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Does the apocalypse come in three stages?

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Celebrated anthologist John Joseph Adams has teamed up with Wool author Hugh Howey to bring you a triptych of anthologies that sound like annihilation candy: The End is Nigh, The End is Now and The End Has Come. We talked to Adams and Howie about the three stages of apocalypse.

Image by Julian Faylona

The books will be published starting in June 2014, with the second volume coming in December 2014 and the final one in June 2015. Contributors include Nancy Kress, Paolo Bacigalupi, Daniel Wilson, Elizabeth Bear, and many other incredible authors (full disclosure: io9 editor Charlie Jane Anders and myself are also contributing stories).


As Howey's bestselling novels attest, the public is hungry for stories about the apocalypse right now — in everything from The Walking Dead to cheesy movies like Thor 2, we watch the world falling to bits. Which begs the question — is it time to create apocalyptic subgenres, as these books do, dividing our stories up into pre-apocalypse, mid-apocalypse and post-apocalypse? These kinds of stories do, after all, have their own conventions and tropes.

I asked Adams and Howey.

Said Howey:

Personally, I don't think we need separate genres for pre- and post-apocalyptic stories . . . The beauty of this triptych, for me, is the chance to read short stories with sequels, short stories that take us on a journey, that tie a single world together across time and space. I grew up reading the 2000AD comics, which featured this storytelling technique, and I think there's room for a lot more of it.


Adams added:

While I don't think we don't need separate genres per se, there is a distinct vibe that each of these types of stories has, and I suspect that there are lots of readers who are interested in one mode of apocalypse fiction or another; some might prefer watching everything burn, while some might be more interested in seeing what happens after everything has burned, etc., and so I think anthologies like these can be valuable for that reason. And of course, we hope that those "single-mode" readers will be intrigued enough by the stories to then also check out the other volumes as well.

One of the things that's always interested me about apocalyptic fiction is all the questions it asks. In a story that focuses on the aftermath, we might get some hints about what led to the fall, and also what caused it, but rarely do we get much of an in-depth exploration of that aspect of the worldbuilding (even in apocalyptic novels). So I thought it would be interesting to actually set out to specifically do just that. And also: I felt like no one had really even attempted to do so before. (Though I may have been subconsiously inspired by Nancy Kress's recent book After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, and Kim Stanley Robinson did something vaguely similar with his Three Californias Trilogy, which is, in fact, a triptych.)

Not all of the authors are going to be writing triptychs for the anthologies—there will be some standalone stories as well—but we were pleased to find that a great many of them are: 85% of the authors we invited agreed to write stories for all three volumes. So there will be triptychs aplenty.

It was only a matter of time before trilogy madness infected the world of short stories too, but I also think there's something to be said for the idea that we tell very different stories about different stages in the apocalypse.

Learn more about the Apocalypse Triptych on the official website.