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Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse

John Joseph Adams (ed)

"It was only a rat."
    "It was only a rat."
         "It was only a rat."    

Reviewed by Stefani Nellen

Admittedly, this could have been dreary. Not because Stories of the Apocalypse entail unpleasantness for humanity–that's their point, after all–but because of the didactic nature that seems to come with many post-apocalyptic plots. You know: blatant idea stories telling us where humanity went wrong, who/what is ultimately worth saving, or even celebrating the nuclear wipe-out induced return to the simple life. 

There's nothing dreary in this book. The stories here are real, juicy, solid stories instead of morality lessons in disguise, and not two of them are alike. 

It's hard to point to favorites, so I'll try to give an impression of the range covered by the work in this anthology. It had profound stories that were about society more than individuals (e.g. Octavia E. Butler's Speech Sounds or Nancy Kress's Inertia), two complementary pieces of post-apocalyptic meta-fiction (The End of the World as We Know It by Dale Bailey and Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers by John Langan), an all-too-likely scenario telling us all about When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth (written with awesome authority by Cory Doctorow), and short, poetic stories that, through stylistic elegance, transcend the grit and troubles they depict (Waiting for the Zephyr by Tobias S. Buckell and Still Life with Apocalypse by Richard Kadrey). 

One interesting dichotomy to look at in post-apocalyptic stories is the "good humans" vs. "bad humans" distinction. A "good humans" story regards the apocalypse as a tragedy and focuses on the challenge of survival, while a "bad humans" story regards the apocalypse as a well-deserved punishment and gleefully chronicles humanity's decline. Most stories fall into the profound grey area in between the two (leaving it up to the reader to draw their own conclusion). Still there are relatively pure-bred examples of both in this book, and it's interesting to see them side by side. When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth, for instance, is a "good humans" story. Normal people are surprised by a catastrophe beyond their control or comprehension. Lacking any innate heroic ability, they cope in the only way they can: by continuing with their jobs. Even the non-sysadmins among us will feel a bond with Felix, the humble but resilient main character: 

Felix went to the door and walked out into the night. Behind him, the biodiesel generator hummed and made its acrid fumes. The harvest moon was up, which he loved. Tomorrow, he'd go back and fix another computer and fight off entropy again. And why not? It was what he did. He was a sysadmin.  

In contrast, The People of Sand and Slag by Paolo Bacigalupi is a "bad humans" story at its finest. The future: Thanks to unappetizing micro technology, humans are on top of the food chain, God-like and immortal. They respond to this by developing the wit and moral spine of slightly drunk billionaire's brats. Into their oblivious life bursts a feral dog, one of the last surviving real animals. At first, the dogs vulnerability seems to stir understanding and curiosity in the main characters, and there are some touching man-dog bonding moments. But inevitably, the chore of caring for the animal becomes too much of a burden for the superior humans, and they decide to roast the animal. 

"It makes you smile." 

"Immersive Response makes you smile. And you don’t have to clean up after its crap. Come on. Admit it. You don’t want to take care of it either. It's a pain in the ass."

Wastelands collects classics of the genre and recent publications. There's an extensive Further Reading List in the back for those who crave more. It should also be noted that this is physically a very beautiful book. Daniel Kvasznicza, Michael Fusco, and Jeremy Lassen did an outstanding job with the jacket design and the interior layout, respectively.

 Read The People of Sand and Slag by Paolo Bacigalupi from this collection on Windup Stories.

Stefani Nellen work has appeared or is forthcoming in Inkwell, Apex Digest, Cosmos Magazine, Quarter After Eight, Dzanc Books' Best of the Web 2008 Anthology, and more. She's a graduate of the 2008 Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop, and otherwise splits her time between the US and the Netherlands.

Stefani's other Short Reviews: Claudia Smith "The Sky is A Well"  

Heather Beck "10 Journeys Through the Unknown"

Mary Anne Mohanraj "Bodies in Motion"

PublisherNight Shade Books

Publication Date: 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

Book website: JohnJosephAdams.com/Wastelands

Editor: John Joseph Adams

Editor Bio: John Jospeh Adams the editor of the anthologies Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse (Night Shade Books, January 2008), Seeds of Change (Prime Books, Summer 2008), and The Living Dead (Night Shade Books, Fall 2008). He is also the assistant editor at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Authors: Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, Paolo Bacigalupi,  M. Rickert, Jonathan Lethem Dark, George R. R. Martin, Tobias S. Buckell, Jack McDevitt, Cory Doctorow, James Van Pelt, Richard Kadrey, Catherine Wells, Jerry Oltion, Gene Wolfe, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Bear, Octavia E. Butler,  Carol Emshwiller, Neal Barrett, Jr., Dale Bailey, David Grigg, John Langan

Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: Night Shade Books





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If you liked this book you might also like....

Philip K. Dick "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep"  

James Patrick Kelly  "Think Like A Dinosaur" 

Everything mentioned under Further Reading in "Wastelands".

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