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Book Review: The End is Nigh

Reading 150The End is Nigh (The Apocalypse Triptych, Book 1)
Edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey
Self-Published

My love of all things apocalyptic doesn’t know many bounds; chances are, if there’s the whiff of the end of days surrounding a project, I’ll at least have to give it a look. This has lead me astray in a few cases, especially once we got more and more apocalyptic projects off the ground (I’m looking at you, Revolution), but generally there’s always something worthwhile in apocalyptic work. Either we’re looking at the breakdown of society, revealing our relationship with it through that deconstruction; or we’re uncovering something surprising about us as people as traits emerge free from the binding of societal expectation. Really great apocalyptic fiction strips down complications to get to something fundamental, essential; they tell us what lies underneath all of us when you clear away everything that puts us into the positions we’re in.

When I heard about the Apocalypse Triptych, I was really excited. Not only do we get a great set of stories about a host of different apocalyptic scenarios, but we get a bunch of authors taking the scenario three each phase of the end: the tipping point where a problem spirals out of control; the point where civilization loses its fight against this threat; and what happens afterward, when the dust has settled and the survivors look out over an unrecognizable world. The triptych collection contains a collection of triptych stories, which I certainly haven’t seen done before.

The End is Nigh is the first collection in the series, focusing on the discovery of the threat to civilization. The threats range from the relatively common, like the impending asteroid in Jake Kerr’s “Wedding Day” or the disease apocalypse of “Removal Order” by Tananarive Due, to the truly weird — like the mass suicide depicted in “BRING HER TO ME” by Ben H. Winters or the slow but steady removal of our atmosphere in “Houses Without Air” by Megan Arkenberg. But whatever the cause of our demise, each of the 22 stories brings something new to the end. None of the stories ever feel like a retread of something we’ve seen before, even when dealing with well-worn tropes in the apocalyptic sub-genre.

Take “Wedding Day” for example. Kerr centers the tale around a couple who want nothing more than to get married before the asteroid hits, even though it might mean one person might have to give up her ticket to have a fighting chance in a shelter. The already-engrossing story edges towards the political, as the couple in question are lesbians who are caught in a sort of legal twilight that never had time to get sorted. It’s heartbreaking to see these two stuck where they are, all forward momentum stopped by society crumbling around them. Had they been married, one ticket would have saved both of them or some other arrangement could have been made. As it stands, the nature of their relationship makes things exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.

In the bio-apocalypse of “Removal Order,” Due’s protagonist is a young black girl who’s trying to take care of her cancer-stricken grandmother as the medical system falters under the strain of an epidemic ravaging the neighborhood. So often we see these apocalypses through the eyes of people in positions of power who are either able to fight the inevitable or connected enough to escape it. Due’s tale reminds us of all the people who are screaming and dying in the background, those who don’t necessarily have a chance. It’s fascinating to see the familiar landscape of medical disintegration through those eyes.

The diversity of the protagonists aren’t all outright political; in “Spores” by Seanan MacGuire, the same-sex relationship is treated as normal, almost incidental, and the focus is instead on our hero’s struggle to deal with her obsessive-compulsive disorder during the first bloom of a killer that will quickly spiral out of control. Ken Liu’s “The Gods Will Not Be Chained” features an Asian family struggling to deal with the death of their father, and “Heaven is a Place on Planet X” by Desirina Boskovich sees the end through the eyes of a woman in a place of power over others, but still helpless in the face of what’s coming.

Even zombies get an intriguing twist. In “Agent Unknown” by David Wellington, a member of the CDC tracks down the spread of an illness that seems to make its victims hyper-violent, mindless killers. The answer to the riddle is effectively chilling, and sets the table for the inevitability of the fall of mankind. Almost every story here is a winner, particularly if you’re read a lot of apocalyptic fiction; either the cause of the end is scene through eyes that make it new again, or the mechanism for the destruction is so strange you have to wonder how they were even thought of.

The result is a collection of stories that are consistently surprising, engaging and tense. Some of them are clearly setting up for a continuation of the story in later volumes, so they don’t so much end as stop — “The Fifth Day of Deer Camp” in particular feels like an incomplete story, while “BRING HER TO ME” ends in a place that makes you impatient to continue the tale. “Break! Break! Break!” by Charlie Jane Anders is strange and full of energy, but by the time the story ends you’re left wondering if it even counts as pre-apocalyptic at all. These are all definitely worth reading, but it’s clear the structure has suffered in the attempt to break up the tale into three distinct parts.

Even still, the creativity on display in The End is Nigh is well worth the price of admission; I’m really looking forward to seeing how these stories continue and discussing the best, most frightening scenarios with people. If you’re looking for a mix of end-of-the-world stories that are challenging, involving and decidedly left-of-center, then this is the collection for you.

Interested in buying The End is Nigh? Go to the homepage for John Joseph Adams to get it in trade paperback or a variety of e-book formats!

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2014 in Novels, Reading, Reviews

 

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Hey Furries, Meet Sci-Fi/Fantasy!

