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Another bargain mix of SF short stories!
on 28 July 2010
If you like SF, and you have any interest in apocalyptic fiction, this collection isn't really to be sniffed at. 500 pages, 24 stories, many classics and some excellent first prints, how can you say no to the price? As usual with these things, it isn't perfect. Can't say I loved everything in it equally (though I don't think there was anything truly honking) but the quality is mostly pretty high. As the stories have been published over a number of years, you can occasionally see, also, the different worries that people had at different times, I like that.
The Stories (will keep short, naturally they are all about the apocalypse in one way or another! Still, I find it helps to know what stories are in an anthology) Oh, and they aren't in this order in the book - this is how they were listed on the copyright page:
The Rain at the End of the World, Dale Bailey (1999): I found this flood story grim and hopeful. Which is odd: it was mostly grim, really! Woman, I think, wants to literally wash away her past...
The Books, Kage Baker (2010 - original to this anthology): Last completed story by Kage Baker before her death. I liked this one. Some kids with a travelling circus discover a library when seeking food and materials. Nice pro-reading story!
The End of the World Show, David Barnett (2006): A very British sort of apocalypse. Mike Ashley said he didn't want a zombie apocalypse, though he made an exception here. I'm glad, it's handled well and with humour!
Moments of Inertia, William Barton (2004): An apocalypse which features the whole of history! Necessarily compressed, naturally. All the same, it's rather good.
The Children of Time, Stephen Baxter (2005): Grandiose this one. Environmental apocalyse leads to the ending of our current civilisation. Humanity survives, though and continues as it always had, though with continuously diminishing returns. This is a rather good story from Baxter (though worth noting that I'm a fan).
And the Deep Blue Sea, Elizabeth Bear (2005): Exciting story - I've only really started reading Bear recently, it's all been good, though. Nice to see a strong female lead who isn't a teenaged boy version of "sexy."
The Meek, Damien Broderick (2004): Hehe, inventive play on the lines from the Gospel of Matthew.
Guardians of the Phoenix, Eric Brown (2010 - original to this anthology): Quite an entertaining little adventure through a mostly dessicated post-apocalyptic earth with some desperate survivors racing across the dry basin of what was the Mediterranean Sea. Pretty enjoyable.
A Star Called Wormwood, Elizabeth Counihan (2004): Final story in the anthology - an interesting take on the apocalypse, being as it has a far-flung and unfamiliar take on it. It's most certainly not a contemporary ecological disaster.
Life in the Anthropocene, Paul Di Filippo (2010 - original to this anthology): Ah, the wonderful Paul Di Fillippo. As ever, this is excellent stuff. Post environmental apocalypse the billions of humans on earth are packed into a small number of huge densely packed and tightly regulated cities. Features wreckers, nano-tech and extreme body mods. Great stuff!
When Sysadmins Ruled the World, Cory Doctorow (2006): Quite a famous, well-loved and well anthologised story. I have to confess I'm not a fan (though I have yet to be convinced by Doctorow). It's set in an unspecified apocalypse and the world is saved effectively by some sysadmins. The premise is quite nice and he does get some of the dialogue down well. I'm just not convinced by Doctorow's prose, generally speaking. Also, it's a bit to techno-utopian for my liking (to stress, I'm no Luddite and I don't fear change, I just find that too much of this stuff is informed by a belief that tech *will* make everything better). Life is pain and suffering and all that (but perhaps I'm just too cynical? YMMV and alla that).
The Clockwork Atom Bomb, Dominic Green (2005): I liked this - there have been wars, but the threat to the world from some foolishly used nuclear devices is orders of magnitude greater. Features the short-term needs of people outweighing the dangers posed by the solutions! Great stuff.
The End of the World, Sushima Joshi (2002): Good take on the idea of the boy who cried wolf.
The Last Sunset, Geoffrey A. Landis (1996): Very short. What would YOU do if you knew the world were about to end? Good again.
A Pail of Air, Fritz Leiber (1951): This was quite interesting - a family survives on a frozen earth where even the air has frozen (into layers - different freezing points) by collecting and defrosting frozen pails of air in their sealed room.
World Without End, F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre (2010 - original to this anthology): I liked this - humourous story about a woman who is cursed with eternal life through nano-tech and subsequently survives an apocalypse and finds herself lonely and unable to die. Great stuff!
The Flood, Linda Nagata (1998): Quite an unusual deluge story. Mysticism and madness, I think? Enjoyable.
Fermi and Frost, Frederick Pohl (1985): A nuclear apocalypse. Simultaneously grim and hopeful. Good stuff.
Pallbearer, Robert Reed (2010 - original to this anthology): Excellent story where a botched immunisation programme had condemned most of the world to death. Those that survived were poor, or they were on the religious right. The post-apocalyptic world is dominated by them (not that there are a lot of people). Thoughtful and intelligent.
Sleepover, Alastair Reynolds (2010 - original to this anthology): One of the more out there stories. Centres around Gaunt, a man who'd put himself to sleep in his 60s because he wanted to be awoken when immortality had been cracked. Awakened to find most of humanity asleep and really not much in the way of technological advance. Finds out that they are fighting in a huge war... Enjoyable.
When We Went to See the End of the World, Robert Silverberg (1972): An amusing tale of one-upmanship where a load of friends compare their experiences in their trips to the end of the world.
The Man Who Walked Home, Alice Sheldon [better known as James Tiptree Jr.] (1972): Really need to read more of Sheldon/Tiptree Jr.'s stuff. As ever this is superb. An accident causes the end of the world as we know it, but is tied up with an experiment, which creates what looks like to many of the survivors a ghost. An excellent story about family, loss and fear tied up with high energy physics. Great.
Bloodletting, Kate Wilhelm (1994): Good tale about the beginning of an epidemic (and how it may be spread).
Terraforming Terra, Jack Williamson (1998): Good stuff - set over many millions of years - an asteroid destroys earth. There had been a successfully completed robotically maintained cloning problem set up on the Moon to observe the Earth and wait until it could be re-seeded with life. Follows the cloned descendants of the people who escaped to the Moon as they wait to try and make the world ready for human habitation again.