As a collection of stories based on a unifying concept, The End is Nigh is very evenly produced. The “end-of-the-world building” tends to be logical and believable, even if sometimes fairly outlandish. A few stories suffered from small breaks in logical detail, but these cases were generally easily overlooked.
Stories about the world’s end should prompt the reader to ask tough questions. How do you pick who gets to survive? At what point is it okay to give up on survival? Is society worth saving in the first place? To what lengths would you go to survive? Do you deserve to survive if you’re the reason the world has ended in the first place? Along with all of these questions, The End is Nigh highlights a wide variety of social issues, including same-sex marriage, global warming, euthanasia, genetic manipulation, human medical testing, and eating disorders, to name a few. The End is Nigh tackles these questions head on, and frequently the resulting answer is appropriately unsettling.
The menu of characters is similarly varied: con men; cult members; tech-savvy teenagers; scientists with OCD; artists; unfaithful husbands; computer hackers; grandmothers; and astronauts (astronauts who are also grandmothers). Good people doing good things, good people doing horrible things. Horrible people doing horrible things, horrible people doing good things.
Additionally, I was very pleased with the character diversity, whether it was with regard to ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Women written by men and men written by women.
The strongest stories in this collection are anchored by these strong, complex characters and issues and tack on the utter destruction of everything as a side note. My honorable mentions are:
- “Wedding Day”—Follows a same-sex wedding that is left too late, and the resulting conflict around the characters' ability to save legal family members.
- “Removal Order”—Brings us a responsible teenage girl trying to care for her terminally ill grandmother as the world burns around her.
- “Spores”—Introduces one of the more unique characters I’ve met in the apocalypse; a laboratory scientist with severe OCD who is tasked with surviving the outbreak of a genetically engineered fungus. (This story also gets my award for most disturbingly icky plague.)
- “The Fifth Day of Dear Camp”—Imagine the guys from the SNL “Bill Swerski’s Superfans” sketches encountering an alien invasion while hunting in the woods. Lovable, but deadly.
A couple of other stories deserve particular mention for the extent they delve into pure horror.
- “Dancing with Death in the Land of Nod”—What do you do when the end-everything plague doesn’t kill its victims, but only leaves them in a catatonic, helpless state? This story resolves this question in a way that will stick with you.
- “Enlightenment”—There’s just no way to approach the topic of annihilation by self-cannibalism without being horrifying. This story had all the eerie tones of Cronenberg’s Crash, with overtures of Hannibal and Titus Andronicus thrown in for good measure. Plus, robots.
As with most anthologies, there were a few less successful stories, which mostly seemed too occupied with tone and atmosphere and did not achieve engaging characters or clear story themes. "Break, Break, Break," "This Unkempt World is Falling to Pieces," and "Houses Without Air" in particular seemed to not adequately ask those tough questions I mentioned earlier.
Adams has promised that a number of the contributing authors will be providing continuing stories throughout the Triptych. I am very excited to find out which of these stories we’ll get more of, which characters survive, and which don’t. Keep your eyes open for The End is Now, releasing September 1st, and The End Has Come on March 1, 2015.
I listened to the Jake Kincaid-produced audiobook as my primary reading experience and found this experience to be fairly hit or miss. A number of the performances were so overly emoted as to be practically unlistenable. In the case of “The Balm and the Wound,” I found the interpretation of the main character to be completely off. (Would you follow a spiritual cult leader, if he sounded like mob lackey from The Jersey Shore?)
On the flip side, the accents in “The Fifth Day of Dear Camp” were performed very admirably and added nicely to the story. And, those stories that were treated more as unacted narrations were generally well done.