Tournament of Short Stories, Science Fiction Edition: “Lot” by Ward Moore vs. “Break! Break! Break!” and “Rock Manning Can’t Hear You” by Charlie Jane Anders.

file_000-15The least likable character wins.

The losing set of stories was still very good though.

For this round of my tournament of short stories I read two from The Apocalypse Triptych by Charlie Jane Anders. Both feature the same set of characters, young people who become famous for the on-line movies they make featuring absurd stunts that typically end with the main character getting himself hurt.

The Apocalypse Triptych features a wide range of contributors, some of whom have contributed a story for each of the three volumes The End if Nigh, The End is Now and The End Has Come.  I enjoyed Mr. Anders story in part one more than enough to follow up right away with the continuation in part two.  In fact, I’ll be ordering the third volume so I can find out what happens in the end very soon.

While I’m not all that interested in the whole movie making aspect of the plot, I do like the focus on people who are not at all involved with the events bringing about the end. They are just a bunch of kids, really, who are trying to become filmmakers as the world crumbles around them.

Which is a perspective these stories share with Ward Moore’s story Lot” collected in The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus edited by Brian Aldiss.  However, while the young people in Mr. Anders story are generally good people who look out for each other, Mr. Moore’s hero is a pragmatist, one who knows not everyone will survive the collapse of civilization. If he is to make it, he will have to make some very tough decisions.

The first is to abandon the family dog.

Did I mention that the least likable character won this round?

We do not discover what has brought about the end of the world in Mr. Moore’s story, but it doesn’t really matter here.  The story starts with the main character loading the family car with supplies.  There’s not enough room for his wife, three children and the family dog, so he insists they say goodbye to Fido. Then they join the mass exodus out of Los Angeles.

Though this story was written in 1962, I was reminded of the evacuation of New Orleans.  One side of the highway jammed with traffic, the other, the one leading into town, empty. A man who would leave behind the family dog wouldn’t hesitate to hop the meridian and take advantage of the empty lanes on the wrong side of the highway.  He’s pulled over by one of the remaining policemen, of course, but this is just a pause.  He takes the ticket, promises to be good, and continues as before.  It’s the end of civilization, only those who leave behind laws and morality will survive.

When the family arrives at a gas station far outside the city, he realizes he has an opportunity to increase his own chances of survival once his wife and two of his three children have gone inside to buy what food they can.  He’ll take his younger daughter with him.  She has the right attitude to make it in the harsh world they’ll face.

There’s no excusing this behavior, though we should have seen it coming with the story’s title.  But of the stories I read for this round, Mr. Moore’s has haunted me.  What would you leave behind if it came to that? Who would you leave? Is what he’s doing something we can defend even if we don’t support it?

So The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus advances to the next round, but I’ll be keeping my copy of The Apocalypse Triptych.  Keeping it and adding one more volume to complete the set.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Jay says:

    It seems my appetite for apocalyptic stories these days is insatiable. (hmm…I wonder why…) your summary reminds me a little of the 1962 (same year!) film “Panic in the Year Zero!” Starring Ray Milland(!) and his family “heading out of town” at the time of a nuclear attack. Have you seen it? As kids, my brothers and I watched this several times on Saturday night’s Science Fiction theater. Great memories!

    1. While I don’t recognize the title, if it had Ray Milland in it, I bet my brother and I saw it, too. I’ll see if I can get in on YouTube. You should look into The Apocalypse Triptcyh. I think you’d enjoy it.

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