Jared Shurin and Anne C. Perry eds. – Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse

Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse features eighteen original stories set at the end of the world, as imagined by science fiction and fantasy writers. The tales are inspired by the art of John Martin, and the book was released to coincide with a special exhibition of his work at Tate Britain.

Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse is the first anthology from Pandemonium Fiction edited by Jared Shurin and Anne C. Perry, the fine folks who also bring us the wonderful Pornokitsch blog. This collection of stories is based on a clear inspiration, the apocalyptic works of the 19th century painter John Martin; the book appeared to coincide with a large exhibition of Martin’s work at the Tate Britain. The result is a collection of strong stories marked by their diversity of genre and the different slants the authors chose to take.

Some of the authors were well known to me, others were new, but all of them managed to write stories which captivated me. Unexpectedly, even though they are all inspired by the end of the world as we know it – and I feel fine, thank you – most of the stories are surprisingly hopeful. Not because, in the end, the world or humanity gets saved, but because there is a lot less fire and brimstone than you’d imagine. Whether set in our world or different ones, each of the stories is about an ending; the end of the world (Magnus Anderson’s Another Abyss), the end of sanity (Scott K. Andrews’ A Private Viewing), the end of humanity (Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s The Last Man) or the end of society (Lauren Beukes’ Chislehurst Messiah). Several stories have the religious angle you’d expect, with angels and demons and raptures, others taking a completely unexpected setting, such as outer space, a secondary world or Germany during WWII. The possibilities are endlessly fascinating.

With any anthology there are stories that work better or worse, often which these stories are, is different for each reader. For me personally, there weren’t really any bum notes in this anthology. However, there were two stories that lost me with their ending. The first of these is Lou Morgan’s At the Sign of the Black Dove. While the writing style drew me in immediately and I loved the progression of the story, the ending left me feeling a little lost. Similarly, Sam Wilson’s Postapocalypse had a very smart and interesting scientific premise, but once the protagonist’s reality starts unravelling, it became hard for me to follow along and by the end the story had lost me completely.

There were six stories that really stood out for me. S.L. Grey’s OMG GTFO was a perfect blend of different formats which showed how our modern-day 24-hour news cycle society would react when suddenly hell is revealed to be real and even those you’d swear would get in to heaven turn out to be there. I loved the mix of Twitter messages, transcripts of interviews and extracts from papers and magazines. Tom Pollock’s Evacuation was completely different; in it we follow the archangel Michael on Earth’s last day while he and his fellow angels evacuate humanity to safety. This story is about love and duty and how the two can tear a person – or angel, as the case may be – apart. I really loved this story and its ultimate resolution. A Private Viewing by Scott K. Andrews looks at an apocalypse of an entirely different nature and takes its link to Martin’s paintings quite literally, as they are some of the stars of the story. The author uses the 2011 London riots as his background and driving force to the story and does so with aplomb. I loved this story, not just for its use of current affairs, but also for its creepiness. Because make no mistake, this is a very creepy story, portraying two kinds of insanity in a very intriguing way. Kim Lakin-Smith’s Deluge is a secondary world story which faces a flood of biblical proportions. I loved the setting of the city of Wakatire and the construction of its society; in fact I loved it so much, that I’d love to read more stories set in this world! Den Patrick’s The End of the World is both funny and touching. It loved the tone of this story and the fact that it showed that even in matters apocalyptic, love conquers all. My absolute favourite story was also the last one in the book, it was Sophia McDougall’s Not the End of the World. Set in what seems to be Second World War Germany, it’s a look at life in a police state, where one needs to confirm to rigid rules or fear being denounced. It is also a love story between two unlikely characters. For me, Not the End of the World was almost picture perfect, from the setting, to its protagonist and the wonderful twist and denouement, McDougall swept me up and took me along, without me even noticing I was turning pages.

Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse is a great first outing for this special press. Their second anthology, Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke, was as good, if not better, so the third one out this August, Pandemonium: Lost Souls, is highly anticipated. Stories of the Apocalypseis a fantastic group of stories from very talented authors. Get it quickly before it goes out of print forever on October 31st.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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