After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia

Posted November 8, 2012 by Tara in Review /// 6 Comments

You’re gonna need the subtitle to look this one up on Goodreads.

After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia
Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Review copy from NetGalley
[#58 in my 75 book challenge]

Note: Release October 9, 2012

If you know me, you know I love dystopia, and I love post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s my favorite genre, y’all. So when I saw this collection on NetGalley up for review, I could not help myself.

Now we all know that short story collections can be a little hit-or-miss. That’s the fun of it all. With nineteen different stories, there were bound to be some that I loved and some I hated. I realized very quickly that it very hard to write dystopian/post-apocaplyptic short stories for teens. There is so much world building to do, and so little space in which to do it. Most of the authors took on the strategy of just dropping the reader in the middle of the story, giving clues along the way as to how the world ended up that way and what the rules (or lack thereof) are in the society. This alone made the collection very hard to read.

You could take those nineteen instances of complete disorientation as a literary parallel to the disorientation found in dystopian/post-apocalytpic societies. I get that, though I don’t know if it was purposeful. I still didn’t like it. But you know what I did figure out? I now see why so many books these days are trilogies. The world building is complicated, and often takes up half of the first book in a trilogy.

THAT BEING SAID, I did enjoy many of the stories in this collection. It’s actually worth reading/owning if you love YA dystopia, and some of the stories would be great to read again. Some of my favorites:

After the Cure by Carrie Ryan — This is a zombie story where people can actually be cured from the zombie-ness. Imagine knowing that you had once been a human-eating zombie!

Valedictorian by N.k. Jemisin — It is well know that he valedictorian every year is picked for a special task and never returns, but what is the task and whydo they never return? (This could definitely be turned into a longer work. I’d read it!)

The Other Elder by Beth Revis— This comes from the same world as Across the Universe, telling the story of an Elder before the Elder we meet in Revis’ trilogy. Cool if you’ve read the books, probably not as cool if you haven’t.

Rust With Wings by Stephen Gould — Crazy-ass beetle-bug things eat anything metal. Such a cool premise! Do YOU have any metal fillings?

Fake Plastic Trees by Caitlin R. Kiernan — A scientific endeavor went wrong, and much of the world has turned to plastic. Quite sad, but I liked the premise (and the weird ending).

Note: The LGBT tag comes from some of the stories having clear LGBTQI characters. But the fact that the LGBTQI aspect is not the focus of any of the stories was great!

FINAL GRADE:  B-   One of my favorite things about dystopian short stories was that there was very little time for romance, so we got to focus on the actual world-building and action of the stories. Sometimes I think the romance takes over in dystopian trilogies (and I’ll admit that I get caught up in it). The B- is an average score for all of the stories in the book, with points take off for having a few too many stories in the collection (nineteen is a lot). Of course, casual readers can always skip stories they aren’t getting in to! As a librarian, I’d definitely buy this volume and put it on display in my library. It might even be a cool purchase for reading short stories in a language arts class (lit circles, anyone?). I recommend it to anyone, 10 and up, who love dystopian world building and short stories.

Do you think 19 stories are too many for a short story collection? How do you feel about the idea of dystopian short stories? 


Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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6 responses to “After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia

  1. Yes, I do think 19 is too many. I don’t know why, but I’m more comfortable with 10-12. As a language teacher, I love the idea of an entire novel devoted to dystopian short stories (I also love the genre). We are studying Lord of the Flies now. This would be a good way to direct them to other dystopian lit without the commitment of an entire novel.

  2. Tara

    Yes! There are some stories in here that would pair well with Lord of the Flies, since the kids are the focus of the stories. Several stories have kids on their own trying to survive, with pecking orders and whatnot. It would bring Lord of the Flies into the modern day.

  3. Worldbuilding is definitely challenging, especially in short stories, but it certainly can be done and done well. Charles de Lint does it superbly. His worldbuilding often ends up being better than the story itself.

  4. Oooh, I’m happy to see a review of this one! I picked it up at BEA, excited about many of the authors in the anthology, but I have yet to read any of them. In anthologies like this, I honestly tend to pick and choose stories based on what authors I’m a fan of, but doing this I would have likely missed out on the Stephen Gould story. I’ll have to mark that one to read!

  5. I love dystopian as well, its my favorite genre! I’m a personal fan of trilogies, though I can’t say no to a bit of a longer series like I am Number Four and Gone by Michael Grant. I just think that short stories aren’t long enough for the world-building process that a dystopian requires.

    I have made a review of Michael Grant’s ‘Fear’ for anyone interested on my blog-

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