The end of the world can make fascinating fiction. The subject has been pondered since the invention of stories, sometimes fueled by new scientific developments, biblical prophecy, social changes, world wars, and of course fantastical concepts such as zombies and monsters. I jumped on getting this anthology because of that - not only short stories catered toward Revelation and the end, but also because it had strong writing talent powering it.
Each story set by different century - 1900 to 1990
Not only short stories about the end of the world, or sections of it, but the anthology follows a timeline to tell morbid scenarios based on the time periods. In the fifties we had different fears that we do currently. Authors chose their sections of the world and how they were affected, not keeping them centralized to only a certain region.
Sometimes anthologies are mixed bags, but I'm happy to see this one has made my top three list in terms of quality and diversity. Clive Barker is usually a writer that sucks me in to his stories, but I'm sorry to say I couldn't lose myself into his opening and ending stories for some reason. Still, the offering is so good I'm still keeping that 5 star rating.
Some of my favorites:
The Big Blow by Joe R. Lansdale - This story took me by surprise because I didn't know what to make of it. In a town where racism is rampant, a big-mouthed boxer has been hired and sent by the local rich goons to take down a rising champ in the boxing ring. There's a decent amount of bizarre sex, abuse, and work-ups until the big fight, which takes place during a hideous hurricane. Not scary at all, but disturbing a bit, it's mainly a tale that shows how the strong can sometimes survive the greatest odds. I like who the winners were at the end and how it was wrapped up. The story is mini old-school noir tone with writing technique. Not politically correct - at all - but well-done and enjoyable.
If I should Die before I wake - David Morrell touches on scary illness - the Spanish Influenza reborn. Stunning story told through a small-town doctor's point of view, starting with him treating a young boy he had delivered years before, watching the family fall before his eyes. Besides the tragedy of so many deaths and it spreading like wildfire, there was the sobering ending with him and his personal demons. Such a sad but well-done ending that brings the story up a level.
Aryans and Absinthe - F. Paul Wilson - Another fascinating story. Set in the time right before the world went boom with Hitler, a man sees a premonition of the starving and tortured running toward him. Is it a psychic vision after he becames enamoured by Hitler's speeches before his arrest and rise, or is a side affect of the absinthe? Well written, intriguing, and different. I still can picture that weird look on the friend's face at the end. So far, by the third short story, this anthology is really rocking it. Each story has made me reflect on different periods of history, all in different ways.
Riding the Black - Charles Grant - Well-written and beautiful prose, dark subject I'm embarrased to admit I don't fully get. (view spoiler) Loved the ending, another good story after the bomb and the war, in 1945 timeline. Dark and supernatural.
Triads - Poppy Z Brite and Christa Faust - was certainly unique - it was about a cultural turned physical war in China told through two "owned" men who were feminized and in a homosexual relationship. Their bond was fascinating, it was about family, connections, growth. Hard to describe it without spoiling, so I won't.
Fixtures of Matchstick Men and Joo - Elizabeth Massie - This short story was tragic - told about the end of the world for two people who find themselves in a cult. Instead of a regular cult led by a leader for religious reasons, it ties into government backing with controlling hippies and freethinkers back in the sixties. It shows a desperate woman who has a limited mind and is easily deceived, blended with a genuine free-thinker man who was good in spirit and not easily led. While he may not succumb to cult thought, he does let himself be controlled by love/guilty, which can be its own kind of trap. -
The Word - Ramsey Campbell - Cerebal and a little confusing, but sobering and awesome, it's about a jaded critic who encounters someone who really holds power in his words. Is he the second coming and the real Word, or is it something else supernatural similar to in the Mouth of Madness when people became obsessed with Sutter Cane?
If you're hunting for an anthology that focuses on end of the world, interesting stories that are focused on theme, or that mix crime with a small blending of horror, this is definitely one to try.