Friday, May 16, 2014

The Apocalypse Reader Edited by Justin Taylor

The Apocalypse Reader
Edited by Justin Taylor

Nyarlathotep by H.P. Lovecraft
The tall, swarthy god Nyarlathotep emerges from Egypt and cities fall into decay. A group of scientists from one such city decide to confront the god. Despite his protests that he is not afraid, the main character flees into the night with his companions to find their city destroyed.
Lovecraft fiction is usually not plot driven, character driven, or dialogue driven. It is atmospheric. This tale had atmosphere in spades and is a good, short example of why Lovecraft is one of the masters.

The Apocalypse Commentary of Bob Paisner by Rick Moody
A college student writes a term paper that compares the events in his sad, tragic life to the life of St. John writing Revelations.

This was an excellent story. The commentary on the Bible and Revelations mixed in with the plot of unrequited love for a misfit was wonderfully paced and well written.

Sweethearts by Stacey Levine
An unearthly female creature describes the ecstasy of being mutilated by her lover while she mutilates him, again and again.

I guess this story could be termed “experimental.” There was no plot. Just page after page of descriptions of violent acts. It did not work for me.

Friase, Menthe, Et Poivre: 1978 by Jared Hohl
The sun has gone green and chaos ensues on the Earth. A Frenchman recounts how he and a band of people try to survive the riots and roving gangs of Paris in a hunt for food and supplies. To entertain themselves when someone dies, they stage plays in an abandoned theater.

The sparse prose makes this story really atmospheric. There’s no new real twist or take on the sun burning out motif, but Hohl writes his unoriginal story well enough to make it entertaining.

What is it When God Speaks?
By Diane Wiliams
A short story about a group of people staying at a fine bed and breakfast.

I read this story twice and did not get the point. No plot. No atmosphere. No nothing. Just a random series of events.

Kraftmark by Matthew Derby
The owner of the KraftMark Corporation pursues his own sun through a remote swamp with the help of a trained guide. His purpose is to kill his son before his corporate operatives do it inhumanely. The son has betrayed his father and the corporation by broadcasting the recipe of the world’s best selling snack cake.

Derby injects some corporate absurdity into his story, but does not overplay it. The tale moves along nicely and the absurdity of what the man wants to do and why makes it a compelling story.

The Hook by Shelley Jackson
In a collapsed society riddled with disease, a crane known to all as “The Hook” lifts dead bodies and lowers them onto an ever burning pyre. A woman becomes obsessed with the operator of this semi-holy piece of machinery and decides to get to know him better – biblically.

The overt sexuality in this story was not enough to save it. The plot meandered and the characters had no development at all. It was not atmospheric with little description of the decimated world this woman inhabited.

Sixteen Small Apocalypses by Lucy Corin
This is a story about different sort of apocalypse, told from the point of view of several characters.

This story was incredibly disjointed and impossible to follow. Not enough character or plot development in the stories to make them interesting. It was difficult and painful reading.

The Last Man by Adam Nemett
The apocalypse is a flood. A group of college students have rebelled and taken over the campus. Their leader is an amphetamine addicted genius. One man’s job is to make sure he keeps getting those pills to fuel his genius.

This read like a college writing assignment. The writing was okay, but there was no real plot to speak of and absolutely no character development. I want to read something much more substantive than this.

Earth’s Holocaust by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A group of reformers decides to purify the earth of everything that causes strife and evil. They start a bonfire in the remote west. Upon it they cast the titles of nobility of the world, the instruments of war, liquor, tobacco, all the literature of the world and finally, all religious symbols. They believed they have purified the world. But one man, the last murderer, assures the author that evil lies not in the objects of man’s creation, but within man himself and the old world will rise again.

A have to admit I’ve not read a lot of Hawthorne. But what I’ve read, I’ve liked and this story was a gem. Obviously a commentary on the reform movement of the time in America where certain people were striving to perfect society, Hawthorne’s final notion about the wellspring of evil rings true.

I Always go to Particular Places
by Gary Lutz and Deb Olin Unferth
Two people search the wreckage of a devastated city for a missing woman. In the end, they find a clue, but not the woman.

A good story with an unsatisfying ending. But better than most in this anthology.

An Accounting by Brian Evenson
In a post apocalyptic world, a man crosses the wastelands to find food for his people. He encounters a society whose entire social system is based on Christianity. He quickly becomes Christ to these people.

This story, steeped in great post acpocalyptic imagery and Christian theology was perhaps the best in this lackluster anthology.

Square of the Sun by Robert Bradley
A man's mistress does mathematical calculations in her head during sex to determine the coming of the apocalypse.

Another exercise in college freshman level creative writing. Plot that was barely there and characters not developed at all.

The End by Josip Novakovich
Upon his arrival, a Croation immigrant to the United States becomes a Baptist minister in Cleveland. He moves to Cincinnati and becomes a house painter, still strong in his faith. A series of events challenges his faith while he believes he sees signs of Armageddon.

There was no supernatural or science fiction elements in this story. I was a character study that was complex and well developed.

Some Approaches to the Problem of the Shortage of Time
by Ursula K. LeGuin
Scientists discover that time is actually a natural resource that man is depleting through his activities. Scientists and social groups try to find ways to save time and a time shortage grows desperate.

This story read like a government report and had little entertainment value. It was, however, an original concept.

Think Warm Thoughts by Allison Whittenberg
A person describes the coming of another ice age and the lack of food and water.

This short, one page story reads like the introduction to something larger. It was almost as if Whittenber submitted an incomplete manuscript.

The Ash Gray Proclamation by Dennis Cooper
A gay teenage prostitute and heroin addict falls in with a gay Afghanistan psychic and a gay, cannabilistic pedophile to concoct a plan to kill Osama Bin Laden.

