Saturday, July 7, 2012

Book Review: 'The Earth Strikes Back' edited by Richard T. Chizmar


4 / 5 Stars

This year sees the fortieth anniversary of the highly influential book 'The Limits to Growth', published by The Club of Rome. 

Along with Paul Ehrlich's 'The Population Bomb', 'Limits' defined the eco-catastrophe mood that dominated intellectual circles and pop culture during the late 60s - early 70s.

(For an interesting take on 'The Limits to Growth' after 40 years, see this article by the economist and skeptic Bjorn Lomberg).

A number of eco-catastrophe - themed sf anthologies were issued in those golden days, but starting in the mid-70s, the genre began to lose its appeal, and fared rather poorly throughout the 80s.

With the 90s, eco-catatrophe experienced something of a mini-renaissance in sf circles, and one of its best manifestations is this 1994 anthology from horror / fantasy publisher White Wolf.

‘The Earth Strikes Back: An Anthology of Ecological Horror’ (462 pp) is, as its title suggests, devoted to eco-catastrophe in that good old 70s style. 


All of the 20 entries were produced exclusively for this anthology. The authors are the ‘usual suspects’ of horror / sf writers for a mid-90s anthology: Charles de Lint, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Poppy Z. Brite, Ed Gorman, etc.

The first entry in the collection, Dan Simmons'  ‘My Copsa Micas’, is not really a fiction piece, but rather, a disorganized, rambling essay touching on ecological / environmental themes. Apparently the submission deadline caught Simmons without a finished short story, and this is what he hastily came up with.

‘Harvest’ by Norman Partridge, ‘Ground Water’ by James Kisner, and ‘Cancer Alley’ by Nancy Collins, focus on ‘environmental injustice’, in which hapless minorities, and low-income folks, live in neighborhoods since converted into toxic wastelands.

A number of contributions acknowledge Joe R. Lansdale, and appropriately enough, go for frank horror (exemplified by toxic goo dissolving people). These are: ‘Double –Edged Sword’ by Barry Hoffman; ‘Tyrophex-14’ by Ronald Kelly; and ‘Toxic Wastrels’, by Brite. Gary A. Braunbeck’s ‘The Dreaded Hobblobs’ features gross-out humor in the inimitable Lansdale style.

Themes of corporate corruption and (sometimes) comeuppance are dealt with in ‘Where It’s Safe’ by John Shirley; ‘Binary’ by Roman A. Ranieri; ‘Please Stand By’ by Thomas Monteleone; and Yarbro’s ‘Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200’.

End-of-Civilization / Nature’s Vengeance topics are explored in Thomas Tessier’s ‘I Remember Me’, William Relling Jr’s ‘Expiration Date’, Mark Rainey’s ‘Torrent’, Rick Hautala’s ‘Toxic Shock’, and Hugh B. Cave’s ‘Genesis II’.

Ed Gorman’s contributions to 80s and 90s anthologies could be hit-or-miss, but his ‘Cages’ turns out to be one of the best entries in ‘The Earth Strikes Back’. With a prose style that mimics a good Harlan Ellison tale, an imaginatively warped near-future setting, and plenty of black humor, ‘Cages’ stands out.

Richard Laymon’s ‘The Fur Coat’ incorporates some dark, politically incorrect humor in its portrayal of vengeful environmentalists.

‘The Forest is Crying’, by de Lint, is the worst story in the anthology. It’s a mawkish tale of a cynical detective who comes to recognize the Sanctity of Mother Earth, via (naturally enough) the intervention of Native Americans (because, as we all know, only Native Americans truly understand the abomination of the White Man and his despoilment of the Earth).

Taken altogether, ‘Earth Strikes Back’ is a decent anthology, and, if it had been issued in 1971, would have been received as a stellar story collection, well in keeping with the eco-disaster themes then predominant in sf.

If you’re into that sub-genre of sf, then you’ll want to pick up ‘Earth Strikes Back’.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've lived through enough of these scares (population, famine, fossil fuel depletion, ice age, global warming, etc.) that the appeal of such stories is roughly zero for me. I shake my head in despair now when the latest and greatest comes along, knowing that in a decade or so, it will be nearly forgotten and a new one will take its place.

sciencefictionruminations said...

BUT, many of the scares produced great fiction -- especially population scares (which I'm not sure aren't plausible in many areas and currently occurring in others -- China for example).

Population -- John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, Silverberg's The World Inside, etc. Ecological disaster -- John Brunner's The Sheep Look up... all are great works!

zybahn said...

Haven't read this one but your review has peaked my interest. Incidentally it should be Gary A. Braunbeck and not Barry.