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


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]]
- reddit, digg, facebook, stumbleupon, etc... please! ;)
posted by kaolin

20 comments; 0 subscribers

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 / 15:54:16
Hello, and welcome to the first comment on The Apocalypse Reader review at GUD Magazine. If you live in the continental United States, you are eligible to win our review copy of this book. Just leave a comment on this post with your favorite (or most feared, or whatever) end-of-the-world scenario. Entries through the end of 9/24/2007 pacific time will be considered.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007 / 17:19:19
Hello, and welcome to the second comment on The Apocalypse Reader review at GUD Magazine. :D My most feared end-of-the-world scenario still follows a Y2K computer shutdown idea. If all of our technology fails us, how will the world end?
Tuesday, September 18, 2007 / 21:30:31
I have an affinity for dystopias/Apocalyptic novels and stories, too. Nice review.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 / 03:27:41
My opinion is that whoever read and reviewed this book (above) deserves to get the copy. Ebay is full of buyers with rainy day personalities who would buy it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 / 06:21:20
This review made me want to read the collection. Well, as a child, I feared the end of the world. I lived in Houston, and space was a big deal to me and my brother. Back then, NASA wasn't the theme park it is now. There was a big field, a theater, and a few informational displays. We watched a film there all about the beginning and end of the universe. This haunted me. I had trouble sleeping at night, and I remember that I had never considered, before, how everything, everywhere, could end.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 / 08:00:27
Nice review. I don't know about favorite but if I had to guess how the world will end I'mm goona go with meteor or toher astrological event. Sorry Al Gore, but I do not think we will be the ones to destroy planet eartch.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 / 08:15:43
The book sounds fascinating. Great review. My pseudo-religious upbringing left me with a somewhat fatalistic view of the future of the world. As a kid I was certain I'd never achieve certain landmark events due to the impending apocalypse. Here I am at 32 and the paranoia still lingers. My most feared end of the world scenario probably involves floods, a decimated economy, widespread famine...and maybe zombies.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 / 10:12:31
There's nothing like sharing a good doomsday tale with a group of friends around the campfire. I hope to win a copy of this book, but even if I don't - it's not the end of the world.

As a kid, my favorite apocalyptic scenario was an impact event - a large meteorite colliding with earth.

Then I read about the Canary Islands a few years back. Some scientists think that a large volcano could cause part of the structurally unstable La Palma Island to plummet into the Atlantic, resulting in a "Mega Tsunami" that would devastate American and European coastal cities.

It could be a thousand years before this happens. Maybe we should be more concerned with Cthulhu, zombies, or high blood pressure.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 / 10:20:18
Nice review, sounds like a good read. I think my most feared end-of-the-world scenario is the nuclear variety. I think, perhaps, because it seems to me to be a very real possibilty for the world to end in a nuclear holocaust.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 / 12:33:46
I fear the world will end if I don't win this book.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 / 14:10:38
My favorite end of the world scenario is a biowarfare devastation, like Stephen King's "The Stand." Some nasty germ gets out like weaponized smallpox or a new airborne version of Ebola, and then it's curtains for the majority of the human race. Civilization rapidly grinds to a halt as people begin dying off.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 / 21:35:04
My worst scenario: World War III breaks out in full; men are drafted and because women can serve, women are drafted as well; the fighting reaches American soil, bombs dropped, fires spread; due to the number and intensity of explosions, natural disasters occur in abundance, tornadoes toppling electricity grids like posicle towns; the government hunts down what is left of its dying population, mostly children and the elderly and those who had run from the draft; smoke and dust fills the air and people forget what the sun once looked like. It gets very, very cold.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 / 22:35:26
The worst future I can imagine. The universe expands at an ever increasing rate due to the much misunderstood dark energy. All matter receeds from all other matter at an ever increasing rate, galaxies evaporate as the stars within them spread further from each other, gravity loses the battle between attraction and repulsion and planets within solar systems fall away, eventually not even atoms are intact. Over time subatomic particles are torn apart and the universe is nothing but low level radiation. Nothing of anything remains, there is no record of our existence.
Thursday, September 20, 2007 / 10:37:17
The worst future would be that of Michel Houellebecque's THE POSSIBILITY OF AN ISLAND: a few humans are modified to be neutered, purely rational depressives that sit in front of their computers and never contact any other human during their short lives, while the remaining humans live a bestial subsistence existence under their control.

My favorite end of the world would be Kurt Vonnegut's GALAPAGOS: people evolve into furry seals that live on a diet of fish.
Thursday, September 20, 2007 / 13:28:55
i agree with colin, i too need to win this book or the end of the woorld will be near
Saturday, September 22, 2007 / 19:18:03
I wanna win!! Thank You.
Sunday, September 23, 2007 / 13:58:48
The world is supposed to end due to the fact that the sun is using up all of its hydrogen. As soon as it does it will become a red star that sucks up anything within it. But that won't happen until a billion of years from now.

There is also the possibility of the 23 concept. The mayans calender ends on the year 2012 or 20+1+2. The book of revelations ends on 23... stuff like that. Maybe we are not too far off.
Sunday, September 23, 2007 / 22:15:53
Wow! A book with 34 "really big" endings! Unfortunately nonem of the will have a sequel!
Wednesday, September 26, 2007 / 18:59:49
And congratulations go to Epitaph! :) A fitting username to win this book. I've contacted you by email to verify your shipping details. Thank you everyone else for participating as well, and I hope you'll subscribe to our review blog to keep up with what else passes through.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007 / 19:01:29
Colin and Ruthless... sorry. I guess the world is going to end, now. Hopefully not "now". ;)

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