Book Review: After (19 Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia)

Posted January 15, 2014 by Stormy in Books / 11 Comments

 After

 edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

 After anthology

Original Publication Date: October 2012
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Source:I received this for review via ARCcycling
Format Read In: Advanced Reader’s Copy
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If the melt-down, flood, plague, the third World War, new Ice Age, Rapture, alien invasion, clamp-down, meteor, or something else entirely hit today, what would tomorrow look like? Some of the biggest names in YA and adult literature answer that very question in this short story anthology, each story exploring the lives of teen protagonists raised in catastrophe’s wake–whether set in the days after the change, or decades far in the future.

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Overview:

After is an anthology of 19 post-apocalypse and Dystopia short stories, many written by well-known YA authors. While it’s not uncommon for stories to vary in quality in such a collection, After in particular had quite a smattering of both really great stories and boring and/or illogical stories. While reading, I assigned each short story a rating from 1 to 5, and after reading I averaged my ratings out. Those ratings averaged to exactly a 2.5, which is about what I had suspected. While there were some great post-apocalyptic stories in After, most of them were rather uninspired. There are several stories in After worth reading, but not enough that to justify buying the complete collection.

The Stories:

1. The Segment by Genevieve Valentine
This was definitely one of the best stories in the collection. The news is manufactured by big companies, designed to pull on the heartstrings and purse strings of the still-wealthy. There might not actually be a war in a third world country, but the agencies want you to believe that. The main character has been cast in a segment featuring child soldiers, and a slightly older and “retired”(now teacher) actress is trying to warn her away from it, but won’t say why. There’s a sense of foreboding that invades the entire piece and is everything a short story should be. When the twist happens towards the end, it’s shocking enough to be effective but also it’s easy to see how the entire story had been building up to that point. 4 stars, would recommend.

2. After the Cure by Carrie Ryan
After the Cure takes place after a zombie apocalypse, when scientist have discovered a cure for the zombie virus, and have been able to turn several once-monsters back into humans in a rehabilitated state. The main character is one of the rehabilitated who wishes she was still a monster because she wasn’t so alone. She makes some interesting choices and there’s a few intriguing characters, but nothing that really gets this one off the ground. It was just all right. 2 stars, would not recommend.

3. Valedictorian by N.K. Jemisin
Without giving away too much of the plot for this short story, I will just say that this one was highly enjoyable. It dealt with humans and artificial intelligence, prejudice and how resistant people could be to change, even if it’s not such a bad thing. This was one of the few short stories I felt I could really get a sense of the characters in only a few pages. 4 stars, would recommend.

4. Visiting Nelson by Katherine Langrish
In this future there’s a drug that turns everyone who takes it over long periods of time into harry beasts. There’s something about visiting someone to get information. I read about half of it before growing increasingly frustrated and actually DNF-ed this one. The drug-turning-into-hairy-beast seemed a bit too eye-roll worthy for me. DNF-ed, would not recommend.

 5. All I Know of Freedom by Carol Emshwiller
Okay, this was by far probably the BEST story in this collection, because it does so well what the best post-apocalyptic and Dystopia stories do: remind of us of the evil already in our culture. Technically, there’s almost nothing in this story that couldn’t take place in 2013. A girl is sold as a slave to a couple in the US. She decides to run away, where she finds a group of people claiming it’s the end of the world and they need teenage girls, about her age, to go with them away from Earth and become mothers to keep the population going. Because she doesn’t know any other way to get information, B–the girl–believes them until a few things begin to happen. This one deals with a lot of modern issues–slavery, doomsday prophecies–in an incredibly unique way. 4.5 stars, would recommend, book favorite. 

6. The Other Elder by Beth Revis
This one takes place on board a spaceship and deals with the “Elder” system that’s in place. There’s a few people every generation chosen to be the elders, who rule and control everyone on the ship. This one was okay, but that’s because it was basically The Giver on a spaceship. Not too much originality or heart. 2-ish stars, wouldn’t really recommend.

7. The Great Game at the End of the World by Matthew Kressel
This short story is about a brother and sister who didn’t get along too much before the end of the world, and the sister always begged her older brother to play baseball. Bad things happen to the world and they play baseball with alien-like creatures. I think. This was a weird one and I both did not enjoy it nor saw the point. 1 star, would not recommend.

8. Reunion by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Reunion contained one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever read. It’s a fairly simple story, but very powerful. It deals with issues of power and seizing it, and also having to make terrible choices. There’s some intentional (or what I assume to be intentional) parallels between the world in this story and also Nazi Germany, and included some characters that will stay in my mind. 4 stars, would recommend, not for the faint of heart.

9. Blood Drive by Jeffrey Ford
Here is the world of blood drive: No such thing as gun control anymore–seniors in high schools and senior teachers always have guns on them(and yes, shoot-outs happen), abortion is illegal, and church is mandatory for every citizen. While seriously creepy and effective, this was one of the hardest worlds to buy, since there’s no hint as to how this would be possible. That being said, the situations presented were quite terrifying. 3 stars, would recommend.

10. Reality Girl by Richard Bowes
Not really a fan of this one, though some of the writing was quite lovely. The actual story, though, still left me confused at the end. There was a definite them of people wanting a hero, and the main character–Reality Girl–giving it to them. Not one of the worst in the book, but not great. 2 stars, would not recommend.

