Life is short, and then we all die. Well, that is the promise of apocalyptic visions, and, as Kermode once observed, Westerners seem to crave it to punctuate an existence threatened with the bleak prospect of eternity. Kind of a strange paradox, when you think of how it all might end. Countless writers have dipped into this well, and it would be easy to think it’s run dry. Not so fast, nay-sayers. Nightmare Magazine’s editor, John Joseph Adams and best-selling author Hugh Howey have been hard at work to make sure you wonder whether tonight will be your last on earth.
Assembling an incredible line-up of writers, Adams and Howey are building a triptych of three anthologies about the end times: The End is Nigh, The End is Now, and The End Has Come, to serve as a sort of doomsayer’s “before,” “during,” and “after” portraits of mass life-loss. The first in the series is a diverse potpourri that’s at turns funny, bleak and exciting. And that means the End is Nigh isn’t the same old adventures in annihilation.
Though not all of the stories break new ground, more often than not familiar elements are rewoven into rich new narratives. Robin Wasserman’s cynical preacher leaches donations with predictions of imminent doom, though ironically, he might be involuntarily accurate. Charlie Jane Anders cooks up a post-modern tale of fascism – but told from the point of view of a “Jackass”-style video-maker. Jake Kerr’s “Wedding Day” features an extinction-event-level asteroid collision, but is concerned with how it affects the chances of a same-sex marriage already threatened by state legislatures.
But less familiar to the genre is how imminent doom reframes the more mundane aspects of life. For instance, Jamie Ford’s alternative 19th Century servant boy finds his first kiss on the brink of extinction. And Seanan McGuire’s bizarre bio-apocalypse suddenly renders a scientist’s squabbles with her teenage daughter insignificant.
Some tales are tear-wrenchingly tragic. Annie Bellet’s interplanetary “Goodnight Moon,” is a simply woven tapestry of loss. Will McIntosh brings a plague on humanity at a time when a grown son manages his father’s Alzheimer’s, as well as a hopeless family business. And Nancy Kress’s “Pretty Soon The Four Horseman Are Going to Come Riding Through,” is a bleak inverse to The Village of the Damned.
While not really ending with cliff-hangers, many of the stories will clearly be resumed in the subsequent volumes. Others stand alone, adding to the rich diversity of imagination at play. And with all the dynamics of damnation and redemption already set in the first anthology, I can’t wait for The End is Now.
— Jack E. Taylor