“Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse” Edited by John Joseph Adams (Night Shade Books, 2008)

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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.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on December 4th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“The Living Dead” Edited by John Joseph Adams (Night Shade Books, 2008)

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After the success of John Joseph Adams’ last anthology Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, he returns with a new fantastic collection, The Living Dead, with stories from the greatest horror fiction writers in publication: Stephen King, Clive Barker, Laurel K. Hamilton, Neil Gaiman, Dan Simmons, and many others.  It is a fascinating collection for it proves to the reader that no zombie story is the same, and what amazing settings and situations authors can come up that involve zombies.

In the first story, from Dan Simmons, “This Year’s Class Picture,” Ms. Geiss, a former high school teacher, has barricaded herself in her old high school.  A barbed wire fence and wall surround the school, along with a moat filled with gasoline.  Geiss spends her days with her class, a class of zombie children.  After hitting them with a tranquilizer, she chained them to their chairs and each day shows them pictures of humanity, the beauty of the world, and the greatness of the human race, trying to make a connection, trying to get a reaction.  But each day she is greeted by the dead stares in their faces, with their eyes hungry for human flesh.

In Neil Gaiman’s “Bitter Grounds,” the narrator has had enough with his life and just up and leaves one day.  Meeting an anthropology professor presenting a paper on zombies in New Orleans, he steals the man’s identity, and never expecting to go through with it, finds himself in New Orleans being the professor.  At night in the streets of the old city, he meets some people that later he considers may not be human.  He presents the paper as the professor, semi-believing in its intention, especially after his experiences of the night before.

In “The Dead Kid” from Darrell Schweitzer, David is a young boy who wants to hang out with the big kids who are always bullying him; he wants to be like them so they’ll stop bullying him.  So one day they show him “the dead kid”: a very young child that is being kept trapped in a box in a cave in the forest.  It is very pale, twin empty sockets where its eyes should be, and spends its days slowly writhing, trying to get free of its prison.

The Living Dead is a sobering read in that it primarily reveals to the readers the horrors zombies are capable of, but also presents the dark and evil side of humanity and what it is capable of when pitted against these walking corpses.  The idea of the zombie forces one to face the reality of death and how in this way it may be cheated, but when the cost is a term that has become synonymous with something that is dead but alive, incredibly stupid, and hungers for flesh; it makes one yearn all the more for an undisturbed grave.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on October 9th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Under St. Peter’s” by Harry Turtledove

By Blood We Live

I’ve begun reading By Blood We Live, edited by John Joseph Adams [who also did The Living Dead and Wastelands (both of which I’ve reviewed)] which kicks off with a wonderfully dark, sexual, and twisted story by Neil Gaiman about Snow White, called “Snow Glass Apples” followed by a boring story from Anne Rice (the only short story she’s ever published apparently) called “The Master of Rampling Gate.”

The third story in the collection — “Under St. Peter’s” by Harry Turtledove — kind of blew my mind, as all good stories should.  When I’m done with the book and eventually review it, I will certainly mention the story, but won’t be able to reveal the big twist of a tale behind the story, because you can’t do that in book reviews.  The point of a book review is to entice the reader to get the book, and not spoil the ending and surprise.

So instead I’m going to reveal the ending for this story in this particular blog post.  Since it’s just one story in the collection, it’s not that big of a deal to reveal it as there are plenty more enjoyable tales in the rest of the collection.

And if you don’t want to find out how this story ends, stop reading now and you’ll be just fine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Under St. Peter’s” begins with the induction of a new pope deep within the heart of the Vatican.  The former cardinal is now very happy to have been promoted to such a high position, knowing he will now be remembered forever.  He then is informed of a secret order that has existed since the beginning of the papacy that very few know about.  The pope is to perform an induction ritual with this order, as has been done with every pope since the very beginning.  He is led through a hidden door in the floor down deep beneath the Vatican.  He is led down many steps, going deeper into the dark underground, being led by a member of the clandestine order.

When they reach their destination, they find an old, emaciated form that shocks the pope to his very soul when he sees who the man truly is.  This person bears wounds upon his palms and feet, by his side; familiar wounds that have become synonymous with his depictions on a crucifix.  He also bears a pair of small wounds on the side of his neck, which are never shown in any of his images or carvings.

It is Jesus, who has remained beneath the Vatican for a very long time.  And each time a new pope is elected, he is brought down to this hidden chamber where this man drinks of the new pope, for he is a vampire who can never die of hunger, satiating himself with each new pope.  Once he even drank too much of one pope, killing him, and a new one was immediately needed.

It puts that whole story about being raised from the dead by Lazarus in a much clearer perspective.