Keith Akers's Reviews > After the Apocalypse

After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh
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's review
Mar 01, 2012

really liked it
Read in February, 2012

I don't do a lot of fiction, but this is a good book for anyone interested in what resource depletion may be like in a future of "peak oil" (or similar human-induced disasters). It's similar to James Kunstler's "World Made by Hand" in that it details what the near future, after some human-induced disaster like disease or peak oil, might be like. The difference is that these are short stories, so the author creates a whole set of different worlds to explore, not just one. People will like, or dislike, different stories, but the whole thing is worth reading, just because we need to be trying to imagine or think about these things.

One thing I like is that she describes how things appear to individuals, rather than taking an omnipotent viewpoint. The reader is sometimes deliberately left in the dark about why the world has come to this state. The point is to describe how the apocalypse "feels" to people. Sometimes the date of the story is vague but in one case a story can be dated precisely to August 16, 2022, just about a decade from now. This ("Useless Things"), or the final story, were my favorites. To describe how apocalypse "feels" is the import of the story on the zombie apocalypse; it's not because McHugh foresees a possible future in which humans will need to fend off zombies, it's a story about us and how we react to unsavory events.

SPOILER ALERT: I found "Going to France" to be a very challenging story, basically surrealistic, and nothing really apocalyptic is ever referred to. The only sense I can make out of it is that this is a dream sequence (after all, flying is something that usually happens in dreams). This story is attractive but has puzzled a lot of people. While the zombie story (the very first story) was also challenging and made me think, it was sort of a turn-off that the main character was so violent. The final story "After the Apocalypse" was also nice, also made me think, about the ways that "apocalypse" arrives in the breakdown of social conventions into a more primitive level; even though no one gets physically hurt in this story, it just leaves you thinking that whatever disaster they have been fleeing from has "hit them" at the end. The story about the lost boy is similar in structure; it shows that "the apocalypse" is not just about bombs or millions of deaths, it's also about human relations. None of the stories had a really depressing or dysfunctional ending; the key characters are trooping on. So even when I didn't like the characters, or how the story came out, the author makes you think about things.

Many, many years ago I read a collection of science fiction short stories by Robert Heinlein called "The Green Hills of Earth." It had tales of exploring outer space. This collection reminds me of that collection, but oh how our ideas of the glorious future have changed.

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