Wastelands - The New Apocalypse edited by John Joseph Adams

I would like to thank Titan for an advance copy of this anthology in exchange for a fair and honest review

Publisher – Titan

Published – Out Now

Price - £8.99

What will life be like after the end of the world?

In Wastelands: The New Apocalypse master anthologist John Joseph Adams curates his finest collection yet of post-apocalyptic short fiction. Whether the disaster comes from nuclear war, pandemic, climate change or cosmological disaster, these are the extraordinary trials and tribulations of those who survive.

I honestly can’t think why this week in the UK my thoughts are about the end of the world…I think we are increasingly aware that humanity is at risk through our focus on power and glory and ignorance when science tells us to wake up and do something. SF and fantasy have for a long time added many other ways to go from zombies to alien invasions. But as the Ninth Doctor said once humans never think about the fact we may survive. In this excellent anthology John Joseph Adamas has assembled a wonderful set of tales of how it all ended but the focus is on those who survive the main event. It may not be for long; it may not be a happy ending, or it may just remind you never to give up hope.

Among my favourites were the following tales: -

Bullet Point by Elizabeth Bear – A woman finds out that she is not the only person left alive in Vegas. I loved how the main character here focuses on her values above the primitive urge to just hang out with someone because they are merely alive. Standards are important! Great depiction of a city that is no more combined with a dark sense of humour being applied to the situation.

The Red Thread by Sofia Samatar - A series of messages are left by a survivor for someone she has lost contact with. It’s a sad tale of missing someone; family revelations and losing your principles but ends with the slightest touch of hope that is worth the journey the reader goes on.

Expedition 83 by Wendy N Wagner – A fortified city is cut off from the world to avoid a devastating fungal infection. Our narrator has sadly seen her girlfriend struck down by a terminal illness and she decides to help her see the world one last time. Lots of revelations but its also a tale of love and appreciation for life that while tragic does suggest the world will move on.

Not This War, Not This World by Jonathan Mayberry – a George Romero approved tale of life as the zombie invasion hits. A lone sniper must decide how far he wants to go to survive. It does have an approved explanation for the zombie plague but I think what struck out a lot for me in this was the bleakness of the situation (realising you have to kill the infected to survive whatever form they are in) but matched with a desire to do better for others. Haunting and this one stayed with me.

Where Would You Be Now by Carrie Vaughan – One of my favourites in the collection. This focus on a medical team who are helping the remnants of civilization survive.  While we get a tale of danger from potential attackers lurking in the woods Vaughan asks the provocative question as to how healthcare for women would work post apocalypse and the many risks women are now prone to. This is something we rarely get in fiction and its done very smartly.

Bones of Gossamer by Hugh Howey – Usually we focus on the big cities with apocalypses such as London, New York etc but Howey gives us a tale in the Pacific Islands. It’s a sobering experience watching how a remote group get cut off and what that means for the people’s ability to survive but it also has a point about people coming together in bad times. Curiously hopeful yet open-ended.

As Good as New by Charlie Jane Anders – A would be playwright gets stuck in a panic room shortly before a huge event destroys the world. She survives on digital downloads and ready meals but on a rare trip outside finds a genie in a bottle. Much more on the comic end of the spectrum it has some thoughts on art, choices and treating people with respect. Really impressive, warm and unique.

One Day Only by Tananarive Due – Another stand-out tale. A flu virus has wiped out most of the world and on the coast a few survivors (who are judged as carriers) and some non-infected eke out a way of life. Nayima and her lover Karen are working out how but longer they can stay here (or even together) but Nayima has one last ambition to make people laugh. A comedy show at the end of the world is a gloriously sharp statement about what humanity is. Really thoughtful tale.

Black, Their Regalia by Darcie Little Badger – A goth band are suffering from a virus that is decimating the world. They are being sent to a location to be ‘cared for’ until the end. We see how this beautifully depicted trio got together in their uni years and then they decide to do one last song/dance that may heal them. Funny, warm and magical. 

The Plague by Ken Liu – short but extremely clever tale of perspectives and morality. Two people from very different worlds try to save one another. You as the reader must decide who is right. You may be shocked at your opinion.

Four Kittens by Jeremiah Tolbert – This one is very much more fun if you don’t know what to expect but let’s just say imagine if Mad Max had had pets to look after….

The Eyes of the Flood by Susan Jane Bigelow – A tale of someone who has lost nearly everything; who survives and then must decide if they want to live. The final section is very impressive when you realise what has been going on.

Through Sparks in Morning’s Dawn by Tobias S Buckell – welcome to a world with land ships powered by sails crossing the remains of the world. A young woman has a plan to help her ship/city survive but involves her exploring and this world isn’t safe. A really well set up world and adventure with a compellingly resourceful lead who makes use of the everyday things that she finds.

Cannibal Acts by Maureen F McHugh – a sad tale of an Alaskan settlement in a world where food is running out. The people must make very tough choices about survival. Into this though love and relationships still matter. An unsettling story asking you what you would choose to do.

A Series of images from A Ruined City at The End of the World by Violet Allen – A woman is showing you her photo album from an expedition that ends in tragedy. Sets up the world and the impact the changes had on the world and a mixture of loss and desire to carry on make this story really striking.

Come on Down by Meg Elison – You would never expect a gameshow at the end of the world to be a symbol of hope rather than cynicism this works and its brilliantly done.  Well worth reading.

Don’t Pack Hope by Emma Osborne – A trans man has decided to escape a Melbourne plagued by zombies. In a short space of time we get to understand his life; his hopes and fears and why he is so keen to leave. We don’t know how the story ends but we are so on his side to succeed against the odds. Very poignant.

As the Rest of Us Wait by Corinne Duyvis – A comet is about to hit Europe. In the Netherlands an underground bunker will be a temporary home to a group of those felt to be refugees. Into this arrives a Latvian singer who has spina bifida with pain relief controlled by electronic implants…and then an EMP pulse hits. This story as well as unique setting is combined with a sense of increasing desperation that raises a point as to how we treat those who are not considered ‘healthy’ – a very powerful story about our morality and need to be our best at being human when it matters most. Powerfully pointed out but in a very low key way read.

So Sharp, So Bright, So Final – a disease has wiped out most of humanity and the few survivors left tread carefully around shadows in case they see a loved one…for the last time. Mixing a scarily plausible apocalypse with a sense of building dread this bleak tale is the most chilling in the collection.  Brilliantly delivered.

As you can see there is a huge variety of stories (and this list was not exhaustive). The variety and strength of writing is universally very high and its so refreshing to see post-apocalyptic fiction that is prepared to accept so much diversity in its range of viewpoints. It’s a truly 21st century anthology. I felt hopeful about humanity after reading this – we are capable of doing so much better in the dark times we find ourselves in.  That message is so important to us now.  An excellent thought-provoking collection that I think any fan of the apocalyptic world should pick up.