It's been two weeks and I've reached the end now of my comprehensive review of the stories found in Selfies from the End of the World -- all except for my own story. Check out these descriptions, and if you see something you want to read be sure to pick up the collection at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Today's first story, Apocalypse in an Armoire, by Herb N. Legend, peddles in some of the Last Night on Earth tropes I like less -- not unlike those I mentioned in my review of Happy at the End earlier in the collection. If the story of Charles trying to find the courage to make a connection with Janice at his party on the night the angels come starts as a tough sell for me, though, two things elevate it in my eyes. First is the resolution which, if you'll ignore the pun, arrives with restraint and not with a bang. Second is some of the genuinely lovely writing throughout.
I'll admit that I struggled more with Soul Jam, by Nick Nafpliotis, than some of the others. The narrator, Jim Davis, remembers the days before the Old Ones came when he was just a shop-owner who found a regular customer in young, oddball musician he calls BZ. As the two connect more and more over their shared interest in music, Jim can only wonder more and more about the masterpiece BZ is supposedly writing but won't let anyone listen to. When the Old Ones come and BZ disappears, their relationship -- not to mention BZ's work -- takes on more importance than Jim could have ever guessed. As a matter strictly of taste, I found myself put off by the voice in this one, an affected New Orleans twang that doesn't ring quite true to my know-nothing California ears. If your ears know more than mine, there's a lot here about the power of community and the humanizing power of music to like.
Last Stop: Hanover, by J. C. Stearns, taps back into the classic sci-fi energy I liked so much in Dog Years, though this time much more Twilight Zone than Star Trek. With most of the human race dead and food and other resources scarce for the survivors, Kristen Cartwright is on her way back to her small community in Hanover when she runs across a pudgy, abrasive, entitled man on the road. How did Scott manage to keep himself so well fed, and why does he seem so ill-informed about the state of the world around him? My only wish with this one was that the twist in the story had come with stronger misleads, as I guessed it too early and felt a little robbed of the true Twilight Zone "Ah-ha!" moment I think this story deserved.
I love In Transit, by Kate Elizabeth. Much like The Story of After, I finished reading this wishing I had thought of it. The World has ended, and I mean really ended. Nobody is left alive. Meredith Jones works in the space between life and afterlife, directing souls from their earthly lives to the eternities that best suit their own beliefs. Normally, her department serves a couple hundred thousand people a day, but things are an absolute mess on the day the world ends. Fun, light-hearted, and unending clever (what DO you do when there is no human race left, but your clients afterlife involves reincarnation? how in the world do you manage the atheists?), this story alone is worth the price of admission.
In Limbo, by Mary Mascari, Andrea McCready wakes up in her lover's arms, only he's dead. Just like everyone else is dead, infected and brought down by an amazingly virulent contagion all in a matter of hours. As far as Andrea can tell, it's just her and the dogs she takes in. Despite her solitude, Andrea makes a go of it, keeping herself going by breeding and raising her dogs as she ages. A story about things changing, but also about constancy, and about time passing, but also about how we carry time with us, this contemplative yarn is another strong entry in the collection.
Our Blessed Commute, by Rhoads Brazos, is a strange little story about an unnamed driver on a highway that seems to grow and change shape, reaching for the moon while maintaining a possessive watch on its drivers. As the highway grows, those drivers grow further and further apart, which is why it's important to the unnamed driver narrating this story to maintain the connection he has with his own passenger. Where are they going and when will they get there, and will the journey have been worth it when they do?
We move from the dreamlike uncertainty of the last story into the concrete horror of Smoke Scream, by Samantha Bryant. Yosa is an afterlife researcher who has actually found a way to travel there without dying. When she returns from her longest excursion, her assistant and partner, Millie, is not there to help her recover. That's because Millie is in the next room, pieces of her head splattered on the walls. Devastated by her loss, unsure of her own role in bringing it about, and desperate to atone for a mistake she did not know she was making, what sacrifices will Yosa yet make on account of her life's research? If Yosa's voice seems occasionally out of sync with the emotions she describes having, the mystery, the action, and the horror will carry you happily to the end of this one.
Not unlike Limbo in its slow, contemplative examination of time and the attachments we make that keep us both stuck in it and that move us forward through it, Bridge to Nowhere, Train for the Forgotten, by Matthew Allan Garcia, is a lovely capstone to this collection. Almeda Inez has raised her granddaughter since the day their parents dropped the child off on her doorstep, marking the years since by the passing of the train that arrives annually. If the promise of a bigger, more useful role in the aftermath of World War V pulls young Xandria away from her home, the shared history Inez has in the house she once kept with her late husband keeps the older woman there.
Nick Nafpliotis writes reviews for adventuresinpoortaste.com and can be found on Twitter at @NickNafster79. You can follow Mary Mascari on Twitter at @geekyMary, and Samantha Bryant at @mirimom1.