Here I am, at the ninth of thirteen Dover Doomsday Classics. This is the only one that is a collection of
stories—sixteen in all, covering over a century of apocalyptic writing. Some are
very short, and two are quite long. Some I liked a great deal and a couple were awesome. Others I didn't like much at all. One was comical, at least I thought
it was funny, but pretty stupid, too, although it made its point. Quite a few were by very well-known authors, and only one was included translated from the
French written in 1872. Each one made me think, and that is always an important criteria in which to judge a work.
Since, whether I liked them or not, they were all fascinating in their own way, I will say a little, or a lot about each one. They are arranged chronologically, beginning in 1872, and ending in 2013. Though, as is the case with all science-fiction, there were possibilities of future reality in, well, most of them. In way too many, bits of that future are here now. However, the first one, by Frenchman Eugène Mouton, was actually quite realistic. It speaks of the death of Planet Earth by—yep—overheating. So, though I will include quotes from the others, this one will be quotes only. According to Wikipedia, Mouton wrote "comic, adventure, and fantastical literature,"—gosh, I wonder if this was supposed to be comical. Parts of it are, and get a bit goofy, but the underlying theme is not funny at all, at least now. It is about over-industrialization and over-population, and the consequences of excess. He not only wrote of rising heat, but the disappearance of water! Doesn't sound funny to me.
The End of the World by Eugène Mouton; 1872
We go on heedless of the future of the world, without ever asking ourselves whether, by chance, this frail boat that is carrying us across the ocean of infinity is not at risk of capsizing suddenly, or whether its old hull, worn away by time and impaired by the agitations of the voyage, does not have some leak through which death is filtering into its carcass—which is, of course, the very carcass of humankind one drop at a time.
Thus one point is definitely established: the Earth will not be destroyed by accident; it will end as a consequence of the continued action of the laws of its present existence. It will die, as they say, its appropriate death.
I say this without hesitation: the agent is the same one to which the Earth owed its existence in the first place: heat. Heat will drink the sea; heat will eat the Earth—and this is how it will happen.
If a great deal is burned and a great deal created—that is to say, if cultivation and industry evolve, the storage the solar radiation absorbed by the Earth on the one hand and its liberation on the other will increase incessantly, and the Earth will become warmer in a continuous manner.
It is evident, for anyone with eyes to see, that for a half-century, animals and people alike have tended to multiply, to proliferate, to pullulate in a truly disquieting proportion.
Then will commence the redoubtable period in which the excess of production will lead to an excess of consumption to an excess of heat, and the excess of heat to the spontaneous combustion of the Earth and all its inhabitants.
Distressing as the depiction of these phenomena might be, I shall not hesitate to map them out, because the prevision of these facts, by enlightening future generations as to the dangers of the excesses of civilization, might perhaps serve to moderate the abuse of life and postpone the fatal final account by a few thousand years, or at least a few months. [HA!]
Now, under the influence of even more abundant and ever more succulent nutrition, the fecundity of the human and animal species is increasing from day to day. Houses rise up one floor at a time; first gardens are done away with, then courtyards. Cities, then villages, gradually begin to project lines of suburbs in every direction; soon, transversal lines connect these radii.
The thermometer rises, the barometer falls, the hygrometer marches toward zero. Flowers wither, leaves turn yellow, parchments curl up; everything dries out and becomes brittle.
The heat increases and the wells dry up.
And the human species begins to go visibly mad. Strange passions, unexpected angers, overwhelming infatuations and insane pleasures make life into a series of furious detonations—or rather, one continuous explosion, which begins a birth and concludes with death. In a world cooked by an implacable combustion, everything is scorched, crackled, grilled and roasted, and after the water, which has evaporated, one senses the air diminishing as it becomes more rarified.
A terrible calamity! The rivers, great and small, have disappeared; the seas are beginning to warm up, then to heat up; now they are already simmering as if over a gentle fire.
A little blue flame rises up tremulously, then two, then three, then a thousand. The entire globe catches fire, burns momentarily, and goes out.
It is all over; the Earth is dead.
The Comet by W.E.B. Du Bois; 1920
As would be expected from this great African-American writer and activist, this story contains an underlying theme of the interaction of black and white people. It is set in New York City. Everyone is talking about "the comet." Jim, a black messenger who works for a bank, is sent down to the vaults. "It was too dangerous for more valuable men." There were some missing records since the bank had relocated them because of water seeping in, so Jim is sent to find them. But it is a blessing. "The comet" passes over NYC, and when Jim emerges, everyone in the city is, or appears to be, dead from the poison gasses. But eventually, he finds another person alive—a rich white woman. As they scour the city, there are no other signs of life, and they begin to fear they are possibly the only remaining humans. The barriers begin to break down.
