4 of 5 stars.
Included in After the End: Recent Apocalypses edited Paula Guran, this short story takes the time to properly paint the nuances of many major characters and the devastated, post-civilized landscape they find themselves in. Biologic warfare killed off most of the citizens; then, “friendly”drones bombed the plague-victimized cities into rubble. Ten years later, a small community has settled into the rubble by ones and twos, subsisting on what provisions they can mine from the pulverized neighborhoods. It does not get any bleaker than this, a people without a sense of future and without hope.
What they do have is a band. The band has rearranged all of the music they play to work around the roar of the automated planes that pass overhead every eight measures of music. Our narrator is Brad, a bugler and sometimes singer that’s been in the settlement for 7 years. Hambone plays percussion, both erratically and precisely on anything available. Otherwise, Hambone is functionally mute, potentially autistic and definitely scarred from whatever came before. On piano is Timson, who has taken up residence in a former bookstore basement for the sake of the books. Finally, there is the egotistical frontman and lead singer, Steve. Nobody in this story has a history offered from before the devastation.
Change and hope come in the form of a new resident, Jenna, who dances with abandon and has ideas of a civilization reboot. She carries seeds and teaches how to garden with an eye on sustainability, whereas the settlement has for ten years relied on found tins of food and stale cases of beer. She also has bookish dreams of lands (Australia and New Zealand) that may have escaped the war and pestilence. Not everybody agrees with her ideas; some even find them threatening.
The story contains a “jump the shark” moment that I will not reveal here. I thoroughly endorse everything before that moment and love how the characters and their “society” are described. The beautiful and the bleak mesh together wonderfully. Even the numbingly fast ending, though too rushed, ultimately works okay for me.
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