The world has come to an end. Los Angeles has suffered a major earthquake and fallen into the ocean. Three super-plagues, most likely released as the result of terrorist activity, have spread across the Earth and people are dying everywhere. Soon, less than one in ten thousand people survive, and almost all that do are isolated.
The theme of Grants Pass isn’t new, until you add the one ingredient I haven’t yet described. A year before the apocalypse, a young girl called Kayley sent an email to all her friends telling them that, should the world end they should meet her in Grants Pass, Oregon, USA. When the apocalpyse becomes reality less than a year later, survivors across the globe latch onto Kayley’s words with religious fever and go in search of her fabled land. Her words become a single hope in a world where everything is falling apart and death is the most common experience for everyone, even the survivors.
The collection contains seventeen stories, and some of them by well known authors. What surprised me was that they were all good, each captivating in their own unique ways. All use as a theme, survivors who have read Kayley’s email and are searching, if not for Grants Pass itself, at least the idea of sanctuary that this mythical locale embraces.
The earlier stories centre upon the first infections and mass decimations. Stephanie Gunn’s “An Unkindness of Ravens” opens the book and becomes a worthy template for what follows. As New York dies it rapidly transforms into a ghost town. Only two survivors remain, and all too quickly their tenuous relationship deteriorates.
“Boudha” by K.V. Taylor is an excellent example of how the citizens of a developing country (in this case Nepal) would respond to a global plague, which poignantly is much the same as how people in Australia, America or Europe would react. I liked the global focus with this tale, yet unfortunately most of the stories that follow take place in the United States. Martin Living’s “Ascenion” however takes us beyond the Earth and is a great tale about astronauts stranded in the International Space Station, removed from the plagues and safe from it, but unable to return home.
Later stories turn towards the survivors, who have come to realise that they have natural immunities while they watched everyone else around them die. Those survivors are traumatised, and yet they must make the most of their prediciment, some doing better than others. “A Few that Are Good” by Scott Almes is one of the better to embrace this theme. Two boys who are proud of their dad and the trading business they have established since the end of the world, suddenly and very drastically, watch that world fall apart. “New Found Gap” by Lee Zumpe Clark is a touching story of a group of survivors who stick together until one of them realises that finding salvation in a community is not really what he wants, even though he has spent a year searching for it.
The last third of the collection focuses upon isolation. Amanda Pillar’s “Ink Blots” is the best of these stories, as a lone woman in Melbourne struggles against depression when she begins to accept she might be the last person alive. “Remembrance” by James M. Sullivan rounds off the collection with a nice oral history on how the world came to an end, how the narrator survived and the emotional cost of surviving.
All the stories in Grants Pass were great; there was not one I did not enjoy. My only criticism of the anthology is that it ended far sooner than I was hoping it would. So much about Grant’s Pass itself was built up through all the stories, and yet even when the last story takes us into the town’s walls, little is described. I wanted to know if Grant’s Pass was the salvation many of the characters hoped it would be, or something far more sinister.
Overall Grants Pass is an excellent anthology of the apocalype, focused on the human responses of loss, isolation and fear. Imagine 28 Days Later, The Quiet Earth or The Day of the Triffids without zombies, weird science or carnivorous plants. The end of the world comes about through threats that are very real today, and it is a credit to the editors Jennifer Brozek and Amanda Pillar that they created a very plausible setting.
Review by David Conyers
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