There is Always Hope
“Everything out there was white, like snow or paper, except powdery and brittle, ashen. She had a Geiger counter from the panic room, which read zero. She couldn’t figure out what the hell had happened to the world, for a long time, until it hit her—this was fungus.”
From the author of the Hugo-winning “Six Months, Three Days,” a new wrinkle on the old story of three wishes, set after the end of the world.
ebook, 32 pages
Published September 10th 2014 by Tor Books
I am new to the church of Charlie Jane Anders, but consider me a convert. Earlier this year, I had the fortune of reviewing an advanced reader copy of The City in the Middle of the Night gifted to me by the author herself after seeing me lament my lack of access to the advanced reader copy for review. She was kind enough to send over a copy via her publisher for me to review it. It was an atmospheric and almost ethereal story about darkness and light and the weight of history and tradition. Charlie writes as if words are the only substance that gives her life, and she wants to share that life with you. And this is why I was delighted to find a short written for Tor.com by her about the apocalypse.
Most of the time, when you read books that are about an apocalyptic event, they are dour, wrung in mire, and misery. Death and destruction are not usually topics for polite conversation and joy. However, As Good as New had something that not many stories of the same ilk have that I found outstanding. It has a vein, a kernel of hope shot through it. Hope is what gets people through the tough. Hope for what is better, or right, or honest. It is hope for more. This story was an apocalypse, but it had hope and a bit of joy and humor. Because that is what life often is shitty. But your ability to laugh and find some pleasure in simple things can get someone through it — pleasure, in say, the entire run of The Facts of Life or West Wing.
Marisol is a woman with a lot of time on her hands. She is currently residing in a luxury bunker with a terabyte of television and movies, tons of frozen dinners, and no company. Somehow, this is not explained, Marisol ended up taking shelter in this luxury bunker when all the rest of the world went to pot. She has a whole lot of time on her hands, and she develops an “intense relationship with the people on The Facts of Life, to the point where Tootie and Mrs. Garrett became her imaginary best friends, and she shared every last thought with them.” It had been a couple of months since the last quake had shaken her in the panic room. She felt that maybe it was safe to adventure outside and see what there is to see. What she finds is a world strewn with a white fungus and a bottle.
“The bottle was a deep oaky green, like smoked glass, with a cork in it. And it was about twenty yards away, just sitting in one of the endless piles of white debris. Somehow, it had avoided being consumed or rusted or broken in the endless waves of fungal devastation. It looked as though someone had just put it down a second ago—in fact, Marisol’s first response was to yell, “Hello?” even louder than before.
When there was no answer, she picked up the bottle. In her hands, it felt bumpy, like an embossed label had been worn away, and there didn’t seem to be any liquid inside. She couldn’t see its contents if there were any. She removed the cork.
A whoosh broke the dead silence. A sparkly mist streamed out of the bottle’s narrow mouth—sparkling like the cheap glitter at the Arts and Crafts table at summer camp when Marisol was a little girl, misty like a smoke machine at a cheap nightclub—and it slowly resolved into a shape in front of her. A man, a little taller than she was and much bigger.”
Marisol had found a genie. What does this genie mean for the fate of the world? You know the answer to something like that is never simple.
It is astounding to me that Anders wrote so much about human emotions in only 28 pages. I have IKEA instructions longer than 28 pages. But it works, and it is damn good.
Check it out for yourself. It is at most a thirty minutes read, free at tor.com, and completely worth the time.
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I read this on tor.com and listened to the audio version.
About The Author
I’m the author of All the Birds in the Sky, and the forthcoming The City in the Middle of the Night. Plus a short story collection called Six Months, Three Days, Five Others, and a novella called Rock Manning Goes For Broke.
I’m probably the only person to have become a fictional character in a Star Trek novel and in one of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books.
I used to write for a site called io9.com, and now I write for various places here and there.
I won the Emperor Norton Award, for “extraordinary invention and creativity unhindered by the constraints of paltry reason.” I’ve also won a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award, a William H. Crawford Award, a Theodore Sturgeon Award, a Locus Award and a Lambda Literary Award.
I have published a ton of short fiction – way over 100 short stories at this point. I’ve stopped counting. My stories have appeared in Wired Magazine, Tin House, Conjunctions, the Boston Review, Tor.com, Lightspeed Magazine, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Tin House, ZYZZYVA, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Uncanny Magazine, 3 AM Magazine, Flurb.net, Monkey Bicycle, Pindeldyboz, Instant City, Broken Pencil, and in tons and tons of anthologies. One year, I was in one of the Year’s Best SF anthologies and in Best Lesbian Erotica at the same time.
I organize Writers With Drinks, which is a monthly reading series here in San Francisco that mashes up a ton of different genres. Every month, I make up weird fictional bios for the readers and performers, and nobody’s sued yet. Readers/performers at Writers With Drinks have included the aforementioned Armistead Maupin, plus Mary Gaitskill, Amy Tan, Rick Moody, Jonathan Lethem, Dorothy Allison, W. Kamau Bell, Luis Alberto Urrea, Ruth Ozeki, Ishmael Reed, Karen Joy Fowler, Maureen McHugh and just countless others. The SF Chronicle did a really nice article about Writers With Drinks.
Back in 2007, Annalee Newitz and I put out a book of first-person stories by female geeks called She’s Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology and Other Nerdy Stuff. There was a lot of resistance to doing this book, because nobody believed there was a market for writing about female geeks. Also, Annalee and I put out a print magazine called other, which was about pop culture, politics and general weirdness, aimed at people who don’t fit into other categories. To raise money for other magazine, we put on events like a Ballerina Pie Fight – which is just what it sounds like – and a sexy show in a hair salon where people took off their clothes while getting their hair cut.
I used to live in a Buddhist nunnery, when I was a teenager. I love to do karaoke. I eat way too much spicy food. I hug trees and pat stone lions for luck. I talk to myself way too much when I’m working on a story.