Grants Pass

Grants Pass - Jennifer Brozek, Cherie Priest, Martin Livings, Seanan McGuire, Ed Greenwood, Carole Johnstone, Lee Clark Zumpe, Jay Lake, Pete Kempshall, Jeff Parish, Amanda Pillar, Stephanie Gunn, K.V. Taylor, Scott Almes, Shannon Page, James M. Sullivan, Kayley Allard, Ivan Ewert

keywords: horror, post-apocalyptic, bioterrorism, plague, anthology
brainycat's "5 Best B"s (on a scale of one to five):
boobs: 1 / blood 3 / bombs 2 / bondage 1 / blasphemy 3

Grant's Pass is an excellent concept anthology that I enjoyed reading. The authors of each of the twenty pieces were provided with the following scenario: Bioterrorists unleash plagues across the globe that leave a survival rate of 0.001 percent. While the plagues were buring through the population, a blog post written by a young woman goes viral. This post, written before the plagues started, is a letter to her friends asking them to meet her in Grant's Pass, Oregon if the world comes to an end. Each of the stories in this book are about characters deciding to go to Grant's Pass, trying to get to Grant's Pass or trying to keep people from going to Grant's Pass. The city becomes an analogy for hope and community, for safety and a chance at reconnecting with people assumed lost during the plague.

I really, really like post-apocalyptic stories. Like most fans, I enjoy imagining myself as a survivor and I put myself into the desolation and destruction,  daydreaming about a world without deadlines, traffic, bills or legions of stupid people; where my wits and my physicality are the difference between life and death - every day. I also daydream about people in extraordinary circumstances. What if I were far from home when the extinction even occurs? How will the infrastructure (power, water, sewage, internet) fall apart? What about researchers in Antarctica or isolated cultures living the way they have for thousands of years deep in the rainforest? What is the mathematical model to determine if a group of survivors are open and welcoming to strangers or likely to subjugate or kill people who come across them? These are the things that I think about when I'm staring off into space. I can divine how cynical I'm feeling at any given time by the answers I provide for myself.

And these are the questions posed by in this collection. As with other post-apocalyptic books, a major theme throughout most of the stories can be summed up with a Rousseau-ean supposition: When the chains of civilization are broken, how do free people behave? Some of the answers gave Stacey nightmares. I don't disagree with her assesment that people are capable of doing amazingly horrific things to each other when there's little to no liklihood of reprisal (eg Animal Husbandry by Seanan McGuire, The Few That Are Good by Scott Ames, and Men of Faith by Ivan Ewert). Each of the characters in those stories believe they are forced into their actions by the conditions they're in and are totally justified in everything they do, leaving the reader mute witness to the downward spiral into madness and anarchy the characters throw themselves. If I didn't get nightmares but instead felt entertained, it's because I'm a cold heartless bastard.

"Somebody once wrote 'Hell is the impossibility of reason'", and by this measure some of these stories are truly hellish. I'm not speaking of the nature of the plagues; this is not a medical thriller and the editors made a better-than-half-assed-attempt at making the science plausible, so I'm willing to buy into the disease etiology. Some of the stories explore an alienation and dysphoria so overwhelming that we watch the characters' psyches splinter apart and flutter like so many tiny pieces of confetti in the wind. The character quirks and oddities that endear us to our friends today can become the faultlines that rupture and bring us down in times of stress, and this idea is explored especially well in Final Edition by Jeff Parish, Ink Blots by Amanda Pillar, By The Sea by Shannon Page, Hell's Bells by Cherie Priest and especially The Discomfort of Words by Carole Johnstone. Perhaps egomaniaclly, I didn't especially relate to any of these protagonists, but rather enjoyed watching their descent into madness from a smug perch, confident (hubristically) that I'm stronger than they are.

Is it the responsibility of every survivor to keep clawing at life, fending off the extinction of the human species for as long as possible, or is it every person's responsibility to make their death have meaning? Can anyone's death, or life, mean anything when total extinction is just a few years away? This is an important question, and is being wrestled with today (albeit in a wildly differnt context) in the debates around assisted suicide. For the staff trapped in orbit on the International Space Station, it's not an abstract question and Martin Livings provides his answers in Ascension. Jennifer Brozek also broaches the idea in The Chateau de Mons, and the most romantic story in the collection Rights of Passage by Pete Kempshall shows this choice is not always one's own to make.

Ultimately, the post-apocalyptic genre is about showing us hope. In the personal sense, we each hope that we would survive an apocalyptic even and as readers we hope the protagonists survive their disasters. Exploring stories like this allows us to explore the banal cruelty humans can so casually commit, which makes kindnesses, small and large, seem so much more significant. Hope and the redemption of the social fabric we know today are powerful motivators for heroes and antiheroes alike, and they drive several stories including An Unkindness of Ravens by Stephanie Gunn, Boudha by K.V. Taylor, A Newfound Gap by Lee Clarke Zumpe, Black Heart White Mourning by Jay Lake and especially A Perfect Night to Watch Detroit Burn by Ed Greenwood.

I thoroughly enjoyed this anthology. It's not just another "driving around the burning remains of North America with a truck full of guns" fantasy, it's a collection of thought provoking and intelligent short stories bound together by a brilliant concept. The writing is consistently solid through the book; while none of the stories struck me as drop-what-you're-doing-and-read-this-now caliber, the lack of weak pieces elevates the overall average and made it very easy to get through the book. I got the .azw from Amazon, and somewhere between it's production and my converting to epub enough formatting errors showed up that it was a bit distracting, and there were several typos. I say this because it triggered my OCD, but at no point were any of the pieces unreadable. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys horror and post-apocalyptic fiction with an intelligent, emotional edge to it.