For more of Du Bois' writings, please visit his Index Page: Three Great African-Americans: W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul L. Dunbar, Charles W. Chesnutt.
The Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury; 1951
Ray Bradbury was a very well-known American author and screenwriter who lived from 1920 to 2012. According to Wikipedia, he was "One of the most celebrated 20th-century American writers, he worked in a variety of modes, including fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, and realistic fiction." He is perhaps best known for his 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 541, which is the temperature in which book paper catches fire and burns. It is set in a future society where books are outlawed and, and firemen are appointed to burn outlawed books and the houses where they are located.
In this current very short story, set in 2053, Mr. Leonard Mead loves to take a walk along the city sidewalks each evening, which seems commonplace to us, but in this future society, people remain in their houses. There is no sign of life and the windows are dark. All is deadly quiet, and he walks softly so as not to alert anyone. But on this particular evening, a police car stops him. There is only one in this city of three million. Because he cannot give a reason for taking a walk, nor does he have a profession, and is not married, he is arrested and taken to the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies.
No Morning After by Arthur C. Clarke; 1954
Arthur C. Clark was born in England in 1917 and died on Sri Lanka in 2008. According to Wikipedia, he was a "science-fiction writer, science writer, futurist, inventor, undersea explorer, and television series host." He co-wrote the screen-play, along with Stanley Kubrick, for the sci-fi classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. According to Wikipedia, "Clarke was a lifelong proponent of space travel."
This very short, and rather darkly and satirically humorous, isn't about space travel, but it is about very advanced beings on a planet 500 light years away attempting to contact earth to warn earthlings about a catastrophic event. The problem is, they cannot find one person who is able to perceive their presence.
"But this is terrible!" said the Supreme Scientist. "Surely there is something we can do!"
"Yes, Your Cognizance, but it will be extremely difficult. The planet is more than five hundred light-years away, and it is very hard to maintain contact. However, we believe we can establish a bridgehead. Unfortunately, that is not the only problem. So far, we have been quite unable to communicate with these beings. Their telepathic powers are exceedingly rudimentary—perhaps even non-existent. And if we cannot talk to them, there is no way in which we can help."
Bill Cross works for the Army. His job is to design missiles, but Dr. Cross prefers to design
spaceships. He has been reprimanded. Bill is blind drunk, thinking of quitting, plus Brenda ran off with Johnny Gardner. But as he stares at the wall, it opens
into to swirling mist and he finds himself looking down a tunnel.
The Thaarns begin speaking to him that they have just learned the earth's sun is about to explode in three days. They have established bridges like the one Bill is looking through now to evacuate the earth people. He must go to the government and tell them. He tells them to go to the President themselves, but they say he is the only one they have been able to contact.
Of course, Bill knows it is just an hallucination from the booze. He passes out, and the next two days are rather vague. Brenda returns on the third day and on the fourth day . . . .
Upon the Dull Earth by Philip K. Dick; 1953
I have two volumes of Dick's short stories, but have not read them yet. He was an American science-fiction writer, born in Chicago in 1928 and died in Santa Ana in 1982. About him, Wikipedia says:
"He wrote 44 novels and about 121 short stories, most of which appeared in science fiction magazines during his lifetime. His fiction explored varied philosophical and social questions such as the nature of reality, perception, human nature, and identity, and commonly featured characters struggling against elements such as alternate realities, illusory environments, monopolistic corporations, drug abuse, authoritarian governments, and altered states of consciousness.
I have to say, I didn't particularly like this one. It is about a girl, Silvia, who communicates with
what she calls angelic beings, lured by blood. She is pulling along her fiancé,
Rick, who, like the rest of Silvia's family, doesn't want her messing with these creatures. They are there, drinking blood at the trough.
Silvia is obsessed with them. She believes they are her family, or what she will become. She longs to be one of them. Unfortunately, she gets her wish, and realizes she does not want to be one of them after all, at least not yet. Rick goes to them and tells them he wants her back. They say it is impossible because the part of her that was clay was destroyed, and there is nothing for her to return to. They say it would be dangerous. "The nexus between this world and yours is unstable. There are vast amounts of free-floating energy. The power we—on this side—have isn't really our own. It's a universal energy, tapped and controlled."
