REVIEW SUMMARY: A decent collection marred a bit by poor proofreading.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Anthology of 12 stories about the end of the world.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Some really moving and memorable work.

CONS: One or two marginal stories. Poor editing (several spelling errors throughout the book).

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended if you like end-of-the world (and related) stories.


Armageddons, one of many themed anthologies co-edited by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois, focuses of end-of-the-world and post-apocalyptic stories. As with many anthologies, it’s a mixed bag. But the pleasures of reading such a collection are two-fold:

  1. You get to see how varied science fiction stories can be even when they follow a common theme. Each author poses a unique view of the end of it all.
  2. You get to sample the writings of authors you may not have previously been exposed to.

The first seven stories outline the demise of man by his own hand. The other five tales depict an end brought about by nature. As you might expect with such a heavy theme, many of the stories are emotional and have a serious, or downright depressing, tone. Some of the standouts in this collection include work by Frederik Pohl, Fritz Leiber and Alice Sheldon (a.k.a. James Tiptree, Jr.) One unfortunate mark against this collection is the poor proofreading done before printing – there are several distracting spelling errors throughout the book, both in the introductions and the stories themselves.

Reviewlettes follow.

STORIES IN THIS ANTHOLOGY:

  1. Fermi and Frost by Frederik Pohl [1985 short story] (Rating: ) [Read 04/24/04]

    1. Synopsis: The story of a man and a boy trying to survive a nuclear holocaust.

    2. Review: Really good writing that gives some striking images of a nuclear aftermath. Several sad parts. A great read!
    3. Winner of the 1986 Short Story Hugo

  2. A Desperate Calculus by Gregory Benford (writing as Sterling Blake) [1995 novelette] (Rating: ) [Read 04/25/04]

    1. Synopsis: A couple of UN foreign aid workers separately battle a super virus. (Spoiler warning!) We ultimately learn that the couple are the ones who engineered this virus in a psychotic attempt to control the world population problem by making women sterile.

    2. Review: Not exactly a light read, too much description, not enough action – all this dragged down an otherwise good premise.

  3. Evolution by Nancy Kress [1995 novelette] (Rating: ) [Read 04/28/04]

    1. Synopsis: Concerns the spread of bacteria that is resistant to all known antibiotics.

    2. Review: Good story made so by Kress’ excellent easy-to-read writing style. There is some intrigue and some plot surprises and the pacing is good. For some reason, this poorly edited story was rife with spelling errors.

  4. A Message to the King of Brobdingnag by Richard Cowper [1984 novelette] (Rating: ) [Read 04/29/04]

    1. Synopsis: An attempt to cure the world’s hunger problem goes horribly wrong when a tropical field test causes the extremely rapid spread of algae – a disaster that means the end to life on Earth in just over 12 months.

    2. Review: Good story. Slow in the beginning, but it picks up in the last half or so. I enjoyed Cowpwer’s writing style: clear, concise and informative.
    3. The title refers to the book Gulliver’s Travels in which the King tells Gulliver, “?that whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.”

  5. “…The World, as We Know’t” by Howard Waldrop [1982 short story] (Rating: ) [Read 04/29/04]

    1. Synopsis: A story set in and 18th century where phlogiston (the hypothetical substance that was though to have been part of fire) is real and an experiment ends the world.

    2. Review: So-so story. I just couldn’t get into this period pirce, although the premise is a good one.

  6. The Peacemaker by Gardner Dozois [1983 short story] (Rating: ) [Read 05/01/04]

    1. Synopsis: Global warming has caused major flooding on both American coasts and much of the south. A community of survivors, under protection from what remains of the law by calling themselves a church, perform sacrifices to appease God and stop the flooding.

    2. Review: This is the second Dozois short story I’ve read that had very little dialog. Here, it’s used to a decent effect to paint the sullen picture of desperate and outcast society. The action is scarce and impact of the mood setting isn’t felt until the last page.
    3. Winner of the 1984 Short Story Nebula Award.

  7. The Screwfly Solution by Alice Sheldon writing as Raccoona Sheldon (a.k.a. James Tiptree, Jr.) [1977 novelette] (Rating: ) [Read 05/04/04]

    1. Synopsis: The women of Earth are being ritually murdered by men who are affected by a biological epidemic – ensuring an end to the species. The reason, irrelevant to the enjoyment of the story even though we learn it in the last paragraphs, is so alien “fumigators” can have Earth to themselves.

    2. Review: Great, well-told story. There is a wonderfully paced buildup of suspense in which we learn that the men begin forming religious cults and, in order to appease the Gods who demand “purity”, sacrifice the women. The “femicide” is triggered in males by feelings of sexual arousal. Much of the tale is told through newspaper clippings and letters between an entomologist in the field and his wife.
    3. Note: Winner of the 1997 Nebula Award for Best Novelette
    4. Note: Also available online (although it’s difficult to structure which segments are letters and news clippings since the same font is used throughout). And also here (better formatting).

  8. A Pail of Air by Fritz Leiber [1951 short story] (Rating: ) [Read 05/05/04]

    1. Synopsis: This story is set in the aftermath of an Earth that has been pulled away from the sun by a dead star. The air has turned into layers of frozen crystals, and a lone family struggles to survive in their makeshift “nest”, melting the frozen oxygen so they can breathe.

    2. Review: Wonderfully atmospheric. Offers an intense sense-of wonder and a hopeful ending.

  9. The Great Nebraska Sea by Allan Danzig [1963 facetious article] (Rating: ) [Read 05/05/04]

    1. Synopsis: A fictional recount of the devastation of a long-dormant fault line running down the central United States that has suddenly become active. The result is an encroachment of the sea up into the southern Midwest. Colorado becomes beachfront property!

    2. Review: Being a facetious article, there are no characters or plot here. It read like an encyclopedia entry or magazine article. Still, it was interesting.

  10. Inconstant Moon by Larry Niven [1971 novelette] (Rating: ) [Read 05/07/04]

    1. Synopsis: The sun goes nova and burns the day side of the Earth. Events follow a couple living on the night side and surmising the cause and effects due to an alarmingly bright moon.

    2. Review: Good story with cool astronomy. It was creepy at times how the couple choose to accept the impending danger (waiting for the inevitable shockwave) and choose to live their last night to the fullest.
    3. Winner of the 1972 Short Story Hugo Award

  11. The Last Sunset by Geoffrey A. Landis [1996 short story] (Rating: ) [Read 05/07/04]

    1. Synopsis: With 90 minutes left before a comet hits the Earth, a shy astronomer musters enough courage to ask a girl out for coffee.

    2. Review: An OK story. Really short.

  12. Down in the Dark by William Barton [1998 novelette] (Rating: ) [Read 05/07/04]

    1. Synopsis: After a comet collides with the Earth, the only remaining survivors are those people who inhabit space stations around the solar system. Thought to be alone in the universe, it is discovered that there is intelligent life on Titan, a moon of Saturn.

    2. Review: Slow-moving mediocre story.

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