Byline: An anthology of apocalypse-survival fiction with a focus on disabled and chronically ill characters.
Published by: Twelfth Planet Press
Published: May 2016
Format reviewed: eVersion
Publisher Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
This anthology was funded by a pozible campaign that was launched Swancon Easter weekend 2015, and delivered a few weeks and a year later in May 2016.
“And the Rest of Us Wait” by Corinne Duyvis
This short story goes hand in hand with Corinne’s latest book that came out in March, On the Edge of Gone. Iveta is famous for a talent show she once appeared on, however she’s just like everyone else when a comet is set on destroying the earth, and Iveta and her family join countless others in a refugee centre to wait it out.
There are generation ships and shelters which offer more permanent solutions, but not everyone has been granted access. As if life isn’t hard enough, Iveta has a slew of medical requirements that certainly make things more dire for her than others as the comet hits, and the temporary shelter faces further issues such as power and ration issues.
We see a range of different reactions. The angry and the uncontrollable, the snippy and resigned, and those who are still hopeful, and think now is a good time to stage a musical act. I mean, it’s not like anyone is going anywhere, trapped far underground and slowly running out of air.
This is such a strong opening to the anthology, showcasing a wide variety of topics that are explored both for and against (should people receive ‘special’ treatment, is it ‘special’ treatment if the end result ends in truly unfair results, and so forth. ‘Otherbound’ by Duyvis was also amazing so it’s no surprise that this short story is also – if you haven’t read her work so far this is a good place to start, and then go and hurry to get her two other novels. You won’t be disappointed.
“To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath” by Stephanie Gunn
Jeez, what an opening. A condescending man tells children that God put roses in their lungs as they’re too young to understand what cystic fibrosis is. As though they wouldn’t be able to explain if someone had taken the time to tell them in a way they could that doesn’t result in horrific nightmares, what the hell, man.
The flu has struck Australia, if not the world. Three sisters take care of each other on their family farm, their mother and Bryce now buried. The last broadcast on the emergency channel warned everyone to stay inside and don’t leave their houses, but it’s been some time since then and they’re starting to worry about what to do when their horded medication runs out.
This piece is very emotive – many sentences making me grimace to myself in a mix of horror and sympathy, lines such as ‘More than once I’ve been tempted to slice through the scars, just so I could stretch properly.’ Aarrrgh, Aussies, why do you write horror so well even when the piece isn’t strictly horror?
“Something in the Rain” by Seanan McGuire
Holly has schizophrenia and autism, has lost her parents and only has her cat for company, and then, as the story progresses, the school bully. Water has turned toxic and dangerous, and rains come each day for a little longer and a little more intense, and you don’t want to be caught out in it if you want to survive.
This was an awkward piece – the bully is horrible and I get anxious when any form of media involves pets – I can take all the violence and deaths as you can throw at me (well, I may not enjoy it, but I can keep reading), but as soon as there’s the chance something can go wrong to an animal I’m on edge, and I will stop reading/watching if anything happens to them.
This piece I could breath a sigh of relief on. I wanted to punch Cathy and – well, not hug Holly as I doubt she’d appreciate that, but help her in some way in the very least. And now I need to go have a nap to calm down.
“Did We Break the End of the War?” by Tansy Rayner Roberts
Okay well it’s not time for a break after all if a favourite author is up next. Jin and Aisha are scavengers in this world that’s been torn apart by the Pulse, which knocked out the electricity and left only teenagers. They rarely see others but they are out there, and they avoid them where they can. They go through houses and take what’s useful, then trade it with other groups later. Markets are arranged and advertised via graffiti, and this is simply how life is now.
They pick up Billy, a pretty boy who fits well into their well formed duo, and now they specialise in batteries/tech, medication and…. art supplies. That is, until at the next market Jin discovers the other two have been keeping something for him, and that there’s a lot more to the Pulse than he’s ever given thought to before.
Like all of Tansy’s short stories, this one is much bigger than leaving it to this one short. This needs to be a novel.
“In the Sky with Diamonds” by Elinor Caiman Sands
Megan has cerebral palsy, and was implanted with an AI when she was young, who helps her along where possible. Called Jennifer, they are alone on a capsule trying to distract and delay an attacking alien force long enough for a shuttle to get away – a shuttle where her sister Lucy and others are quickly running out of hope.
One of the very few authors I don’t think I’ve experienced before? A few lines made quite an impact – ‘I’ll just float here with my eyes shut and see what happens. Maybe I’ll just doze. I’m so sleepy.’
