Saturday, July 03, 2021

Short Stories from Wastelands: The New Apocalypse (Part 4)

 


(Stories 8-12, Pages 130-193)

I've continued to work my way through the short stories in Wastelands: The New Apocalypse, and I've been pleased to find that many of the stories are putting really clever twists on their apocalyptic settings. The apocalyptic hook is still prominent in each of the stories, but for the most part, the plots are more about the uniqueness and adaptability of the survivors than about the apocalypse itself.

One story, for instance, "Bones of Gossamer," has its narrator a man who lives on one of the remotest islands of Fiji. The man, and the rest of his village, have no idea what is going on in the rest of the world. All these people know is that the tourists - along with their monthly supply boat - have not been coming for the last year. When one German family and one French family do show up, the mystery only deepens.

Another story I particularly enjoyed is Charlie Jane Anders's "As Good as New," a story about how one of the tools designed to fight global warming catastrophically backfires on the world. This one combines realism and fantasy in a way that gives some hope to what appears to be perhaps the last person on Earth when she ventures out of her bunker one day and finds a peculiar bottle. Even though I'm not a fantasy genre fan, this one doesn't quite cross the line into silliness for me. 

Two of the stories, "One Day Only," by Tananarive Due, and "The Plague," by Ken Liu, take a more traditional (and similar) approach to apocalyptic stories by focusing on the cultural shock endured by survivors of cataclysmic events. In both stories, the survivors have broken into new classifications that have little or nothing to do with how humans viewed themselves pre-apocalypse. In Due's story, there are only four groups left: the vaccinated, those searching for the vaccine, those with a natural immunity, and the dead. Unfortunately, the naturally immune are the most dangerous of all. 

In Liu's tale, the separation is even more obvious. Those with enough money to make it happen are living in protected domes where life goes on much as it always has. The poor, on the other hand, are not allowed inside the domes, and have by now evolved into an unrecognizable subspecies of human beings. The irony is that each group pities the other. 

Of these five stories, only "Black, Their Regalia," by Darcie Little Badger, fails to work for me. And it's not the author's fault, because the story never really stood much of a chance because of how heavily it relies on fantasy. I simply could not buy into the premise that three American Indians and "The Plague Eater" might be able to come to the rescue of the world just in the nick of time to save humanity. My bad. 

Probably because I'm reading these stories in relatively small doses, I'm enjoying them so much that I still look forward to picking the collection back up whenever I can. The stories have not at all gone stale because of their shared similarities, but I don't believe that I would want to read all thirty-four of them straight through without the palate cleanser of other reading other genres at the same time. 

Darcie Little Badger

8 comments:

  1. I really liked The Plague...that ending made me smile. And I liked One Day Only and Bones of Gossamer, too. But I didn't buy into the whole genie in a bottle twist in As Good As New. Still, it was a very unique take on the end of the world. I didn't get a chance to read the other short story before I had to take my copy back to the library.

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    1. I think the best thing about the collection, at least to this point, is seeing how many different twists to an apocalypse that these 34 authors are managing to come up with. So far, only a couple of the stories have disappointed me.

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  2. Enjoyed reading about these short stories, Sam. Bones of Gossamer appeals to me because of its setting and you do wonder how long an apocalyptic event would take to reach the remoter parts of the world. I rememeber The Chrysalids by John Wyndham actually had Australia as being the place the apocolyse had never reached. Not that I can remember what the 'event' had been, nuclear war I suspect. Must read that one again some day, after at least 50 years it's due. LOL

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    1. It does makes sense that the remotest parts of the world might have a better chance of surviving an apocalypse, I suppose, since those populations have so little contact with the rest of the world. That novel you mention about Australia sounds interesting. I'll have to see if I can find a copy; it's one I've not heard of. Hey...after 50 years, it's going to be like you're reading it for the very first time. :-)

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  3. These stories do sound interesting, even though short stories are not my favorite genre. I'm currently reading a book that is called a novel but it reads more like a series of (very) short stories or essays. I think that's going to put me off short stories for a while.

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    1. As much as I love short stories, the book you are describing here might very well put me off them, too.

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  4. Reading about this book on your blog has made me eager to try these stories. I usually like apocalyptic settings, although off the top of my head I don't know if I have read any in short story form.

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    1. I'm a little over halfway through the collection now, and I'm still enjoying the stories a lot. It's fun to see how inventive some of these authors can be as opposed to those who stick closer to the beaten path.

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