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

Rating: 5 out of 5

In volume one, The End Is Nigh [review], the stories led up to an apocalypse. In The End is Now (The Apocalypse Triptych Book 2), the apocalypse is upon us. The third volume will be post-apocalyptic. Many of the stories in the triptych are also triptychs. In other words, some of the authors wrote a story for each volume, set in the same world, although intended to stand alone. (Not all of the authors, though. Some authors don’t appear in all three volumes, and others seem to be writing about different apocalypses in the different volumes.) I end up giving most multiple-author anthologies a 4/5, because pretty much every reader is likely to have different tastes than the editors doing the picking. But in this series’ case, I’m giving the first two books a 5/5. Absolutely love ’em!

Once again one of my favorite stories in here is by Seanan McGuire: “Fruiting Bodies.” In volume one, Megan, a safety officer at a bioengineering lab, discovers that a horrifically deadly mold has been unleashed. Now she’s trying to keep herself and her daughter alive. I was riveted by this story! (“We had created the world’s first fungal apex predator.”)

Tananarive Due’s “Herd Immunity” picks up after Nayima has left her neighborhood and gone looking for a safe place to stay. She follows another man, hoping to convince him that they could join together. You can definitely see in this volume how the solitude has affected Nayima. It’s pretty brilliant.

Scott Sigler’s “The Sixth Day of Deer Camp” picks up right where day 5 left off: aliens have landed on earth, and one ship crash-landed right near the cabin our characters are staying in. They realize they’re sitting ducks, but no one wants to go out in the vicious cold. So far I haven’t been able to get into this set of stories.

Annie Bellet’s “Goodnight Stars” introduces us to Lucy, daughter of the first story’s heroine who died on the moon. It’s fascinating to see how the moon impact is affecting the earth, and how Lucy and her friends are handling it. I shed a few tears to this one.

“Rock Manning Can’t Hear You,” by Charlie Jane Anders, continues our tale of hyper-active online “film star” Rock Manning and his co-conspirators, with a backdrop of the world going to hell. These stories are funny, but I find it hard to get into them.

Sarah Langan’s “Black Monday” is bizarre. It’s just before two meteors, or asteroids, or something are about to hit, and some scientists are trying to create “caretakers” who can keep an eye on the surface while humanity shelters beneath the ground. They’re doing this by putting primate brains into android bodies, only all they ever do is scream. For some reason this gives them the idea that a human brain might work better.

Nancy Kress’s “Angels of the Apocalypse” takes place about 20 years after her previous story. Children born in the previous 25 years, since a volcano sent very strange chemicals into the air, are called “Sweets.” They’re entirely passive, and refuse to engage in any kind of work that they see as remotely harming anyone. They’ve become targets since they never fight back, and Sophie is tired of having to rescue her younger sister Carrie. The stories are well-written, but the premise just doesn’t engage me.

“Agent Isolated,” by David Wellington, re-introduces us to CDC field agent Whitman. Only now he’s on the run because he’s presumed positive for the prion disease (and marked as such). The government is rounding up all presumptive positives, and Whitman’s doing his best to protect the truck full of people he’s picked up. A nurse named Angie has heard of boats waiting to pick everyone up; Whitman has his doubts, but there’s only one way to find out.

Ken Liu’s “The Gods Will Not Be Slain” picks up after Maddie and her mother retrieved her dead father’s uploaded mind from the company he used to work for. He’s hardly the only uploaded mind out there, and while some want to coexist peacefully with humanity, others want to burn it all down. This story managed to make the war that’s being raged online surprisingly interesting… especially since we’re seeing it from Maddie’s human point of view!

Elizabeth Bear’s “You’ve Never Seen Everything” introduces us to Alyce Hemmingway, who’s traveling a thousand miles home–on foot–since the Fever struck. Will she be able to reunite with her husband and daughter? (This one was kind of just… there, and the tone at the end was odd.)

