Discarding survival of the fittest (Part 4)

Defying Doomsday comes full circle with the final three stories.

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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 four of the short stories and how they approach the scenario. Check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

 

Spider Silk, Strong as Steel – Samantha Rich

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Humanity we know it no longer exists due to giant spiders taking over the world. When it’s written like that it sounds cheesy but the story doesn’t dwell on the why or the bigger picture of the world. It focuses on Emm who uses a board on wheels to get around. It doesn’t specify why but it is stated people in her community tried to cast her out before they realised she could go into the spiders dens and collect items. Now she’s treated with distant reverence. The story focuses on Emm getting ready for a ‘hunt’ where she goes into the spiders den on her board. Superstition and ritual are emphasised throughout the story such as Emm sleeping late and treating her board almost like a person.

Most of the story focuses on her going through the lair and out of all the stories in this collection, this one scared the absolute hell out of me. Giant spiders are gross and she’s sneaking through this lair pulling herself along with ‘silk’ and I was on edge the entire time I read it through. I have mentioned previously that some of the stories had too much cramed into them. Spider Silk, Strong as Steel was a wonderful and terrifying story. There was no big explanation as to why Emm couldn’t use her legs nor how the world ended up like this. It was just a slice of life in the day of a young woman who also has a disability trying to survive.

No Shit by K L Evangelista

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A plague has ravaged Australia. The story starts with Jane burying her parents. Despite this rather grim task her sarcastic tone gives immediately sets the tone for the story. “Let’s be clear up front. I didn’t kill my parents. I loved them. The plague killed them, and everyone else.”

Jane spends the next few days getting drunk and trying to find other survivors in Woolgoolga, NSW. Eventually she finds another survivor called Sam who is living in a Winnebago collecting books such as Dealing with Change and Composting Toilets. They both make a joke about not wanting to deal with sewerage (No Shit) and decide it will be the unofficial motto of their survival group. The tone of the whole story is incredibly light and amusing despite the fact these two are seemingly the last two people around.

They manage to find a professional FM transmitter and start tagging the places they go with graffiti stating Jane and Sam Alive at 5pm. They start travelling up towards Brisbane and broadcasting their message. You get a fair way through Jane’s hilarious and biting commentary before you find out she’s got Crohn’s disease which affects her bowels. Sam gets angry about her not opening up and you realise the hilarious commentary is more of a defence mechanism. Even as the narrator of her own story she doesn’t reveal this to us. They get to Brisbane and find a hospital with full energy but empty. Jane wonders why they’re not rerouting power and you get the second big reveal about her character – she’s an electrical engineer. They meet a doctor in the hospital who has a theory that the people who survived the plague all have autoimmune diseases – Sam had orchidness, Jane has Crohn’s and the doctor has MS. If this is actually correct the story doesn’t delve into it as Jane and Sam head to Mount Cootha where they’re met with applause from their fans.

This was such a great story as Jane’s voice was so strong from the outset but also allowed the reader to slowly uncover her secrets with Sam. I like that the autoimmune disease survival theory was thrown in but not explored too deeply. I’d honestly read more of Sam and Jane’s adventures as they navigated the post-apocalyptic Australian East Coast in a Winnebago.

I will remember you – Janet Edwards

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On day zero, an alien spaceship hovers over Corlforth St Peter and the USA tries to attack it. The weapons do nothing. On day one blue dots started appearing on people’s hands. The dots signified the day you were going to die. The main character Megan doesn’t have any dots on her hand as she was born without one. She assumes she will die on day five like her parents. The last day before they prepare to die is a horrible heart wrenching thing to read. They’re so calm and just eating dinner. They then go out to sit in a trench with all the other day fives to die. Megan’s mother dies midsentence and it’s so sad to read. It takes a while to realise Megan’s not actually dead. She finds out that some people have not been marked for death and they’re the heirs of humanity. Megan goes to the trenches and tells people she will remember them. They give her photos and write messages on the back. Another village has an heir but its six month old baby. Megan agrees to look after him and they set her up on a farm so she will be able to survive when everyone is gone. Another heir is found but he refuses to meet Megan until day fourteen, when everyone will be dead. As the last of the people die, Megan prepares herself for the reality she is going to be alone with a baby and a complete stranger. The other heir is a seventeen year old boy and the two of them watch as the alien spaceship leaves, their cleansing of the earth complete. As the ship flies away Megan mutters “I will remember you.”

This story was amazingly gut wrenching. From the opening of Megan describing her last day with her parents to the slow build-up of Megan knowing everyone around her was going to die was so well written. It didn’t feel melodramatic but you felt such horror at the events unfolding completely out of everyone’s control. This was the last story in the collection and it was such a great way to end. I don’t know if it was intentional but it felt like the collection came full circle – the opening story, And the rest of us wait, saw a teenage girl singing and rallying her community while I will remember you was a teenage girl watching her entire community die.

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.

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.