This excellent collection is not for the faint of heart. Here you will find aliens, vampires, fire, famine, revelations, dictatorships, corruption and desperation. Under these circumstances (where there is either total anarchy or extreme social control), a surprising amount of the sex is consensual. Some of it is even satisfying. And there are no zombies in sight, unless the cover illustration of tired-looking, greenish humanoid figures (“Train Commute, Tokyo Series 1 of 5” by Rebecca Meredith) is meant to suggest the living dead.The editor has included a list of “trigger warnings” with a brief introductory explanation:
Being ‘triggered’ is when someone has experienced psychological trauma in the past, and as a result, experiences psychological distress in the current time when they read, see, or hear about something similar to their experience.
Readers who are susceptible to being “triggered” should probably read the list before reading this book.
In most of these stories, the origins of the apocalypse are vague or unexplained. What matters is that old concepts of what is “normal” no longer apply, many people have died or will die, and the survivors are desperate. In the opening story, “We Angels Eat Roses” by Gigi Brevard, the central character (known only as “D”) has broken into a pharmacy to steal a drug called Adderall to keep his panic at bay. The reader can sympathize.
D narrowly escapes being shot, and meets a gorgeous woman who defines herself as an angel sent by God to gather the righteous. In a version of Miami where all the cool people wear clothes soaked in the blood of their victims, Sex was a luxury afforded only to those badass enough to take a life. D had resigned himself to celibacy. D, a young man in his early twenties, learns that sex can be heaven on earth, but it requires a certain faith. He also learns that human dignity and an actual name are achievable.
“Lifting the Veil” by Kit O’Connell shows sexual ecstasy as analogous to the chemically-induced version. A new drug, XDMT, is the gateway to communion with mysterious otherworldly beings as well as with a loved fellow-human. As the central character comes to realize, the new high is also a means of understanding that the world is coming to an end.
Miraculously happy endings (or landing on a “Get Out of Hell” space in the game of Last Days) make several of these stories more bearable to read than they could have been, even though there is usually something ironic about the good news. In “man/woman” by M.J. Nicholls, a future British government reminiscent of the totalitarian regime in George Orwell’s 1984 issues a general warning:
The following is a transmission from the Subspecies Control Bureau. It has come to our attention certain rebel groups have been faking their heterosexual relationships in order to attain cheap housing as couples in the Safe District. We do not tolerate homosexuals posing as heterosexuals and we will not house couples pretending to be in love.
In an environment rigidly divided between the Safe District and “the wilds,” Francis (male) meets Frances (female). Each has reason to suspect the other of being an undercover agent of the Subspecies Control Bureau, which enforces gender roles, but Frances and Francis need each other’s help to survive.
There is very little sex in this story, but the determination of two powerless people to join forces for mutual support is heart-warming. By the end of the story, the man and woman who can’t change themselves into stereotypes have formed a bond which will help the next generation.
In “An Apple a Day” by Maxine Marsh, a young woman who has not eaten in six days is literally willing to do anything for food. The older man who takes advantage of her need and her unawareness of a food source seems at first to be a soulless predator. As the young woman comes to know him, so does the reader. We learn that his need for human companionship is at least as intense as his need for sex or her need for nourishment.
This story neatly dramatizes a traditional credibility gap between men and women about “the oldest profession;” men accuse women of manipulating men for material support, while women point out that men exploit women when they monopolize the means of survival and demand sex in exchange. The relationship in this story, like that between Adam and Eve, comes to include a level of tenderness and mutual understanding.
All the stories in this collection are worth reading, and each interprets the concept of apocalypse in a different way. In “Everything Is Chemical” by Robin Wolfe, the “chemistry” is provided only by hormones, not illicit drugs, and a drastic ending of life as we know it is only implied in the incestuous attraction of a man and a woman who are related by blood. In “Sparks” by M. Birds, sexual attraction between two young women is treated as nothing strange when the world is being consumed by fire.
General corruption is a major theme in “Playing at Savior” by Archimedes Flum, in which an expatriate American sacrifices himself to save a young woman who would otherwise be doomed to live (briefly) as the sexual toy of armed men in an Asian dictatorship. An insane lust for personal power has corrupted the central character of “Slave King Fuck Star” by John Burks, arguably the most disturbing story in the book.
In “Come On Down” by Susan Read, survivors watch television reruns and try to remember the world as they knew it. Forced to cope with present conditions, the narrator discovers that sex and an exchange of blood both facilitate shapeshifting.
“Blood Plague” by B.G. Thomas is a more conventional vampire story in which true vampires are more beautiful and powerful than mortals, while the “nosferatu” (like the “revenants” in Anne Rice’s vampire novels) are simply reanimated dead bodies with a craving for human blood. This story concludes the book on a hopeful note as the male narrator thinks about Gabriel, his immortal lover :
I thought about it. Could I love this… this man? Did I already? I guess only time would tell…
And for the first time, I believed there just might be time to find out.
This anthology is an outstanding example of a hybrid genre, horror erotica. The stories are memorable, and the authors show their ability to write beautifully about extreme ugliness. Brace yourself.