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Apocalypto

June 17, 2007|David L. Ulin

WRITING about the apocalypse is a tricky business. What else is there to say about the end of the world? Although it may feel like we're living at a particularly apocalyptic moment, editor Justin Taylor notes in his introduction to "The Apocalypse Reader" (Thunder's Mouth Press: 318 pp., $15.95 paper) that "every single generation has imagined itself uniquely in crisis and fantasized that theirs will be the one which will witness The End."

"The Apocalypse Reader" offers an overview of these imaginings, gathering 34 short stories that span a variety of points of view. If on occasion it slips into tired, collapse-of-civilization fantasies, this is for the most part a vivid collection, in which the best material assiduously avoids cliche. Kelly Link's "Miss Kansas on Judgment Day" describes the strangest beauty pageant in the universe. Ursula K. Le Guin's "Some Approaches to the Problem of the Shortage of Time" portrays the loss of time as a function of pollution: "[A] single gas-powered lawnmower moving at less than 3 mph can petrolise three solid hours of a Sunday afternoon in an area of one city block." And Taylor effectively raises the stakes by including noncontemporary writers, including H.P. Lovecraft, H.G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe, which gives his anthology unexpected depth. In Grace Aguilar's 1844 story "The Escape -- A Tale of 1755," a converso Jew is saved from the Inquisition by the Lisbon earthquake; Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Earth's Holocaust" explores a purging fire that gets completely out of hand.

"The Apocalypse Reader" reframes Armageddon as not just metaphorical but personal, an idea that operates on many levels at once. Or, as Lucy Corin puts it in her story "Sixteen Small Apocalypses": "We look at each other and know we're the end of the line."

David L. Ulin

david.ulin@latimes.com

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