The title of this short story collection, featuring mostly reprints and a few original pieces, is perfect. The subtitle 'Stories of the Apocalypse' and in particular all the crap on the back of the book are as misleading as can be. Luckily for me, the bad stuff on the back and subtitle were irrelevant to the stories within. All of which makes me wonder how I came across this collection. That said, don't let the publishers promotion deter you from checking this collection out.
This science fiction collection deals with "the nature of life in the aftermath of total societal collapse." (That is the only salvageable blurb from the back of the book.) Most all the stories deal with story, and character more so than science and that is exactly how I liked my science fiction; so if you're in it for the super hardcore stuff you may want to look elsewhere.
There were very few inclusions that actually dealt with bringing about the end of the world. The first in the collection: The End of the Whole Mess by Stephen King was one of them and one of the collection's finest. The narrator's super-genius brother is fed up with mankind's pettiness and negativity. Thinking he has found a way correct man's aggression and general bad attitude he enacts a briliant plan with the best of intentions and the worst of results.
Judgement Passed by Jerry Oltion was perhaps my favorite in terms of concept. A group a colonist preparing another planet for colonization returns home to Earth to find the planet utterly deserted of life. Their only clues as to what happened are newspapers and magazines saying Jesus came back, and took everybody with them. The execution was strong, but not as fulfilling as I would have liked.
Mary Riket's story Bread and Bombs was a profound look at what happens to those who escape the end of a particular place in the world and how they incorporate themselves into life elsewhere. I'm not sure it's fair to call this one science fiction: it's just a damn good story that the collection could hang it's hat on.
Nancy Kress can tell a helluva story. Inertia is about a colony of people who have survived a global epidemic that horribly disfigures them. It's intimate and personal with a contrast of youth and old age; naivety and innocence against pessimism and experience; and what it means to being alive while living outside of the world's notice, and what one can do with their life even under the heaviest of restrictions.
The End of the World as We Know It by Dale Baily was--against all odds--the strongest in the collection. Take every cliche about the last man alive, the fall of mankind and how a person could carry on in such a circumstance and you'll end up with these thirteen pages. Except the story is phenomenal and anything but cliched. This is the story you can't put down and upon finishing makes you say "Wow" out loud.
There were other strong inclusions by Elizabeth Bear, David Grigg, George RR Martin, Gene Wolfe, and Jonathan Lethem's 'hunger games-ish' farce. There were also a handful of story that didn't do it for me. Those stories reflect more upon than author's style not really meshing with my preferences than the quality of what they wrote.
If nothing else, reading Wastelands reinforced the longstanding hunch that I need to check out Nancy Kress and Stephen King; that alone made the book worth it to me. I don't really like science fiction and a story about the apocalypse will probably make me roll my eyes upon first mention. This collection is light on both: check it out.