"This is a higher continuum. There's a natural process of energy from lower to higher regions. But the reverse process is risky."
But, she does return, and the consequences are disastrous!
2BR02B by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; 1962; (Pronounce the zero like "naught," then you'll "get it.")
This one I really did like! It takes place in Chicago in a future society where "There were no prisons, no slums, no insane asylums, no cripples, no poverty, no wars." And yes, there's a catch. It is population control. In order to bring a new life into the world, someone else must agree to leave it. The story begins as the youthful Edward K. Wehling awaits the birth of triplets. He is fifty-six years old, but the average life span is one hundred and twenty-nine. Births are rare these days.
Nearby, an old man of two hundred paints a mural on the wall depicting present life. Many of the faces are not filled in. They will be, when the "models" arrive. Soon Leora Duncan arrives, who was chosen as a model. She is dressed completely in purple, the official uniform of the Service Division of the Federal Bureau of Termination. She has a mustache, which all the women have sprouted after about five years in service.
Ok, so it is a gas chamber. Hmm. Ever see the movie Soylent Green? I wonder if this is where they got the idea! Anyways, Wehling has gotten his grandfather to agree to leave, which means that the Wehlings will have to choose which of their triplets will be allowed to live. Unless . . . .
Yes, I certainly believe in population control, but this is a bit on the harsh side! The title of the story is the phone number to the gas chamber.
Here is a quote, spoken by Dr. Hitz, the hospital's Chief Obstetrician:
"In the year 2000," said Dr. Hitz, "before scientists stepped in and laid down the law, there wasn't even enough drinking water to go around, and nothing to eat but seaweed—and still people insisted on their right to reproduce like jackrabbits. And their right, if possible, to live forever."
This is the Wikipedia page for
I Have no Mouth, and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison; 1967
This had to be one of the silliest stories in the book, written by the man who also wrote the Introduction to this volume. Harlan Ellison was born right here in NE Ohio, in Cleveland, 1934, and died in Los Angeles in 2018. I had never heard of him, but he certainly was prolific. According to Wikipedia, "His published works include more than 1,700 short stories, novellas, screenplays, comic book scripts, teleplays, essays, and a wide range of criticism covering literature, film, television, and print media."
Here we have a deranged supercomputer named AM, or Allied Mastercomputer, one of three built during the extended Cold War between the U.S., China, and Russia, which became a WWIII scenario (yikes . . .). Then it meant Adaptive Manipulator, then Aggressive Menace, then became sentient, and was called AM (I think, therefore I am). One of them then assimilates the other two, and kills off all humanity except the five people who have been trapped inside it for one hundred and nine years. They are being tortured in revenge because AM hates humanity. They are unable to die. Maybe. It also creates illusions, so that the five who are trapped are unable to tell what is real and what is not, but they are inside a computer, so, gosh none of it is real. Yikes, again . . . .
Anyways, Wikipedia actually has a very good page on this story, and I suggest reading it. Perhaps I will even change my opinion of the story!
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, by Ursula K. Le Guin; 1973
I had never heard of her, either, but she was also prolific. Le Guin was born in Berkeley in 1929, and died in Portland in 2018. Wikipedia says, "She was first published in 1959, and her literary career spanned nearly sixty years, producing more than twenty novels and over a hundred short stories, in addition to poetry, literary criticism, translations, and children's books. Frequently described as an author of science fiction, Le Guin has also been called a "major voice in American Letters". Le Guin herself said she would prefer to be known as an "American novelist". This very short story was one of my favorites. Wikipedia also has given it a separate page. Here is a quote from them.
The only chronological element of the work is that it begins by describing the first day of summer in Omelas, a shimmering city of unbelievable happiness and delight. In Omelas, the summer solstice is celebrated with a glorious festival and a race featuring young people on horseback. The vibrant festival atmosphere, however, seems to be an everyday characteristic of the blissful community, whose citizens, though limited in their advanced technology and communal (rather than private) resources, are still intelligent, sophisticated, and cultured. Omelas has no kings, soldiers, priests, or slaves. The specific socio-politico-economic setup of the community is not mentioned; the narrator merely claims not to be sure of every particular.
