REVIEW: Wastelands: A Post-Apocalyptic Anthology Done Right

Tech blogger Josh Smith is only part-way through Wastelands, but likes it quite a lot thus far: "One of the strongest parts of the anthology thus far is the decision by Adams to focus on stories which portray life after the apocalypse, forgoing zombies and other provocateurs and focusing on the struggles and stories of individuals in a dramatically different world.  This method of selection has led to some wonderful stories which allow me to connect with the individual characters and at some level understand them.  So far the stories have evoked a strong response from me due in part to the attempts of characters to “do good” in some manner and either failing or coming to a realistic and forlorn conclusion."

He goes on to praise the "For Further Reading" appendix: "As a reader I cannot begin to express how awesome this is to me.  Many times after finishing an anthology or collection I have been left at a loss as to where to find more material to read that is within the same vein as the original writing, something not always accomplished by reading the authors’ other  published work.  This reference has provided em a list of authors and books to add to my ‘To Read’ notebook in One Note."

NEWS: Doomsday: Don’t Go See It Even if It’s the Last Movie on Earth

As the editor of a post-apocalyptic anthology and someone who is generally considered to be something of an expert on the subject, I feel it is my duty to provide this public service announcement in regard to the recently released film Doomsday. It is, quite simply, one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

Here’s a quick synopsis, in case you’re not familiar with it already: There’s a massive plague in England, which is contained by sealing off Scotland along Hadrian’s Wall. Thirty years later, the virus starts showing up in the rest of England, so a team is sent into the quarantine zone to search for a cure among the survivors.

Okay, but here’s the thing. Almost nothing that happens in the movie makes sense. None of the SF elements are thought out at all. There’s tons of cliches such as the idiotic post-apocalyptic biker punk society that arises inside the quarantine zone, who for some reason turn to cannibalism even though there are, inexplicably, so many cows wandering around that when the "outside" team enters the quarantine zone they run them over with their tanks. It’s like director Neil Marshall surveyed all of post-apocalyptic fiction and film, took all of the worst elements from each of them and threw them into this movie.

It’s just absolutely abysmal. You just might find yourself wishing the end of the world would come just so you wouldn’t have to sit through another second of this pathetic excuse for a movie.

Trust me: Don’t waste your money. Hell, don’t even go if you get in for free–life’s too short.

NEWS: Dragon Page interview

I was interviewed on The Dragon Page podcast. I talk about a variety of things, which Dragon Page sums up: "John tells us about acquiring the stories (including one by Stephen King), putting the collection together, and what appeals to and attracts him to post-apocalyptic fiction. Discussion ranges from the inspirations and influences of post-apocalyptic stories, to the extensive website that accompanies the book, and the joy of acquiring a Stephen King story."

Go listen!


On Saturday I spoke at the Face the Fiction event, presented by the Science Fiction Society of Northern New Jersey. Which reminds me that I never posted a report of my speaking engagement at the Science Fiction Association of Bergen County’s  monthly meeting.

See my personal blog’s entry for the full run-down of those two events.

REVIEW: Wastelands Conquers All, Says Omnivoracious

Over at the Amazon blog, Omnivoracious, Jeff VanderMeer has a nice piece about Wastelands, which is, incidentally, awesomely titled "Apocalypse Wow: Wastelands Conquers All." In it, Jeff says: "[Wastelands] has been one of the great success stories of the early part of 2008–selling out its initial print run (and going back to reprint), garnering rave reviews, and just generally conquering all in its path. Given the volatile nature of anthologies, which have a high failure rate, that’s quite an accomplishment. But it’s no surprise, given the careful editing and packaging of Wastelands, which has its own website (including free downloads of some of the fiction) and includes reprinted stories from the likes of Orson Scott Card, Jonathan Lethem, George R.R. Martin, Gene Wolfe, and many other luminaries." Jeff then sprinkles in some commentary by me, along with a selection of first lines from the stories, which he leaves un-identified to entice readers and leaving them to guess which stories and authors they come from.

Jeff says that the full interview he did with me will appear on the book’s Amazon page in the next week or two. Meanwhile, on his own blog, Ecstatic Days, Jeff leaked a bit of the interview, displaying my answer to his question: "Any funny stories in the anthology, and how did you deal with the possible problem of similarity of tone throughout the book?" Click through to find out!

Wastelands Favorite Story Poll

Over on my personal blog, I’ve posted a favorite story poll for Wastelands. So if you’ve read the book already, pop over and cast your vote!

