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av Jack Dann (Redaktör), Gardner Dozois (Redaktör)

Andra författare: William Barton (Bidragsgivare), Sterling Blake (Bidragsgivare), Frank Cowper (Bidragsgivare), Allan Danzig (Bidragsgivare), Gardner Dozois (Bidragsgivare)7 till, Nancy Kress (Bidragsgivare), Geoffrey A. Landis (Bidragsgivare), Fritz Leiber (Bidragsgivare), Larry Niven (Bidragsgivare), Frederik Pohl (Bidragsgivare), James Tiptree, Jr. (Bidragsgivare), Howard Waldrop (Bidragsgivare)

Serier: The Exclamatory Series

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As the new millennium approaches, speculations about Earth's destruction abound. This collection presents twelve world-ending scenarios that are all too frightening -- and all too real -- from some of the greatest minds in science fiction...

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My reaction to reading this collection in 2000. Spoiler follow.

“Preface”, Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois -- Brief introduction to the anthology which talks about the beginnings of apocalyptic sf and how apocalyptic notions once relegated to mostly sf are now common thoughts in the public at large.

“Fermi and Frost”, Frederik Pohl -- Published originally in 1985, I suspect this is one of the sf stories to specifically evoke the idea of “nuclear winter” (though the term is not used). I don’t know how closely Pohl followed the scenario of Carl Sagan and other inventors of the nuclear winters. For instance, I’d never heard of the destructive, soil destroying (via erosion) rains though they logically follow. Pohl chillingly lays out the details of his apocalyptic scenario, adds an interesting beginning where he lays out alternative fates for nine year old Timothy Clary – “But that is in fact what did happen!” he says after detailing an alternative where Clary survives (in Iceland which, given its volcanism, actually turns out to be one of the better places to survive nuclear war). Pohl adds a wry, cautionary note at story’s end where he details a plot development where man lives, survives, saves “the science and beauty of life” and greets aliens. But the story ends, “At least, one would like to think so.” Fermis is evoked in the title because the death of humanity is a possible answer to the Fermi Paradox. This isn’t a new idea. Carl Sagan proposed self-destruction as a reason why an alien civilization wouldn’t be around to communicate with us. This is a well-told story, but there’s nothing in here to really distinguish it from many another nuclear war stories.

“A Desperate Calculus”, Gregory Benford -- Gregory Benford had an article in Reason a few years ago very similar to this story (originally published under the name Sterling Blake, a Benford pseudonym). The premise behind both is that a group of environmentalists might decide to cure environmental degradation in the overpopulated, poor Southern hemisphere by introducing plagues. In the article, Benford postulated revived, lethal smallpox. Here, the environmentalists introduce (under cover as medical doctors, amongst other things) a disease that mostly renders women infertile. Mostly, but they’re willing to accept some collateral damage in deaths of the elderly. In both article and story, Benford postulates that the wealthy North won’t exactly rush aid to the South. At story’s end, the North has developed a vaccine against the plague but isn’t going to rush it to the South. In the article, Benford makes it clear he regards this scenario as plausible and probable and disapproves of such nasty tactics. He, however, is worried about environmental degradation and lessening biodiversity. I’m sure he supports the idea, depicted in this story, of simply sweeping huge amounts of organisms in the threatened areas of the South and freezing them for possible DNA resurrection. The morality of the story is much less clear (possibly because the plague is not intended to be lethal). The tone is more matter-of-fact not moralizing, and much of the tale seems to be an exchange of letters between lovers Todd (working in the Bio-Salvage Program) and Amy (an epidemiologist) about their work against the backdrop of a spreading superflu. It is only at the end of the tale that we find out they are carriers of the superflu and that their correspondence is part of the coded communication of a conspiracy of about a 100. In the unlikely event that future bioterrorists are lacking in imagination, modern sf has provided a lot of plausible ideas – including this one – to try.

“Evolution”, Nancy Kress -- As usual, Kress provides a frighteningly plausible – in scientific terms – tale involving medicine and biotechnology. The lethal staph bacteria that resists all antibiotics and has to be combatted by an engineered counter-plague (antibiotics, as Kress points out, are the descendants of weapons bacteria and fungi use against each other) seems all to likely. Kress does a nice job with characterization and relationships, particularly in showing the less than noble and charitable emotions we all have (the narrator’s husband is secretly delighted when his stepson disappears; the narrator likes seeing the ex-lover who spurned her wrecked with disease) and how we still persist in our love for those expressing these sometimes caustic emotions. However, I didn’t really but the social prediction of Kress that people would turn to assassination and terrorism to stop the medical establishment from prescribing (to anyone else, at least) the one remaining effective antibiotic. I don’t think the response would be that organized and that most people would simply hope for the best and continue to use the antibiotic.

