Review: The Apocalypse Reader edited by Justin Taylor
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
The Apocalypse Reader
Edited by Justin Taylor
Thunder Mouth Press, 2007
$15.95 trade paper original
336 pages, ISBN: 1560259590
"THESE ARE THE WAYS THE WORLD ENDS—THIRTY-FOUR NEW AND SELECTED DOOMSDAY SCENARIOS"
This is a gorgeous book, from presentation to content. The selections are humorous, serious, simple, complex, and much more—thirty-four stories, some short, some long, make for a wide spectrum of apocalypses. Taylor, in the foreword, expounds on his conception of an apocalypse:
"It's worth pointing out that the word Apocalypse comes from the Greek, and literally means "a revelation" or "an unveiling." It can be used to describe cataclysmic changes of any sort. Revolution, for example, or social upheaval. [...] There are micro-Apocalypses that mark moments in our lives: childhood's end, a relationship's sudden implosion, Death."
The selections do span the gamut—some were written so long ago as to be in the public domain, and some were freshly minted in the late 2000's; some focus on religious upheavals, some macro, some micro; there are personal upheavals, student rantings, surreal recountings of madmen; and of course many take the reader through more conventional "end of the world" scenarios. And even with all that diversity, perhaps guided by the introduction, the theme of the anthology runs strong.
If there were a criticism I could make of this volume, that, ironically, would be it. I consider myself a bit of an Apocalypse afficionado—I particularly enjoy reading such stories, along with dystopias—and I would have thought that I could never grow tired of reading well-wrought incarnations of such—and these stories were all well-wrought and well-edited, there is no doubt about that—but this volume overwhelmed me. I was tired, even weary, by the time I had wended my way through the collection (and that in the course of several "sittings")..
The lead story, a piece of flash fiction by H. P. Lovecraft, starts the anthology out elegantly, and slowly. It warns you, implicitly, that you're in for some heavy reading, even if you're a fan of Mr. Lovecraft's writing (and not just his mythos, which more people are familiar with, and is much easier to get into third hand). On that end of the scale, there's also a piece from Edgar Allan Poe that is ponderous but worth an examination, entitled "The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion".
Some of my favorites included:
"The Apocalypse Commentery of Bob Paisner" by Rick Moody — This is an essay detailing the allegorical depths of the Book of Revelation with regard to Bob Paisner's life. The tone is both erudite and a bit delirious, and the piece as a whole is both informative and immersive—I found myself eagerly wondering where Moody was going to take us next, what dark or clinical humor would next be presented.
"Fraise, Menthe, et Poivre 1978" by Jared Hohl — Another piece of meta-fiction, this follows a group of people through the more traditional trope of being the last survivors in a ruined post-apocalyptic city. What makes this piece stand out is the manic bent of the narrator and the push for the show to go on—the story weaves the primary narrative with a small handful of abbreviated stageplays that emphasize much about human nature, hope, and despair, while retaining a very human humor.
"An Accounting" by Brian Evenson — An "honest" accounting of how one explorer fell into becoming a reborn Jesus and how he helps his flock survive. I don't want to say too much about this, but the voice is clear, the narrative is well woven and unrolls at a compelling pace, and other than, perhaps, the initial fanaticism he encounters, it is all quite believable.
"Some Approaches to the Problem of the Shortage of Time" by Ursula K. Le Guin — This is a clever set of abstracts that are ever timely and consider a novel scenario for the end of the modern-day universe. The shortage of time is pervasive, and this story is brief to give you a maximum pleasure for what it takes.
"Think Warm Thoughts" by Allison Whittenberg — A bite-sized slice of apocalypse that is poetically poignant; every word counts.
"When We Went to See the End of the World by Dawnie Morningside, age 11 1/4" by Neil Gaiman — This is the end of the world, everyone and everything together, through the playful, somewhat naiive eyes of an eleven year old. It's told in the vein of "What I did over Summer vacation", and is very evocative, sweet, and strange.
"The Escape—a Tale of 1755" by Grace Aguilar — This is an elegant tale of a woman's love for her husband, religious persecution, and a prison escape. It is written with a very modern feel despite its age (originally published in 1844).
That's not to say I disliked the other stories; and on another day I would have different favorites, though there were some pieces that didn't work for me. But I hope this selection will help give you a feel for the collection as a whole, beyond my simple regard for it. In all, it's a beautiful collection, and I recommend it strongly, with the caveat that you may want to take it in small doses.
[[See the first response to this post on GUD Magazine's review blog for details on how to win your own copy of The Apocalypse Reader]]
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