In my last post, I reviewed After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia, edited by the more-than-capable Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. It presented nineteen visions of what it might be like to live beyond the End of the World, beyond the cataclysm or catastrophe, and the kinds of worlds remnants of humanity might have to contend with. As indicated in my comments, the editors and the individual authors did a noteworthy job on all accounts, creating enclaves of survivors with whom readers could empathize and about whom readers would care.
But what if there were no survivors?
What if the end were truly the End?
Tim Marquitz tackles this intriguing possibility in Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous. Physically as impressive as After, particularly thanks to evocative cover art by Jesse Lucero, Marquitz’s anthology incorporates thirty tales of the end … the bitter end, in nearly every possible definition of bitter. The tales are linked, however, by a common image, indicated by the title, Fading Light.
There are no nuclear catastrophes here to wipe out civilization in collective fireballs, or implosion of a black hole, or zombie-engendering plagues. Instead, the end comes quietly and, in several stories, without warning.
One morning, the sun does not rise. Or, at least, appears not to rise.
There are many ways for the light to fade.
It might be as simple and direct, as common, as a volcanic eruption that spreads a cloud of ash and dust across Britain. After all, such a thing has already happened. Except that in Adam Millard’s Parasitic Embrace, the volcano expels much more than the usual lava and air-borne detritus. There is something else in the cloud, something living, from the depths of the planet ,.. and neither it nor the cloud is going away. The End.
Or it might be that curious humans delve too deeply beneath the oceans, drilling or exploring or … well, simply being where they have never been before. And in doing so, they antagonize hideous creatures, as in Georgina Kamsika’s “Altus;” or perhaps worse, they stir up the very darkness itself, and it rises slowly, inexorably in a “Dark Tide,” the title of Mark Lawrence’s frightening piece.
Or perhaps there are just … clouds, sudden, impervious, seemingly permanent, that cut off sunlight and gradually kill off all life. There might be a possibility of hope, as in Stacey Turner’s “Born of Darkness,” with its vision of a long struggle against evil; or a moment of discovery that there is no hope at all, as in Wayne Ligon’s “Dust.”
Or possibly, just possibly, the sun itself has lost something so essential to its being that it has already begun to dim when the story opens. Malon Edward’s story “Blessed Be the Shadowchildren” considers that possibility in a tale of tortured love, celestial kidnapping, and blackest revenge.
Or … well, there are always monsters: as tiny and insignificant as leeches that rise from dank, dark sewers to wreak retribution; or as vast as creatures without names that journey in their own cloud through the distances of space until they find a waiting, nourishing planet. It may be a shadow, a doppelgänger that no one else can see. And anything in between.
Such suggestions only touch the surface of possibilities in Fading Light, which takes readers from the historical past — the age of the Vikings, the defeat of Napoleon — to unforeseeable and entirely unwelcome futures. Each tale encapsulates an instance — sometimes an instant — in which the light fades and death … or unalterable change … becomes inevitable. Character might have been taken unawares by the initial circumstance, but within the context of the stories each must realize that there is an end. If not this moment, then soon.
The tales are linked by theme — Fading Light — but that does not mean that they are overly dependent on an outside inspiration. Within that theme, the various writers approach their content independently and with great imagination. Several stories touch upon the mythological, almost suggesting without actually pinpointing influences from the great Myths — Classical and Norse. Others are more anthropological, sociological, or historical. A few are directly theological.
For the most part, the writers do justice to the challenge. There occasional wobbles of word choice in a story or two, but little of import occurs to draw interest away from the stories. The fact that I read the 396 pages in less than two days let me know — as if I needed it — that the stories included are engaging, imaginative, well-handled, and as a whole present a convincing, if diverse, nightmarish vision of … The End.