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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the End,
Welcome to Pandemonium. Ragnarok, climate change, Skynet, Mayan prophecies, zombie hordes, swine flu, reality TV, Gozer the Gozerian, the youth of today, the rise of the apes, no phone coverage, rogue asteroids and the Fox Network cancelling your new favourite TV show. Whatever your end-of-days desire, humanity has a knack for summoning an apocalypse to fit. So what kind of Judgement Day junkie are you?
When I heard that some of the team behind Pornokitsch, one of my favourite websites, were putting together an anthology of short stories I was interested. Their geek culture, book, and film reviews are always a delight to read and tend to offer great insight into the topics they cover. Then I discovered that the theme of this collection was going to be the end of the world, a subject very close to my heart, I was very keen to get my hands on a copy.
This first Pandemonium collection is inspired by the evocative, apocalyptic artwork of John Martin (19 July 1789 - 17 February 1854). Eighteen short stories have been commissioned to coincide with Tate Britain's John Martin: Apocalypse retrospective.
More so than any other anthology I've read this year, I actually found it difficult to pick my favourite stories from this collection. Not because they are bad, quite the reverse, they are all fine examples of the genre. Ranging from the blackly comedic to the down right harrowing, I was entranced by each and every one. If, however, you insist on putting that gun to my head then who am I to deny you my top picks.
Chislehurst Messiah by Lauren Beukes - A man survives the apocalypse by hiding out on his own. As he waits for the dust to settle he surrounds himself with luxury and comes to the only conclusion possible, that he is in fact the Messiah. When he finally emerges into this brave new world he comes face to face with his greatest challenge yet - chavs.
I may be one of the few people who have never read any of Lauren Beukes other work so I came to this not knowing quite what to expect. This is a darkly comic tale with an unexpected under-current of social awareness.
A Private Viewing by Scott K Andrews - A museum security guard extracts slow, vicious revenge on a rioter. This story was particularly effective as it takes a slightly different focus from the others in the collection. In this case rather than looking directly an apocalyptic event it explores John Martin's artwork directly and the effects of regular viewings may produce.
I really enjoyed the intimate nature of this story. For most of the narrative this is just two men and a single room. Not only was this story spookily topical it is also just the right side of disturbing. Grounded firmly in reality but with just a suggestion of the supernatural. The ending struck me as pitch perfect.
At The Sign of the Black Dove by Lou Morgan - You're in the pub with friends on a Friday night, the cheap drinks are flowing and everyone is having a good time. That new barman looks decidedly shifty though doesn't he? Cut to the next morning and things have gone to Hell, literally.
This story successfully captures that feeling of unease, we've all had it, that people suffer when they wake up after a heavy night on the tiles. You can't necessarily recall what happened and with who? I also like the open-ended nature of the story's conclusion. The reader is most definitely left with more questions than answers. I'm sure different readers will take away different interpretations of the events that transpire. The sense of ambiguity and uncertainty that underpins the entire story work extremely well together.
The Day or the Hour by Jonathan Oliver - A vicar is press ganged into the armies of God for the final battle. He is forced to make a choice - rise with Heaven? Fall with Hell? or is there a third option? Jonathan Oliver uses his story to examine the nature of choice and the nature of evil. How do these concepts drive every decision that we make?
The good news is that on top of these four uniquely individual visions of the apocalypse there are another fourteen stories included for your reading pleasure. If you're a fan of horror and are mildly obsessed with the end of the world (I know I am), then there is most definitely something for you here.
