Monday, June 14, 2021

Short Stories from Wastelands: The New Apocalypse (Part 2)


Last week, I commented on “Bullet Points,” the first short story from Wastelands: The New Apocalypse. As you may recall, I found “Bullet Points” to be a clever — and amusing — take on what it might be like to be one of the last people on the face of the Earth. I’ve now read the second, third, and fourth stories in the Wastelands collection and found them to be very different from “Bullet Points” — and as far as that goes, from each other. That kind of variety is one of the common characteristics of any good short story compilation, and it encourages me to keep reading (although I would hate to think that the “best” story in the collection turns out to be the very first one I read). 


These three stories are moodier than the opener, and each of the stories offers a more horrific take on what a post-apocalyptic world might be like. “The Red Thread,” by Virginia writer Sofia Samatar, is about a woman and her teenaged daughter who are moving from safe place to safe place after the world has effectively been destroyed by the devastating economic crash that follows the complete drying up of the Earth’s oil reserves. Governments and borders have collapsed, and now only isolated pockets of civility still exist. The girl is hoping to find her boyfriend; the mother is just trying to find a place to rest.


Oregon writer Wendy N. Wagner’s “Expedition 83” is just as gloomy as “The Red Thread,” but it has considerably more action. In Wagner’s story, everyone who has survived the dual catastrophes of global warming and the nuclear winter that followed now live underground. It has, in fact, been several hundred years since anyone has lived on the surface. Today, people most fear the super-fungus that, once it starts growing on any part of the body, will eventually encase even their mouths and noses. Surgeons can keep infected people breathing for a while longer, but the end is always the same. But now, two women are being allowed to see the surface for themselves. 


“The Last to Matter,” by Adam-Troy Castro, a writer who lives in Florida, is the first story from Wastelands that did not even come close to working for me. It is a surrealistic look way into the future at the point that the last city on Earth finally dies. The message, I think, is that all of the survivors are by now so bored with their lives that they welcome the end. I say “I think” but I was myself way too bored by the story to want to spend much time trying to figure it all out. 


Bottom Line: As in any short story compilation that includes the stories of dozens of different authors, there will be “hits” and “misses” among them. And readers will never agree on which are the “hits” and which are the “misses.” That’s part of the fun. All in all, at least for me, Wastelands: The New Apocalypse has gotten off to a pretty good start, and I’m eager to see what follows.

7 comments:

  1. :) There are always hits and misses! Glad you are finding this one satisfying so far.

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    1. Definitely intrigued by it, Jen, and will keep reading. Sometimes, though, I do have to wonder what an editor saw in a story sometimes that goes completely over my head..."The Last to Matter" is one of those.

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  2. I just checked...my library actually has a copy of this collection! I'm excited. Now I can check out some of these short stories for myself. :)

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    1. I'm limiting myself to three or four stories a week - since I own the copy I have, I can do that - so you will undoubtedly read some of them before me if you spend much time with the book.

      Oddly, this is a short story collection of 34 stories and I only even recognize one author name, Elizabeth Bear, and I can't remember reading her before. It seems that some/maybe most of them are known in the Fantasy genre, and because I read almost nothing that would be called Fantasy, that might explain it.

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    2. I'll let you know if I recognize any of the others when I get the book. Here's betting I don't.

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  3. Living underground sounds terrifying to me! I might not be able to handle reading about that. Yikes.

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    1. It would be tough for sure. But in this case, it had been all that humans had known for hundreds of years. And those allowed to venture to the surface got a big surprise...

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