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Pandemonium edited by Anne C. Perry & Jared Shurin

Welcome to Pandemonium. Ragnarok, climate change, Skynet, Mayan prophecies, zombie hordes, swine flu, reality TV, Gozer the Gozerian, the youth of today, the rise of the apes, no phone coverage, rogue asteroids and the Fox Network cancelling your new favourite TV show. Whatever your end-of-days desire, humanity has a knack for summoning an apocalypse to fit. So what kind of Judgement Day junkie are you?

When I heard that some of the team behind Pornokitsch, one of my favourite websites, were putting together an anthology of short stories I was interested. Their geek culture, book, and film reviews are always a delight to read and tend to offer great insight into the topics they cover. Then I discovered that the theme of this collection was going to be the end of the world, a subject very close to my heart, I was very keen to get my hands on a copy.

This first Pandemonium collection is inspired by the evocative, apocalyptic artwork of John Martin (19 July 1789 – 17 February 1854). Eighteen short stories have been commissioned to coincide with Tate Britain’s John Martin: Apocalypse retrospective.

Apocalypse

More so than any other anthology I’ve read this year, I actually found it difficult to pick my favourite stories from this collection. Not because they are bad, quite the reverse, they are all fine examples of the genre. Ranging from the blackly comedic to the down right harrowing, I was entranced by each and every one. If, however, you insist on putting that gun to my head then who am I to deny you my top five.

Chislehurst Messiah by Lauren Beukes - A man survives the apocalypse by hiding out on his own. As he waits for the dust to settle he surrounds himself with luxury and comes to the only conclusion possible, that he is in fact the Messiah.  When he finally emerges into this brave new world he comes face to face with his greatest challenge yet – chavs.

I may be one of the few people who have never read any of Lauren Beukes other work so I came to this not knowing quite what to expect. This is a darkly comic tale with an unexpected under-current of social awareness.

A Private Viewing by Scott K Andrews - A museum security guard extracts slow, vicious revenge on a rioter. This story was particularly effective as it takes a slightly different focus from the others in the collection. In this case rather than looking directly an apocalyptic event it explores John Martin’s artwork directly and the effects of regular viewings may produce.

I really enjoyed the intimate nature of this story. For most of the narrative this is just two men and a single room. Not only was this story spookily topical it is also just the right side of disturbing. Grounded firmly in reality but with just a suggestion of the supernatural. The ending struck me as pitch perfect.

Πανδαιμονειον by Andy Remic - A down trodden school teacher quickly learns how play by the new rules when Hell is suddenly on Earth.

Mr Remic wins the award for unpronounceable title and the cheekiest in-joke in the entire anthology (turns out having a naturally suspicious nature and access to Google can sometimes produce results).

At The Sign of the Black Dove by Lou Morgan – You’re in the pub with friends on a Friday night, the cheap drinks are flowing and everyone is having a good time. That new barman looks decidedly shifty though doesn’t he? Cut to the next morning and things have gone to Hell, literally.

This story successfully captures that feeling of unease, we’ve all had it, that people suffer when they wake up after a heavy night on the tiles. You can’t necessarily recall what happened and with who? I also like the open-ended nature of the story’s conclusion. The reader is most definitely left with more questions than answers.  I’m sure different readers will take away different interpretations of the events that transpire. The sense of ambiguity and uncertainty that underpins the entire story work extremely well together.

The Day or the Hour by Jonathan Oliver – A vicar is press ganged into the armies of God for the final battle. He is forced to make a choice – rise with Heaven? Fall with Hell? or is there a third option? Jonathan Oliver uses his story to examine the nature of choice and the nature of evil. How do these concepts drive every decision that we make?

The good news is that on top of these five uniquely individual visions of the apocalypse there are another thirteen stories included for your reading pleasure. If you’re a fan of horror and are mildly obsessed with the end of the world (I know I am), then there is most definitely something for you here.

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure quite what to what to expect when I first started reading Pandemonium. I wasn’t familiar with John Martin’s artwork but I’m very keen to learn more now.  I was expecting something dark but this collection is much more than that. The different stories cover the full gamut of emotions. It was a nice surprise to see so much dark humour in evidence, but more importantly it was great to experience so many differing visions from such a diverse group of writers. I’ve read Pandemonium a couple of times now and each time I feel like I’ve been utterly spoiled.

Pandemonium – Stories of the Apocalypse is released as on ebook on 4th November 2011 and will be available from Amazon and Pandemonium Fiction. In 2012 there are two further collections scheduled to follow, Pandemonium – Stories of the Smoke and A Town Called Pandemonium. I’m looking forward to reading them both already.


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