Short Story Reviews: "Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse"

Updated: Aug 19

"From the Book of Revelations to the Road Warrior; from A Canticle for Leibowitz to the Road, storytellers have long imagined the end of the world, weaving eschatological tales of catastrophe, chaos, and calamity. In doing so, these visionary authors have addressed one of the most challenging and enduring themes of imaginative fiction: the nature of life in the aftermath of total societal collapse."

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Note: When I do short story book reviews, I will only be doing three stories at a time because I have other books I need to move on to (and a majority of short story collections can sometimes have 30 or more stories in them!). These will be quick reviews because they are short stories. So, without further ado, the reviews.


"The End of the Whole Mess" by Stephen King

Two brilliant brothers come up with a plan to stop the human population from destroying itself- - - and it backfires tremendously.

Liked: the brotherly love between the two main characters

Disliked: the story felt very rushed on the last two pages, as if King was just finishing it to make it a short story







"Salvage" by Orson Scott Card

A long time after atom bombs have destroyed most of the Earth, a young man named Deaver finds out that there may be gold hidden within a Mormon temple, and he's willing to risk everything to get to it.

Liked: the story, the characters and the playful banter between them

Disliked: that it's never explained why it seems only Mormons survived the atom bombs







"The People of Sand and Slag" by Paolo Bacigalupi

Humans have evolved to a point of being able to regrow limbs within minutes, but when a group of three come across a (now) extinct species of dog, they are left with choosing either compassion or proving they are the top of the food chain.

Liked: there was nothing I liked about this story

Disliked: the characters, the story itself wasn't written clearly or concisely, too much detail stopped the flow, and the ending would make any humane person angry







"Bread and Bombs" by M. Rickert

During war time, children become curious about an odd neighbor who moves in. Parents demand that their children stay away from them because the neighbor's people are the reason so many have died.

Liked: that the story is through the eyes of the children

Disliked: too many run-on sentences with a lot of unnecessary detail







"How We Got In Town and Out Again" by Jonathan Lethem

When virtual reality takes over a dying world, people compete in simulations for money, but also for food, but what do you do when the overseers are caught rigging the game?

Liked: the use of virtual reality in a dystopian novel, which I have never seen done

Disliked: the ending came too abruptly, and the reader may be left with a lot of questions







"Dark,Dark Were the Tunnels" by George R.R.Martin

In the story that follows, you'll meet Greel. He is a scout of the People. He's penetrated the Oldest Tunnels, where the taletellers said the People had come from a million years ago. He is no coward, but he is afraid, and with good reason. You see, he's very used to being in the dark, but some visitors have come to the tunnels, and they've brought with them light...

Liked: the whole idea of people tunneling underground when nuclear war happens because there are not enough stories about it

Disliked: I couldn't find anything that I disliked about this short story






"Waiting For the Zephyr" by Tobias S. Buckell

A world running on wind power features two characters who wait the highly anticipated 'Zephyr' to fly through, but when a young girl named Mara, has two parents who believes she is too young to visit the ship, keeping her hostage in the basement is their only choice to protect her from herself.

Liked: the idea that the world can run on wind turbines when the Grid goes down is very believable

Disliked: nothing is explained (such as how the world suddenly became nothing but dirt) and the story ends abruptly enough that it reads like a novel that was never finished







"Never Despair" by Jack McDevitt

'Never Despair' tells the story of Chaka Milana, a woman who leaves her hometown in search of a storied place that holds the secrets of the Roadmakers, the almost-mythical builders of the concrete strips that cover the land, and the ruined cities with towers so high that a person could not ascend one in a day.

Liked: I like the story, and I wish it had been made into a novel

Disliked: I didn't really dislike anything about this short story







"When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth" by Cory Doctorow

In this story, sysadmins - - - computer system administrators- - - huddle in their network operations centers, after a series of disasters ends civilization. The Internet was supposedly designed to withstand a nuclear blast; in this story, Doctorow - - - a former sysadmin himself- - - asks: If the Internet did survive the apocalypse, what would the surviving techs do after the world ended? "

Liked: The idea that the Internet could survive the apocalypse,and what that could mean for a broken world

Disliked: too much technical speech that if you don't know about computers, you will be lost to most of it, and I felt misled by the story because it started off as if it were already in the middle of an apocalypse, but it wasn't







"The Last of the O-Forms" by James Van Pelt

This story takes place in a world where there are no more normal births. Each and every one is a mutation - - - which is both good and bad for Dr. Trevin's Traveling Zoological Extravaganza. . .

