Review: “Apocalyptic,” ed. S.C. Butler, Joshua Palmatier

Rating: 4 out of 5

S.C. Butler and Joshua Palmatier edited the anthology Apocalyptic. It has some great familiar authors in it (Seanan McGuire! Tanya Huff!) and more by authors I’m not as familiar with. Like most anthologies your taste isn’t entirely likely to line up exactly with that of the editors, so you’ll find some stories better than others.

Seanan McGuire’s entry is “Coafield’s Catalog of Available Apocalyptic Events”–a catalog of possible apocalypses that one might “order” up. A fun and whimsical take on the genre, and one of my favorites in this volume.

Aimee Picchi wrote “Solo Cooking for the Recently Revived.” We’ve had something like the zombie apocalypse, only the zombies have now been cured and are being rehabilitated before they’re released back into the wild. But how do one’s old family and friends deal with what you were–and how they had to handle it–before you were cured? This one is poignant.

The fact that Tanya Huff has a Torin Kerr story in here made me squeal in delight! I’m a total addict for her Torin series, and since I think she’s stopped writing Torin novels now, little stories like this are jewels. Torin is a military NCO in the far future, working with alien races in a kind of blended military. In this installment, she’s been sent with some of her people to check out a mining colony that’s gone silent. It’s a fascinating story. While the various aliens and such will make more sense to someone who’s read at least one of Huff’s Torin novels, the general plot stands pretty well alone.

Nancy Holzner’s “The End of Eternity” introduces us to someone who won eternal life in a card game, as he faces the fact that the world is about to end as a rogue planet crashes into it. Nice, simple, and enjoyable.

One of my other favorites is “Little Armageddons” by Stephen Blackmoore. Imani and Daniel have been working for years at feeding all possible data into a simulation, and now every simulation they run is an apocalyptic one that ends on today’s date. Some of those apocalypses are pretty ridiculous, mind you, so the higher-ups won’t listen (I mean, who really believes that the earth will be destroyed by a giant Bob Ross cyborg with laser eyes, or maybe the Baboon King?). This story goes to some delightful places from there. It’s funny and dark all at the same time, and I loved it.

Zakariah Johnson’s “Almost Like Snow” takes place in an apocalypse where climate change went nuts and Yellowstone blew its top at nearly the same time. Things are hot and covered in ash. This one was a bit depressing.

Violet Malan’s “Shadows Behind” is more of an urban fantasy type of apocalyptic. It’s rumored that the apocalypse was due to powerful mages having a disagreement. Now the protagonist and her colleagues go to work sniffing out artefacts and pockets of power–something highly illegal. This one was fascinating.

Eleftherios Keramidas brings us “A Tale of Two Apocalypses: Flesh as a Roiling Wave, the Mind as a Dismal Oubliette.” As the title says, it covers two different apocalypses: one that one of the characters wrote about, and one that’s “real.” Each has a very different take on the end of things. It’s a bit confusing; I probably would have found it better if I’d gone back and read it a second time.

James Enge’s “Zodiac Chorus” was mostly confusing to me. There are meteors, and someone who might or might not be named Will, and memory problems, and someone’s dying, or maybe not?

Leah Ning’s “Last Letters” introduces us to Alice, a teen who’s been in hiding with her mother since the apocalypse happened when Alice was just a babe. She lives by her schedules and chore lists, and she knows that if her mother is ever gone for more than ten days, she’s to open the letter left under her mother’s pillow, because she won’t be coming home. This is that day.

Thomas Vaughn’s “Gut Truck” is fascinating. There are solar storms, and Domingo works in the “nicer” zones while living in the bad part of town. His job is to drive the mostly-robotic “gut truck” that cleans up roadkill. When the police have him haul away the head and torso of a dead woman, his AI goes a bit strange on him.

Marjorie King’s “Sass and Sacrifice” made me tear up a bit. The world has been occupied by the “Thrum,” an alien race. That race’s motto is “Do no harm. To self. To others. To all.” They train that into people such that they physically cannot harm–or even discomfort–each other. Venya’s sassy five-year-old daughter Sasha is about to start her training. Venya knows her daughter will never be herself again.

“The Ballad of Rory McDaniels” by Jason Palmatier is fantastic! Mysterious “Dust” falls to earth and creates new and unusual forms of life, many of which can be deadly. A local group of people is having one last party before planning to join up with the Amish since things like electricity are no longer in the cards. Rory refuses to give up, however. The tone of this thing is wonderful; there are turns of phrase that just make it feel like an actual ballad even though it’s in prose form, and it has some nice surprises in store.

In Blake Jessop’s “Trust Fall,” Alina and her Uncle Stig must climb to the top of a very tall ruined building to retrieve a chip for the AI that helps them. The climbing portion is heart-stopping. The AI is interesting, particularly in how the members of different generations view it very differently. And the relationship between Alina and Stig takes center stage. Absolutely wonderful.

I definitely recommend this book for fans of apocalyptics. You’ll find some great entertainment and food for thought in here!

Content note for animal harm and death, as well as mild gore.

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