OK, so there has to be a catch, and there is. The fairy tale perfection of this town depends on the fact
that one small child has been kept trapped in a room alone, starved and abused. Her release would mean the end of the utopia that is Omelas. People know, but
do not talk. But there are some who walk away from Omelas.
Oh, goodness. It is not science-fiction, but a story representing moral judgment and peoples' refusal to do what is right if it will upset their good fortune. It is a creepy story, and definitely a depiction of current times.
The Engineer and the Executioner by Brian M. Stableford; 1976
Here is another story appropriate for our times, but definitely science-fiction. The Engineer has created the Asteroid Lamarck, and the life-forms that reside in it. He is a genetic-engineer, and the people of Earth fear what he is doing. So they send a robot, programmed to kill him. And though the Engineer, pleads with him—after all this is his baby, his creation, his love, his life, and of course it is safe . . . . Where have we heard that one before? But in the end, the Engineer gets the last laugh, and, eh, Earth doesn't. Lots of symbolic points here pertaining to our current situation. A good story and really a very scary one, too.
Stableford was born in Shipley, Yorkshire, England in 1948 and is still alive. Wikipedia provides very little about him.
The End of the Whole Mess by Stephen King; 1986
Stephen King is a fairly well-known writer, I would say, but I have not read any of his works yet, so I have nothing with which to compare this. And yes, I realize the message is very serious and very appropriate for our times, but, it made me laugh. Was it meant to be very dark humor—a satire? Or do I just think it is a silly story? I cannot find anyone else who noted that. Here is Wikipedia's page.
It is a story about how well-meaning people think they can fix the ills on the planet by meddling and using outlandish and untested means, which can and did backfire. It is narrated by a dying Howard Fornoy, a freelance writer. He tells of his brilliant parents, and he, a pretty smart guy, too. But his brother Bobby was the genius, and even at a very young age was doing experiments that usually ended with disastrous results.
Now an adult, Bobby wants to stop human aggression and war, and discovers a town in Texas, La Plata, which has never had any violent crime. He also discovers something in their water supply that he suspects may act as a calming agent. He isolates it and concentrates it, then he and Howard find a way to fill a volcano in Borneo with this substance to blast it all over the world. But they also discover, too late, that it not only calms, it causes dementia, thus initiating a death sentence to the entire world by mental incapacitation. OK, so that part isn't funny and is pretty much going on now for real.
Tight Little Stiches in a Dead Man's Back by Joe R. Lansdale; 1992
This was one of my favorites in the whole collection. It is a scenario describing a post-nuclear annihilation. Wikipedia says, "Lansdale's writing is characterized by a deep sense of irony, and features strange or absurd situations or characters . . .". Hmm, maybe my sense of humor is different than other people's because I didn't find anything even remotely funny here.
The narrator, Paul Marder, and his hateful wife, Mary, are, as far as they know, the last survivors of the blast. She has become a tattoo artist, and every night, adds to the mushroom cloud she has tattooed on Paul's back, with the face of their dead daughter, Rae, etched in the cloud. The stiches are her eyelashes, and when he moves, she cries tears of blood. He loves the pain, because it is somehow a healing force to him.
He goes back in time to explain the day it happened. Rae had gone off to her first day of college and Mary drove him to work, where he developed nuclear bombs. But when they arrived, the emergency had already begun. He pushed Mary out of the driver's seat, crashed through the fence and they made the elevator just in time. Here grew Mary's hatred for killing their daughter. Twenty years later, they, and a few others, take the chance to emerge, and what they encounter is a worsening nightmare. The killing vines are now beginning to invade their safe haven at the top of the lighthouse. The plants seem to be sentient beings. He plans his death.
Joe R. Lansdale was born in Texas in 1951, and is still alive.
Judgment Engine by Greg Bear; 1995
Greg Bear was also born in 1951, in San Diego, and is also still alive. And as with all of the writers here, has been very busy, and though I am not familiar with many of these people, they are almost all quite well-known and held in high esteem in their profession.
This is the second-longest story in the book, at 39 pages, which is about 38 pages too long. It was a dreary read, set billions of years into the future, as the entire universe is dying. First, setting a story that far ahead makes it difficult to connect with. I had never thought about it before, but that was my experience here. I kept waiting for that "aha!" moment, when it would all come together and make sense. It never came. And the problem I experience with these futuristic stories, near or far future, is that spiritual evolution is never part of the picture, when, in fact, as we are discovering now, no civilization will EVER get that far into the future without evolving at the spiritual level.
