Wastelands 3: The New Apocalypse by John Joseph Adams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
John Joseph Adams is one of the foremost editors and anthologists of our times. The list of anthologies he has edited or co-edited is impressive, and I own several of them, including the first two volumes of this series. I don't think this is quite as impressive as some (especially Cosmic Powers) simply because this end-of-the-world concept has been done so many times before that it's really hard to come up with a fresh take on it. At this point in the series, I think the stories have to be more about the people surviving the apocalypse rather than the apocalypse itself. Looking at the stories through this lens, here are the standouts.
"Bullet Point," Elizabeth Bear, the opening story. I've read elsewhere that this is a bit of a refutation to Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog," with the protagonist's quick and brutal rejection of the standard we're-the-last-two-humans-on-earth-and-we-have-to-reproduce nonsense. (I wonder why none of the men spouting this bullshit stops to think about the inevitable consequences of inbreeding.) Yes, there is a dog, and no, the dog doesn't die. This story is interesting because the only explanation given for the apocalypse--apparently everybody on Earth just up and disappears--is, possibly, the Rapture.
"The Elephants' Crematorium," Timothy Mudie. One of my favorite stories in the book, this is a lovely, lyrical tale about the elephants' despair after the apocalypse, and their immolating themselves because of it, until one pregnant woman shows them there is life and hope.
"Echo," Veronica Roth. The best story in the book, in my opinion, is this tale of Synthetic Intelligent Life Forms versus humans, and a young woman whose life was saved by those same "sylphs" deciding where her true loyalties lie.
"Polly Wanna Cracker?" Greg Van Eekhout. This is a nasty, sly subversion of the apocalyptic-survivor-mutant cliche, told from the point of view of a flock of parrots (probably African grays, I would imagine) generations after the nuclear war. It's also a reminder that large flightless birds are badass mofos.
"So Sharp, So Bright, So Final," Seanan McGuire. McGuire, with her love of medical apocalypses, digs up another one: a mutating rabies virus that becomes airborne.
"The Air is Chalk," Richard Kadrey. This one is downright weird, even for an anthology of this type, full of gore and body horror, and an anti-hero protagonist who most definitely gets what's coming to him.
The rest of the stories are of generally even quality, with only one or two I didn't like. I suppose one could say that, overall, this anthology is pretty depressing, which is only natural given its subject matter. But there are occasional flashes of hope, and this is a reminder of how stubborn and resilient human beings can be. You probably have to be in a certain state of mind to enjoy this, but it's worth the read.
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