The End of the World: Stories of the Apocalypse by Martin H. Greenberg | NOOK Book (eBook) | Barnes & Noble
The End of the World: Stories of the Apocalypse

The End of the World: Stories of the Apocalypse

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by Martin H. Greenberg

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Before The Road by Cormac McCarthy brought apocalyptic fiction into the mainstream, there was science fiction. No longer relegated to the fringes of literature, this explosive collection of the world’s best apocalyptic writers brings the inventors of alien invasions, devastating meteors, doomsday scenarios, and all-out nuclear war back to the bookstores


Before The Road by Cormac McCarthy brought apocalyptic fiction into the mainstream, there was science fiction. No longer relegated to the fringes of literature, this explosive collection of the world’s best apocalyptic writers brings the inventors of alien invasions, devastating meteors, doomsday scenarios, and all-out nuclear war back to the bookstores with a bang.

The best writers of the early 1900s were the first to flood New York with tidal waves, destroy Illinois with alien invaders, paralyze Washington with meteors, and lay waste to the Midwest with nuclear fallout. Now collected for the first time ever in one apocalyptic volume are those early doomsday writers and their contemporaries, including Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card, Lucius Shepard, Robert Sheckley, Norman Spinrad, Arthur C. Clarke, William F. Nolan, Poul Anderson, Fredric Brown, Lester del Rey, and more. Relive these childhood classics or discover them here for the first time. Each story details the eerie political, social, and environmental destruction of our world.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A sensitive introduction by Robert Silverberg sets the tone for 19 varied glimpses of humankind's ending, arranged thematically and ranging from the nuclear bang of Norman Spinrad's "The Big Flash" to the sad whimper of George R.R. Martin's poignant "Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels." Lester Del Rey's wrenching "Kindness" nods to the last living Homo sapiens while John Helfers's "Afterward" envisions a blue-whitebrown planet sterilized of human contamination. Orson Scott Card's "Salvage" and Nancy Kress's elegiac "Fools Like Me" eloquently humanize the inhuman and convincingly imagine the unimaginable. Even longtime SF fans who know many of these classic stories will be thrilled to have them all in one place, a moving and powerful reminder of humanity's capacity for self-destruction and powerful will to survive. (July)

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Stories of the Apocalypse

Skyhorse Publishing

Copyright © 2010 Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60239-967-9

Chapter One

Dancing Through The Apocalypse

* * *

Robert Silverberg

Humankind seems to take a certain grisly delight in stories about the end of the world, since the market in apocalyptic prophecy has been a bullish one for thousands or, more likely, millions of years. Even the most primitive of protohuman creatures, back there in the Africa of Ardipithecus and her descendants, must have come eventually to the realization that each of us must die; and from there to the concept that the world itself must perish in the fullness of time was probably not an enormous intellectual leap for those hairy bipedal creatures of long ago. Around their prehistoric campfires our remote hominid ancestors surely would have told each other tales of how the great fire in the sky would become even greater one day and consume the universe, or, once our less distant forebears had moved along out of the African plains to chillier Europe, how the glaciers of the north would someday move implacably down to crush them all. Even an eclipse of the sun was likely to stir brief apocalyptic excitement.

I suppose there is a kind of strange comfort in thoughts such as: "If I must die, how good that all of you must die also!" But the chief value of apocalyptic visions, I think, lies elsewhere than in that sort of we-will-all-go-together-when-we-go spitefulness, for as we examine the great apocalyptic myths we see that not only death but resurrection is usually involved in the story-a bit of eschatological comfort, of philosophical reassurance that existence, though finite and relatively brief for each individual, is not totally pointless. Yes, the tale would run, we have done evil things and the gods are angry and the world is going to perish, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, but then will come a reprieve, a second creation, a rebirth of life, a better world than the one that has just been purged.

