Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote in specficbooks,
Chris Walsh

Where you can say "The End" is the beginning... (Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse)

First, a personal thought: I’m less in the mood for post-apocalyptic stories right now than I usually am, and that plus my general slower reading lately mean that I’ve gone slowly through Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse. (Some real-life endings have happened lately, and I’m dealing with those. And going on with life, which I’m really glad is still happening.)

I’m only halfway through the collection as I write this, but I wanted to get the posting on the road, figuratively speaking (it’s the Information Superhighway, even without actual roads):

Stephen King, “The End of the Whole Mess”: I’m unabashedly a King fan. Have been since the mid-90s. Even when he’s messy, his writing’s energetic and vivid. And the end of the world could be messy, so that subject and that style are a good match. I got thinking of the end of Flowers of Algernon while reading this: both narrators go through much the same thing, though King makes it more darkly funny than it was in Algernon.

“The End of the Whole Mess” could survive updating to reflect how the last two decades really went (the narrator is writing the story this decade, but King wrote it in 1986). I imagined adding this line of dialogue to when Bobby’s discussing Waco, TX: “And then maybe they wanted to be even more anti-violent after what went down with those Branch Davidian assholes back in ’93. A low-violence place and it’s remembered for that compound going BOOM; that’s gotta suck for the area. The sociologists had to research the region again to show it really was still that way.”

Orson Scott Card, “Salvage”: Should I make any comments related to floods while eastern North Dakota is getting hammered by them? I’ll keep in mind I’m talking about floods in stories: they can be about changes and not just endings. The world changed after the floods in creation myths, after all.

I may have been talking out my ass in that paragraph. Excuse me if so.

Not bad, this story. Card talks about faith and how different people have it (or don’t) and express it. For several of the characters, faith survives disaster, as you see by what Deaver finds in the flooded temple. The Salt Lake region would probably be a tough area to adapt to if it flooded, especially as deeply as it does here; I can’t really tell how extensive the Mormon Sea is.

Card writes cynicism well, and his main character Deaver is a cynic. Cynical survivors would likely thrive in post-apocalyptic times.

I’d be talking out my ass again if I say more about the Mormon religion; I don’t know enough about it. And my thoughts on “Salvage” aren’t all that deep. So I’ll move on…

Paolo Bacigalupi, “The People of Sand and Slag”: Pets in the apocalypse. I felt grimy after reading this, because it’s an extra-poisoned world that Bacigalupi depicts. Compelling slice-of-much-different-life, and it hints interestingly at what the rest of its messed-up world is like.

M. Rickert, “Bread and Bombs”: Cautionary story for a time when it was needed, post-9/11, though I’m not sure how well it holds up even six years later. People usually find more complicated ways to be assholes.

Jonathan Lethem, “How We Got in Town and Out Again”: The only story I’ve really disliked so far, and also one that doesn’t seem to fit the theme. The post-apocalyptic stuff is really subtle; it may be clearer in Lethem’s other related stories, but this didn’t make me want to read those to find out. I do plan to try one of his novels eventually, though.

George R.R. Martin, “Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels”: Much better, and the first story in the collection I found emotionally affecting. Mutated humans meets not-as-mutated humans in the future. Sad imagery at the end, especially the face-to-face meeting.

Tobias S. Buckell, “Waiting for the Zephyr”: Land-sailboats for the post-gasoline U.S.A. Nice to imagine people being inventive once they lose that big of a resource. Humans likely won’t change as quickly as society might in a post-apocalyptic world.

(I am sort of glad to have many chances to use the term “apocalyptic”…)

Jack McDevitt, “Never Despair”: How can you not like Winston Churchill? And he probably would have words of wisdom if he saw The End of the World As We Know It, even if it’s not much like his world. Hugely smart, he was…

Cory Doctorow, “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth”: Maybe my favorite story so far. This is the second time Doctorow (who I saw speak last summer at Pi-Con) has at times lost me, because I don’t have the sort of computer smarts he does and he can talk well past my low level of expertise…but he doesn’t forget the emotions people likely would feel as their world crumbles. Which it literally and figuratively does, leaving network maintaining people in the unenviable position of trying to see if they can help the world recover. I’d never have thought of a story perspective like this; again, not computer network-savvy. But thank goodness there’s far more to this story than jargon.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten so far: nine of the – let’s see – 22 stories in this collection. I’m already past the book’s library due date, but I’ll see what else I can read before turning it back in and paying the fine.

So how was the end of the world for you?

  • Oh Hi Book Group!

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