Review: “The End Is Nigh,” ed. John Joseph Adams, Hugh Howey

Rating: 5 out of 5

John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey have edited the glorious anthology, The End is Nigh (The Apocalypse Triptych) (Volume 1). The idea is that the first anthology deals with the events leading up to the apocalypse. The second deals with the apocalypse itself. And the third deals with the post-apocalypse. Some authors have linked stories in more than one of the anthologies; others don’t. These stories are meant to stand alone, and thankfully they succeed in that.

I have two definite favorite stories in here, even though the anthology as a whole is uniformly excellent (usually I don’t give multiple-author anthologies a 5/5, because it’s hard to match that many different stories to any one reader’s idea of what makes a good story). One of those favorites is Jake Kerr’s “Wedding Day.” Two women, Jocelyn and Lynn, want to get married before the asteroid hits the next year. Once it’s determined that the asteroid is going to come down in North America, they try everything they can to get one of the few rides out. I ugly-cried at this one–it really got to me.

My other favorite story is Seanan McGuire’s “Spores.” Megan is an internal safety monitor at a genetics lab. She’s OCD–clinically, not in that “oh I’m so OCD” sort of way–and that serves her well in her work, although her teammates don’t agree. When she discovers a mysterious, super-charged mold in the home she shares with her wife and daughter, she goes into overdrive cleaning it up. This story was also devastating.

Robin Wasserman’s “The Balm and the Wound” is about a scam artist who serially predicts the end of the world, creates cults, and then runs off into the sunset. When the son he never knew he had gets dropped off on his doorstep, the kid takes a deep dive into conspiracy theories. This one was a bit wacky and fun, but still dark.

Desirina Boskovich’s “Heaven Is a Place on Planet X” has an alien race show up. They say they’re going to destroy the earth (on Friday at 5 pm Eastern) and everyone will manifest on the planet Xyrxiconia for a life of luxury. Just one catch: the people of earth have to choose enforcers who will vaporize anyone who acts outside of their normal life habits. Since the aliens back this up with vaporizing some world leaders who resist the idea, people go along with it. This is told from the point of view of one of the enforcers and her partner, Sarah. Fascinating where it goes.

“Break! Break! Break!” is an utterly bizarre story by Charlie Jane Anders, involving the extremely hyper child of a stuntman, a budding video-making genius, and a bully with ambitions. It’s hysterical, yet still grim. In Ken Liu’s “The Gods Will Not Be Chained,” 8th grade student Maddie suddenly gets a bizarre chat from someone who speaks only in emojis. I have no way to describe how wonderful this story is without giving too much away, so you’ll have to trust me on this one. Tananarive Due’s “Removal Order” finds Nayima staying behind in her infected, burning neighborhood despite all of her neighbors having moved on, because she has to look after her Gram, who’s dying of cancer. This is unflinchingly painful to read, but exceedingly good. (It might have involved a few more tears.)

Tobias S. Buckell’s “System Reset” sees a pair of bounty hunters (one is the hacker who finds people; the other is the muscle) going after a tech genius who’s been doing some very nasty things. It leaves off at an intriguing place–no cliffhanger, just a nice setup. It starts a little slowly, but it gets very powerful. “This Unkempt World Is Falling to Pieces,” by Jamie Ford, takes place in May of 1910 (so unusual to have an apocalypse story set in the past!), on the night when Halley’s Comet comes by. It’s told within the context of a friendship between two young people who were sold into service.

I really, really want to read more about Ben H. Winters’s “Bring Her to Me.” Everyone in the last 24 years has come to hear God’s voice in their minds. He has given strict instructions for how they will all poison themselves on the same morning. However, Annabel doesn’t hear his voice–and both of her parents keep hearing “BRING HER TO ME,” although they interpret it differently. Doesn’t really end on a cliffhanger, although there’s enough going forward that I hope this is continued in the next volume.

Hugh Howey’s “In the Air” involves nanomachines living inside human bodies, and a plot to kill almost everyone. I was a little uncertain about some things at the end, and this isn’t the most riveting of the stories, but it’s still solidly good. In Annie Bellet’s “Goodnight Moon,” Neta Goodwin is working on a moon base when her co-workers discover there’s a dwarf planet headed for the moon. This is a very poignant story. In “Dancing With Death in the Land of Nod,” Will McIntosh introduces us to Johnny, a middle-aged man who’s trying to care for his father, who has Alzheimer’s. Naturally, this is when a fast-spreading pandemic strikes. He learns some valuable lessons from his neighbor when things go crazy. It does get a bit dark, but hey, this is an apocalypse collection.

Megan Arkenberg’s “Houses Without Air” is a bizarre story about two roommates dealing with the end of the world as the amount of breathable air goes drastically down after Yellowstone blows its top. One roommate is working on virtual reality, the other builds memorials. Strange, but charming. Scott Sigler’s “The Fifth Day of Deer Camp” focuses on a handful of men hanging out, playing cards, and drinking on their annual trip. Then something strange lands nearby. This one is a bit simple and skates a bit closely to the line of not standing alone. The characters are neat, though.

In Jack McDevitt’s “Enjoy the Moment,” a 30-year-old physicist named Maryam discovers a new comet–only to find out her comet is part of a deadly pattern of celestial objects. (“The party on my thirtieth birthday more or less opened the door to the end of the world.”) Nancy Kress brings us “Pretty Soon the Four Horsemen Are Going to Come Riding Through,” in which one of the protagonist’s daughters is oddly passive–along with some of her kindergarten classmates–while others are more normal in their antagonism. Despite her lack of sophistication and book-learning, she starts to suspect the volcano that blew during her pregnancy might be affecting some of the children born since then. I’m not entirely sure where this one is headed, but the basic idea stands alone.

Jonathan Maberry’s “She’s Got a Ticket to Ride” introduces us to John Poe, who nabs children from cults and returns them to their families. He’s been sent after a young woman who’s gotten involved in an unusual cult, the Church of the Nomad World–they don’t proselytize. Around the same time, a physicist friend of his starts acting a bit squirrely. The character interactions are lovely. David Wellington’s “Agent Unknown” sees CDC field agent Whitman trying to bring in live subjects who are displaying dangerous symptoms. They seem to have little brain function left, and they try to bite everyone in sight. The conclusions the CDC draws are fascinating, and the implications are horrible.

Matthew Mather’s “Enlightenment” is a very dark story of unexplained disappearances, lab-grown organs, cyborgs, and more. It was certainly unusual! Paolo Bacigalupi’s “Shooting the Apocalypse” takes place after we’ve started to experience both category 6 hurricanes and an absolutely terrible drought. Texans are so desperate they’re trying to get over the fences into Arizona near a particularly long canal–and many of them are getting shot. Photographer Timo and journalist Lucy start out looking into one of these killings, and stumble across the story of the century. In Sarah Langan’s “Love Perverts,” an asteroid is headed for Chicago. The government claims they’re going to use a nuke to destroy it, but the details don’t really add up. Some folks have tickets for the underground bunker, but Tom’s family has left him behind. I wasn’t entirely happy with this one. Sure, it gets into the idea that people will do some very messed-up things at the end of the world. But I wasn’t thrilled that the one gay guy gets turned on by suffering, apparently, and dreams of killing both puppies and people.

Content note for suicidality, cannibalism, and one depraved account of what people get up to at the end of the world (Sarah Langan’s “Love Perverts”). These notes only apply to a few stories–they aren’t major themes.

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