Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review: After the Apocalypse, by Maureen F. McHugh


After the Apocalypse as a title is a bit misleading -- evoking as it does zombies (there are only a few), nuclear winter, or some "Mad Max" scenario -- and yet it's also quite perfect. Because, like Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers, Maureen F. McHugh's thoughtful  collection of stories is really about how we, just us normal people, get up and get on with it after the unthinkable has occurred.

At heart, these are intimate tales about people and their strange new  lives: keeping family safe, finding work, finding food, losing their homes, their minds and their innocence. While some common genre tropes appear (a government "zombie reserve" that doubles as a fight-or-die penal colony; an unstoppable strain of avian flu that takes its sweet, relentless time to turn a human brain to mush; disparate strangers inexplicably drawn to converge in a particular place), the apocalypses -- yes, the plural form is required -- in these stories are equally the result of problems already on our doorsteps: natural disasters; overburdened and failing urban infrastructures; economic meltdowns; and machines that might just be smarter than we are.

With clean, evocative prose, a killer eye for detail, and a sympathetic, humorous (but never indulgent) view into the human condition, McHugh has crafted a work of speculative fiction about what humanity might stand to lose -- or just maybe gain -- when we are faced with the burdens of the end times already rearing their ugly heads. Her characters are not always kind, not always moral. But they are astute, funny and absolutely believable. (And as a bonus, one wears the coolest t-shirt ever: "If You're Really a Goth, Where Were You When We Sacked Rome?")

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