“Two Somebodies Go Hunting” by Rivqa Rafael
Lex and Jeff go out hunting because their dad took off ages ago, and their mum is busy with another child who’s ill. Meat is scarce and there’s the possibility of bringing back some kangaroo. The hot outback is dangerous enough as it is, and it doesn’t help that Lex has a bung leg which means there’s some sand dunes simply out of her ability – so what happens if her little brother falls, or runs off? Her little brother who may possibly have autism – there’s no diagnoses after the apocalypse.
We’re now in a world where children know the names of various bacteria because it’s that and things like bird flu which have wiped out the country, to the point there they joke they’re an endangered species now. Their trek is surely too tough for their ages, but together and with their knowledge of the land and simply what they need to do to survive, is enough. I loved the interactions between the siblings, and the point we’re left at.
“Given Sufficient Desperation” by Bogi Takács
Dyspraxia is what keeps Vera in workrooms, looking at hours and hours of streams of various images as aliens record her response, rather than running away from it all and joining the militants who are trying to fight back against the alien invaders. To communicate with them, the aliens speak to them in voices taken from Hungarian movie stars – Oszkár Gáti—the Hungarian dubbing actor of both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, Artúr Kálid for Will Smith… etc.
This one was the good kind of weird, keeping you reading to figure out what’s happening, what’s happened, what’s going to happen. I certainly understand the need for real sleep, and the tears at the end.
“Selected Afterimages of the Fading” by John Chu
I love how this one starts. ‘A row of dumbbells sorted by weight, ranging from pointless to respectable.’
In a world where everything and everyone is fading if you don’t look at it and give it the attention it deserves, a guy with an image disorder struggles with a romance…
I had to look muscle dysmorphia up to get a clearer understanding of this one. ‘Reverse anorexia’ is what comes up when you google it; ‘Affecting mostly males, muscle dysmorphia is an obsessive preoccupation via a delusional or exaggerated belief that one’s own body is too small, too skinny, insufficiently muscular, or insufficiently lean, although in most cases, the individual’s build is normal or even exceptionally large and muscular already. (wiki)
This one has a steady and sweet exit (not an ending), and as always, I really enjoy Chu’s work, even when I’m not sure I’m smart enough to truly understand the layers.
“Five Thousand Squares” by Maree Kimberley
It’s been fifteen years since the war, and there’s been changes to the world (both political and terra-weather related) where Kaye and Micha lie, and both have chronic pain issues that involve arthritis and generally make life difficult. With these things in mind when raising young families, they make a plan to stick together just in case something does happen, in order to get through it in a team. Micha’s home is high enough to avoid trouble if there’s a floor, so it’s there they stockpile food and supplies.
Good thing they do, as one night Micha contacts Kaye, saying her hip and knee both agree that things are about to go to hell. Most people with arthritis or a broken bone at some stage can tell when big rains are coming, and this is what we see happen here.
What is so excellent about this piece is how it takes something we often hear about, but few understand. It’s one thing to say someone has chronic pain and can’t do x, y, z, but to truly understand what that must mean is quite different. We see the struggle and what has to happen that we don’t get to see in the general blockbuster movies, and though I’ve only had brief brushes with this type of restriction thanks to ross river, it really, really speaks to me.
“Portobello Blind” by Octavia Cade
Anna is a bored and pondering whether she is the sole survivor of the apocalypse. She spends hours fishing in order to eat, (surely so many books/movies get it wrong with how easy some apocalyptic people have it, as collecting drinking water and food for the majority of each day wouldn’t make for good watching – I love how right this gets it), only to hit us with the fact she’s blind, and you’re left worrying how she manages to do anything safely… and the fact is, she doesn’t. She cuts her hands baiting the line, she falls into the waves when she overbalances, trying to catch her escaping fish, and she has to boil a kettle to check the power is still on, and hence, the satellite radio is still working even if no one is answering.
Her strength is amazing, as well as her determination and intelligence to cope and think of what she needs to make this work. Though I agree with her that pineapple would be way better. And that sheep are pretty excellent companions.
“Tea Party” by Lauren E. Mitchell
Tally, Bingo, the Count, and Chess, along with a few others, are riding out the end of the world, which came in earthquakes and huge expanses of land disappearing below water. They go shopping every once in a while – mostly to get a slew of medications they can’t exactly grow themselves. In this case Tally and the Count go out – a weird choice for the Count, but Tally’s not complaining. Along the way they meet another surviver, just in time for another glimpse of what the world still has in store for them.
