I genuinely cannot remember the last time I read a short story collection so consistently stunning. Honestly, there’s not a weak one in the bunch, and that’s saying a lot considering there are 34 tales of post-apocalyptic life in this hefty volume. Whether the end of the world comes about due to war or infection or alien invasion or climate disaster (or other reason I’m presently forgetting,) these stories chronicle the ways life goes on. It is a surprisingly joyous anthology. Hope is one throughline: survivors use the trappings of fallen civilizations to bring their fellows a reminder of a shared humanity, as in Tananarive Due’s One Day Only or Meg Elison’s Come On Down. Change is another, as in Susan Jane Bigelow’s The Eyes of The Flood or Ken Liu’s The Plague, which latter also offers biting commentary on cultural imperialism. The most interesting and worthwhile stories have to do with survivors who aren’t the average protagonist of dystopian fiction, such as the transgender hero in Emma Osborne’s Don’t Pack Hope or the physically disabled heroine of Corinne Duyvis’ And The Rest Of Us Wait.
As you might be able to tell, this is an unapologetically progressive anthology. John Joseph Adams has curated an impressive selection of science fiction that is truly forward-thinking, from some of the most famous names in the business. Even the stories that eschew hope for either a jaded acceptance of the end (Adam-Troy Castro’s inventive The Last To Matter) or to preserve the status quo (Catherynne M. Valente’s The Future Is Blue) do so out of a belief in the power and worth of humanity. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure how much of a downer 500+ pages of the end of the world would be but Mr Adams has put together the perfect blend of pathos, humor and courage with which to see through the horrors of the apocalypse.
It’s kind of shocking to me how unfamiliar I was with Mr Adams’ work prior to this considering how much speculative fiction I consume. I mean, Gardner Dozois and Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling are names embedded in my reader’s brain as editorial greats; after this collection, I have a new star to add to that pantheon. Reading this volume brought to mind the days when a tome like this was the most coveted book of the year for me: that interest has waned in recent times, but Wasteland 3: The New Apocalypse has re-sparked my love for sf&f anthologies.