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.
9 responses to “After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh”
I confess I’ve not heard of Maureen McHugh before. I’ll have to look for her next time I’m in a the bookstore.
I think you would like McHugh’s stories. You might appreciate her dark sense of humor.
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I always used to read more fanatsy than sci-fi but like you I’ve moved away from the genres and only lately discovered how much I miss reading them.
One thing I noticed is that people who don’t like those genres always say how they are “unrealistic”. I find this the strangest thing because I always felt the manage to be often more topical and realistc and tell me more about my life than many other books.
While I never really got into sci-fi novels, I love short stories and this sounds like an excellent collection.
Yes! I often find more relevance to our present ethical dilemmas in science fiction then in other things I read. I hope you read McHugh. I’d love to know what you think.
that is a lovely retro cover ,all the best stu
Isn’t that cover wonderful? Do you read science fiction at all, Stu? This might be a good collection to start with.
short story collections don’t usually grab me, but I saw this one last month and I’ve been interested in it ever since! After reading your review now I am even more likely to buy it.
*winces* This sounds unmissable. I am a timid reader when it comes to apocalyptic tales, but I can’t stay away from them either. I’d like to think that, in short doses, they might be less frightening, but it doesn’t sound like this collection proves it true, and, in fact, I know that’s not the case, as I still vividly recall one short story in particular that chilled me to bits. Will definitely add this to my list: thanks!