Apocalypse Now: Revisiting the Daydream

Can everyone who had childhood fantasies about being the only person left in the world please raise their hand?

Surely you remember the daydreams. There were endless suburbs of free swimming pools and deserted trampolines. You pictured yourself frolicking in all the areas that were out-of-bounds, eating junk food stolen from empty supermarkets. There was no more school. No more bedtime. No more siblings.

Just me, then? I don't believe you.

Canadian press Upper Rubber Boot's new Apocalypse Now collection first caught my eye in early December. Appropriately, a lot of noise was then being made over an ancient Mayan prediction of the end of the world.Depending on which news source you consulted, on December 20 or 21 we supposed to either perish in some kind of natural disaster or transcend into a world transformed by physical and/or spiritual advancement.

The Timaru Herald produced my favourite local response to the event. They featured a video full of very deadpan interviews with local emergency services, who offered constructive advice on what to do.
“If you've got a piece of No.8 wire handy, grab it, tie everything up and you'll get past just with the old Kiwi attitude,” said Senior Constable Steve Wills.

Legitimate concern or not, a Sunday Star Times feature said as many as 280 Mayan apocalypse books were published between 2006-2009 alone. A quick Amazon search reveals 3,443 current results, although the top listing now sensibly bears the title Beyond the End of the World. Obviously, once was not enough.

In the midst of this hyperbolic fun, Apocalypse Now is a startlingly serious contribution. Six sections encompass 98 stories and poems, which are fairly evenly across the breadth of the book in tone and topic.
Lured in by the promise of big names like Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood and Paolo Bacigalupi, I fell in love with the sheer variety in this book. Covering more than traditional apocalypse scenarios, it’s a collection of absolute endings.

A story about anarchistic bees sits alongside a poem which describes a woman committing quiet suicide. David J. Daniels nervously relates the ripple-effect of his own mugging in This is the Pink before his spotlight is stolen by a group of cheese miners who are stranded on the moon.

Kelly Link's surreal, neo-traditional folktale about feuding witches follows a description of God as a lion on the hunt.

I wasn't sure what to expect of the poetry, but the standard was generally high. Different writers aimed for different things – it was surprising how many plumbed for humour, in the face of all that could be.

The strategy of scattering poems between longer prose allowed me to spend more time absorbing each poem or story before moving on to the next offering, but even reading quickly, fragments of verse stood out:

People cried like televisions left on all day – Chet Weise, An American Prayer for the Second Coming.
Did we know we were the last of the shorn beasts? - David Roderick, Target.
And the lost dogs came down from the hills, still lost – Brian Barker, Visions for the Last Night on Earth.
You should have grabbed me, you know. I'm about to become extinct. - Maggie Smith, On the Beach (1959).

Predictably, Atwood and Bacigalupi’s stories were both thoughtful and fascinating. I'll leave you with a complete quote of Keith Montesano's curiously uplifting poem, Journey's “Don't Stop Believin'” Finally Collapses the Air Waves.

Near the guardrails, avoiding potholes, we watch birds
falling, dozens to hundreds, landing on hoods, roofs,

bungeeing and slingshotting off the power lines. Now
every station's tuned to it, as if it's a dream containing

just the two of us, frozen in our own vehicle, hearing,
like everyone else, this last gasp, this poor excuse

for changing the station to something else, anything: country,
alternative, gospel. But the song keeps playing, indeterminate

static tuned- through obsolete moments of clarity-
to far, iconic bass lines mixed with piano, Perry's lungs

we won't ever hear again. We look at each other and laugh,
and keep driving. Electronic drums like timpanis, shrill

keyboard manipulations: on and on and on and on, and yet
here we are: last guitar solo, static, a million wings descending.