The ten stories in this consistently engaging anthology take readers through a broad range of mood and emotion, from the sardonic to the heartbreaking, the breezily tongue-in-cheek to bullet-in-the-brain pan serious. Each and every one of them is finely-crafted, thoughtfully conceived, and damn sexy to boot! An embarrassment of riches, to be sure, yet no less a lambent example of something all too rare in our present throwaway age of planned literary obsolescence; an anthology that prioritizes quality over quantity: This is a credit to editor Janine Ashbless, whose introductory notes before each story lend a sense of unity to what could have been a rather rambunctious undertaking.
Every story, every writer, merits mention here. In In Pursuit of the Millennium, author S. Nano evokes the horror and the hope of a young maiden living through a hell on earth during the religious wars of the seventeenth century; when the horny “messiah” of the besieged city takes the young virgin under his wing, disillusionment and despair are sure to follow.
Elizabeth Coldwell’s Addicted to Disaster finds the self-absorbed participants in a reality TV show coming to grips (or not) with the end of civilization, which, contrary to popular belief, will not be televised.
In First Contact, Raven Sky portrays the clash of cultures, ancient and modern, where would-be lovers must learn to understand each other. Set in a remote wilderness far from the madness of the imploding cities, this story, related alternately by its two characters, delves their paranoia, mistrust, and cultural bias with writing at once stylish and enlightening.
In Ring of Fire, Sommer Marsden evokes a vivid, gritty post-apocalyptic atmosphere with a palpable sense of weariness and worry, the oppressive weight of responsibility versus erotic instinct too-long repressed when two guards in an isolated outpost keep watch against the coming zombie hordes even as they explore their deepest desires.
Virtual Insanity by Carla Thereon finds a lonely, over-stressed soldier seeking refuge in her most brutal virtual fantasies, while in Hollywood by Jones, two lovers anticipate the end of their idyll as the flames of apocalypse close in on their dream home.
The zombie apocalypse gets its due in two very different tales: In Gregory L. Norris’s Mourning Doves in Limbo a man devastated by the loss of his lover looks back on their relationship and tries to see a way forward without him. In Better Than Therapy, Nicole Wolfe looks at similar tragedy through a humorous lens, with delightfully satirical musings on adultery and all the things we take for granted in modern society (like laws against murder and free coffee at the local bank branch).
Ashbless contributes a tale of her own: The Basque of the Red Death is a cleverly twisty-turny re-imagining of Edgar Alan Poe’s story of spoiled medieval nobles trying to hide from a ravaging plague by whiling away their hours in a secluded monastery—until self-absorption, debauchery, and hubris catches up with them in that dreaded black room with the crimson drapes…
Finally, Quiet Ranger’s Checkout Girl finds two strangers
sheltering from a world in which plants have gone rogue against humanity, waiting out the plague in the ruins of a supermarket. Soulmates find each other amidst adversity, but what hope is there for love when doomsday looms so near? Tragic, heart-wrenching, not to be missed.
Lust in the Dust is enthusiastically recommended!