I was unable to find anything on this story, even at Goodreads, so I will just provide a short synopsis.
Life no longer has human form, but has become minds merged together into tributaries that travel in a soma, or a more modern Berkus. Here is the opening paragraph.
Seven tributaries disengage from their social=mind and Library and travel by transponder to the School World. There they are loaded into a temporary soma, an older physical model with eight long, flexible red legs. Here the seven become We.
They are teachers, awaiting the arrival of students on School World. "The air is thick and cold. It smells
sharply of rich data moisture, wasted on us. We do not have readers on our surface."
They continue to wait, but the students do not arrive. "We see, in the distance, a night interpreter striding on giant disjointed legs between the domes. It eats the domes and returns white mounds of discard. All the domes must be interpreted to see if any of the history should be carried by the final Endtime self."
The final self will cross the Between, order held in perfect inaction, until the Between has experienced sufficient rest and boredom. It will cross the point when time and space become granular and nonlinear, when the unconserved energy of expansion, absorbed at the minute level of the quantum foam, begins to disturb the metric. The metric becomes noisy and irregular, and all extension evaporates. The universe has no width, no time, and all is back at the beginning.But something is very wrong. The students have still not arrived. The landscape begins to display accelerated birth, growth and death of vegetation and biologicals. The students have rebelled. The tributaries decide to call back an ancient self of one of them, Vasily Gerazimov, from twelve billion two hundred and seventy-nine million years ago, who had agreed to be stored, in the hopes that he can see where they, the teachers went wrong. At first confused, he now observes along with the tributaries, the unfolding scenario.
The final self will survive, knitting itself into the smallest interstices, armored against the fantastic pressures of a universe's death-sound. The quantum foam will give up its noise, and new universes will bubble forth and evolve. One will transcend. The transcendent reality will absorb the final self, which will seed it. From the compression should arise new intelligent beings.
One great social=mind,retreating from the ferment of the Libraries, formulated the rules of advanced meta-biology, and found them precisely analogous to the governing planet-bound ecosystems: competition, victory through survival, evolution and reproduction. It proved that error and pain and destruction are essential to any change—but more importantly to any growth.
The great social=mind carried out complex experiments simulating millions of ordering systems, and in every single case, the rise of complexity (and ultimately intelligence) led to wanton destruction of prior forms. Using these experiments to define axioms, what began as scientific proof ended as a rigorous mathematical proof:
There can be no ultimate ethical advancement in this universe.
The indifference of the universe—reality's grim and mindless harshness—is multiplied by the necessity that old order, prior thoughts and lives, must be extinguished to make way for new.
Well, that certainly has been the case, and obviously is the case right now as we end life on Planet
Earth. But what did the students believe? If I had written a sequel to this story, they would have discovered that through spiritual evolution, the evolution
of all life could proceed differently, because it would no longer be a universe of indifference and competition, but one of love, compassion, and service to
others. I guess that was how I longed for this story to end, but it didn't and left me very unsatisfied.
Automatic by Erica L. Satifka; 2007
OK, so here's an author that is really not that well known. Yet. Here's her blog, The Garden of Sporking Paths.
This is a really bizarre story. Ganymede has invaded Earth. NYC population: three hundred and twenty.
He rents his optic nerve to vacationers from Ganymede for forty skins a night. She finds him in a corner of the bar he goes to every night after work and stays in until it's time to go to work again, sucking on an electrical wire that stretches from the flaking wall.
"That's not going to kill you any more," she says.
He ignores her, grinding sheathed copper between brown-stained molars.
My name is Linda Sue. I want to make babies with you.
The story then goes on to explain that she has two eyes, two hands and one set of lips, which means she
The Black Mould by Mark Samuels; 2011
Wikipedia did not have a page for this author either, but Goodreads has a short bio. He is British, which I figured by the way "mould" was spelled.
This is a very short and good story about a mold that becomes conscious, and sets about to consume the world. "The mould first appeared in a crater on a dead world at the rim of the universe." "The mould may have taken aeons to reach maturity and begin the process of reproduction. But when it did so, it grew rapidly and spread unchecked over the surface of that dead world, across its valleys and craters and mountains, across the equator and from pole to pole."
Then it became conscious. "Its form of consciousness did not include the faculty of reason, but was a unique faculty; that of derangement. And its monstrous visions grew more intense as it spread, ever more profound in their ineffable malignity." It begins to move across cosmic space; it knew how to suffocate stars. It continued to decimate all worlds in which it came in contact, planets, moons, asteroids. . . and would continue until nothing was left.
