fly in traditional publishing (source: Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy). No wonder traditional publishing is slowly sinking. It is innovative publishing ideas like the one behind The Apocalypse Triptych that are going to carry readers into the future.
Seventeen out of twenty-one radiation shelters.
Where I got it: Hugendubel, Frankfurt, Germany
Where you can get it: The Book Depository (free shipping to anywhere)