Have we become too blasé about catastrophe?
Short Stories of Apocalypse is the inaugural fiction collection from Emergence, a magazine about ecology and culture. In her foreword to the issue, the Australian Aboriginal author Alexis Wright says she has a problem with that word, ‘apocalypse’: “What on earth does this word mean anymore… Are we in apocalyptic overdrive — where everything apocalyptic feels normal and happens with such frequency and to such a degree that we feel unmoved? Have we become too blasé about catastrophe?”
The intention behind Short Stories of Apocalypse, then, is to make us feel moved. To impress upon us the reality of our imminent extinction, through fiction. This is a massive and rather terrifying aim, belied by SSOA’s unassuming, grainy-blue cover. You expect, picking this little piece of print up, to experience escapism; what you find instead are four stories written with the express aim of unsettling their reader.
What I like about the stories collected here is that despite that very serious aim, the writing can be dreamy, and surreal. The first story, ‘Thylacline’, by Lydia Millet, is about a man so obsessed with the last Tasmanian tiger that he spends every night sleeping in a tree in a zoo in order to be closer to her. Ben Okri closes the collection with his story ‘And Peace Shall Return’, which is written as the only surviving narrative found by explorers 20,000 years from now, when the earth has been silenced and uninhabitable for millennia.
The quality of the stories themselves is uneven, and fiction can feel a little didactic in places, but Emergence’s aim — to make you feel the reality of apocalypse, now — is an admirable one.