In this riveting collection edited by John Joseph Adams, it is everything post-apocalyptic. We know one day the world is going to kick it, and here’s what some writers think might happen. Wastelands runs the gamut from a rapture story; to how we might survive in a dead world (even if we’re disfigured mutants); to stories that may not be about the end of the world, but at times certainly seem like it. Featuring a wide variety of renowned authors like Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, George R. R. Martin, Gene Wolfe, Jonathan Lethem, and Octavia E. Butler; it is a sobering collection that delves into humanity as a species, as it fights for survival.
In the opening story from Stephen King, “The End of the Whole Mess,” when the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket fast, a unique spring is discovered in Texas which somehow makes people nicer and less violent towards each other. Concentrating and harnessing this water, it is emptied as rain around the world, and for a little while there is world peace. Then the cases begin and a terrifying realization is made about this water that was supposed to save humanity and has instead damned it.
In George R. R. Martin’s “Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels,” some of our distant race return to Earth to see if there’s anyone still around and are shocked to discover a devolved, primitive form of humanity living beneath the ground like animals. What they don’t know is that these people possess special abilities never before seen. Jonathan Lethem reveals a world of virtual reality and shows its advantages and disadvantages. Tobias Buckwell, in “Waiting for the Zephyr,” reveals a reformed world of simple ways and wind power and the hope of one girl to travel across the planet on the great Zephyr. “Artie’s Angles” by Catherine Wells examines the circumstances if space travelers returned to Earth to discover the Rapture had happened and they were the only ones left behind.
In the best story of the collection, “When Sysadmins Ruled the World” from Cory Doctorow, it is a world much like ours that on this doomed day suffers a terrible sickness unleashed by terrorists around the world and there are not many left. But the Sysadmins, secured safely in their airtight computer buildings, struggle to keep the Internet alive and communicate with each other through Newsgroups, and elect their own form of government via the web.
Like The Living Dead, Wastelands is another fascinating collection revealing the variety of imagination and writing skill that many of our greatest authors possess today, as well as delving into the dark recesses of humanity and uncovering some horrifying truths. Whatever you’re looking for in a story about the end of the world and if we make it through, you will find something you like in this collection.
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Originally written on December 4th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.