“A Message to the King of Brobdingnag”, Richard Cowper -- This story depicts what the current opponents of genetically modified food fear – agricultural field tests of plants with engineered bacteria (here that fixes nitrogen and phosphorus) go horribly awry. The DNA strands to fix the nutrients are incorporated in algae and lead, literally, to a world englobing plague of green slime. The science seems plausible. The story, published in May 1984, seems technologically prophetic.

“ … The World as We Know It”, Howard Waldrop -- Reading this story for the second time around, I’m still not that impressed by it though I still liked the scene with the passenger pigeons. This time around I also noticed the presence, as a character, of Natty Bump from James Fennimore Cooper’s The Leatherstocking Tales.

“The Peacemaker”, Gardner Dozois -- The introduction says this was a Nebula winning story (awards in sf, like awards anywhere else, are not a guarantee of quality), and I’m not sure why. The disaster – the very rapid flooding of coastlines from an equally rapid melting of the polar ice caps – doesn’t seem too plausible in theory or its effect (I wouldn’t expect as much land to be flooded as depicted here). However, I can forgive that. The main story – the revival of Druidic like human sacrifices (at least we didn’t engage in the usual clichéd attack on Christianity) to appease Nature – wasn’t that original. What was somewhat new was the willing cooperation of the sacrificial victim, Roy, a boy. His cooperation may be the result of drugs, but it’s also the result of loneliness at the death of his family and pets and irrational guilt at somehow being the one that caused the flooding. I also liked the notion of a weakened America being full of new religions (quite plausible) and even human sacrifice protected by the Freedom of Worship Act of ’93 – the “Flood Congress”. In this story, Dozois has sacrificed scientific plausibility for social and psychological plausibility which is not a bad or uncommon, in sf, thing. I just am not sure the results deserved an award, but I’d have to examine the competition.

“The Screwfly Solution”, Racoona Sheldon -- I think I may have read this story before, probably in one of Harry Harrison’s and Brian Aldiss Best SF anthologies, but it didn’t make much of an impression on me apart from the name of the author and title. That was when I first started to read sf regularly, and I didn’t really like the stories by Alice Sheldon in either of her two incarnations, James Tiptree, Jr or Racoona Sheldon. Perhaps I was just too young and too callow to appreciate her stuff since, lately, I’ve liked some of her stuff I’ve come across, and I really liked this story. I found it clever on a technical level (mostly told in an expository technique) scientifically plausible, and witty and horrifying. Sheldon’s story links the male sex drive with violence towards its target – which means male homosexuals sometimes kill their partners. (Another brief bit I probably didn’t pick up on the first time.) The sex drive of males is shortcircuited by some pheromone or chemical spread through the atmosphere. It’s a premise obviously linked to Barney and Alan’s work on disrupting the reproductive cycles of budworm – moth’s and cane flies respectively. But, throughout most of the story, one only suspects some new environmental contaminant spreading with atmospheric circulation. Towards story’s end, when men talk about angels in the woods, we think it is just part of the religious mania connected, sometimes, with the violence. It is only at story’s end when we discover they aren’t angels. They’re real-estate agents, aliens come to occupy an Earth after human infestation has been solved. It’s a horrifying notion that human civilization could be brought down by tampering with biochemical aspects of sex we don’t even know exists.

“A Pail of Air”, Fritz Leiber - I’d heard of this classic story but never read it before. Originally published in 1951, the scientific premise – a wandering brown dwarf snatches the Earth from the Sun and the atmosphere condenses out, still seems valid. Of course, as with any tale of this sort, the attraction is working out the details of survival and the description of the frozen world (wonderfully evoked with the frozen layers of water, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, oxygen, and helium). What I didn’t expect was the psychological poignancy when the narrator’s dad tells him “Courage is like a ball …”, that each of the family must help the other when they grow despondent, discouraged and that this will happen to each one at times – that courage will be a possession passed around and not always held by one. Even under these conditions life is good, worth living because life has “always been a business of working hard and fighting the cold” and that the human race was always doomed. His courage and persistence pays off when another group of survivors shows up. The fact that their survival was aided by use of atomic power betrays the story’s fifties' origin.

