Wastelands: The New Apocalypse (John Joseph Adams) – Review

Wastelands: The New Apocalypse is the latest anthology from Titan Books, and the third book in the Wastelands series. Edited by John Joseph Adams, it collects together an impressive thirty-four short stories that take readers through a host of post-apocalyptic fiction.

One of the most impressive things about this collection is the sheer variety in the stories that it provides. The apocalypse is a wide and fertile environment, a place where writers can tell almost any kind of story, in as different or as recognisable a world as they like. Wastelands: The New Apocalypse cashes in on this.

Some of the stories have a very recognisable world to our own, one where the apocalypse is only recent, or wasn’t catastrophic enough to change things too much. In others, the end was years, sometimes even decades ago, and the environments are much more what you would expect to find in universes like Fallout or Metro. Some stories are set in such distant times that they become almost magical. Wherever the location, whatever the reasons for the apocalypse that created these worlds, the stories all have a very human story at their hearts.

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‘Bullet Point’ by Elizabeth Bear tells the story of a young woman left in Las Vegas, the only person left in the city. Everyone else disappeared through some unexplained reason. When she finds one other person, a man, she must figure out if being alone is safer than being with someone else, and we get to see the effects this has on her psyche.

‘Not This War, Not This World’ by Jonathan Maberry, is set within the same universe as Night of the Living Dead and connects the author’s previous books with that world. It follows a military sniper as he tries to survive against the dead. Instead of focusing on fighting against the dead, as many zombie stories do, it shows the deep psychological damage that such an experience would have on someone, and how deeply it can break a spirit.

As well as examining the mental effects of the apocalypse, the book also tells stories about human love and companionship, and how important these connections are, even if the world around you is not the one that you remember.

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‘Cannibal Acts’ by Maureen F. McHugh examines the relationship between two people stuck out in the end of the world, struggling to stay alive in Alaska, and how their love keeps them together, even when they are faced with one of the hardest choices in order to stay alive, and fall on opposite sides. ‘Otherwise’ by Nisis Shawl is about two young women in love, their journey to find another that means a great deal to one of them, and how that changes their love and their connection.

Some of the stories in Wastelands: The New Apocalypse aren’t as deep, or even particularly long, yet manage to be just as enthralling and entertaining, such as the world where rabies has turned the majority of the population into raging maniacs, or the world where giant parrots have learnt to prey upon humans for survival, or the game show host who is still putting on his show for the survivors, to try and keep morale up.

Wastelands: The New Apocalypse can frighten, inspire, and shock. The stories within tell tales of survival, love, and the strength to overcome the impossible. The apocalypse can be grim and dangerous, yet also contain beauty and wonder, and this book provides all of those and more. With interesting and unique worlds, characters that pull you in, and stories that can be surprisingly complex, there’s something for everyone inside this new entry in the series.

Wastelands: The New Apocalypse is available now from Titan Books.

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