I can think of few things I have loved reading this much.
The End Has Come is the final book in the Apocalypse Triptych edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey. I think I stumbled upon it when I was looking for other work by Hugh Howey, whose Wool is among the best books I have ever read. (The followups, Shift and Dust, were not as tightly written but still satisfying additions to the tale.)
They had me at “apocalypse,” because post-apocalyptic dystopia is one of my two favorite genres (horror is the other).
The premise for this triptych is fascinating. To begin with, the books – The End Is Nigh, The End Is Now and The End Has Come – explore not just what happens after the apocalypse (volume III), but before and during it.
I was intrigued because I hadn’t read much about the lead up to an apocalypse. The genre slants much more toward, “Oh wow, we’re here. NOW what do we do?”
Ah, but it got EVEN BETTER! Adams explained in the introduction,
“But we were not content to merely assemble a triptych of anthologies; we also wanted story triptychs as well. So when we recruited authors for this project, we encouraged them to consider writing not just one story for us, but one story for each volume, and connecting them so that the reader gets a series of mini-triptychs within The Apocalypse Triptych.”
Many of the authors did just that. Some didn’t, and whether they chose to focus on the before or the after, they had thoughtful offerings. And the editors noted that it wasn’t vital to read all three books, which some people might find daunting; the authors filled in enough detail that you could pick up the second or third book and still make sense of the stories that were continuations.
Of course, the richest experiences were to be gained from reading each story triptych. This also made my reading much slower. I like to savor, not speed, anyway. But I found myself reading books two and three with their predecessors at my side, so I could refresh myself on the earlier chapters. And in the top right of each story title page, I inscribed Arabic numerals to notate whether there were parts 1 and 2, for example, or whether a story in the third book stood alone.
There are so many ways for the world as we know it to end. Disease, war, cosmic calamity, aliens, conspiracy. Or some combination, as Carrie Vaughn laid out so neatly in her standalone story, Bannerless:
“In isolation, any of the disasters that had struck would not have overwhelmed the old world. The floods alone would not have destroyed the cities. The vicious influenza epidemic – a mutated strain with no available vaccine that incapacitated victims in a matter of hours – by itself would have been survivable, eventually. But the floods, the disease, the rising ocean levels, the monster storms piling one on top of the other, an environment off balance that chipped away at infrastructure and made each recovery more difficult than the one before it, all of it left too many people with too little to survive on. Wealth meant nothing when there was simply nothing left.”
What keeps me tethered to this genre is the choices people make, the what ifs, the moral dilemmas, the swirling in the brain as I ponder whether I would have chosen the same.
I’m a huge Walking Dead fan, which puzzled my husband for a long time. “You know zombies aren’t real, right?” he said one day, I think in some frustration, because it wasn’t the only ZA show I watched (hi, Z Nation!). I told him he was missing the point: I didn’t care about zombies, which I knew to be a ludicrous notion even before Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed out all the physiological reasons. They were just a story device, a trigger point. What kept me locked in was how people chose to live in these new worlds. That, he understood.
If you had the world to create again, or at least your corner of it, what would you want it to be – and why? That is the crux of this genre, and this triptych is overflowing with variant ways to explore it.