April 8, 2013

Review: After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia

After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia
After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia by Ellen Datlow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With any anthology, there's always something of a risk. The subject matter may not appeal, the story quality may vary, the editor's tastes may not line up with yours. On the other hand, if you do run across a bad story or stories, there's almost always good ones to balance them out. In this anthology most of the stories are good (with one glaring exception). The subject matter--exploring what takes place after the world ends--is as varied as the authors' imaginations. (Surprisingly, there's no post-nuclear-war scenario. I guess that's too cliched.) Within these pages are zombies, nanites, climate change, societal breakdowns of various kinds, and a wide array of young men and women trying to cope with their strange new worlds.

My favorite stories are "Blood Drive," by Jeffrey Ford (hands down the best story in the book), which had me alternately laughing and being horrified by his dead-on depiction of the NRA's ideal world--teenagers packing guns to school and killing each other, grafted onto a backdrop of a Tea Party government on steroids: mandatory church attendance, abortion bans, "standing up to the Mexicans," (whatever that means; the overall theme of the story gives it an ominous tinge) and discrimination against gay people. (What's most disturbing is that with the current political scene in the United States, how plausible this scenario actually is.) "Fake Plastic Trees," Caitlin R. Kiernan's offering, sucked me in with its clever unreliable narrator, to the point where even after I finished the story, I wasn't sure how it ended. Susan Beth Pfeffer's nasty little tale "Reunion" is a shocker, a quick stab to the heart.

The only clunker is Gregory Maguire's "How th'Irth Wint Rong by Hapless Jory @Homeskool.Guv." (Just typing that title made me dislike it all over again.) The idea is interesting--the Hadron Supercollider plunges half the earth into some sort of mist-shrouded alternate dimension--but the execution is horrid. The story is written entirely in an ungrammatical, misspelled, brain-twisting dialect that drove me straight up a wall. Thank goodness the story was only seven pages long, or I would never have finished it. I hate hate hate cutesy gimmicks like this. (Of course, this is a personal pet peeve--your mileage may vary.)

I checked this book out from the library, but I think it would be worth your dollars.

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