“The Great Nebraska Sea”, Allan Danzig -- From what I gathered from a quick search on the internet and a look at a few geological articles in the 1957 Encyclopedia Americana, I suspect that this story, first published in August 1963, probably conformed to the theories of geology before plate tectonics became an accepted paradigm. Here, a fault system moves, causing a massive chunk of land to sink in middle America (though the notion of a “dust volcano” sounds a little suspect even for 1963 geology) and be inundated by the ocean. I definitely don’t agree with the introductory blurb that says this story has not dated in 30 years. All that said, I really liked this story and think it’s a classic. Of course, there’s the visceral thrill of seeing country I’m familiar with (and a lot, I’m not) lovingly trashed in details – especially the great flooding of Oct. 21, 1973. But there’s more here to love. This is an original idea for a disaster story, probably accurate to the science of its time. It’s also interesting in that it’s one of those sf stories that have no individual characters (a tradition going back to H. G. Wells’ “The Star”), that have the tone of a future essay. Indeed, this story explicitly states it’s written in 2073 and, in a perspective different than the usual post-disaster story, celebrates the formation of the Great Nebraska Sea even though 14 million people died in the event. After all, it brought world culture, world commerce, the seafront, and a wilder climate to the Dakotas and five other states. A classic.

“Inconstant Moon”, Larry Niven -- I knew – or thought I did – the plot of this classic, popular, award-winning story since I had seen it dramatized on The Outer Limits. However, I found a lot of surprises here. I thought the horrible revelation that something had gone wrong with the sun thus causing the abnormally bright moon would come late in the story. Instead it was early, the end of the first numbered part (though the final revelation, that the sun hasn’t gone nova but just exhibited an unexpected variability was late). The clever narrator discovers most of the truth early on. The heart of this story is character and psychology. Even the details of what the sun’s flares has done to the Earth and it’s atmosphere is subordinate to a discussion at how one face’s one's death – and the world’s death – in the morning, especially if you are one of the few who knows what’s going on. Instead of satisfying his “dark urges” (robbing, killing, vandalism), the narrator opts to spend his last few hours in the simple pleasures of life: good food and liquor, and good companionship (with good sex) with his girlfriend. He does consider briefly calling his parents but doesn’t want to wake them or his brother, argue with them why they should look at the fatally bright moon, make their last few hours filled with fear. The story is about how the narrator and his girlfriend deal with the prospect of death in the morning, but the story is also like Fritz Leiber’s “A Pail of Air”, a celebration of courage, of planning survival even when things seem hopeless. The planning pays off when, at story’s end, we realize a solar flare has torched Europe, Asia, and Africa but the human race will endure.

“The Last Secret”, Geoffrey Landis -- A sweet, poignant tale that I bet is a takeoff of Larry Niven’s “Inconstant Moon” – and I bet the editors think so too given that it follows that story in the anthology. Unlike Niven’s story, cosmic doom in this story won’t be avoided. It’s certain, confirmed, a comet heading to earth from the direction of the sun. As with the narrator of “Inconstant Moon”, protagonist Christopher opts for simple pleasure in the final minutes of the world. He delicately asks a fellow co-worker, a girl he loves from afar, to go out for coffee and watch the sunset, the last sunset. Like Niven’s protagonist, he doesn’t share his terrible knowledge, is just content to hold hands and watch the final, sunset made beautiful by the comet before it ends the world. A simple, short, beautiful story.

“Down in the Dark”, William Barton -- Normally, I like Barton, but, while I found this as grim as his usual stuff, I didn’t much like this tale of man slowly dying in various outposts throughout the solar systems, two thousand humans left after asteroids wipe life out of Earth. The problem I had was the vagueness of the literally colorful aliens of Titan and how they planned to help man survive and expand to other stars. I did like the landscape descriptions of Titan, rife with color, and the narrator being haunted by guilt for the death of a wife he kept leaving to explore space and who died in the asteroid impact. ( )
1 rösta RandyStafford | Nov 21, 2013 |
This is my favorite book of apocalyptic short stories so far. I read it at least 8 years ago so I do not remember the details. I do know, however, that it made a big impression on me, and I still hang on to a copy. ( )
  mushroom104 | Aug 14, 2008 |
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Författarens namnRollTyp av författareVerk?Status
Dann, JackRedaktörprimär författarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Dozois, GardnerRedaktörhuvudförfattarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Barton, WilliamBidragsgivaremedförfattarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Blake, SterlingBidragsgivaremedförfattarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Cowper, FrankBidragsgivaremedförfattarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Danzig, AllanBidragsgivaremedförfattarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Dozois, GardnerBidragsgivaremedförfattarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Kress, NancyBidragsgivaremedförfattarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Landis, Geoffrey A.Bidragsgivaremedförfattarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Leiber, FritzBidragsgivaremedförfattarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Niven, LarryBidragsgivaremedförfattarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Pohl, FrederikBidragsgivaremedförfattarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Tiptree, James, Jr.Bidragsgivaremedförfattarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Waldrop, HowardBidragsgivaremedförfattarealla utgåvorbekräftat
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As the new millennium approaches, speculations about Earth's destruction abound. This collection presents twelve world-ending scenarios that are all too frightening -- and all too real -- from some of the greatest minds in science fiction...

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