WASTELANDS: THE NEW APOCALYPSE / EDITOR: JOHN JOSEPH ADAMS / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / PUBLICATION DATE: OUT NOW (KINDLE), FEBRUARY 25TH, 2020 (PAPERBACK)
Post-apocalyptic and dystopian storytelling is continuing to enjoy a renaissance across the full range of fantasy and genre platforms; its popularity continually reaffirmed by anxieties about the troubling, threatening times in which we are living. You might expect a zeitgeist of ‘future fear’ to repel audiences from imaginary worlds of disaster and calamity. In fact, the vicarious appetite for different manifestations of human catastrophe seems insatiable in popular culture at present.
This third collection in the Wastelands series is a case in point. Following on from the commercial success of Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse published in 2015 and Wastelands 2: More Stories of the Apocalypse in 2016, this weighty paperback brings together thirty-four stories by contemporary writers of cataclysm and disaster fiction. In this latest compilation, fourteen original stories are augmented by twenty selected reprints. As would be expected, there are a wide variety of author styles, story formats, narrative perspectives and an even wider collection of dystopian, apocalyptic and ‘end of days’ triggers.
Opening story Bullet Point by Elizabeth Bear gets things underway with an imaginative and emotionally astute tale of a critical decision made by a solitary survivor in a near-unpopulated world. It’s an impressive gambit which sets a high benchmark for the fiction that follows. Jonathan Mayberry’s Not This War, Not This World is a gruesome tale of a professional sharpshooter whose efforts to terminate the living undead nearly end in disaster as well as in gutting emotional turmoil. One Day Only by Tananarive Due relates the extraordinarily vivid story of the efforts of a young apocalyptic survivor to put on the end of the world’s first comedy stand-up gig; Sean McGuire’s So Sharp, So Bright, So Final is a poignant and wrenching vignette from a planet in the throes of a mutated rabies’ pandemic; while Richard Kadrey’s The Air is Chalk is a powerful, fast-paced horror, in which the uninfected face almost impossible odds when confronted by an all-consuming nemesis.
By their nature, anthologies are intentionally diverse collections of work, and it’s unlikely that all of the offerings in these pages will appeal equally to every reader. Given the darkness of the subject matter, uninterrupted front-to-back immersion in the bleak worlds of Wastelands might not be advisable in any case. But this latest entry in what’s currently a trilogy sustains both the high standard of its predecessors and the ability to surprise and intrigue as well as (in the nicest possible way) to terrify and appal. Expect a fourth instalment to hit the shelves a couple of years from now. Assuming the world hasn't ended by then, of course.