Stainless Steel Review of Wastelands

Review blog Stainless Steel Droppings has a rave review of Wastelands, giving it a 4.5/5 rating. The reviewer says: "Editor John Joseph Adams’ collection of 22 stories, representing a wide-variety of post-apocalyptic scenarios from some of the field’s most prolific authors, is a must-have volume for fans of the this subgenre of science fiction. What makes Wastelands great, however, is that it contains the type and caliber of stories that should appeal to those who are simply fans of the format and are unsure of their feelings about post-apocalyptic literature." He also provides detailed commentary on each of the stories (with letter grades), singling out contributions by George R. R. Martin, Cory Doctorow, and David Grigg as being worth of A+ ratings.

Locus Reviews Wastelands

Rich Horton has a new review of Wastelands in the latest issue of Locus Magazine. In it, he has extensive commentary about a variety of the stories, singling out "The End of the Whole Mess" by Stephen King, "The People of Sand and Slag" by Paolo Bacigalupi, "Speech Sounds" by Octavia E. Butler, and "Killers" by Carol Emshwiller, among others. In summation, he says: "John Joseph Adams’s new anthology works quite nicely as a selection of such new stories of the end of the world. […] A first-rate anthology that quite convincingly represents the more recent SFnal view of the apocalypse."

Ideomancer Interview

Ideomancer has a looooong interview with me by Sean Melican, in which we talk about Wastelands, post-apocalyptic fiction and film, football, and death metal, among other things. Here’s a snippet:

SM: All right. You must explain folk metal. Killswitch covers the Kingston Trio? Metallica meets Joni Mitchell?

JJA: Folk Metal is, according to Wikipedia, a fusion of folk music and metal. I don’t really know much about folk music, so that doesn’t help me much, but I do like the results. The bands I’ve been listening to—Enisferum, Korpiklaani, Turisas, and Wintersun—are all from Finland. Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure why these particular bands are labeled folk metal, as most of it doesn’t seem that dissimilar from a lot of the other metal I listen to, but exploring bands in that sub-genre has worked out for me so far, so I’m going to continue to do so. They sing about Vikings a lot, and swords and battle, that kind of thing. If the "folk" referred to "folklore," that would make sense, but typically in folk music I don’t think it does necessarily.

One of the bands—Korpiklaani—definitely uses some instruments typical of folk music, like the violin and accordion. Bet you didn’t know you could play an accordion in a metal band. Korpiklaani to me seems to be the most "folk" of all the bands I’ve mentioned. Their music, the tempo of it, the beats, it feels like folk to me, whereas the other bands that’s not as true. Turisas has some very epic sort of songs, like "Miklagard Overture"; it makes me think of like, Wagner or something. I could see their album "The Varangian Way" being put on as an opera—it probably jumps to mind not only because of the operatic quality of the music, but also because it’s a concept album: a story is told via the lyrics of all the songs.

Here’s a link.

Another Wastelands interview

Post-apocalyptic site The Quiet Earth just published an interview with me about Wastelands. Here’s a snippet:

QE: Of course the genre has become very popular with film audiences. Do you think popular cinema has helped or hindered the more literary aspirations of the genre?

JJA: I think that popularity in film always helps out the popularity of literary treatments of the same genre, and authors are rarely find anything from the realm of film to hinder their efforts at telling good stories. If anything, it probably helps, because oftentimes films–especially SF films–explore interesting concepts, but often fail to capture what’s truly great about them (or don’t think them through all the way); this results in a lot of writers writing sort of "rebuttal" stories to things they’ve seen on film.

As for post-apocalyptic film in particular, I’m not sure how big an impact it’s had on the literature. A lot of people have asked me what my favorite post-apocalyptic films are, and I’ve had a hard time coming up with a list of things I honestly think are great. There are the iconic progenitors of the sub-genre like The Road Warrior, but is it a great movie? There’s great stuff about it, sure, but it’s very flawed. And that’s true about almost all post-apocalyptic movies I can think of.

There are probably more films that employ post-apocalyptic elements or imagery, but are not primarily post-apocalyptic–what I think of (and describe in my "for further reading" appendix in Wastelands) as being of "associational" relevance to the sub-genre. I’m thinking here of films like 12 Monkeys–one of my favorite SF films of all time–which is perhaps the best portrayal of a post-apocalyptic world on film.

There’s a new film coming out (or may be out by the time this interview is published) called Doomsday. When I saw the trailer, about halfway through it, I was thinking that it had a real shot at being the best post-apocalyptic movie ever. But then the cliché post-apocalyptic punks showed up and my expectations took a serious nose-dive. I think that’s a large part of what’s wrong with post-apocalyptic cinema–too much of it doesn’t try to do anything original, and is just copying what they liked about The Road Warrior.

Go here to read the rest.