Monday, June 21, 2021

Short Stories from Wastelands: The New Apocalypse (Part 3)


Continuing with my survey of the thirty-four short stories collected in Wastelands: The New Apocalypse, today's post covers the fifth, sixth, and seventh stories in the book. This trio of stories includes one of the type I would just as soon never read again in my life and two others that I really liked.

Is anyone else as bored by Zombie Apocalypse as I am now? It's become so difficult to avoid stories like "Not this World, Not this War" that they have all started to blend together in my mind. The overkill probably results from the huge success of The Walking Dead television series, but I really think it's time for writers to move on now and go back to being a little more creative with their apocalyptic stories. Jonathon Maberry, to his credit, does give "Not this World, Not this War" a nice twist by putting his main character, a military-trained sniper, in a difficult emotional situation when he learns that the zombie hoard coming for him is made up almost entirely of busloads of small children who were being bussed to safety when they got infected with the zombie-bug. That was enough to save the story for me, but I do hope it's the last zombie story in Wastelands. (But I bet it's not.)

"Where Would You Be Now," by Carrie Vaughn, is my new favorite of the seven stories I've read so far. What I like best about this post-apocalyptic short story is that it focuses more on characters and relationships between characters than it does on the cause of the apocalypse or the violence that follows society's destruction. Instead, Vaughn puts her characters in an interesting setting and lets them show the reader who they are in their hearts and souls. Her story is the first one so far that ends on at least a bit of a hopeful note that good people will survive and be able to adapt to their new world. The title of the story is the question that occupants of the medical camp in which the story is mostly set ask each other when they want to relax and get to know each other better. The title ties directly in to the overall mood of the story and its last two sentences: "It doesn't matter. This is where I am." 

The most optimistic story so far is Timothy Mudie's "The Elephant's Crematorium," a story in which no animal has been able to reproduce for the last seven years, including humans. James and Liyana are alone on what used to be an African elephant preserve, and the surrealistic  aftereffects of the war that devastated the planet have made the world around them - and its dangers - completely unpredictable. Liyana is pregnant, but it's not the first time since the war, and James fears that another pregnancy could cost her her life. Liyana's bigger concern at the moment is finding out why small groups of elephants are spontaneously combusting into piles of ashes. Are they doing it on purpose; is it a kind of suicide pact between the animals? After she figures it all out, a remarkable thing happens that leaves both the humans and the elephants better for the bond they form. Even as surrealistic as this story is at times, I enjoyed more than most because its focus on the characters instead of on the customary violence that is at the heart of so much apocalyptic literature. 

These last two stories, because they show more variety than most of the earlier ones, have left me much more hopeful, even enthusiastic, about reading the rest of the collection, and I'm looking forward to reading four or five more of them this week.

10 comments:

  1. I've actually read all three of these stories! (I've been jumping around a bit in the collection and not reading things in order--I had to read Cannibal Acts first because of the title--but that's just me.) I really liked Where Would You Be Now, and I'm glad The Elephant's Crematorium ended better than it began...just the thought of elephants wanting to immolate themselves made me sad. And I liked Maberry's zombie story, too, though you're right, zombie fiction all starts to read the same after awhile. (I still like it, though.)

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    1. I almost always read the ones written by authors I already like, Lark, but I'm sure not having that happen in this case because I don't much recognize any of them, really.

      I'm finding it interesting to read them in the order chosen by the book's editor, and I'm now wondering if I might figure out why they were placed in this specific order. Sort of like...in the old days...we used to listen to record albums to experience the music in the mood intended by the artists who produced it, I suppose.

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  2. Your review is comprehensive and interesting, but to be honest, these types of stories don't appeal to me. And certainly not the ones featuring zombies. The Carrie Vaughn story is really the only one that I feel I might be able to get into, but I hope you continue to enjoy your reading of them.

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    1. I don't think I could take reading nothing but 34 apocalyptic short stories in a row, Dorothy, but taking them in twos and threes is working really well - especially now that they are showing some variety in theme.

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  3. Glad your still enjoying these stories, Sam.

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    1. I was looking for a large collection of short stories when I decided to buy this one, Jen, and now I'm glad I did. It's kind of fun.

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  4. I'm trying to think whether I've ever read an apocalyptic story in my life, zombie or otherwise. I must have but am drawing a complete blank even though I used to read loads of sci-fi. Although... is it sci-fi or horror? We didn't see The Walking Dead, did you? I know my youngest daughter did and when we talked about it she suggested we might not like it very much.

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    1. I am intrigued by apocalyptic fiction, Cath, probably because it reminds me so much of Robinson Crusoe, a novel that I fell in love with as a kid. The best of the books are about using your head to survive, not brute force, and I find them very entertaining. As for zombie novels...no...I find them boring and repetitive. I tried The Walking Dead series when it first hit television here and made it to about the fourth episode before the boredom set in. There is a limited number of ways that that story can be told.

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  5. I still love dystopian novels, but I tend to prefer more realistic scenarios instead of zombies. I couldn't stomach The Walking Dead because it was just too gory and depressing. I've felt the same about most of the zombie novels I've read. Not all, but most.

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    1. Same here, Susan. All the zombie stuff I've encountered, both movies and books, is just too similar to me. I got bored with it very quickly, and can't believe how long The Walking Dead managed to stay on TV. It really is all about the gore, IMO, and little else.

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