After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh
Small Beer Press, East Hampton, 2011
From my TBR pile.
Throughout high school, college and into my young adulthood I read science fiction. Ray Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clark, Anne McCaffery, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Harlen Ellison and many other authors held my attention for a decade or more. I carried beat-up copies of Dune and A Canticle for Leibowitz as I hitch-hiked around New England. I named my cats Ylla, Gandalf and Genly (there was, of course, fantasy mixed in).
Then somehow I drifted away. Once in a while I’d pick up a sci fi book, some I liked, most just didn’t grab me. Was I growing away from the genre? Did I feel too “grown-up” to read science fiction? I don’t really know.
Luckily, in the late eighties, I discovered a bookstore in my neighborhood that was entirely devoted to science fiction and fantasy. There I found William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Gene Wolfe, Jane Yolen, Emma Bull, Neal Stephenson and many others, including Maureen McHugh. I have never looked back.
After the Apocalypse is a collection of short stories about, well, life after the apocalypse. But these stories feel real, they ask what such a world would really feel like. Disasters have happened somewhere else, a dirty bomb in Philly or a massacre at DisneyWorld. A mad-cow like disease entering the food system through something as innocuous as chicken nuggets. These stories are about how American people cope, or fail to cope. Simple, spare and devastating, sometimes even funny, they are filled with the unexpected and completely mundane. These things could really happen, maybe even have happened.
McHugh is smart, her stories are smart, and the possibilities they hold are utterly frightening. If you’re paranoid, you might want to skip this one.
Because I don’t read science fiction magazines this is my first time with McHugh’s shorter works. I love her novels and have now added her first story collection, Mothers & Other Monsters to my wish list.