What sort of end-of-the-world stories our primordial preliterate ancestors told is something we will never know, but the oldest such tale that has come down to us, which is found in the 5,000-year-old Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, is an account of a great deluge that drowns the whole earth, save only one man, Ziusudra by name, who manages to save his family and set things going again. Very probably the deluge story had its origins in memories of some great flood that devastated Sumer and its Mesopotamian neighbors in prehistoric times, but that is only speculation. What is certain is that the theme can be found again in many later versions: the Babylonian version gives the intrepid survivor the name of Utnapishtim, the Hebrews called him Noah, to the ancient Greeks he was Deucalion, and in the Vedic texts of India he is Manu. The details differ, but the essence is always the same: the gods, displeased with the world, resolve to destroy it, but then bring mankind forth for a second try.

Floods are not the only apocalypses that religious texts offer us. The Norse myths give us a terrible frost, and in the Fimbulwinter, all living things die except a man and a woman who survive by hiding in a tree. The myths follow the usual redemptionist course and repeople the world, but then comes an even greater cataclysm, Ragnarok, the doom of the gods themselves, in which the stars fall, the Earth sinks into the sea, and fire consumes everything-only to be followed by yet another rebirth and an era of peace and plenty. And the Christian tradition provides the spectacular final book of the Bible, the Revelation of St. John the Divine, in which the wrath of God is visited upon the earth in a host of ways (fire, plague, hail, drought, earthquakes, flood, and much more), leading to the final judgment and the redemption of the righteous. The Aztecs, too, had myths of the destruction of the world by fire-several times over, in fact-and so did the Mayas. Even as I write this, much popular excitement is being stirred by an alleged Mayan prediction that the next apocalypse is due in 2012, which has engendered at least three books and a movie so far.

Since apocalyptic visions are nearly universal in the religious literature of the world, and apparently always have been, it is not surprising that they should figure largely in the fantasies of imaginative storytellers. Even before the term "science fiction" had been coined, stories of universal or near-universal extinction brought about not by the anger of the deities but by the innate hazards of existence were being written and achieving wide popularity. Nineteenth-century writers were particularly fond of them. Thus we find such books as Jean-Baptiste de Grainville's The Last Man, or Omegarus and Syderia (1806) and Mary Shelley's The Last Man (1826), which was written under the shadow of a worldwide epidemic of cholera that raged from 1818 to 1822. Edgar Allan Poe sent a comet into the Earth in "The Conversation of Eros and Charmion" (1839). The French astronomer Camille Flammarion's astonishing novel of 1893, La Fin du Monde, or Omega in its English translation, brought the world to the edge of doom-but only to the edge-as another giant comet crosses our path. H. G. Wells told a similar story of near-destruction, almost surely inspired by Flammarion's, in "The Star" (1897). In his classic novel The Time Machine (1895), Wells had already taken his time traveler to the end of life on earth and beyond ("All the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background of our lives-all that was over").

Another who must certainly have read Flammarion is his compatriot Jules Verne, who very likely drew on the latter sections of Omega for his novella, "The Eternal Adam" (1905). Here Verne espouses a cyclical view of the world: Earth is destroyed by a calamitous earthquake and flood, but the continent of Atlantis wondrously emerges from the depths to provide a new home for the human race, which after thousands of years of toil rebuilds civilization; and we are given a glimpse, finally, of a venerable scholar of the far future looking back through the archives of humanity, "bloodied by the innumerable hardships suffered by those who had gone before him," and coming, "slowly, reluctantly, to an intimate conviction of the eternal return of all things."

The eternal return! It is the theme of so much of this apocalyptic literature. That phrase of Verne's links his story to the core of Flammarion's own belief that our own little epoch is "an imperceptible wave on the immense ocean of the ages" and that mankind's destiny is, as we see in his closing pages, to be born again and again into universe after universe, each to pass on in its turn and be replaced, for time goes on forever and there can be neither end nor beginning.