Oh, my! Talk about a symbolic representation of what is happening now on Planet Earth. Kill, kill, kill. Poison, loot, pillage plunder until like a cancer it has destroyed its host. Just like the climate engineers and global elite are doing to this planet right now.
The Pretence by Ramsey Campbell; 2013
This is the longest and by far my favorite story in the whole collection, and again, just too real to make it purely entertaining. At 83 pages, it is more of a novelette than a short story. Also an Englishman, Campbell was born in Liverpool in 1946, still alive and very prolific. Here is his Wikipedia page. And here is the Goodreads page, with some excellent reviews, especially the extended one by Gary Fry.
It is not so much the plot or contents of the story that makes it so disturbing, it is the growing atmosphere of catastrophe, even as the Slater family seeks to keep things normal and pretend that there is nothing amiss. I wondered about the title, and didn't "get it" until I typed the previous sentence. Pretending everything is normal while knowing something is clearly wrong. This story is not only apocalyptic, and science-fiction, but horror as well. And timely! Campbell superbly and subtly guides us into a world that becomes increasingly strange and alarming, and one in which no one is allowed to speak of it. Gosh, does that sound familiar, or what? The Good Readers at Goodreads also stated what I felt through the whole story, that we really don't know what Campbell meant when he wrote it. It certainly is enigmatic, as one reviewer wrote. Great works of art always allow room for personal interpretation.
Here is a bit about the story, and a few quotes to inspire you to read it. It is very slow moving, and the "action" is dull and commonplace, the perfect background for what is going on in the minds of the Slater family. And it is their increasing psychological terror, while trying to convince each other that the day of doom has passed without incident and all will be fine, that keeps us on the edge of our seats.
It begins as Paul Slater awaits the plane to take him back home to Liverpool. He has been visiting his mother on the island where she lives. She has been fearful because the "Finalists" have predicted a certain day to be the end of the world. And it is this day, now, or rather evening. The plane will be delayed because of people not showing up for work. Slater thought he would be home before midnight, but now knows he will not. Someone passes him a pamphlet by the "Finalists," and he crumples it and throws it away. He enters the bar and the barman asks him:
"You're not holding your breath for the end of the world, then?"
"I can't believe anybody is. It's not as if this is the first time that was supposed to happen. It's been meant to end a dozen times in this century alone."
"Maybe it did."
Well, that set off the creepiness. Remember the end of the Mayan Calendar in 2012? I never thought or
said that world would end on that date, however, I did say that life as we knew it would change. I remember people mocking me because we were
all still alive. But in fact, it WAS the beginning of the end. Everything has accelerated since then. Do you notice?
Slater finally boards the plane. It is practically empty. He falls asleep until he is awakened "with a violent lurch."
He wasn't even seated any longer; he'd plummeted into the dark so violently that it had snatched away his vision along with his ability to breathe. He was utterly alone in the midst of a vast silence unrelieved by so much as a heartbeat. He couldn't have said whether it lasted for an instant or longer than he had the means to comprehend before he heard a voice. "Just someone expected word you meant," it said.
Or was is saying that he'd sent someone a worm or that they expected a firmament. He had to struggle to grasp who was speaking, and then he managed to deduce that the pilot was apologizing for some unexpected turbulence. As he risked opening his eyes his sight returned, unless the uncontrollable lurch of the aircraft had put out the lights in the cabin at the moment he'd jerked awake. How could the voice be declaring "Police state be damned?" No, it was telling the passengers "Please stay seated and keep your belts fastened. Justify caution. No cause for alarm."
From that point on, all dialogue becomes disjointed, unreal, surreal. I felt like I was reading
a Henry James novel. HAHAHA!! And it is not just language, nor is it just Slater. The plane soon descends at "John Lennon" airport, and Slater finds his
car and drives home. But things look different. Is it him. Or are they different?
His wife Melanie is overwhelmed to see him finally home, as are the children, Amy and Tom. While trying to assure each other that everything is fine now that Dad is home. But the entire family knows that something happened, and just because they are still alive doesn't mean it is all OK. From that point on, they all cling to each other, constantly phoning each other when separated. Even the next day when it is time to take the kids to St. Dunstan's school, both parents do, Tom with Paul, and Amy with Melanie, traveling within view of each other. Melanie is a computer repair technician, and Paul is in charge of the music at a retail shop called "Texts." All through the story, classical music is used to accentuate the increasingly surreal world in which the Slaters find themselves. The children are preparing for the school concert, which is a very big deal, by the way.