11. How Th’Irth Wint Rong by Hapless Joey @ Homeskool.Guv by Gregory Macguire
NOPE. Look, there’s dialect for the sake of authenticity, and there’s dialect that makes reader put your story down after a paragraph. This was the latter. If I have to strain to read dialect, I cannot keep from remembering that I am reading, and that is not good. I should be able to let that wall of “reading” pass, and this one was a chore to get through a page. A sample:

The Big Ant says OK OK git to work buster. Very funnish start but wut about yor topic title? How Th’Irth Wint Rong. Tell me wut you has to tell, says the Big Ant. Hoo wins th’essay contist gits a hole ham for the wintir.”

12. Rust with Wings by Steven Gould
Imagine a world with a horde of bugs that could eat through anything metal–anything, including that zipper on your jeans–and is drawn to electromagnetic waves(goodbye, cell phone). And there’s so many of them that they can eat through a car. Oh, and you have an metal pin in your knee? Good luck with that. This was one of the simpler-plotted stories in this anthology, but the simple plot worked in this case. It was terrifying and I never want to see a beetle again. 3 stars, would recommend.

13. Faint Heart by Sarah Rees Brennan
One of the longer stories in this collection, Faint Heart was written as if it was set more in a fantasy world with Dystopia elements rather than in our own. In this case, it worked. There’s a beautiful Queen–a clone, really–who takes the throne every 25 years. Because young men are so often violent and the cause of so many crimes, any young man alive who is not married must take place in the trials. The lone winner wins the Queen’s hand. This was a satisfying story, partially because there were a few great scenes that concentrated on Rosamund, the Queen in question. 4 stars, would recommend.

14. The Easthound by Nalo Hopkinson
As children grow up, they become monsters that are murderous and quite terrifying. Groups of children have to fend for themselves, and fight each other off once puberty hits because all the adults have turned. Pretty simple and decent–there were some sibling dynamics presents that could have been explored more. 3 stars, would recommend.

15. Gray by Jane Yolen
This is a VERY short poem, and I have no idea why it’s in this set. I mean, yes I liked it, but it’s not a particularly post-apocalyptic of Dystopia poem, and I’m not sure why it’s included. Um, didn’t rate, don’t know what to do with this one? Yeah. Strange.

16. Before by Carolyn Dunn
Had an interesting premise involving slavery and a girl trying to remember her name, but I felt it was too short and unfocused. When I typed this, I actually had to look at my notes to remember what it was about, which I haven’t had to do with any of the other stories. 1.5-ish stars, would not recommend.

17. Fake Plastic Trees by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Other than reminding me of the Doctor Who episode with living plastic, I thought Fake Plastic Trees was pretty intriguing, and probably the most original of the stories. I really liked that this story started with the idea that people really were trying to fix problems, and accidently made them worse by inventing replicating plastic(it’s a little more in-depth than that, but it’s the best way to describe it). The narrative way this story was done was also really original. 4 stars, would recommend.

18. You Won’t Feel a Thing by Garth Nix
There’s an author note at the  end of this story that described how this story took place in a world that Garth Nix had created in a certain book, and I thought that showed. While I did like the writing and the premise, it did not feel like a story at all–maybe just a few scenes. It definitely had potential, but something never quite made it. 2 stars, would not recommend.

19. The Marker by Cecil Castellucci
In some ways, this reminded me of the short story Beth Revis contributed to After, but with a greater level of detail. I was surprised by how much worldbuilding and detail went into such a short story, actually, and this was one of the few stories that really stayed with me after reading(and not just because it’s the last). It would be difficult to summarize here but let me just say I found it fascinating. 4 stars, would recommend.

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On the whole, After did not impressed me. There were some standout stories–All I Know of Freedom, Faint Heart, and The Segment–but most of the collection failed to deliver. 2/5 cupcakes.

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11 responses to “Book Review: After (19 Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia)

  1. gavvie

    Interesting years on that what was perceived as the least plausible story, Blood Drive, is now cpletely believable.

  2. creepyphandom

    i actually really liked visiting nelson, katherine langrish is one of my favorite authors. but everyone has their own opinion soo…yeah :3

  3. I think it takes a special writer to be able to write a short story no matter the subject. Being able to effectively tell a story and portray a certain feeling in only so many words can be tough for some writers. Thanks for sharing your review! I think if I end up choosing to read this book, I will definitely use your review as a guide.

    • stormydawnc

      Short stories are hard! I took a creative writing class in college and that particular class focused on short stories. I never knew how to end things in a satisfying way. The short stories in this book that are good are REALLY good, but there was a lot of variety in the quality of stories for sure.

  4. I’m planning on reading this at some point this year, hopefully. I like short story collections for exposure to new authors, but at the same time, generally I end up loving some stories and feeling kind of meh about the rest.

    • stormydawnc

      Yeah, that’s the hard thing about short story collections–it’s almost impossible to NOT feel that way.

    • stormydawnc

      Well, some of them definitely were! But on a whole, yeah, not as much. The stories I loved in this collection were stories I REALLY loved, though.

  5. Randi M

    Well that’s disheartening. 🙁 I LOVE post-apocalyptic stories and wish there were a ton more. I was really looking forward to picking this up this year because hellooooo post-apoc + short stories (reading more short stories is one of my reading goals this year), but I think I’ll pass on this collection. Thank you for sharing your review, Stormy!

    • stormydawnc

      Thanks for commenting! I think post-apocalyptic short stories are hard because a lot of them just didn’t have the space to set up the world in any believable way. Some of them were quite great, however.

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