In San Diego California, there’s a storytelling/reading/indie lit press called So Say We All. One of its founders, Justin Hundall, once described his viewing of Battlestar Galactica as “the most loving relationship I’ve ever had,” and as such took the name of his lit-project from that famous Adama call-and response-mantra. But far from being monotone or bossing people around, SSWA’s mission has been one of diversity. Their live show VAMP (video, art, music, performances) marries the sensibilities of all sorts of creative folks in an innovate and unique show.
But with the release of their first anthology, SSWA’s editors are tackling the what’s really on everyone’s minds lately: the end of the world.
Structured as a sort of loose and shared narrative, each section of Last Night on Earth presents a different time of day and location. Because this is a local San Diego press, many of the locations are in California, giving the book a nice, real, community feeling; a quieter slice of end-of-the-world ennui. The approach to this is fairly poetic and reads at times like little diary entries, or snatches of radio broadcasts you might catch. While a few of the stories contain numbered lists, there is a notable lack of references to the Internet. Everything here is tactile; bottles of Prozac, tuna cans, forgotten t-shirts, and yes, an occasional iPod.
In Kelli Westcott’s story, it’s 9:30 am on the last day on Earth and a mother, her husband and her young son enter the San Diego Zoo. It’s now devoid of patrons and contains only a few animals. The fame of that particular zoo and its reputation for humanitarianism is poignant enough in the story, but the writer nails the sense of what’s been lost, or rather, what’s about to be lost. The images of animals no longer being cared for echo tragically with the notion of the young boy’s bleak future.
“Our lives have nothing left unfinished but what relates to him. He has an entire life left unlived. There is nothing we can do about any of it.”
As in many end-of-the-world stories, people seem to end up needing to walk towards the ocean. (This happens in Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles and in the movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, both of which came out this year.) In Amelia Gray’s 2:00 PM story, a narrator watches the parade of people heading towards the shoreline from her Santa Monica, CA apartment. Gray does a nice job with this piece at describing the sort of life-rehearsal everyone seems to be doing, but I couldn’t help but think of the ill-fated 90’s band Everclear. Wasn’t it in the song “Santa Monica” in which people swim out past the breakers and “watch the world die?” It seems only fitting that a young, independent press would put out an anthology in which much of the apocalypse is witnessed from a California beach. This story though, is one of my favorites in the book, because the narrator character is sort of indifferent to everything, like the literary, probably female version of “The Dude,” from The Big Lebowski. From the story:
“The daily nap: in effect since the end, years before, of my last full-time job. An afternoon sleep during the sunny part of the day, the cats beside, waking easily to dinner before sunset.”
Because nothing in this volume is too over-the-top, the little scratches of prose feel more like inevitable non-fiction than well crafted apocalyptic musings. The Road or the pre-game for The Road this is not. Instead, it’s a soft, not-quite-chatty take on how some folks you might know, might be friends with, might have dated, might have been roommates with in college, would actually, really deal with the end of the world. It won’t blow your mind with the revelations you’ll find in that conceit, but it will comfort you.
And if the end of the world does approach, and I’m inexplicably given time to prepare for it, I hope I’ll be half as eloquent, and real as this collection of writers.
Last Night On Earth, edited by Ryan Bradford and Justin Hudnall is published by So Say We All Press and can be ordered here.
Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com.