This story was nothing but gay erotica. It was quite raunchy and the plot was thin and disjointed. It was not well written, using the structure of a script. It might be meaningful to someone who is gay because it does explore emotional issues that come with being gay, but as a story for a straight person, it was horrible.

Pole Shift by Justin Taylor
As the sun begins to destroy the world in a pole shift, a young man notices a young woman wearing a thin white dress with no underwear, displaying her body in the last minutes of existence, apparently unaware that the world is about to end.

This reads like a undergraduate college student creative writing submission and hardly fit to be in the same anthology as the likes of Lovecraft and Hawthorne.

Miss Kansas on Judgment Day by Kelly Link

A honeymooning couple watches a Miss America pageant from hell. They watch the human abominations demonstrate horrific talents on stage. They cling to each other in bed, afraid to let go, afraid for their future.

Again, it reads like an undergrad’s creative writing paper. It’s meant to be atmospheric, but comes across as preposterous and generates no emotion of horror or dread as it was clearly intended to do.

The Star by H.G. Wells
An object collides with the planet Neptune and becomes a small star. Neptune, driven from it orbit, starts racing across the solar system toward earth. Astronomers try to predict is course and its effects. Nightly, the star grows brighter and eventually, passes by the earth, wreaking havoc on it.

It’s a joy to read the early masters of genre horror fiction and Wells is one of its founding fathers. This story, like much of Lovecraft, is bereft of dialogue and even of real characters. It describes events as they unfold in vivid detail.

When We Went to See the World End by Dawnie M

So We are Very Concerned by Elliott David
A brief description of riots in various cities after some form of apocalypse. Each city’s riot’s description connotes something of that city’s culture.

Another college writing assignment story. No plot. No characters. No purpose.

Gigantic by Steve Aylett
An astrophysicist concentrates intensely on Scrappy Doo, the cartoon character and is able to see the future. A catastrophe is coming, stemming from the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He becomes a worldwide joke until the spaceships arrive to dump their cargo on the world’s capitals.

This was supposed to be humorous with a political climax. Instead, it was a poorly written, poorly conceived story that bored.

The End of the Future by Colette Phair
A group of survivalists waits out the end of the world in an old, dilapidated building while the rest of the world goes on. Then, it happens.

This story started out with some promise, but fizzled dreadfully at the end. The result was a dreary, desultory first person narrative that ended in a stupid way.

Crossing into Cambodia by Michael Moorcock
In a fictional war, a Russian cavalry unit crosses from Vietnam into Cambodia, pursuing guerilla fighters from the Khmer Rouge. They are supposed to rendezvous with an American unit in a nearby city. When they see a mushroom cloud erupt over that city, the commander makes a fateful decision to obey his orders no matter what.

This story was outstanding compared to most of what is in this book. The narrator was well developed and the story line flowed without lag.

80s Lillies by Terese Svaboda
A couple flees the coming nuclear apocalypse. They arrive in a remote mining town where they plan to ride out the explosions in an abandoned gold mine.

This was, by far, the poorest written story in the book so far. It had a bit more plot than the others, but I can’t believe this story ever lay before a professional editor. Absolutely horrible!

These Zombies are Not a Metaphor by Jeff Goldberg
When the zombie apocalypse comes, one man is prepared with a fortress and supplies. Unfortunately, his housemates are not mentally prepared for what’s coming.

I’ve compared some of the stories here to college writing assignments. This one I would compare to a high school writing assignment. It has a plot, sort of, but no character development. It is written as a series of events that happened with no rising action or climax.

The Rapid Advance of Sorrow by Theodora Goss
A college student in Budapest becomes involved with a plain, demur country woman from a town called Sorrow, located in Siberia. The woman overcomes her shyness to lead a cultural rebellion that soon has Budapest all dressed in white and gray. The movement becomes more militant.

This was an intriguing little story and a metaphor for how the emotion of sorrow spreads. Well written with brief interludes describing the fictional town of Sorrow and the strange powers of its people and lands really added to the enjoyment.

The Conversation of Eiros and Charmiion by Edgar Allan Poe
Two beings who have passed on to the afterlife discuss the destruction of the earth when it is struck by a gaseous comet.

Not one of Poe’s darker tales. It is a descriptive chronology, delivered in cold prose rather than the sinister prose one normally expects from Poe. Poe apparently made the effort to get his science right and that helps with the enjoyment of the story. Over 150 years old, the story remains a plausible, post-apocalyptic scenario.

Apocalypse: A Diptych by Joyce Carol Oates
This “story” is actually two stories, neither of which are apocalyptic. In story one, a person who has been completely dismembered provides a forensic analysis of dismemberment and decapitation while describing their plight of being dead and dismembered. In the second story, a family’s dinner is interrupted by grass growing in the street.

The first story was quite creepy and was easily enjoyed. The second was as pointless as it sounds.

After All by Carol Emshwiller
A retired author decides it’s time for a change in her life and starts out to walk into town. She recalls people and events from her life and evaluates their significance. She spends the night in a cave and the next day is her birthday. A very special transformation happens for her.

I generally despise stream of consciousness writing and dismiss it as an excuse for bad writing. However, Emshwiller is able to keep the stream from meandering too badly and actually develops a meaningful character in just a few pages of text.

Save Me from the Pious and the Vengeful by Lynne Tillman
This “story” is a rambling, disconnected series of random thoughts with no discernable connection to each other.

I’ll let my plot summary stand as a review.

The Apocalypse Reader was an abysmal anthology of “experimental” (read amateur) mixed in with some public domain material by legendary writers and a couple accomplished writers who ought to be embarrassed to have their material published here. Seldom have I ever been so disappointed in a collection of short stories. Avoid this book at all costs. It’s not worth the struggle.

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