Before I go on, it’s important to note that the thirty-two different stories are all based on real people – friends and associates of Keene whom he would include in his fictional Armageddon. That’s a pretty awesome thing to do, and it shows that Keene has an incredible amount of love and esteem for these people, even though he’s sending them all to their fictional deaths. Most deaths are pretty ghastly as well; but when you’re friends with a horror writer, being put through a horrible death is pretty much the ultimate sign of respect.
Keene did a wonderful thing. That being said, there is one big limitation in basing an entire collection of short stories on your close friends and acquaintances. For the most part, people befriend people who are like them, and as such most of the “characters” in these short stories are much like Keene: middle-aged, married, sometimes with kids and, very often, lovers of books –horror books in particular. I couldn’t tell you how many of the characters were trying to save their book collection above their possessions. As the reader speeds through one short story after another, these patterns become obvious, which makes most characters and their plight harder to get into. I feel like in a story as big and powerful as the world flooding, there’s incredible scope for creativity with characters and situations that are kind of limited by what Keene has done here. In a traditionally “fictional” short story collection, it would have been great to read more stories taken from the perspective of children as the world floods around them – how they react, how they see it; whether they can really grasp the finality of it all. By the end, most of the thirty-two stories and its characters are a blur in the reader’s memory.
That being said, using real people does allow for love to translate well onto the page. When Keene writes about a friend holding his son above the rising water in ‘One Last Breath’, the reader knows it comes from a place of sincerity, and makes their inevitable end all the more hard-hitting. In fact, the stories involving parents and their kids are probably the most memorable for that reason alone: these aren’t fictional families; they’re families that exist in the real world who would probably behave just as they do in the book if the world really was flooding. The story that particularly stuck with me – apart from the one just mentioned – was the James family’s outing in ‘On the Beach’, and how they silently accept their fate together when they see the tide rushing in from the ocean.
I’m not sure if this benefit outweighs the negative. The premise set up by Keene in this universe is filled to the brim with possibilities (especially with the worms, fungus, and the new creatures introduced here), that I can’t help but feel like this collection doesn’t take full advantage of it. That doesn’t negate the fact that what Keene did for his friends was wonderful, but from a writing standpoint...