Fandom 150Further Confusion 2014 is in the record books now, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you it was a hell of a convention. There were nearly 3,600 attendees this year, and it felt like there was an unending parade of things to do, people to see and places to be. I had a tremendously fun time hanging out with new friends and old, getting to know quite a few people better, catching up with folks that I had fallen out of touch with, and learning more about the creative process. I really couldn’t have asked for a better con.

I was on a few panels over the course of the convention, and pimped out this blog at the end of most of them. So, if you’re new to the Writing Desk — welcome! I really appreciate you taking the time to check out my cozy little corner of the Internet. I’ll be talking about writing, storytelling, spirituality and personal development, movies and fiction here. Feel free to drop a comment if you see something you like and/or disagree with!

One of the panels I was on over the weekend was “Furry vs. the Mainstream,” which talked about what the fandom has to offer the broader sci-fi/fantasy community, how we got to be a bit estranged from it in the first place, and why the time is right to make a push for our place at the table. The fandom at its best is a wonderfully inclusive community with a broad range of voices, experiences and viewpoints. We’re just the type of fresh blood the SF/F community needs if it’s going to adapt to the times and thrive.

That being said, I do think it’s important we gain a better understanding of the people who make up the SF/F community and what they think. One way we can do that is by taking a look at the things that are popular in the genre right now. Who are winning the awards? Who regularly pops up as a guest of honor at conventions large and small? What sort of themes and settings are people talking about? What are the similarities and differences between the ideas that are being played with by the SF/F community and the furry community?

We should think about this so that we understand the situation we’re stepping into. That way, we can put our best foot forward as a group and work to repair years of bad publicity, stereotypes and assumptions. We should be prepared to answer pointed questions and talk about uncomfortable subjects. We should think of ourselves as diplomats from a misunderstood and exciting country. We should be proud to be who we are, and come from where we do. But we must also understand the objections other people might have, and be patient while we work them out. It may not be easy all the time, but it IS worth doing.

I promised some of the attendees of the panel that I would recommend a few short stories and websites so they could take a look at the broader community. Feel free to recommend your own resources in the comments!

WEBSITES
io9 — This is the sci-fi/fantasy geek arm of the Gawker sites, and while your mileage may vary with the coverage and community there I’ve found it to be surprisingly smart and engaging. People can be snarky, but overall the editors of the site do a great job of signal-boosting both corporate and fan-made creations. Best of all, they regularly pay attention to the written word, sharing and broadcasting exciting novels and short stories from the genre.

Apex Magazine — A periodical featuring short stories and essays covering science-fiction, fantasy and horror. Great, wonderfully lyrical stories and essays that broach interesting topics I’ve never thought about abound here. Two authors with roots in the fandom have even been featured here — Tim Susman’s “Erzulie Dantor” was featured in the November 2012 issue and “Jackalope Wives” from Ursula Vernon was published in the January 2014 issue.

Tor Blog — A long-standing genre imprint that has published all manner of major names, Tor has a fantastic online community and blog that features posts from thoughtful writers and publishes short stories and novel excerpts that have been curated by the editors. It’s so easy to get lost here, and the variety is astonishing. You’re bound to find something you like, even if you have to do a little digging.

SHORT STORIES
“It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby — Most people remember The Twilight Zone episode that came afterward, but the original short story from Jerome Bixby is a perfect little gem of strangeness and horror. Straightforward prose is peppered with evocative, descriptive language that heightens the mood wonderfully. One of my absolute favorites.

“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu — This is the first work of any length to sweep the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. It’s a wonderful modern-fantasy story that comes from the distinct experience of a Chinese-American person. “Mono no Aware” is also a great short story, marking Ken Liu as a powerful voice in the genre.

“Life in the Anthropocene” by Paul Di Filippo — A broader sci-fi short story that features a furry supporting character, this was the story I had talked about during the panel. It tells of a vastly different Earth than the one we’re used to, where humanity has moved to mega-cities at the poles of the planet post-ecocide. I wasn’t able to find it free online, I’m afraid, but the Kindle copy is only a dollar.

OTHER RESOURCES
WorldCon — These guys put together the biggest science-fiction convention in the world, moving it from site to site (the upcoming one in August 2014 will be based in London) and its membership votes for the Hugo Awards. Even if you can’t show up to the convention, membership will help you keep your finger on the pulse of the science-fiction community.

DragonCon — These are the big dogs on the fantasy side of the coin, they cover everything from literature to costuming and every type of game you can imagine. The convention will be held in Atlanta this year, at the end of August. Even if you can’t go, browsing the site will give you a number of ideas about who the moves and shakers of the fantasy/geek scene might be.

I’ll reiterate what I said at the convention — these are all just jumping on points, and it’s quite easy to follow trails to get yourself more invested in the sci-fi/fantasy community. Just grab on to what interests you and follow where it leads. Be patient with stories, discover things that you really get excited by and see what’s related. Talk about these with your friends, and apply those things to your own creative, furry-specific endeavors. Cross-pollination not only benefits the bigger community, but ourselves as well!

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2014 in Furries, Pop Culture, Reading, Writing

 

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