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The Mammoth Book Of Apocalyptic SF edited by Mike Ashley

01/06/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy The Mammoth Book Of Apocalyptic SF edited in the USA - or Buy The Mammoth Book Of Apocalyptic SF edited in the UK

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pub: Constable Robinson. 500 page enlarged paperback. Price: 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84901-305-5.

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The end of the world is neigh. Nothing to do with the recent British national election but what happens leading up to and after a world disaster. Does the dominate sentient species, usually humans here, take it on the chin and go quietly? Run to the hills as if there's somewhere else to go? Mass rioting and looting? Gun law? Creating a government from those who are left? All options are possible.

In many respects, the latest 'Mammoth Book Of Apocalyptic SF' through twenty-four mostly recent tales examines the consequences of the end of the world. Give up hope for all ye who enter here.

Normally with such potentially depressing books, I tend to pace myself by only reading a couple of stories a day. That didn't exactly happen. I suddenly found I'd read though half a dozen in a couple days and not because I was racing. I suspect, mostly, because the SF authors concerned tend to start their stories with a level of normality and hope before knocking your pins from under you. People read disaster stories and films positively thrive on such things, so it's not hard to see the appeal of this book.

In many respects, the plot description I've given probably applies to all the stories here so picking out stories is going to be a lot harder. 'When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth' by Cory Doctorow shows the after-math of a fatal infection where it is only some isolated people who look after mainframe computers who survive. Nothing is said about why they survived when they left their air-tight environment but Doctorow does capture a realism.

I'm not sure if David Barnett's 'The End Of The World Show' will be fully understood by readers outside of the UK, mostly because as its set in Britain and uses all the tradenames and TV programmes that we're familiar with. However, it grounds the story in reality and uses hooks that we're familiar with and elements of British stoicism.

You can always learn something from a Frederick Pohl story and in 'Fermi And Frost' from 1985 detailing a nuclear bomb winter at ground level that will really make you think. Alastair Reynolds 'Sleepover' has nothing to do with staying at a friend's house but a few people protecting hibernating humans as the planet recovers and how hibernators are resurrected to keep the maintenance going. What makes this story interesting is bleakness and how to get social acceptability in such an environment when you're out of time yourself.

The late Kage Baker's final story, 'The Books', is here showing children in a post-apocalyptic world discovering a disused library and the pleasure of books. I can see this one being read at junior schools to inspire kids to look at what they've got.

Jack Williamson's Terraforming Terra' follows the resurrection of clones on the Moon over the millennia as they oversee the Earth sorting itself out after an asteroid collision had wiped everything out on the home planet. Williamson very cleverly feeds out the clues as to what has happened over the course of the story so you can appreciate what has gone on and the sacrifices their originals made for them to keep going.

'World Without End' by F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre has to be the crowning glory. A sixteen year-old runaway girl finds herself the unwitting guinea pig for some nanotechnology that grants her immortality and she survives a plague that kills off all but insect life on the Earth. The story is seen from her perspective and as someone who is stuck at being a sixteen year-old forever. One of the best first person stories I've read in a long time.

I doubt if you'll run away from this book thinking the end of the world is neigh let alone have the knowledge to put in your bunker of decontamination techniques but you might think that after all these scenarios, what we have could be a lot worse. A sure winner without being a downer.

GF Willmetts

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