Oh apocalypse, how you fascinate us. There’s probably been doomsayers since the beginning of time, but it seems like you’ve really come into your own in the era of climate change, burgeoning population and widespread weaponry. The End is Nigh is the first book in a three-part series edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey (of Wool fame) is centered around the events leading up to apocalypse scenarios. I came at this series backwards, beginning with the end book and moving on to The End is Nigh. These stories mostly felt like teasers, world-builders with ambiguous endings which will lead up to the events in The End Has Come (review).
See Althea Ann’s excellent summary for a brief description of each piece.
Five-star: Tananarive Due’s story, “Removal Order” is about a young woman taking care of a cancer-ridden grandmother as her community is evacuated. Haunting atmosphere, interesting angle on the approaching devastation, it was one of the small, quiet, haunting stories of the apocalypse. David Wellington contributed a straight-up infectious-zombie story as it was beginning to break, a classic take that was well done. “Goodnight Moon” by Annie Ballet is about seven astronauts and was an absolutely perfect bottle story of impending disaster and loss. Will McIntosh’s “Dancing with Death…” has a fascinating premise of an infection that causes a locked-in syndrome. Perfect. I should look up more McIntosh. “Love Perverts” by Sarah Langan dealt with teenagers coping with changes as the end of the world approaches, and how one teen’s sexuality might have lead his parents to abandon him. Emotionally real. Another author worth checking out.
Four-star: Robin Wasserman examines the irony of an experience con artist leading an end-of-the world cult, reunited with a believing teenage son. Jake Kerr’s “Wedding Day” wonders what would happen if we knew about an eventual asteroid impact from the perspective of an unmarried lesbian couple. It’s a modern twist on what it means to be connected. Tobias S. Buckell contributed a buddy-movie scenario where two friends are trying to make money catching a hacker. Unbeknownst to them, the hacker has specific future plans. It had a snappy pace. Seanan McGuires “Spores” was a nice character piece about a scientist with OCD. Heavy on the message, it excelled in atmosphere and character. Howey’s contribution, “In the Air” was notable for centering on a government worker who has foreknowledge of the upcoming disaster but doesn’t share his knowledge, and how it plays out in his personal life. Ford’s period piece on a Chinese man working in San Francisco during Haley’s Comet was atmospheric, just seemed to suffer from choppy writing.
Three-star: Desirina Boskovich experiments with aliens who want to transport Earthlings to a heavenly paradise. Heavy-handed in its religious and social themes, I did enjoy the budding relationship between two main characters. Charlie Jane Anders has an interesting beginning to her apocalypse; a couple of outcast kids and a camera becoming Youtube sensations in “Break!Break!Break!” Examines viral media and society but again, thematically heavy-handed. The voice of the teenage daredevil felt very real with interesting sentence structure–the author has a gift for characters. I was a bit underwhelmed by Ken Liu’s “The Gods Will Not Be Chained,” considering his reputation. While it definitely provided the needed foundation for his story in the last installment, it was equally heavy-handed in building artificial intelligence and bullying. On the up side, it gave me some fun ideas for emoji communication.
I liked Kress’ story about a single mom struggling with raising two kids on a shoestring budget. The conclusion was a little… hmmm, and I didn’t quite see where it fit in with the apocalypse, but it was well-told and felt real. While I loved Ben Winter’s The Last Policeman series, he tries an interesting approach with his piece, about a world who suddenly starts hearing the ‘voice of God,’ except a young girl. The parents, worried that she will not be saved, struggle with what to do. It creates a nice horror feeling but feels heavy-handed as well. Jonathan Maberry’s story about a man who specializes in extracting people from cults was competently done but felt slightly didactic.
A few completely missed me. Megan Arkenberg tries to incorporate concepts with virtual reality and art in the face of disaster. I found it mostly confusing and had little connection with the characters. Scott Sigler’s story about an annual dudes’ hunting trip was a miss, which was partially my fault. I knew where it would end from reading book three, so I wasn’t interested in the “first contact” exploration in book one. Matthew Mather’s “Enlightenment” on a literal interpretation of eating the body was just Concept Yuck, but I have little horror tolerance. It didn’t really fit with the collection. Paolo Bacigalupi’s piece on water shortages and journalism was a ‘meh.’ McDevitt gave a terribly ironic twist to his professional astronomer who wants so desperately to be named after an astronomical feature.
Really, the collection excelled as character pieces, apocalypse or no apocalypse. The authors often used impending events as a backdrop to exploring emotional and philosophical issues. On to the middle book of the series, where we see if this book acted more as foundation pieces for action in the next.