Sunday, July 11, 2021

Short Stories from Wastelands: The New Apocalypse (Part 5)

 


(Stories 13-18, Pages 194-272)

This group of six short stories from Wastelands: The New Apocalypse, includes two back-to-back stories that turned out to be two of my favorites from the entire collection so far. I would rate each of them five-star stories, in fact, but the other four stories are more average than not, so three stars to each of those.

One of the two I really enjoyed is Susan Jane Bigelow's "The Eyes of the Flood." In this one, a lone woman has somehow survived the radiation and plague that killed off everyone else around her, and she has not seen another human being in a long, long time. But when she finally begins to sense that she is no longer alone, she is terrified. All she knows is that she has gone through such drastic physical changes since everyone disappeared that she has no idea what first contact with another "human" will be like. There's also a nice little technical twist at the very end of this one that I didn't see coming. 

The second story I particularly liked is Jack Skillingstead's "The Last Garden," a story about a plague pandemic of which no one can explain the origin. Sound familiar? Governments are so suspicious and distrustful of each other that the resulting fighting wipes humanity from the face of the Earth. "The Last Garden" is told from the point of view of a lone astronaut who returns to earth only to find herself being "managed" by her over-protective AI bodyguard. Despite its sad ending, this story is intriguing and fun all the way through. 

There is not really a bad story among the other four, so don't be scared off by them. "Echo," by Veronica Roth is similar to "The Last Garden" in the sense that it is about another post-apocalyptic world now dominated by AI, but this time it's a world in which the machines run things on Earth for their own benefit. The story's main character is faced with a moral dilemma in which she has to choose between the surviving humans and the AI bots that now run everything. She knows what the moral choice is; the question is only whether she can convince herself to make that choice. 

The other stories are "Four Kittens" (Jeremiah Tolbert), "Through the Sparks in Morning's Dawn (Tobias S. Buckell), and "Cannibal Acts" (Maureen F. McHugyh). In "Four Kittens," three people are willing to risk everything in order to rescue four Siamese kittens from a local crime boss who does not exactly wish the kittens well. It's a good story, but it's heavier on the thrill than on the apocalypse that has made the kittens such a rarity. "Through the Sparks in Morning's Dawn" is my least favorite in this group of six because it is more a takeoff on the "Mad Max" movies than anything else. Finally, "Cannibal Acts" is much what you would expect from its title. While it is not particularly original, this is a good character study, and I enjoyed that aspect of it. 

So now I'm at the point of having read 18 of the book's 34 stories, and despite the odds of it happening, I'm still looking forward to the last 16 of them. Wastelands has reminded me that the best way to enjoy a collection like this one, where all the stories share such similar themes and settings, is to take the stories in relatively small doses. For me at least, that seems to keep them fresher, and (if I admit it) makes it easier to distinguish one from the other when I think about them later.

Jack Skillingstead


6 comments:

  1. These kinds of stories aren't for me, but, I noticed you mentioned, Susan Jane Bigelow. I worked with her in an academic library and she had a few books published during those years. Shen then changed jobs and I retired so I lost touch with what she had going on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting, Diane. Her short bio at the beginning of the story says: "Susan Jane Bigelow is a librarian, political columnist, and science fiction/fantasy author from Connecticut. She is the author of...She can usually be found somewhere near the Connecticut River, which floods every spring."

      Delete
  2. I salute your commitment to reading these stories. Some do sound interesting - the Bigelow story, e.g. - even though short stories are not my favorite genre.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are some good short stories in the collection, Dorothy, and so far, only one of them has felt like a waste of my reading time. And really a 1 of 16 "fail ratio" is not at all bad for any compilation.

      I think short stories are an acquired taste; the more you read them the more you like them. I find myself now reading at least half a dozen collections a year.

      Delete
  3. I'm sorry I missed The Last Garden and The Eyes of the Flood when I had this book checked out...I did manage to read Cannibal Acts. Not my favorite, but not a bad read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cannibal Acts was pretty predictable, really, and for that reason it didn't stand out much. A couple of the characters were interesting, though, so at least it had that going for it. I'm looking forward to seeing what the last 14 stories have to offer.

      Delete