When I first laid eyes on Read the End First, I couldn't wait to read it. (Seriously - look at that cover!) I've been a long-time fan of Suzanne Robb's literary antics, and figured that anyone she teamed up with would be top-notch. After my initial excitement, I started wondering what kinds of stories would be in the anthology. I couldn't figure out how anyone could come up with 24 separate Apocalypses. As far as I was concerned, there were limited options: a) zombies b) disease c) asteroid(s?) d) Biblical. That's four. Possibly eight if you can find some variation on the aforementioned methods, but definitely not the 24 (one for each hour) that the book's description boasted. Nor could I figure out 24 interesting locations from which to destroy the Earth. Little did I know that the anthology would not only surpass my expectations, but would start an interest in Apocalyptic stories of all sorts!
From introductions by Graham Masterton and Joe McKinney until the very last page, Read the End First is a labor of love. Each story is set at a different time, and in a different place on our Earth. Suzanne Robb and Adrian Chamberlain went to great lengths to make sure that each story was completely different, so as to make each story a unique experience for the reader. Without getting into too much detail and ruining 24 surprises, you will find the religious Apocalypses and the zombies and the diseases. But you'll also find man-made disasters, natural disasters, demons, and creatures who defy classification. There are stories in which the end comes swiftly and stories in which the end comes slowly. Always the end comes inexorably, for both the hero and the anti-hero.
Even with a veritable host of Apocalyptic horrors, Read the End First truly shines in its portrayal of humanity. While each author gleefully destroys the Earth in his or her own chosen fashion, they also give us a glimpse into the human soul. The reader can only watch helplessly as the characters struggle to deal with the end of all that is familiar to them - and to us. In the characters we find caricatures of our friends, lovers, neighbors, co-workers, and ourselves. Who will you recognize? The reader follows each character into their unique demise, seeing it as though through their own eyes. There are characters who make their last peace, lament missed opportunities, and try to squeeze a lifetime of experiences and emotions into a finite moment. Over and over again the reader is reminded that for all that is important in life, we are specks of dust in an immense and incomprehensible universe. It's humbling and thought-provoking and sometimes too much to take in one sitting.
On a personal note, I was very much excited to see the city of Rochester, NY utterly destroyed. You see, Rochester is my father's hometown, and very much like Buffalo, the city of my birth. Don't get me wrong, Rochester is a gorgeous city, boasting old architecture, and the birthplace of Kodak. However, I rarely get the excitement of being familiar on a personal basis with many cities that always seem to be slated for mention. I have never visited Los Angeles, or the West Coast for that matter, and have only spotty memories of Pennsylvania. While it's true I've been to Maine, Stephen King has created his own towns and cities there, and populated them with horrors of his own devising. However, it's still fun to see a town you know destroyed by a very talented writer.
The long and short of the matter is that there is no reason you can come up with that will be sufficient to explain why you didn't buy Read the End First. It's a unique anthology filled with talented writers, and spearheaded by an amazing author team. I loved every single story in the anthology, which is a rarity for me. Usually when reading anthologies, I find there is a story or two that just doesn't fit in. Not so with Read the End First - a book filled with Apocalyptic wonder from cover to cover.