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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Catastrophia, ed. Allen Ashley

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Edited by Allen Ashley

(PS Publishing, November 2010)

"Fade" by David Gullen
"A Hard Place" by Carole Johnstone
"Up" by Andrew Hook
"Stephen’s Boat" by Billie Bundschuh
"Noose" by Adam Roberts
"Check" by Robert Guffey
"Something For Nothing" by Joe Essid
"The Phoney War" by Nina Allan
"Happy Ending" by Simon Clark
"Nanoamerica" by David John Baker
"Pixels on a Screen" by Patrick Shuler
"Scalped" by Jet McDonald
"Gravity Wave" by Douglas Thompson
"In The Face of Disaster" by Ian Sales
"Trouble With Telebrations" by Tim Nickels
"The Long Road to the Sea" by James L. Sutter
"Crashes" by Stuart Young
"Hapless Humanity" by Brian W. Aldiss

Reviewed by Rena Hawkins

Catastrophia is a collection of all new original stories about catastrophes.  You know, like the REM song--"It's the End of the World as We Know It.”  Editor Allen Ashley says it best when he describes his idea of catastrophe as, "some event that rapidly changes the world social order, threatens the survival of Humankind or planet Earth, reduces people to a state of mere hand to mouth existence, puts the clock of progress back a couple of thousand years almost overnight, takes our attention off the exploits of celebrities, footballers and politicians and instead focuses it on keeping ourselves and our loved ones alive until sundown."

While (as always) I prefer some stories over others, I'm deeply impressed by the overall strength of the collection.  Each story easily stands on its own merit.  Keep in mind this anthology isn't meant to be uplifting.  Many of the stories are scary, gritty, and might make you more than a little uncomfortable.  But, if the idea of the world coming to an end doesn't make you uncomfortable, what would?

Perhaps Catastrophia is a collection to sit down with after you've had a really hard day; after reading some of the stories contained inside, misplacing your keys, a bad day at the office, or a fight with a loved one will seem like a walk in the park by comparison.

The first story in the collection is "Fade" by David Gullen.  A man lives his life on the rooftops of a ruined city trying to find enough water to stay alive and more importantly, trying to avoid Them.  

Next up is "A Hard Place" by Carole Johnstone.  When Jim Colquhoun's beloved wife Sarah dies, he believes his own life is over.  But, when invasive plants begin to take over the world and threaten to truly end life as Jim knows it, he discovers just how very much he wants to stay alive.

In "Up" by Andrew Hook, people begin to mysteriously float up into the air.  Unfortunately, what goes up must eventually come down.

The main characters in "Stephen's Boat" by Billie Bundschuh are Ruth and Steven (and no, I don't know why "Stephen" and "Steven" are spelled differently), two young people who plan to spend a relaxing weekend sailing and getting acquainted.  When a cataclysmic explosion leaves them stranded on the ocean, they must deal with hunger, fear, and the possibility that no one is left to rescue them.

"Noose" by Adam Roberts is the story of a literal noose surrounding the planet; 100 kilometers up, there's an energy-membrane that blocks electromagnetic phenomena and proves fatal if a human attempts to pass through it.  Things are bad enough when all of the world's satellites are disrupted, but scientists soon discover the noose is starting to tighten.  And there's nowhere on Earth to hide.

"Check" by Robert Guffey presents a bizarre dilemma; what would happen if gigantic, mysterious brick walls sealed off the city of Long Beach?  Why would many residents choose to stay?

"Something for Nothing" by Joe Essid is a horrifying cautionary tale.  What begins as an adventure for one young man who dares to ignore the warnings of his elders to stay away from "Bent Places" ends as a living nightmare.

"The Phoney War" by Nina Allen, poses an interesting question: are we really at war with aliens, or do we only think we are due to media hype and hysteria?  In the end, does it make any difference?

"Happy Ending" by Simon Clark offers the scenario of an end-of-the-world agent so seductive, so pleasurable, it's impossible to resist.  The ironic conclusion makes this my favorite "killer plant" story.

In "Nanoamerica" by David John Baker, the city of Manhattan is out of control with nano and is cut off from the rest of the country.  Trace is a man born out of the nano, the creation of a genius named Atton.  When Trace falls in love with Becky, is she the perfect woman for him or the trigger intended to turn him into the perfect weapon?

Patrick Shuler's "Pixels on a Screen" introduces us to Pandalover, a young woman who deals with a meteor-bombarded Earth by retreating into her internet world.  

Is world-wide hair loss a catastrophe?  Find out in "Scalped" by Jet McDonald.  One of the most bizarre stories in the collection.

"Gravity Wave" by Douglas Thompson describes the results of a scientific experiment gone horribly wrong, with the effects growing more profound and terrifying the closer to the origin of the event.  Beware, the images that form in your mind as you read this story will stay with you for days.

In my opinion, this is the best story in the collection. "Gravity Wave" is a standout due to its excellent combination of character development, plot, action, and plausible science.

How do you function in a world where you can no longer recognize anyone's face?  That's the dilemma proposed in the story "In the Face of Disaster" by Ian Sales.

Some people have called television the downfall of civilization.  In "Trouble with Telebrations" by Tim Nickels, they might be right.  

"The Long Road to the Sea" by James L. Sutter is a beautifully written story about people who, after dying, regain life, but not all of their humanity.  A tragic tale of lost love.

In "Crashes" by Stuart Young, it's believed a brilliant scientist named Hopely can save the world from certain destruction.  Unfortunately, after a terrible car crash, Hopely is only a brain in a jar, a situation that has him more than a little stressed.  An out-there story with a completely unexpected ending.

A great machine is the main character in "Hapless Humanity" by Brian W. Aldiss.  After Earth receives a devastating hit by an asteroid, the WYX performs its duty of recording the disappearance and return of life on the planet while slowly working its way toward consciousness.

Catastrophia, ed. Allen Ashley
PS Publishing, November 2010