Monthly Archives: April 2008

Tobias S. Buckell, "Waiting for the Zephyr"

A young woman awaits the return of the trade ship, which represents an escape from her boring outpost life.

(from Wasteland)

This is a short one, a teensy lil adventure story about hope and curiosity, but not really about the apocalypse. I mean, there was one, but people seem to have come to terms with it, in a way. There’s an implied stability.
What Happened: Oh, you know, war. The Middle East was nuked, as was Europe. America had to learn to live without gas.
6. Most countries, one assumes, have been wiped off the map. Good ol U.S.A. is still around, but fragmented and strange.
Looks like you can go here and have this story read to you.

George R. R. Martin, "Dark, Dark Were The Tunnels"

Two men descended from people who escaped earth before a surface-killing nuclear war run into a blind cave creature who descended from people who survived the aforementioned nuclear war.

(from Wastelands)

Okay so we’ve got Greel, who’s got a telepathic partnership with a rat, and we’ve got Cliff and Von, humans on a salvage expedition. It’s really not likely that these four will come to an understanding, but I really wished they had. Not that I was surprised when one or more of them ended up dead. And frankly, the serpentine language was starting to grate on me, and I was glad when the story ended.
What Happened: Nuclear war and fallout, plus the corresponding genetic mutation.
Destruct-O-Meter: 8? Earth is pretty effed, since you can’t live on the surface and there are worm creatures that eat people. I’d call that an apocalypse.

Jonathan Lethem, "How We Got In Town and Out Again"

Two drifters join a traveling virtual reality sideshow.

(from Wastelands) T

his is a weird little young desire story set in a time when society is fragmented and depraved, “Araby” meets Running Man. Okay not really. Things are a lot more tame in this world. This sideshow involves people running around in a virtual reality made of old games and pieces of code for the amusement of a paying crowd. Thing is, the guys running the show are jerks — of course, that’s a sci-fi sideshow tradition — but they don’t seem to be particularly cruel about it. The pay up, they provide food, they abide by the rules.
What Happened:
I dunno. Is this even the same reality as ours? We know towns are things to be snuck into, that food is scarce and money is hard to come by.
Destruct-O-Meter: 2? The degree to which the government and/or infrastructure has been compromised isn’t clear (which makes things really spooky).

M. Rickert, "Bread and Bombs"

After terrorists kill people with poisoned a small town neighborhood becomes increasingly fearful of the foreign family that moves in.

(from Wastelands)

I put the helmet on and listened to it fly past. Not us. Not our town. Not tonight.

Overt in its allusions to 9/11 and the subsequent paranoia, this story is not a simple satire or an obvious fable. The already hazy logic of the adults is filtered through the murky, limited perspective of a fourth grader. Which means we don’t get answers to a lot of our questions about what the hell exactly is going on in the world.
What Happened: Relentless terrorist attacks seem to have fragmented the US’s infrastructure, with mail and information becoming limited (maybe?). Citizens act like planes are only flown by terrorists.
Destruct-O-Meter: 2. Far as I can tell, this is more of an Apocapinconvenience.

Paolo Bacigalupi, "The People of Sand and Slag"

Three futuristic super soldiers find a dog.

(from Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse)

Down in the valley, the bio-job’s headlong run slowed to a trot. It seemed unaware of us. Closer now, we could make out its shape: A shaggy quadruped with a tail. Dreadlocked hair dangled from its shanks like ornaments, tagged with tailings mud clods. It was stained around its legs from the acids of the catchment ponds, as though it had forded streams of urine.

Crazy sicko story. In this future, human being are so advanced (thanks to “science,” as they keep awkwardly pointing out) that they can regenerate lost limbs, perform amazingly dexterous feats and eat anything. The world, meanwhile, seems to have gone to shit, a harsh, dark, violent place where even the beaches of Hawaii, where our three protagonists go to swim, has barbed wire in the sand and petroleum in the water. Messed up.
What Happened:
Science happened. There are these techweevils inside everybody that turn them into near-gods. But also, biological creatures are pretty much either in zoos or extinct (this lone dog being a surprising exception), thanks to, I guess, pollution and the plundering of the natural world.

Destruct-O-Meter Score: 4
. I mean, this is a messed up world, wholly unappealing, but it doesn’t necessarily scream apocalypse to me. This is more like some twisted possibility that humanity/civilization might evolve into.
Read it here.

Orson Scott Card, "Salvage"

Deaver wants to look for gold by sailing out to where the skyscrapers stick out of the water.

(from Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse)

This is a crazy strange story about survivors scraping a living together by salvaging scrap. People live freely, for the most part, though Deaver Teague is not terribly trusting of the Mormons and their government. His apparent atheism causes friends to distrust him, making him want to find a place where he belongs.
What Happened: A big war, I think, and some catastrophic flood that’s left Salt Lake City submerged. Gas, metal and other supplies are limited. There does appear to be some stability in the social and municipal infrastructure.
Destruct-O-Meter Score: 3? Maybe? Could be much worse than that, but the reader is rarely given a glimpse outside what this one little outpost. Perhaps it’s only America that’s been bombed backward.
Orson Scott Card’s home page.

Stephen King, "The End of the Whole Mess"

The brother of a well-meaning, civilization-killing genius tries to explain what happened to humanity in his last few hours.

(from Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse)

Funny and crazy, though not exactly scary, this is the messed up little fable of the too-smart brother thinking he can solve mankind’s self-destructive tendencies. It’s strange to think this was written in 1986 — although its description of Waco, TX, as one of the calmest places in the country does date it a little — because so much of the violence and unrest alluded to could be similarly described today. (According to Wikipedia, there’s a TV version of this story out there somewhere.)

What Happened: A chemical presumed to contain a calming agent is dropped into a massive volcano so that, upon eruption, it will be dispersed around the world. Unfortunately it gives everybody Alzheimer’s.
Destruct-O-Meter Score:
4. With its faculties horrifically and suddenly impaired, all of humanity is presumed to headed for an early demise. The planet, however, will probably be better off.
I’ve been wanting a collection like this. As in: I have verbalized — have specifically wished for — an anthology of end-of-the-world stories. You can have all your Illness Stories and your Turns Out Dad Was A Scoundrel Stories and This Lady Silently Bore A Burden Stories. I’ll take ragnarok, thanks.

Rivka Galchen, "The Region of Unlikeness"

A young grad student and two academic types form an unlikely trio.

(from The New Yorker, March 24, 2008)

“Jacob’s a boor, isn’t he?” Ilan said. Or maybe he said “bore” and I heard “boor” because Ilan’s way of talking seemed so antiquated to me. I had so few operating sources of pride at that time. I was tutoring and making my lonely way through graduate school in civil engineering, where my main sense of joy came from trying to silently outdo the boys—they still played video games—in my courses. I started going to that coffee shop every day.

What at first seems like a story about gender politics among intellectuals turns out to be something much more entertaining (in a sci-fi/conspiracy sort of way). Would say more but it’s actually been awhile since I read this one. You can read it here.