Rebirth after catastrophe is to be found, also, in M. P. Shiel's magnificent novel The Purple Cloud (1901), in which we are overwhelmed by a mass of poisonous gas, leaving only one man-Adam is his name, of course-as the ostensible survivor, until he finds his eve and life begins anew. No such renewal is offered in Frank Lillie Pollock's terminally apocalyptic short story "Finis" (1906), though, which postulates a gigantic central star in the galaxy whose light has been heading toward us for an immense span of time and now finally arrives, so that "there, in crimson and orange, flamed the last dawn that human eyes would ever see."

There is ever so much more. Few readers turn to apocalyptic tales these days for reassurance that once the sins of mankind have been properly punished, a glorious new age will open; but, even so, the little frisson that a good end-of-the-world story supplies is irresistible to writers, and the bibliography of apocalyptic fantasy is an immense one. Garrett P. Serviss's The Second Deluge (1912) drowns us within a watery nebula. G. Peyton Wertenbaker's "The Coming of the Ice" (1926) brings the glaciers back with a thoroughness that makes the Norse Fimbulwinter seem like a light snowstorm. (I had a go at the same theme myself in my 1964 novel, Time of the Great Freeze, but, unlike Wertenbaker, I opted for a thaw at the end.) Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer's When Worlds Collide (1933) tells us of an awkward astrophysical event with very unpleasant consequences for our planet. Edmond Hamilton's "In the World's Dusk" (1936) affords a moody vision of the end of days, millions of years hence, when one lone man survives and "a white salt desert now covered the whole of Earth. A cruel glaring plain that stretched eye-achingly to the horizons...." Robert A. Heinlein's story "The Year of the Jackpot" (1952) puts the end much closer-1962, in fact-when bad things begin to happen in droves all around the world, floods and typhoons and earthquakes and volcanic eruptions worthy of the Book of Revelation, culminating in a lethal solar catastrophe. J. T. McIntosh's One in Three Hundred (1954) also has the sun going nova, at novel length. And, of course, the arrival of atomic weapons in 1945 set loose such a proliferation of nuclear-holocaust stories that it would take many pages to list them all.

Modern-day writers continue to find literary rewards in dancing through the apocalypse. Twenty such jolly visions of ultimate disaster are presented here: Fredric Brown's sardonic, unforgettable "Knock"; Lucius Shepard's bleak and all-too-realistic "Salvador"; Poul Anderson's Wellsian "Flight to Forever"; Michael Swanwick's eloquent, ferocious "The Feast of St. Janis"; Edward Bryant's neatly understated "Jody After the War"; Lester del Rey's sly "Kindness"; and more than a dozen more.

The possible variations on the theme are endless. In a poem written nearly a century ago, Robert Frost speculated on whether the world will end in fire or in ice. Though he asserted that he himself held with "those who favor fire," he added that "for destruction ice is also great" and would suffice to do the task.

Fire or ice, one or the other-who knows? The final word on finality is yet to be written. But what is certain is that we will go on speculating about it ... right until the end.

Chapter Two

The Hum

* * *

Rick Hautala

"Can you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"That ..."

Dave Marshall rolled over in bed and struggled to come awake. He blinked, trying to focus his eyes in the darkness as he listened intently.

"I don't hear anything, sweetie," he said as he slid his hand up the length of his wife's thigh, feeling the roundness of her hip and wondering for a moment if she was interested in a little midnight tumble. He felt himself stirring.

"Don't tell me you can't hear that," Beth said irritably.

Dave realized she was serious about this although he'd be damned if he could hear anything. It didn't matter, though, because the romantic mood had already evaporated.

"Honest to God, honey, I don't hear anything. Maybe it was a siren or-"

"It wasn't a siren. It's ... I can just barely hear it. It's like this low, steady vibration." Beth held her breath, concentrating hard on the sound that had disturbed her.

"Maybe it's the refrigerator."

"No, goddamnit. It's not the fridge."

Dave was exhausted. He hadn't been sleeping well lately. Pressures at the office, he supposed, were getting to him. He sure as hell didn't need to be playing "Guess That Sound" at 2 am.

"Just put the pillow over your head and go back to sleep. I'll check it out in the morning."

