Book Review: The End – Visions of Apocalypse (SFFWorld 2012 Anthology)

I’m reviewing this as a personal favour for one of my favourite blogging buddies, Nila E. White who is part of the SFFworld.com forum. Thanks guys for the review copy!

This is the sort of production that is really going to take off with the advent of digital publishing. Previously confined to small circulations in a fairly limited geographical radius, productions such as this anthology should go from strength to strength in the coming years – and about time. So what about this, the first volume from SFFWorld.com?

There are 12 stories in all and there is a brief introduction to the volume by Nila E. White, explaining what the volume is about – tongue in cheek explaining that as the end of the world is approaching, they best leave people with something to read on 21st December 2012. Each tale has a brief introduction to the writer; this is a nice touch as I’m sure that most of these names will not currently be familiar but by their bios, some probably will be in the coming years.

The first story is called Executable by Hugh Howey and is about a council hearing where a man has a horrific story to tell. Typical “computers gone made” tale at first glance, what was interesting for me how the proceedings were handled with a degree of flippancy that is probably pretty accurate. A short yet interesting introduction to the work.

Second on the agenda is Let’s See What Tomorrow Brings by Igor Ljubuncic is a fascinating morality tale about how we might react when facing the end of everything. I really enjoyed this one; relentlessly bleak in the tradition of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Though we never find out what the disaster is because it doesn’t matter, we do experience its horrific consequences and the lengths some people will go to to stay alive.

The third is Michael Aaron’s Julia’s Garden which is a warning against the dangers of over-cleanliness, our obsession with killing bugs, how superbugs rise up when we overuse antibiotics an other treatments instead of allowing our immune systems and the bugs in our systems to do their jobs. This was an interesting morality tale for our times that perhaps we shouldn’t be quite so vigorous with our hand gel and that demanding antibiotics from our GP because we have a cold will harm us all in the long run.

Next is Tick by Wilson Geiger. This is a brief tale following a scientist involved in testing of a virus which suddenly gets loose and he is forced to make a decision. I felt a little unsatisfied with this; it was all over too quickly and was a little emotionless. Could have been more harrowing considering the direction it took. It would not have suffered for being longer and maybe even would have been more shocking.

Pete McLean’s The Last Hand takes a different approach from the scifi theme of apocalypse and gives the end of the world the urban fantasy makeover. A pleasant surprise and an enjoyable tone of something slightly different makes this piece one of my favourites in the volume. I couldn’t make up my mind whether this was in the tradition of Neil Gaiman or James Herbert; in some ways it feels a little of both so if you are fans of their work, you will probably enjoy this.

Next is the interestingly titled Fly the Moon to Me by Stephen “B5” Jones. Looking at his blog I was a little upset to see that the B5 does not refer to my all time favourite TV series Babylon 5 but never mind… The Earth has been destroyed and this is the story of a journey to Jupiter when the crew make a startling discovery about an object in orbit around the gas giant. I enjoyed the tone of this one too; there is a theme of the lengths we will go to as humans and of our destructiveness.

Relapse by Norman Gray takes a twist on the time travel theme to create a very personal story of a man being given a second chance. Personal stories are difficult to do well and when done well, they will often stand out in a volume like this. Kind of like Groundhog Day and a little like Flashforward this is an interesting tale that asks us some age old questions and sets some new ones.

Eighth is Michael J. Sullivan’s Burning Alexandria. This is told in narrative form by a single character walled up inside his fortress against the elements. Electricity simply disappeared with humanity unable to use most of the mod cons we have become used to. The man in the story is burning the things he has hoarded in order to stay warm and we realise quickly that he is burning a little piece of history every time, even the junk mail that he burns with pleasure. Poignant in its own way, this is the story biggest on the idea of what the end of the world would mean for the survivors and the relics of our existence.

Number nine on the agenda is Silver Sky by Liam Baldwin. Thousands of years have passed and many animal species are sentient and working alongside us in our every day interactions. The sun is about to swell up to a red giant – the result of an accident – and will do so in the space of 24 hours. Despite this impending doom, this is a love story and despite the harrowing subject matter, I actually found it a very enjoyable read.

Three stories to go. Number ten is G.L.Lathain’s Sacrifice. This story follows an altogether different idea of the apocalypse and one surprisingly rare in sci fi: the next Ice Age. Tim struggles to survive on a day to day basis, hunting and avoiding the elements and keeping his family alive. In these situations there can be a fine line between reality and fantasy and how we use mechanisms to cope with our harsh existence.

R.F. Dickson is number eleven with Empty Nest and it is time to see the end of the world as something to laugh about. If you can’t do it then, when can you do it? Mother Earth has something to say about a lot of things and finally, she has had enough and wants the lodgers on her body to pay some attention for once! Short, sweet and welcome relief from some of the heavier stuff in this volume.

And finally, Tristis Ward’s Mother and Child. Very short. Tristis’ is a multiple flash fiction award winner on SFFWorld and this is a prelude to a novel that works as a stand alone. Another fantasy story in a concept dominated by science fiction. This is written in a unique panelled form of writing reminiscent of graphic novels but without the images. You would have to see it to believe it; personally it didn’t work for me but others might appreciate the format. Reading on a basic Kindle or another small screen device you might struggle so the forum have a PDF version that they will email free of charge.

What was most interesting for me was how differently each of these writers interpreted the idea of the apocalypse, how they saw it happening, or how they saw what would happen next, how they chose to create personal stories or to look at the bigger picture. The writing is undoubtedly high quality; the stories I enjoyed or didn’t enjoy were purely of personal preference. Everyone will probably find something in here to enjoy. I have only one question for the writers… what, no zombies?!

You can purchase this anthology at smashwords.com and it is presently just $0.99US – that is about £0.70 – and is available in a number of formats.

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