Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse by John Joseph Adams

(9.5/10) A sublime collection of post-apocalyptic short stories.

Book of the Year 2008 (see all)

Famine, death, war, pestilence. These are said to be the harbingers of the biblical apocalypse-Armageddon. The End of the World. Whether by nuclear warfare, a biological disaster or an ecological/geological disaster it is in the wake of this great cataclysm that the survivors have to adapt and survive.

The above paragraph is the synopsis for Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, a collection of short stories written by a number of the world's most successful and talented writers. And the final words neatly sum up what it is I find so compelling about the dystopian genre - what the world would look like following a major disaster and more importantly, just how the survivors, human kind, would cope. We, as humans, have our flaws, but none can doubt the indomitable spirit we posses, and the sheer bloody-mindedness that allows us to survive in the harshest of environments, under the most difficult circumstances.

It was when I first read Stephen King's The Stand (almost twenty-five years ago now) that I first realised that dystopia/post-apocalyptic fiction was for me. Since that time I have sought out all the other great works in the genre, but with mixed results. After two very highly recommended golden oldies, The Postman and The Death of Grass, recently left me wondering why exactly it was I read books for pleasure (I found both books cringe-inducing badly written) I realised that I needed to find a better way of discovering new dystopian books to read. So one day I stumbled across Wastelands, which I had heard was a must-read for any fan of the genre and I'm delighted to say that this collections is THE perfect way to a) read great short fiction and b) find new authors and books to read.

Every short story is worth reading but three stood out from the rest as being that little bit extra special. My personal favourite was The End of the World as We Know It by Dale Bailey which really felt like a classic, even if at times it does seem to poke fun at the genre it belongs to. The story concentrates on the loneliness and likely alcoholism of the few survivors, it shows a mother's descent towards grief-driven madness and highlights the pressures and expectancy of those left to restart the population growth of the human species. It is a must read.

Have you heard of an author called George R. R. Martin? Yes? Thought so, but there is much, much more to Martin than simply his Game of Thrones series and he has been writing excellent short fiction for a long, long time. Here he provides Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels, a tale of how the human race may evolve in the aftermath of nuclear war, and it will serve to show many just how skilled and diverse an author he is.

The story that moved me most was Artie's Angels by Catherine Wells, a kind of BMX Bandits (remember this film? It had a very young Nicole Kidman in it) in dystopia. It was very good, featuring an excellent story and characterisation and concluded with a heart-breaking, moving and poignant ending.

The other stories that really worked for me were Inertia by Nancy Kress and Ginny Sweathips' Flying Circus by Neal Barrett, which was an adrenaline fuelled tale of a travelling circus with a difference -this one offers sex and drugs.

There is not a poor story in this anthology and they are all so different in the way they are written and the themes they cover that everyone will find something to like. Of the five stories I mentioned above it is only George R. R. Martin that I had previously read so I will shortly be going on to read novel-length publications by Dale Bailey, Catherine Wells, Nancy Kress and Neal Barrett. And that is exactly what I hoped to get from this collection. So if you're a fan of the post apocalyptic/dystopia genre then you must add this anthology to your collection as it is simply brilliant and if it still available for £2.99 then it is also an absolute bargain. I loved reading Wastelands and hope that many others do too. Very highly recommended.

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