I have numerous pages marked to quote, but cannot include all or this one story would become a book review in itself. Just let me mention a few other things. One, which is obviously disturbing in my world, too, is the strange weather—the whited-out skies, lack of sun and the unusual cold—"Was even the vegetation confused by the unemphatic light? He could have thought all the buds were taking their leaves back, having concluded that spring had proved to be an illusion." Hmm. Sounds like NE Ohio. The dimming sun becomes the focal point of the climax of the story.
The family decides to watch a video that evening and choose Fantasia. But Slater now finds the electronic figures moving to the music disturbing. Oh, and he also is stopped by the police and told his activities are being watched. At work he is again visited by authorities—we don't know who—and warned—we don't know why. And Paul learns that the children felt what they thought was an earthquake before he returned home. At the same time he experienced the "violent lurch" on the plane?
Then there is the strange man that comes to the shop, trying to find a recording of a song, It turns out, he lives nearby the Slaters, and from what Paul can figure out, the song is Barbara Allen, and the man's name is Allen. Here is an exquisite recording of the song, by that famous Jewish cantor endowed with the voice of an angel!! But he comes back the next day and cancels the order. The song and the name Allen all play an increasingly important role in the unfolding of the horror. Here is a segment of an uncomfortable conversation between Paul and Melanie.
Had he aggravated her unease? He still had to ask "Why did you call? What was wrong?"
"Nothing is now."
"That's a relief, but what were you saying was the matter with the children?"
She was certainly less at ease now. "What did I say?"
"That they'd tried to get in touch with me, I thought. There's no trace on my phone."
"That explains it then." Her relief seemed to let her add "Mind you, there are always traces. If there weren't I couldn't do my job."
She was talking about computers, but he was anxious to learn "Why did they want me?"
"Why wouldn't they?"
"I'm asking why they tried to call."
Anyways, very bizarre conversations, like words are losing their meaning. I found this especially
disturbing. Years ago, back in the 1980s when I was working on my Master's degree in Cincinnati, I watched an episode of The Twilight Zone. A man
awoke one day to find that all the people around him were using different words, or had assigned different meanings to words. He at first just found it strange,
but by the end of the day, he had been completely locked out of conversation, because all the words he knew now meant something else. That really scared
the shit out of me, and I suspect that people who have had strokes or certain brain injuries experience something similar. But in reality, people who are
very literate are finding that they are less and less understood. I would be willing to be that ninety percent of the people who read my articles do not
understand what I have written, though they are certain they do. Plus, there is a growing and vast segment of the population who can barely put
together several sentences, that is, if they can tear their attention away from their cell phones. If that isn't apocalyptic, I don't know what is!
This is such an excellent story. Even if you don't read the others, try to get your hand on this one. I'm sure it's available in other sources.
Inventory by Carmen Maria Machado; 2013
Here's another young writer, like Erica Satifka, above, however, at age thirty-five, she has a Wikipedia page! This is a fairly short story to end the book. Written in the voice of a bi-sexual woman, it is an "inventory" of sexual partners, and just about everything else. She makes lists, in fact, it is a source of comfort for her. Gosh, I can identify with that, as I, too, am an obsessive list-maker. But besides the sex and lists, it is the story of a raging virus that follows the narrator around the country, as she escapes and watches the population become decimated. Oh, my. It was also one of my favorites, perhaps because it was set in such a unique background. Very creative! In the end, she finds herself in Maine. She has been stashing food on an island, and after everyone around her is dead, she rows there.
I drank water and set up my tent and began to make lists. Every teacher beginning with preschool. Every job I've ever had. Every home I've ever lived in. Every person I've ever loved. Every person who probably loved me. And now this. Next week, I will be thirty. The sand is blowing in my mouth, my hair, the center crevice of my notebook, and the sea is choppy and gray. Beyond it I can see a cottage, a speck on the far shore. I keep thinking I can see the virus blooming on the horizon like a sunrise. I realize the world will continue to turn, even with no people on it. Maybe it will go a little faster.
And with that, I will end this long review. You may read all my Dover Doomsday Classic reviews on the Futuristic, Apocalyptic, Time Travel Index Page.
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