The thing about Wastelands is that it is very uneven. Perhaps it is because the post-apocalyptic genre is so wide, or so bare, but for every great story there are three or four or five which is a chore to read. Joe Sherry and Slippard do a great job breaking down the stories individual without spoiling anything, so instead I will focus just on the tales that make this volume worth it.
- “The End of the Whole Mess,” by Stephen King. King is a great writer, always fun and easy to read.
- “The People of Sand and Slag,” by Paolo Bacigalupi. Perhaps the most disturbing book in the collection, as Bacigalupi seems to understand where genetic engineering is going.
- “Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels,” by George R.R. Martin. A Cold War parable. Anyone who loved golden age Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke will feel at home here.
- “Judgment Passed,” by Jerry Olten. An odd story as it deals with the rapture from the point of view of atheist astronauts who were out of the solar system at the time.
- “Mute,” by Gene Wolf. You need to read this. Mute, alone, makes buying this book worth it, even if you just buy the Kindle edition and read it on your computer. Mute is only ten pages, but that includes a short intro in which Neil Gaiman gives the following advice:(1) Trust the text implicitly. THe answers are in there.
(2) Do not trust the text farther than you can throw it, if that far. It’s tricksy and desperate stuff, and it may go off in your hand at any time.
(3) Reread. It’s better the second time.
Actually, it’s more confusing the second time. The third time I really paid attention to why the protagonist could be thinking her thoughts. And I drew a map.
(Mute tends to have negative reviews in summaries. If you only read it once it’s disturbing, but you completely miss what is happening.)
- “The End of the World As We Know It,” by Dale Bailey. The end of the world is not the most important thing to happen to the protagonist, to a local consequence of it is. A wonderful story of grieving.
- “A Song Before Sunset,” by David Grigg. Reads like an episode of The Twilight Zone, in the best sense.
If the same book for the same price was just these stories, it would have been a great deal, well worth the $10.85 paperback price. Don’t feel obligated to read the rest.