Wastelands 2: Stories Of Life After Apocalypse edited by John Joseph Adams (book review)

November 23, 2015 | By | Reply More

Who doesn’t like a good post-apocalyptic tale? ‘The Postman’, ‘Waterworld’ and ‘I Am Legend’ are among my favourite films. In a short story collection, like ‘Wastelands 2’, there is plenty of opportunity for broad, sweeping adventures, including the original version of David Brin’s ‘The Postman’ as well as shorter, more individual and quirky tales that focus on a specific person or incident or scenario. Several of the stories in this volume share a familiar setting of groups of survivors struggling to continue their lives in urban desolation or isolated commune, fighting against diminishing technology and skill sets, on guard against marauders and the narrow-minded. There is also a generous sprinkling of stories set further in the future and in varied settings that give the volume a well-rounded feel. The thirty stories feature an impressively strong list of very well-known authors supported by fine contributions from some who may be new to you. I didn’t find a single weak story in the entire 500 pages.


First up is ‘The Tamarisk Hunter’ by Paulo Bacigalupi, whose award-winning novel ‘The Windup Girl’ I finally got hold of last week and it’s now waiting patiently on my bookshelf. Lolo ekes out a living by destroying tamarisk trees and collecting a bounty on the amount of water that they can no longer draw from the river, allowing the precious liquid to flow on to California which seems to be the last vestige of civilisation. The contrast between the ravaged countryside and the jealously guarded preserve of the fortunate few adds an extra twist of bitterness to the brilliantly crafted story.

Seanan Maguire’s ‘Animal Husbandry’ recounts the tale of a travelling vet who is one of the few plague survivors, who finds her skills in high demand by the people she comes across. Her philosophy on life raises this from standard post-apocalyptic fare to thought-provoking excellence.

Jack McDevitt’s ‘Alex Benedict’ books are one of my favourite series and his story, ‘Ellie’, is similarly intelligent and entertaining. Amidst a slowly rebuilding civilisation, several generations into the future, Jeff comes across an old flame and a strangely preserved research facility. The interplay between the characters and the compelling back story led up to a conclusion that left me in awe.

Ramsey Shehadeh welcomes us to ‘Jimmy’s Roadside Café’, set up at the edge of a highway choked with abandoned vehicles to welcome passing stragglers. Jimmy is an eccentric character whose vision to build his café leads to a touching and memorable account of tragedy and humanity in action.

Regular readers of my reviews, if such people exist, will know that I always enjoy a story written in an unusual format. Megan Arkenberg’s ‘Final Exam’ is the only story I remember reading that is in the form of a multiple-choice exam paper. The series of questions along with their various potential answers gradually build up a picture of an invasion by hideous creatures, along with the end of a more personal world as a relationship breaks down and two people fall apart. It’s very nicely done.

One of the most original concepts comes across in Keffy R. M. Kehrli’s ‘Advertising At The End Of The World’. Like many of the other stories the central character, Marie, is left alone living somewhere in isolation after everyone else has died and deals with the issues of loneliness and trauma as the others do. But this one has walking, humanoid adverts, like automated door-to-door salesmen. With everyone else dead, they home in on Marie to sell their (non-existent) wares. It’s an intriguing idea and a brilliant bit of extrapolation that I thoroughly enjoyed.

My final selection for this review is also the last story in the book, Jake Kerr’s surprisingly moving ‘Biographical Fragments Of The Life Of Julian Prince’. It’s another great example of how to write a story in an unusual format, in this case, a Wikipedia entry. In the main, it’s written in a factual and neutral typically wiki way, giving the background and life story of Julian Prince, a journalist and author whose work was shaped by the disaster of the Meyer impact and its aftermath. Transcripts of speeches and interviews and quotes from his own work, displaying a markedly different style to the rest of the article, add incredible depth to the story. It makes an excellent conclusion to the collection.

This is a magnificent collection, with so many great stories in a wide variety of styles so that you barely realise that it’s a themed anthology. There is none of the limitation or repetition that you sometimes get from a group of stories based around a specific theme. I definitely recommend it.

Gareth D. Jones

November 2015

(pub: Titan Books. 521 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK), $14.95 (US), $17.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78329-150-2)

check out website: www.titanbooks.com

Category: Books, Scifi

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