I have to admit that I wasn't sure quite what to what to expect when I first started reading Pandemonium. I wasn't familiar with John Martin's artwork but I'm very keen to learn more now. I was expecting something dark but this collection is much more than that. The different stories cover the full gamut of emotions. It was a nice surprise to see so much dark humour in evidence, but more importantly it was great to experience so many differing visions from such a diverse group of writers. I've read Pandemonium a couple of times now and each time I feel like I've been utterly spoiled.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great collection of stories!,
Anyone interested in apocalyptica, end-of-the-world predictions, or just great stories will love this collection. It ranges from the frightening, the thought provoking, and occasionally, the just plain shudder inducing-to funny (yes, funny). A few of the stories are expected (with interesting twists), but most take the inspiration of apocalypse and run with it in ways you never knew it could stretch. The stories range from good to exceptional, and none of them is a waste of 'paper' or your money. A must read.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great first anthology from Pandemonium Fiction,
Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse is the first anthology from Pandemonium Fiction edited by Jared Shurin and Anne C. Perry, the fine folks who also bring us the wonderful Pornokitsch blog. This collection of stories is based on a clear inspiration, the apocalyptic works of the 19th century painter John Martin; the book appeared to coincide with a large exhibition of Martin's work at the Tate Britain. The result is a collection of strong stories marked by their diversity of genre and the different slants the authors chose to take.
Some of the authors were well known to me, others were new, but all of them managed to write stories which captivated me. Unexpectedly, even though they are all inspired by the end of the world as we know it - and I feel fine, thank you - most of the stories are surprisingly hopeful. Not because, in the end, the world or humanity gets saved, but because there is a lot less fire and brimstone than you'd imagine. Whether set in our world or different ones, each of the stories is about an ending; the end of the world (Magnus Anderson's Another Abyss), the end of sanity (Scott K. Andrews' A Private Viewing), the end of humanity (Jon Courtenay Grimwood's The Last Man) or the end of society (Lauren Beukes' Chislehurst Messiah). Several stories have the religious angle you'd expect, with angels and demons and raptures, others taking a completely unexpected setting, such as outer space, a secondary world or Germany during WWII. The possibilities are endlessly fascinating.
With any anthology there are stories that work better or worse, often which these stories are, is different for each reader. For me personally, there weren't really any bum notes in this anthology. However, there were two stories that lost me with their ending. The first of these is Lou Morgan's At the Sign of the Black Dove. While the writing style drew me in immediately and I loved the progression of the story, the ending left me feeling a little lost. Similarly, Sam Wilson's Postapocalypse had a very smart and interesting scientific premise, but once the protagonist's reality starts unravelling, it became hard for me to follow along and by the end the story had lost me completely.
There were six stories that really stood out for me. S.L. Grey's OMG GTFO was a perfect blend of different formats which showed how our modern-day 24-hour news cycle society would react when suddenly hell is revealed to be real and even those you'd swear would get in to heaven turn out to be there. I loved the mix of Twitter messages, transcripts of interviews and extracts from papers and magazines. Tom Pollock's Evacuation was completely different; in it we follow the archangel Michael on Earth's last day while he and his fellow angels evacuate humanity to safety. This story is about love and duty and how the two can tear a person - or angel, as the case may be - apart. I really loved this story and its ultimate resolution. A Private Viewing by Scott K. Andrews looks at an apocalypse of an entirely different nature and takes its link to Martin's paintings quite literally, as they are some of the stars of the story. The author uses the 2011 London riots as his background and driving force to the story and does so with aplomb. I loved this story, not just for its use of current affairs, but also for its creepiness. Because make no mistake, this is a very creepy story, portraying two kinds of insanity in a very intriguing way. Kim Lakin-Smith's Deluge is a secondary world story which faces a flood of biblical proportions. I loved the setting of the city of Wakatire and the construction of its society; in fact I loved it so much, that I'd love to read more stories set in this world! Den Patrick's The End of the World is both funny and touching. It loved the tone of this story and the fact that it showed that even in matters apocalyptic, love conquers all. My absolute favourite story was also the last one in the book, it was Sophia McDougall's Not the End of the World. Set in what seems to be Second World War Germany, it's a look at life in a police state, where one needs to confirm to rigid rules or fear being denounced. It is also a love story between two unlikely characters. For me, Not the End of the World was almost picture perfect, from the setting, to its protagonist and the wonderful twist and denouement, McDougall swept me up and took me along, without me even noticing I was turning pages.
Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse is a great first outing for this special press. Their second anthology, Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke, was as good, if not better, so the third one out this August, Pandemonium: Lost Souls, is highly anticipated. Stories of the Apocalypse is a fantastic group of stories from very talented authors. Get it quickly before it goes out of print forever on October 31st.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.
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Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse by David Bryher (Hardcover - Nov 2011)
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