Liked: the idea of mutations as ending the world, both animal and humans alike, Caprice's character, and the mutated animals

Disliked: that we're never told whether or not Caprice is Trevin's daughter, or why the mutations have started and how it picks who is affected by it







"Still Life with Apocalypse" by Richard Kadrey

Horse carcasses being dragged from canals under industrial lights. Life after everything has fallen apart - - - the people left behind and the jobs they do to fill their days, the poor slobs who have to clean up the mess at the end of the world.

Liked: the way Kadrey explains how everything came to be is very real with what is happening in the world today

Disliked: dead animals and/or animals being murdered (I am an animal advocate)






"Artie's Angels" by Catherine Wells

A post-apocalyptic society involving bicycles and young men.

Liked: I absolutely love this story, and this one may be my favorite out of all of them so far

Disliked: that this story isn't a full novel







"Judgement Passed" by Jerry Oltion

Biblical day of judgement from a rationalist viewpoint; a starship crew returns to Earth to find that the rapture has occurred without them.

Liked: there wasn't much I liked about this story

Disliked: it's a different type of Apocalypse story, but I just didn't enjoy it, also some of it wasn't believable (when Gregor, the main character, can suddenly drive a manual transmission truck, when he has spent his entire life flying in hover cars that drive themselves)






"Mute" by Gene Wolfe

Two children who return home find an empty house and are force to grow up in a hurry.

Liked: I liked the supernatural aspect to this story

Disliked: I don't know why this short story was included in a book about the apocalypse because it was more of a ghost story; I don't think it should have been included






"Inertia" by Nancy Kress

A story about the victims of a disfiguring epidemic who are interned in the modern equivalent of leper colonies.

Liked: The fact that Kress was able to make such a full picture out of a handful of characters in just a few pages, and that this story seems very relevant with the pandemic of today

Disliked: Although it was a handful of characters, it may have been too many in just a few pages (I kept getting the sisters confused with each other)







"And the Deep Blue Sea" by Elizabeth Bear

Even in nuclear fallout, someone has to deliver the mail. Enter Angharad, a woman with a motorcycle and a case of stem cells she needs to deliver to California, but a debt has come due that she may have to pay with her life.

Liked: Bear's description of all the nuclear fallout is beautiful and well done

Disliked: I found the story a bit boring because it's mostly just Angharad driving a motorcycle, and I couldn't feel a real threat from the antagonist in the story






"Speech Sounds" by Octavia E. Butler

What happens when a disease takes speech from the world's population? Do we grow up enough to learn to communicate without using fists of one kind or another? Or do we give into our most basic instincts, and begin to kill our fellow humans?

Liked: I liked both of the main characters, Rye and Obsidian

Disliked: Some people were able to speak, and this was never explained, plus I believe that losing speech to communicate wouldn't bring about an apocalypse to the world







"Killers" by Carol Emshwiller

The story is based off of the war in Iraq, pondering what would happen if the war to reach our shores afterwards.

Liked: the widely believed idea that war would be the end of the world

Disliked: the story reads like someone rambling to themselves, and the ending was a little bit confusing






"Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus" by Neal Barrett, Jr.

Ginny Sweethips and her traveling roadshow makes its living selling sex, tacos, and dangerous drugs. Her companions are her driver and carnival barker, Del, and Possum Dark who lives for the moments when he can spray lead across the land.

Liked: The twist in the story (that would ruin the story if I revealed it)

Disliked: Practically everything; the story is something a horny teenage-boy would write






"The End of the World As We Know It" by Dale Bailey

A lone survivor of an apocalypse attempts to grapple with the emotional dimension of his loss.

Liked: I really liked this story; I thought it was 'cute' and just a pleasure to read

Disliked: I didn't really dislike anything about it






"A Song Before Sunset" by David Grigg

If the world ends, does culture, as we know it, matter anymore?

Liked: I like the different outlook - what would happen to people with cultural talents in the apocalypse

Disliked: The ending was predictable






"Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers" by John Langan

When human eating creatures flock in the night, and purple flowers have invaded the country, melting anyone and everyone's face off, a man steps forward and takes the alter-ego of some of his beloved comic book characters to help him and his best friend survive.

Liked: I always like stories where main characters are running from a threat in a dystopian future

Disliked: the run-on sentences become a headache, the grammar is bad in some places, and the usual trope of a pregnant woman in the apocalypse is overdone and boring





Overall, there were a few good stories inside this book, but some of them seemed out of place, and there were ones that were just boring or not written well (like ending the story just to make it a short story). I only recommend this book to people who absolutely love dystopian stories, but for those who are just light readers of it, I don't think you'd enjoy it.


My overall rating:






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