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Book review: Three Themed Anthologies

I have never been a huge fan of short stories. I prefer to seek my teeth into something meatier, a novel. Short story collections by a single author have always felt particularly unsatisfying to me. Invariably, the stories vary in quality but share similar themes, insights, and style, so that they all start to run together and no one story stands out in mind. A short story collection doesn’t seem to impact me the way a novel does.

This year in particular, I have read several anthologies chosen for a specific theme, and I’ve found these collections to be much more satisfying reads. It takes a good editor, and I think when it comes to choosing genre fiction, John Joseph Adams has a track record you can count on. He chooses stories from a wide range of authors, ranging from the can’t-miss classics to very contemporary writing. The stories are a well-balanced mix of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and that blend of genre with realistic fiction that can be called slipstream. Adams presents a comprehensive take on his themes that will give any new reader to the subgenre a terrific grounding as well as add several more authors to your reading list.

th_8d08406c8df1fa0ceb5e75df46389a5a_1259119130_3_1_1_2_book_coverWastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse is a collection of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories, which examine surviving the end of the world from every angle, from the religious to the posthuman to the mundane. It’s worth reading just for the classic and rarely collected story “Speech Sounds” by Octavia Butler. This excellent collection introduced me to Paolo Bacigalupi.

th_8d08406c8df1fa0ceb5e75df46389a5a_1357693050Brave_New_Worlds_2ndEdBrave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories is the strongest of the three anthologies I read, a real retrospective of dystopian literature. There are so many essential stories here by world-class authors: “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson; “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin; “The Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick; and “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut–just to name a small sampling. A story by a new-to-me author, “Evidence of Love in Case of Abandonment” by Mary Rickert, absolutely terrified me.

th_8d08406c8df1fa0ceb5e75df46389a5a_1334685330Other_Worlds_Than_These_149pxOther Worlds Than These: Stories of Parallel Worlds is a balanced mix of science fiction multiverses and fantasy wonderlands, all about people traveling to alternate realities and what they find there. While there are not as many classics in this collection (barring a terrific old story by Stephen King, “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut”), there were plenty of new discoveries by such contemporary authors as Kelly Link and Jeff VanderMeer. “[a ghost samba]” by Ian McDonald just blew my mind.

A well-edited anthology can be a great introduction to a genre you’ve been wanting to try and a good way to discover new writers.

A helpful guide to the apocalypse…

Note: I originally posted this somewhere else, but I thought it was cute, so I’m reposting it here.

With so many ways to die out, it’s a wonder our species can get out bed in the morning. Yet, despite all odds, the sun rises each day, and the planet continues in its natural course. How long can this go on?

While there are unlimited scenarios for complete annihilation of the species, here are the top 50, ranked in order of likeliness to happen. This list will be adjusted as circumstances warrant.

  1. Robot uprising
  2. Nuclear war started by self-aware computers
  3. Nuclear war started by unaware humans
  4. Global warming
  5. Another ice age
  6. Mother Nature’s revenge
  7. Overpopulation
  8. Soylent green is people!
  9. We’re no longer able to have babies
  10. Stupid people breeding exponentially more than smart people
  11. All the men die out (hey, maybe that one wouldn’t be so bad)
  12. The Mayan calendar said so
  13. Economic downturn
  14. Genetically engineered superflu
  15. Swine flu
  16. Bird flu
  17. Some other disease, possibly alien in origin
  18. Aliens themselves, blowing the shit out of us
  19. Some vaguely understood alien-government conspiracy involving pod people
  20. The terrorists win
  21. Meteor strike
  22. Comet passes by real close
  23. The sun blows up and/or goes out
  24. Super-volcanoes
  25. Zombies
  26. Vampire-zombies
  27. Peak oil
  28. Y2K
  29. Twitter
  30. Mass suicidal impulse
  31. The series finale of Lost erases all will to go on living
  32. Everybody gets really fat
  33. We run out of food
  34. We run out of water
  35. The antichrist returns and hell reigns on earth
  36. A big-ass flood
  37. A big-ass fire
  38. Some other awful thing dreamed up by a vengeful, pissed-off god
  39. Ancient monsters rise up from deep inside the earth to devour us all
  40. Ancient monsters come from another dimension to devour us all
  41. Rip in the space-time continuum
  42. Singularity appears deep inside the earth
  43. Large Hadron Collider
  44. Someone invents time travel and whoops! they changed the future
  45. Some other scientific experiment goes horribly awry
  46. Mad scientist thinks he’s doing us a favor
  47. Apes get really smart and really mad
  48. Man-eating plants
  49. Everyone goes blind at the same time!
  50. It was all a dream.