After the Apocalypse: Stories
by Maureen F. McHugh
Review by Cathy Green
Small Beer Press Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781931520294
Date: 08 November 2011 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Small Beer Press has recently published After The Apocalypse, Maureen McHugh's latest must-buy collection of short fiction. The collection consists of nine stories, three of which have not seen publication before and the other six of which were all published in the last five years in various anthologies and small press magazines.
The collection opens strong with the very chilling, creepy zombie story "The Naturalist". There are areas of the United States that are overrun with zombies, and the rest of the country has been taking an Escape from New York approach to the zombie preserves and dumping prisoners in them. Cahill is one of those former prisoners and the naturalist of the title, studying the zombies as he does his best to survive.
In the more light-hearted "Special Economics", two girls become trapped in the feudal company town economics of a factory complex in China until they liberate some capital from a communist party functionary, free themselves, and start a business loaning money to their fellow factory workers so they can buy themselves out of debt.
While a number of stories deal with large scale apocalypses such as economic collapse and environmental disaster, a number of the stories deal with small scale personal apocalypses, such as in "Honeymoon" where a woman decides on her wedding night to annul her marriage because her husband gambled away the honeymoon money, and then moves to Cleveland and becomes part of a disastrous first stage medical trial. It's not the end of the world for anyone except for the small number of people who die from the failed cancer drug, but it was certainly a radically life altering experience for the protagonist.
Even in the stories involving large scale disasters, the action focuses on the small scale, because in the end all apocalyptic events are experienced in the personal scale by the people affected. For instance, in "The Effect of Centrifugal Forces", there is a prion disease that can be caught from chickens. Given the amount of chicken consumed in America, this would create a fairly large scale medical disaster as people fell ill and a major agricultural disaster as enormous numbers of chickens would have to be slaughtered and disposed of. However, in the story we experience this disaster on a small scale, as teenager Irene and her family fall apart as her biological mother dies of the prion disease, her other mother becomes an addict and her current stepmother's hoarding problem takes over the house.
All nine stories in this jewel box of a collection are exquisitely crafted by Maureen McHugh for the maximum emotional impact with a minimal number of pages. For instance, in "Kingdom of the Blind" in a mere nineteen pages, McHugh covers a diverse range of theme and topics such as gender issues among computer programmers, a budding romance doomed to failure, and the possibility of a computer program achieving sentience and the impact that would have on people via the functions the computer is supposed to be carrying out, and whether it is appropriate to reboot and fix the program if there is the possibility that it is intelligent.
I thoroughly enjoyed all nine stories in After The Apocalypse and now feel the need to acquire a copy of McHugh's previous story collection, Mother & Other Monsters. Go buy this collection. You won't be disappointed.