After the Apocalypse

There are some really great stories in After the Apocalypse, by Maureen F. McHugh. It's a 3.5/5 for me, so I'll round up in this case. "The Naturalist," "Special Economics" and "After the Apocalypse" were my favorite stories. These tales each had a sense of urgency, a narrative tension that begs the reader to work quickly toward the pay-off. That's a double-edged sword with McHugh's writing, though, because there is some serious beauty in her prose. She's a keen observational writer, and she turns a phrase well.

In "Useless Things," she effectively pegs the circumstances attendant to the financial meltdown in America. She uses setting to effectively add dimension to her characters:

The suburbs are full of walkaway houses--places where homeowners couldn't meet the mortgage payments and just left, the lots now full of trash and windows gone. People who could went north for water. People who couldn't did what people always do when an economy goes soft and rotten: they slid, to rented houses, rented apartments, living in their cars, living with their families, living on the street.

But inside Sherie's parents' home it's still twenty years ago. The countertops are granite. The big-screen plasma TV gets hundreds of channels. The freezer is full of meat and frozen Lean Cuisine. The air conditioner keeps the temperature at a heavenly seventy-five degrees. Sherie's mother, Brenda, is slim, with beautifully styled graying hair. She's a psychologist with a small practice.

Indeed, one of the charms of this collection is the variety of crises explored throughout the stories. The apocalyptic narratives run the gamut, from disease to zombie problems and financial ruin. 

A few stories didn't quite deliver on the promise set up in their first acts, sometimes grinding to a halt in their focus on scientific minutia, which took the spotlight off of the characters. 

Still, this is a good collection and well worth the attention of fans of speculative fiction and post-apocalyptic stories.

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