After the Apocalypse

Maureen F. McHugh
After the Apocalypse Cover

After the Apocalypse


The world is in the process of ending in a wide variety of ways in McHugh's short stories. Life will not end completely, but it will be irrevocably changed and made more miserable. Causes vary from the sensational --zombies!--to the sorts of pandemics and financial/societal collapse readers will find more dishearteningly believable.

In Special Economics, bird flu has killed a billion Chinese, the labor market it tough, and employers are unscrupulous. But the two enterprising heroines find a way to make the system work for them. In Useless Things, a woman turns her artistic talents to making lifelike babies for those who have lost children to whatever has happened to transform their world. She also starts a sideline in dildos. Another story that appears to be about the awkward placement of a child of a divorced lesbian couple, turns out to have as backstory a chicken-borne pathogen that originated in the lowest of factory farms, and made its way mostly into Chicken McNuggets and other heavily processed goods. The pathogen takes five years to manifest itself, and then afflicts the carrier with a form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Millions of dispirited fast food patrons are just waiting to learn their fates.

McHugh writes terse, straightforward prose, setting her character adrift in absolutely believable circumstances. Her stories can be bleakly funny or devastating. The title story, which closes the book, shows what decisions a person might make in a world that has so fallen apart that lines between selfishness and self-preservation sadly blur.