The Apocalypse Reader



-MATTHEW, 24:35

You HOLD IN your hand thirty-four short stories about the Apocalypse.

People have been telling me this is an especially timely book, but the fact is that, historically, every single generation has imagined itself uniquely in crisis and fantasized that theirs will be the one that witnesses The End. The twentieth century was unique mostly in that it marked the moment when humanity became capable of bringing Apocalypse upon itself, but even the novelty (if not the menace) of that prospect has long since worn off. If this is a timely book, I think the reason is that the topic is perennially timely. It is also, as Frank Kermode puts it in The Sense of an Ending, "infallibly interesting."

It's worth pointing out that the word Apocalypse comes from the Greek, and literally means "a revelation" or "an unveiling." It can be used to describe cataclysmic changes of any sort. Revolution, for example, or social upheaval. The American Desegregation movement was Apocalyptic in that its success necessitated the destruction of a certain way of life. (That we're better off without it is not the point.) There are micro-Apocalypses that mark moments in our lives: childhood's end, a relationship's sudden implosion, Death.

There are no excerpts in this book. Even ostensibly "self-contained" excerpts seem unfulfilling to me, and frankly, I don't like them. I have limited this book's scope exclusively to the short story, the ultimate in "self-contained" literature, that eternally embattled form that writers are constantly told "does not sell" or "has outlived its usefulness" or other nonsense. This anthology is a celebration of the short story's inexhaustible vitality, as well as an in-depth (though certainly not exhaustive) survey of its variety.

The forms these stories take, the styles they adopt or invent, the concerns they have, the places and positions and eras their writers come from, and the boundaries they push are as varied as the types of Apocalypse they engage. There are funny stories and deeply touching stories; gory ones and heady ones; stories that focus on an individual or a small group and stories that take on (or take down) the whole world; there are a few very long stories and more than a few very short (or "flash" or "short-short") stories; there are "realistic" and "experimental" stories; overtly and implicitly political stories; utterly apolitical stories; stories that could be classified as belonging to this or that genre (New Wave Fabulist, Horror, Satire, etc.); and stories that defy any attempt at classification. Some are the work of best-selling authors or cult favorites, and others are by people I can guarantee you've never heard of. At least one story has been published elsewhere as a poem.

Each story addresses both of the book's themes in a unique and exciting way, but more than that, each one contains that fundamental, irreducible, something that is indescribable, yet always discernable, in great writing. In short, I picked stories that I love and that I want to share with the world.

There are brand-new stories by Shelley Jackson, Matthew Derby, and several others; some (such as Gary Lutz and Deb Olin Unferth's collaboration) were written especially for this book. There are classic stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells and H. P. Lovecraft. There are hand-picked favorites by the likes of Neil Gaiman, Rick Moody, and Michael Moorcock; a rare Joyce Carol Oates story, published years ago in Ontario Review but never before collected; Terese Svoboda's 0. Henry Prize-winning "80s Lilies"; and plenty of surprising, exciting, disturbing stories from authors you know, or only thought