Ben H. Winters’ “Bring Them Down” returns us to the world where all of the occupants of a ten-square-mile protected area on an otherwise dead world have been hearing God’s voice for 24 years, preparing them all to take poison and die on a particular morning. Well, everyone except one girl. She and a friend decide to ride it out, but the friend keeps hearing God saying “BRING HER TO ME” and “BRING HER NOW.” It’s fascinating to see where this is going! I’m looking forward to a third story.

Megan Arkenberg wrote “Twilight of the Music Machines.” I’m a little confused, because her story in the first volume seemed to be about an apocalypse brought about by a volcanic eruption and the falling amount of breathable oxygen in the atmosphere. This one has an entirely different apocalypse going on–rain has become deadly, and the reason why is fascinating. This story is told as a group of people tries to dance the apocalypse away, taking drugs and having fun.

Jonathan Maberry’s story “Sunset Hollow: A Rot & Ruin Story” also doesn’t seem to relate to his first story. That one was about an asteroid hitting the earth; this one is the start of a zombie apocalypse. Police cadet Tom Imura’s parents have become zombies, and it’s up to him to save his 18-month-old brother, Benny. It’s a bold move to try to cover those first terrifying moments as the dead begin to rise, given how many times it’s been done by now. But one thing I think this story in particular captures is the kind of shock that grips people in an unbelievable emergency.

Jake Kerr’s first story was about a couple trying to handle the fact that they couldn’t both get out of North America, where an asteroid was due to hit. In “Penance,” one of the Expatriation Lottery agents finds that he can’t face the other people he’s sharing an oil tanker with as they leave for another continent. He keeps thinking back to all the different ways in which the people he had to inform reacted. The ending is beautiful.

Daniel H. Wilson’s “Avtomat” involves automatons in 1725, trying to escape being rounded up and destroyed as the result of a change in power in Russia. I get that the world may be ending for these two specific creatures, but I wouldn’t call it an apocalypse, and I wasn’t sure what it was doing here. It is an interesting story; it just didn’t seem to belong.

Will McIntosh brings us “Dancing with Batgirl in the Land of Nod.” A strange sickness is paralyzing people. In this volume, Ray has just found out that his wife, Eileen, is having an affair. He decides to drive to the home of the actress who played Batgirl many years earlier, because she’s an obsession of his. The story gets a little weird from there, but the ending is touching.

Desirina Boskovich’s “To Wrestle Not Against Flesh and Blood” brings us back to the story in which aliens said everyone in the world would be destroyed and reincarnated on the luxurious Planet X, on Friday. The only catch was that people were not to alter their normal behavior patterns until then, and anyone who did would be “enforced” (ie, vaporized). After the aliens vaporized a few world leaders, the world went along with this. In the first story, Friday at the appointed hour arrived and nothing happened. I still can’t tell if there are actual aliens, or what the hell is going on. This installment is about a group of men basically having a sleepover in one of their homes as they–with no background in any of this–decide to start a resistance. We see what happens from the PoV of Annette, the daughter who’s basically running and organizing the household in which this is taking place.

Hugh Howey’s “In the Mountain” takes us to Tracy, who had a one-night stand with John from the first story, and who now apparently expects him to leave behind his family and join her in holing up to avoid the apocalypse. This really makes her hard to like at first–the fact that she’s so sure he’ll do it also kind of makes her seem ridiculously dumb. Things go wrong at the bunker pretty quickly, and that part is interesting.

Robin Wasserman’s “Dear John” takes place after Father Abraham abandoned his flock and left them in his son, Isaac’s, care. Abraham and his son predicted the apocalypse–correctly–even though Abraham was mostly a con artist. This story is told as a series of letters from one of the members of the cult to ex-boyfriends. They’re hilarious, but also very poignant as they reveal parts of what’s happening inside the group’s “Ark.”

I absolutely look forward to reading book three, The End Has Come. I look forward to finding out how some of these stories conclude!

Content note for racial slurs and animal harm.

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