If your Christmas season hasn’t been quite apocalyptic enough, treat your shelf to Sandra McDonald’s great little collection Lovely Little Planet: Stories of the Apocalypse (2015). It’s a quick, clever, and darkly humorous volume on the (hopefully not too timely?) theme of world-shaking catastrophes, from solar flares to ice ages, alien invasions to environmental collapses.
McDonald’s prose style is deceptively simple; the stories are breezy and accessible, but encrypted with subversive insight and bleak, scathing humor. This is nowhere more apparent than in the hilarious opener, “End of the World Community College,” a brochure for a university that specializes in post-collapse survival skills. Perhaps the most immersive setting here is depicted in “Fleet,” which examines the chilling aftermath of a massive solar flare through the closed ecosystem of a remote Pacific island. In “Watching,” the crew of a submarine gradually unravels a mystery that speaks to the circumstances of a very peculiar alien invasion, while “Tupac Shakur and the End of the World” (which I had the pleasure of publishing at Futurismic a while back) posits a zombie-apocalypse-style future wracked by a bone-ossifying plague called the Creep. Perhaps the most serious and literary of the tales is the impressive “Your Final Apocalypse,” which successfully pulls off second-person narration as it details the last moments of a young Boston law student whose fate is about to be sealed by a massive cosmic flare.
The collection ends with the funny and engaging “Seven Sexy Cowboy Robots.” It’s as silly as it sounds, but highly entertaining, kinky, and emotionally satisfying as it chronicles the love life of a self-help author who lives out her post-divorce days in a frozen Connecticut wasteland with the help of a posse of ice-skating synthetic cowboys. It’s the kind of title and premise I usually bounce right off of, but it’s simply too sly and engaging to resist—which is actually a pretty good nutshell description of the entire collection. Who says the end of the world has to be a total bummer?