Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"After the Apocalypse" by Maureen McHugh

Perhaps the highest praise I can give After the Apocalypse is that after I finished it, I desperately wanted to write a "quiet science-fiction" (my term for McHugh's writing) short story myself. I thought about it for a day or two, came up with an idea I was excited about, and even wrote a few pages (this is a breakthrough for me--I've written almost nothing creatively since middle school). When I reread my few pages a couple hours later, I realized they were total crap. So much for that dream, but McHugh's stuff is still awesome.

After the Apocalypse is a collection of short stories (shockingly) taking place after some sort of apocalypse. Most of the apocalypses are vaguely defined (lack of resources, employment, safety--though one story features zombies) because McHugh's not really interested in the facts of the end of the world. Instead, she explores how individuals deal with mundane situations once our normal has disappeared.

In this way, the stories are certainly "quiet." There's not a lot of action, nor is there a typical climax and resolution. Nonetheless, the characters are so well-drawn that the pieces are totally engrossing. There's the woman living alone who makes life-like newborn baby dolls; the computer programmer who comes to believe a system is aware; the woman signing up for clinical trials to get money for vacation; a mother and her daughter in a sort of anti-The Road. Most of the protagonists are women trying to find themselves and resist in some way. They're not heroes (you might even say the main characters of the last two stories aren't "good" people), but they're developed and full of life.

Though readers looking for hard sci-fi worldbuilding might be disappointed, After the Apocalypse's nine short stories are an excellent read for anyone interested in the dytopian/sci-fi genre.

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