Okay, I’ve been putting off writing this review, but it’s time to put my nose to the grindstone and get it done. A few weeks ago, one of the contributors to this anthology, someone I’ve known for a while and consider a friend, asked me for a review. Since said contributor didn’t have access to a review copy, I went ahead and bought one. The theme of a world after the Elder Gods return has been done before in other anthologies, but I’ve never gotten around to reading any of them. It sounded intriguing.
Either I didn’t think things through, or I simply wasn’t the target audience for this anthology. The stories fell into three categories basically: those I liked, those I had no strong reaction to, and those I absolutely didn’t like. For me to like an anthology, most of the stories need to be in the first category. I didn’t find most of the stories to be to my liking, a condition that became more true the deeper I got into the book. I read it straight through over several days, which may have been part of the problem. I’ve been reading (and in my own fiction, writing) some pretty dark stuff lately; I could use a break. I suspect there are some stories I would have liked better if I’d read them separately from the others and mixed with other types of fiction.
Now an anthology that deals with the world after the Elder Gods return isn’t going to be filled with sweetness and light. H. P. Lovecraft made that clear. But too many of the stories struck me as unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to other unpleasant people. There wasn’t a lot of hope in many of the stories, and I think that was the problem I had with so much of the book. (Please note, there were a couple of stories with hopeful endings that didn’t work for me for other reasons.) But even if the odds are astronomically against the characters/humanity, I like there to be some element of not-giving-up.
So I debated on whether to even write the review. I don’t like writing bad reviews. My goal is not to trash someone’s work. I’ll point out flaws, but if I just don’t like something, or in the case of an anthology, don’t like most of the stories, I prefer to just read and review something else. But I had promised a review.
So here it is. I’m going to highlight the stories that worked for me. But I want to say a couple of things first. All of the stories are of professional level as far as the writing is concerned. The authors included in this book know how to write. Some of the best writers are the ones who wrote stories I didn’t like. After all, they got a strong reaction from me. While a particular story may not have been my cup of tea, some of the authors whose works made me want to go for the brain bleach are authors who I would be willing to read again. Because if they can get as strong a reaction from me in a positive way as they did a negative reaction, then that’s a story I’m going to want to read.
“The Smiling People” by Andrew Peregrine was a strong story that got the anthology off to a good start. What would you do if people (who clearly aren’t human) followed you around and smiled all the time? Would you ignore them, or would you try to escape?
Likewise, Peter Rawlik’s “The Pestilence of Pandora Peaslee” was an entertaining tale of terrorists fighting back against the new overlords of the Earth.
Adrian Simmons tells of a soldier who is trying to get back on active duty after failing a psych profile in “Dilution Solution”.
“Eliza” by Joshua Reynolds tells of a young woman’s (though not necessarily a human woman) attempt to escape from a city.
June Violette tells the tale of a young girl who leads a small band of people into the mountains in search of a new home free from danger. This was one of the best stories in the book and certainly one of the ones I enjoyed the most.
A soldier coming home from a war finds that the war is waiting for him and wants him to switch sides in “Of the Fittest” by Evan Dicken.
The observant reader who is familiar with Apotheosis will notice that I’ve picked stories primarily from the first half to two-thirds of the book and none from the end. In looking back over the contents as I’ve been writing, I noticed that all but two of the stories I’ve not mentioned up until “Of the Fittest” were stories that, while I didn’t dislike them, they didn’t really have much impact. YMMV.
I can’t say the same for the stories that come after. Most of those I actively disliked. This makes me wonder if my reaction to the rest of the book wasn’t due in part to my physical and mental condition the last day or two I was reading. Fatigue, work, sleep (or lack thereof) can affect perceptions. Like I said, I suspect there may be some stories I would have otherwise found enjoyable if I had read them as stand-alones. I also know there are a handful that I wouldn’t like under any circumstances. They simply aren’t my cup of tea, or to put it another way, I’m not the target audience.
So, to sum up, for me Apotheosis was a mixed bag. The fact that I disliked more of the stories at the end has tended to color my perceptions of the book as a whole. There’s not a lot cheeriness here, and some stories may very well be off-putting to some readers. But I know some other readers are going to like it. While I can’t recommend Apotheosis with any enthusiasm, I’m not going to say avoid it either. Those of you who read my reviews regularly should have a good idea how my tastes align (or not) with yours. I trust you to draw your own conclusions.