“After the Apocalypse” by Maureen McHugh

For someone who claims not to like short stories, I’m reading a lot of them lately, and I’m liking them a lot. Coincidence that they’ve all been written by women? I think not. I suspect it’s because the books I’ve been reading lately delve more into emotional icky-wow factors than physical ones. I’m much more able to tolerate being haunted by emotional echoes than by gruesome word pictures, which, probably unfairly, I tend to associate with short stories by men.

The latest collection was After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh. My husband G. Grod and I had seen it praised in various corners of the web, he requested it from the library, then liked it so well he encouraged me to read it before the due date (no renewals). I crammed it into an already too full reading schedule, but am glad I did, because it was good. Really good.

McHugh writes stories that aren’t easily defined by genre. She’s science fiction-y, and fantastical, but not exactly either one of those. Her stories here are mostly set in a not-too-distant future where something has changed; most often they’re set in the aftermath of a dirty bomb, but there are other environmental mishaps as well. She is sure handed at setting a stage and peopling it quickly in diverse settings as China, Ohio and the West. With zombies, enclaves, artificial intelligence, and medical experiments gone awry, she ably captures an eerie, unsettling tone that makes me think and feel, but never want to wash my brain out.

To see if it’s your cuppa, one of my favorite of the stories, “Useless Things” is available online here.

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