"I can't sleep with my head under the pillow," Beth grumbled, but she turned away from him and put her head under the pillow just the same. He patted her hip one more time, feeling a little wistful.

"Isn't that better?"

"What? I can't hear you."

Ignoring her sarcasm, Dave leaned over and kissed her shoulder as he whispered, "Goodnight, honey."

* * *

Dave awoke early the next morning feeling like every nerve in his body was on edge. His eyes were itchy, and he could feel a headache coming on.

This is really weird, he thought. I was in bed by 10 last night. That's nine freakin' hours of sleep. I shouldn't feel like this.

He went downstairs to the kitchen. Beth was seated at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee clasped in both hands. Her face was pale, and she looked at him bleary-eyed.

"How'd you sleep?" she asked, and he caught the edge in her voice.

"Before you woke me up or after?" He forced a grin.

"Very funny. That goddamn hum kept me awake most of the night." She took a sip of coffee and opened the newspaper, making a point of ignoring him.

"Beth ..."


Dave stood still in the middle of the kitchen. Without even thinking about it, he suddenly realized that he could hear something. There was a low, steady vibration just at the edge of awareness. He could almost feel it in his feet.

"Wait a sec." He held up a finger to silence her. "You know ... I think I can hear it."

"Really?" Beth looked at him like she didn't quite believe him, but then she relented and said, "Oh, thank God. I thought I might be going insane."

Over the next hour or so, they searched throughout the house from attic to basement, looking for a possible source of the sound. It wasn't in the wires or the pipes or the circuit breaker box or the TV, of that Dave was sure. The odd thing was, no matter what floor they were on or what room they were in, the sound always seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. When Dave went outside to check the shed and garage, he found Beth in the middle of the yard, crying.

"What's the matter, honey?" He put his arms around her, feeling the tension in her body.

"I can hear it just as loud out here as I can inside the house," she said, sobbing into his shoulder.


"So ... That means it's not coming from inside the house. It's out here somewhere. It's like it's coming from the ground or the sky or something."

"Now you're being ridiculous," he said. He took a breath and, leaning close, stared into her eyes. "I'll call the electric company and maybe the phone company. It's gotta be a problem with the wires."

"Sure," Beth said, not sounding convinced. She wiped her nose on her bathrobe sleeve, then turned and walked back into the house. Dave watched her leave, knowing she didn't believe it was a wire problem.

He wasn't sure he believed it, either.

* * *

Over the next few days, things got worse. A lot worse. Like a sore in your mouth you can't help probing with your tongue, Dave found himself poised and listening for the sound all the time, trying to detect its source. Once he was aware of it, he couldn't help but hear it. He was growing desperate to locate it and analyze it. His work at the office suffered. Jeff Stewart, his boss, noticed how distracted he was. At first he commented on it with amusement, but that changed to concern and, finally, exasperation. But Dave noticed that everyone in the office seemed a little distracted and, as the day went by, more and more irritable. This would make sense, he thought, if everyone were sleeping as poorly as he was. It had taken him hours to fall asleep last night, and once he was out, the noise still permeated his dreams. He woke up a dozen or more times and just lay there staring at the ceiling as he listened to the low, steady hum just at the edge of hearing. He knew Beth was lying awake next to him, but they didn't talk. Every attempt at conversation ended with one of them snapping at the other.

Over the next few days, sales of white-noise machines, soundproofing materials, and environmental sound CDs went through the roof. People turned their TVs and radios up loud in a futile effort to block out the hum, further irritating their neighbors who were already on edge.


Excerpted from THE END OF THE WORLD Copyright © 2010 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Martin H. Greenberg Martin H. Greenberg has been called “the best anthologist since Ellery Queen.” He’s the most prolific anthologist in publishing history and recipient of the Ellery Queen Award for life achievement in editing from the Mystery Guild of America. He is also one of the editors of Sherlock Holmes in America and Vampire Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Robert Silverberg is a bestselling science fiction author. He is a multiple winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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