I liked that while this one had a bit of action and excitement in it, that a lot of it was showing how they cared and helped out each other. You really get the feel that they’re going to make anything and everything work somehow, simply because they have to as that’s how life is now.
“Giant” by Thoraiya Dyer
Skye, also known as Rhomboid in the Moltorian language, only has chickens for company. Born with pituitary gigantism and poor hearing, it’s almost certain she’ll die if she leaves the microgravity – her circulatory system will shut down if she leaves the ship she’s always been on. There was once a crew on the ship but they wanted to kill her when she was younger because of her affliction – if it wasn’t for her mother and the ship’s doctor, she would have been thrown out an airlock. Hugo, her father, finds her, and wants to help. She just wants to be left alone.
It’s a complicated tale of a girl trapped by guilt and having always waited for her father, yet at the same time wants him to leave her and go back to Earth. She can make it happen – with her size comes strength. What I like about this one especially is how the colours unite the beginning with the end.
“Spider-Silk, Strong as Steel” by Samantha Rich
On days when Emm goes hunting, she stays in bed late to get her thoughts in order – a bit of superstition that hasn’t failed her yet. Makes perfect sense to me – more dozing/resting always sounds like a treat. I also agree with Emm’s later thought regarding ‘help’ (people who want to steal her knowledge/secrets) by thinking ‘fuck that, and fuck them.’
Spiders have taken over the Earth? Heck with that. I’m allergic but beyond that they don’t bother me. They freak out a friend though, and because I’m a terrible person I once sent him an email (we work for the same office) with no title/preview, so when he opened it, it was a full screen, very high res closeup photo of a spider. His co-worker reported back to me that he squealed a little and jumped back from his desk, so that was a success.
Emm hunts out spider silk, which is then used for clothes. A rich commodity for trading in this new world. Thank god they don’t have a hive mind though. This piece is one of my favourites (I think the start endeared me to her completely), so highly recommended. Unless you’re like Kane. In that case, read with the lights on because the spiders are detailed quite well.
“No Shit” by K. L. Evangelista
Plague has come, and Jane has buried her parents. She looks for other survivors sometimes, but otherwise enjoys the night… until flares light up the sky, and she finds another survivor.
They meet in daylight hours, both careful but eager to meet someone else who has survived – Sam seems nice (AND he can bake!), even if he does read very serious things – ‘Coping with Change’, ‘Compost Toilets’ – very useful considering the time they’re in, but surely all that stress calls for a good bit of relaxation reading. I also love how he’s still all ‘I want to stick together but I don’t want to make you feel like we have to, we don’t HAVE to’ because that’s exactly how I’d be even in a freakin’ apocalypse. Overly polite and thinking others wouldn’t want to have me around even though HELLO, hardly anyone else alive.
They set out in a winnebago to search for other survivors, and so living in close quarters means that soon enough Jane has to tell Sam she has Crohn’s and that while it wasn’t life threatening when there was medicine and doctors around… these days… who knows?
I love the humour in this one. The voice behind it is really quite nice, and I’m really looking forward to seeing more from this author. This is another contender for favourite in the anthology.
“I Will Remember You” by Janet Edwards
This piece starts with the words ‘Day Five’, which is such a surprisingly interesting way to start. We soon learn that Megan, sixteen, is going to die within the next few days – everyone is – by the time sunset arrives on day thirteen. Aliens have arrived and have marked everyone with a few blue dots which will align with how soon they’re due to die. Seeing as Megan was born without a hand – where everyone else has their marks, she’s not to know. She’s received abusive messages demanding to know where her marks are – were they on her arm instead? She didn’t know what to reply with.
This piece is so perfect to end with. The end of the world and the hope directly afterwards is a clean finish, and it’s so dang interesting and complex, yet fits perfectly within the shape of a short story. Yet another contender for ‘favourite’, and I know that this one in particular will be staying in my mind for some time. I’d love to see a follow-up of how they’re going in a few months, and then a few years. Make it happen, Edwards!
In the introduction at the start of the anthology, Hoge, (author of Ugly), says ‘People with disability already live in a post-apocalyptic world,’ which is certainly something to think on. This anthology is excellent as examining that.
This anthology is of high quality and needs attention – it’s a complicated thing showing both the drawbacks of having a disability, and also how a disability doesn’t mean you’re an easy kill if zombies attack. We need more visibility in fiction, especially as sometimes, books are all some of us had when ill or in hospital or simply not healthy enough or able to be running around with other kids at recess or in holidays. Surely a higher percentage of disabled children and adults turn to books for adventure over other forms of recreational amusement, so why the hell isn’t there more of this representation around?