Discarding survival of the fittest (Part 1)

This review contains spoilers for Defying Doomsday.

What If: the world ended and you had a disability or were chronically ill.

Defying Doomsday takes this “What If” scenario and explores it across fifteen short stories. Each story does this incredibly differently.  This post explores the first four short stories and how they approach the scenario.

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The Executions:

And the Rest of Us Wait – Corinne Duyvis

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Iveta is a teenage Latvian popstar sitting a shelter waiting out the apocalypse somewhere in Europe. She also has spina bifida. It is set in the near future where she has an electronic spinal implant to be able to walk. However, when the comet finally hits the earth the electromagnetic pulse knocks out her implant.

It explores the concepts of celebrity and the media portrayal of disability. For example, Iveta has a conversation with two other young women in the shelter who ask why she isn’t on a priority ark as she’s a ‘celebrity’. She brushes it off but in her narration she mentions how the world forgot her country as they prepared for the impact. The two young women also quiz her as to why she hasn’t got her wheelchair which Iveta says she only uses for performances which gets a big reaction as if she’s a faker. Iveta quickly clarifies that she only uses her wheelchair for performances so she could save energy and not have to worry about falling over. This conversation is often typical of people when discussing disability, especially when discussing accessible parking, permits and invisible disabilities.

The plot delves into the rationing of food and supplies. This quote probably sums up the general consensus of what many people would think in such a situation:

“It’s such nonsense. Special diets? Come on. It’s the end of the damn world. If even one percent of us end up surviving I’d call it a win.”

To distract from the situation (and as her own coping mechanism), Iveta begins performing songs with other girls to uplift the mood. While she gets some pretty nasty feedback, she takes it in her stride. She soon becomes a symbol of hope for many and the shelters organisers want her to break the news to people that they will no longer be catering for specific diets. She definitely tells everyone that equality means that we all have an equal chance, not that we all get the same.

It’s certainly not a subtle message but it’s a damn important one.

To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath – Stephanie Gunn

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Georgie’s sisters, Annalee and Eliza were born with cystic fibrosis. Annalee received a lung transplant a year ago but Eliza also needs a lung transplant. The story begins months after a flu epidemic when Eliza’s black phone, the one especially for contacting the transplant hospital rings. Georgie is convinced it’s just the phone glitching but after a message is left stating there is a transplant for Eliza. Annalee and Eliza convince Georgie to leave the relative safety of their mother’s farm and go into the city to the hospital.

To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath explores the idea of survival through Georgie’s point of view rather than either of the sisters. Georgie is the one trying to keep everything together despite her own medical issues (she suffered severe burns as a child and is heavily scarred). It is an interesting dynamic that is often seen in older siblings or if one sibling is ill and the other is not.

During their journey into the city, Annalee’s body begins to reject the newly transplanted lungs and now Georgie must face the reality she may lose both of her sisters. That everything has an expiry date, including humans. Roses are used heavily as symbolism, the story starts with Georgie telling the story of a priest telling Annalee and Eliza that God put 65 roses in their chests. The ending finds them in a house with a beautiful rose garden, circling back that there may still be hope after all.

 

Something in the Rain – Seanan McGuire

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Holly and her cat Kaylee are the only survivors of toxic rain caused by melting polar ice caps. Holly has autism and mild schizophrenia and was recently pulled out of her school as she’d been mercilessly bullied. She was one of few people who saw the signs of the impending disaster and refused to go outside. It was the thing that saved her life. She has an established routine of going shopping at the local Target with a wagon, timing the storms and cleaning her house. She also still takes her medication regularly.

One day she runs into Cathy, one of the bullies from her school. Cathy is the first survivor Holly has met but she’s not very impressed with this turn of events. Cathy follows Holly home but immediately calls her weird, spaz, scitzo and insults Kaylee the cat. Cathy and Holly try to get along for a few days but Cathy commits the ultimate sin by letting out Kaylee. Holly insists she find the cat and Cathy gets her comeuppance.

This was one of my favourite stories in Defying Doomsday as it’s the ultimate revenge fantasy and I found Holly to be such a great character whose autism and narration is subtly inserted by the way she describes things and how she speaks to Cathy. Her survival was due to the unique way she saw the world which I really enjoyed.

 

Did We Break the End of the World? – Tansy Rayner Roberts

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Jin and Aisha are partners in crime and in silence. Jin is deaf and Aisha doesn’t speak. Together they move through houses as scavengers. Jin specialises in scavenging batteries, especially since he only has a limited supply for his hearing aid. The partnership between Jin and Aisha and how they communicate via basic sign language and body language is interested to read and gives a unique perspective on showing not telling.

On a routine scavenge, Jin and Aisha find graffiti in the house they are looting stating “Did we break the end of the world?” They both have been seeing this particular line popping up all over the city but neither can work out what it means.

They run into a teenage boy called Billy who specialises in scavenging art supplies. Jin is suspicious of Billy but also incredibly attracted to him.

As the story unfolds, it is revealed that the only survivors are teenagers as the suburb they were living in was specifically for foster children and robotic foster parents. Billy is the one painting “did we break the end of the world?” everywhere and he has a theory, that they’re part of some strange experiment and ‘the pulse’ was orchestrated by whomever was running the experiment to close it down. Except they survive and start their own version of society.

The ending doesn’t actually confirm if said conspiracy theory is true as the plot isn’t overly important as the characters in this story. Jin and Billy develop a romance that seems realistic and isn’t focused on either the fact that Billy is deaf or the fact they’re both boys. Kudos to Tansy Rayner Roberts for portraying a real relationship without harping on those two parts. I really enjoyed this story and I’ve got a secret hope that these characters will be revisited at a later date.

 

What do you think about the first for executions of this What If Scenario? Do you think that traditionally survival and post-apocalyptic stories over favour survival of the fitness rather than luck? Would you survive the apocalypse? Start a conversation below or share on social media.

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