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After the Apocalypse - Maureen F. McHugh I normally don’t read short stories. I feel that the characters just don’t have enough time to develop in a short story compared to a full length novel. But this weekend, as I was reading A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin, I had a sudden urge to read something that doesn’t have to be 1000 pages long. I had to read around 50-100 pages just for Tyrion Lannister to appear again (Jon, Arya and Theon Greyjoy are also cool though).

Anyway, so as I said earlier, reading something short really appealed to me, which of course has never happened to me before as I am more often than not bound to pick up a fat book to read rather than a shorter one. But, yesterday on a whim I picked up After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh. I already have her other book China Mountain Zhang but somehow I have never gotten around reading it. So I have had no prior encounter with her writing. And I think that was a good thing because I enjoyed these stories more as I gradually discovered an exceptional author for myself.

The book contains 9 short stories of which last three have never been published before.

The Naturalist
Being a post apocalyptic genre fan, zombies have always been my guilty pleasure. Whenever I am stuck (you can say having a reader’s block, sort of), I read zombie fiction. They are just vile abomination of nature (?) which you can eradicate without being conscience-smitten.

But in this story McHugh presents a different look on zombies.

There has been a zombie outbreak and government has established a penal colony for criminals in a zombie infested area. Cahill is one of the convicts. I really liked how the character of Cahill unfolds in the story. His obsession with the zombie is creepy to say the least. And somehow at the end, it makes you wonder whether he was on the right path all along. This is one of the best stories in the collection.

Special Economics
This short story is set in China after the bird flu has wiped out a quarter of billion people. The story rotates around two Chinese girls Jieling and Baiyue who want to have a decent life in the aftermath of the pandemic. But all is not what it seems at the company they work. The work force is scarce and in high demand after the population decimation due to the plague, so no company wants their employees to leave. This story enraged me as the story resonates with today’s real world although not on the same scale (It might be worse in some places, for all we know).

Useless Things
This story is told in first person by an old lady who lives in New Mexico, USA after the economic meltdown who makes lifelike dolls for her customers working from home.

The Lost Boy: A Reporter At Large
This story deals with a boy who is suffering from amnesia. The backdrop is Baltimore where the chaos created due to the explosion of two dirty bombs separates the boy from his family.

The Kingdom Of The Blind
This is a very good written story which poses the dilemma for one’s actions against an AI system which might have become aware of itself.

Going To France
This is the shortest story of the lot in which some people can somehow fly and all of them wanted to go to France.

Honeymoon
A story of a girl who breaks up with her husband right after their wedding and then starts participating in the drug trials in the hospitals. I liked this one.

The Effect Of Centrifugal Forces
Avian Prion Disease, or APD is a transmissible and an animal-based illness that crossed from cows to humans, due to which most of the people were going to die gradually. The characters were really confusing and I didn’t know half the time who was who.

After The Apocalypse
The titular story is the last one printed but in my opinion, the best. The story revolves around a mother (Jane) and daughter (Franny) who wants to make it to the refugee camp for homeless outside of Toronto after the economy tanked. This story’s end is bound to shake anyone to their cores. I think this one is going to haunt me for some time to come.

Now as this book has kindled my curiosity for short stories, I might go ahead and read Dangerous Visions, Pump Six and Other Stories and Wastelands which are staring at me from my book shelf for quite some time now (or the equivalent of staring that books generally do when ignored undeservedly).

But all in all, this is a book you won’t regret spending time with.

4 stars