We've all heard the theories about 2012. Some say a change is coming; others say that we are all doomed. But what happens next?
'What happens next?' What better premise for an anthology of speculative fiction. Pill Hill Press' 2013 anthology starts strong and doesn't drop the slack. I don't tend to read anthologis cover to cover, but rather pick and choose the stories that look interesting as I skim through. The stories of 2013 are many and varied in tone, content and style, but to be honest, by the time I finished with it I was preparing a mental shopping list for survivng the coming apocalypse. There's everything from zombies to Satan to a world where time has stopped and golden doors lead the way to salvation. For anyone worried about the end of the world, I really wouldn't recommend this book. It's dark, and may send you heading for the nearest suicide cult. That said, there are beautiful moments of hope and humanity within the direst circumstances.
There are a few stories in particular that deserve the blogging equivalent of a standing ovation. Stranger Times by David Starkey was, for me, the story that made the anthology. It details protagonist 'Stranger's' journey to a settlement of survivors in a world where the sun has gone out. The characterisation is fantastic, the plot twists believable and the very human treatment of the end of the world (cannabis farmers have all the tools for survival) holds just the right level of cynical humour. Unlike several of the stories in this anthology, Stranger Times gives the impression of a complete piece with a solid structure that leaves you wanting more, but only because the writing's so damn good.
Furthering my comment on complete pieces, I found myself disappointed by Marissa Farrar's After The Revelation. I thought it bore some remarkable similarites- in a positive way-to Stephen King's The Stand. The treatment of the religious concept of the Rapture was convincingly managed without any preachy connotations for the most part. The character development was solid and enjoyable, and some of the descriptions were fantastic. However, overall I felt the story was undermined by its ending. The scope and style of the narrative along with the abortive, summary nature of the finale suggested to me the beginning of a novel that would benefit from expansion into an overarching plot. The same can be said for Gregory Miller's Great Days, which, while formally innovative and an interestingly original treatment of the zombie archetype, might have benefited from a larger fish tank, as it were.
Two other stories which stood out with their original perspectives on the apocalypse were Timothy Miller's The Last, which trod an intriguing line between heroic fantasy and science fiction, and A.J.French's Golden Doors to a Golden Age which starts a little like a bad joke- four academics walk into the apocalypse- but brings some truly excellent characterisation to the table. Likewise, Jacob Edwards should congraulate himself for causing me to pick up a dictionary no fewer than ten times in the duration of his story Troglodition. As an undergraduate of English Literature, I found the central villain of Troglodition perfectly convincing, and am now somewhat worried that one of my lecturers may engineer the end of the world because of my texting slang.
2013 is a well-written and very entertaining anthology, with strong overarching connotations of religious judgement and human flaw. Though several stories may have small teething problems, the anthology overall is of a higher standard than many sci-fi anthologies I've read recently. I highly recommend it.
2013: The Aftermath is available from Amazon.co.uk for £12.99