In Glitter & Ashes: Queer Tales of a World That Wouldn’t Die, editor dave ring brings together twenty-three short stories, two poems, and a role-playing game in which life post-apocalypse is viewed through the survival of queer people, largely queer people of color. The tone of the stories ranges from melancholy to romantic to joyful. The characters cover the full extent of the queer spectrum: from gay and lesbian to pansexual, from cisgender to transgendered and nonbinary. The apocalypses are a mix of hard science (climate change, biological change, nuclear winter), fantastical (magic, vampires), and the unspecified. Regardless of the type of apocalypse, what binds these stories together is the idea that queer people will still be here, just like we are now. In some of these futures we are accepted without qualms while in some we’re still fighting for equal treatment—but either way we still exist.
The anthology starts off with a one-page story by Anthony Moll, entitled “Wrath of a Queer God.” Moll pulls no punches in having the nameless narrator describe who they would destroy first if they had the power to cause an apocalypse: starting with the “tasteless” who use sacred texts as a justification for persecution and moving up to faithless parents, the rich, and churches. It’s a powerful, punchy, and poetic opener that sets the tone for the book: there will be no leniency for those who would write us out of both the modern world and the future. Anger at, or disdain for, non-queer oppressors also informs C. L. Clark’s flash fiction, “When the Last of the Birds and the Bees Have Gone,” a laundry-list story of rules passed down from older winged persons to younger for surviving interactions with the wingless. Disdain for the wingless is sprinkled throughout, but the story ends with a hint that prejudices may be breaking down. Similarities to Jamaica Kincaid’s classic “Girl” are fully intentional on the author’s part.
“Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel” by Christopher Caldwell is one of those stories in which the apocalypse is magical or supernatural. DeShawn lives alone happily, tending a garden, but that peace is interrupted by the arrival of their old friend Eli (sometimes called Eden, more recently known as “Grandmother”) who needs help in getting a group of children and teenagers to a safe haven in the City. The children are a mix of queer identities, and the story feels like a rumination on how our community elders need to lead the way for kids who come out much earlier in life. While the title, and one particular moment in the story, references Daniel and the lion’s den, Grandmother is more of a Moses figure, leading her people to a promised land she may not get to enter herself. Grandmother and DeShawn put me in mind of all the community elders we lost thanks to the AIDS epidemic, as does Michael Milne’s “The Bone Gifts.” Milne’s story is also set in the aftermath of a magical apocalypse—or at least, an apocalypse in a world where magic works. Society has become less technological (as evidenced by the building the story takes place in) and more ritualistic, especially in the passing down of bones of the deceased to recognized family members—in this case a fight between the deceased woman’s wife and her estranged father, with the helpless caretaker of the dead trapped between them.
Hidden magic is at the core of L. D. Lewis’s “The Currant Dumas,” which takes place on a supply train running across the former United States. Beginning reporter Sam would be a food and travel blogger if the story had been set in the modern world. Her first day on the train, Sam meets performer/magician Layla and romance builds as both become instrumental in helping the train survive an attack by pirates. Sam, and the reader, question whether Layla is truly using magic—her tricks have plausible explanations—until the very end of the story. Jordan Kurella’s “The Black Hearts of La Playa” also sets romance (and heartbreak) against a supernatural apocalypse, in this case involving vampires. Marrin is caught between the needs of a lover who wants someone to mold and a former lover who just wanted someone to protect. What happens when the “enemy” seems to understand thembetter than the women who claim to love them?
Many of the stories in Glitter & Ashes have romantic relationships at the center, including Izzy Wasserstein’s lovely, elegiac “The Descent of Their Last End,” in which a lesbian couple makes the best of their final experiences in a world of nuclear winter; Otter Lieffe’s “Soft,” which features a couple using cis-folks’ mistrust of trans-folk to survive; Elly Bang’s “Champions of Water War,” where love blooms in the gladiatorial ring of a small-town tyrant who gives Fury Road’s Immortan Joe a run for his money; Marianne Kirby’s intimate, startling “The Limitations of Her Code,” in which the apocalypse is actually forced onto AIs by the humans who want to control them; and Adam R. Shannon’s “A Sound Like Staying Together,” in which traveling musicians try to complete a trip through a toxic atmosphere to get to their next gig.
Shannon’s story is one of several that hinge on commerce between isolated areas still needing to happen after the apocalypse. “Venom and Bite,” by Darcie Little Badger, is a high-octane race across the landscape during a short window where a floating “Heaven Shield” protects travelers from falling debris. The title characters are couriers with a mission, who get distracted by a cry for help from a young girl running along the highway they’re traveling on. Little Badger fills the story with great emotional and physical stakes, great characters, and great respect for the Elders of our community. R. J. Theodore also features a courier in “A Future in Color,” but one moving at a slower (though no less dangerous) pace. Theodore’s courier risks never seeing his family again in order to carry works of art between distant settlements to foster not only communication but hope.
Hope—for a safe haven, for the survival of a missing loved one, for a way out of the disaster—is also one of the central themes of the anthology. A. P. Thayer’s appropriately titled “Safe Haven” features a couple racing through a veritable zombie horde to make it to a lighthouse in the middle of a river. Mari Ness’ heartbreaking “Note Left on a Coffee Table” is a list story from the unnamed narrator to her missing lover Alicia, about where to find items to help her survive if she makes it home. Grace, the title character of “Dreadnought,” by Phoebe Barton, is also hoping to find her missing love, and finds a safe haven in the process. Josie Columbus’s teenage protagonists tell their younger charges legends of a safe haven, the titular “The Valley of Mothers,” never imagining that it might be real until someone brings that hope to them.
There are a few stories in the anthology that go further afield for their apocalypses. Fans of giant mech suits and kaiju can’t go wrong with Blake Jessop’s “When She Nothing Shines Upon,” which navigates a growing romance between a mech-suit engineer and the taciturn pilot she’s recently been assigned to work for, alternating points of view. The story manages to feel claustrophobic and wide open, all at the same time, an impressive feat. And Trip Galey’s “The Last Dawn of Targadrides” features a place where the remnants of worlds destroyed in other timelines come to rest and provide power to constantly battling houses of fashion and prestige. Told in nonlinear fashion, the story focuses on a young man named Virtus, whose domineering and powerful mother dictates his every move—until he decides to risk the house’s reputation and existence on being his true self. “The Last Dawn of the Targadrides” and Phoebe Barton’s “Dreadnought” are a powerful one-two punch to end the fiction part of the anthology on, strong stories of personal acceptance, community acceptance, and how we gain power when we have both.
The anthology ends with Avery Alder’s instructions for playing her RPG “Dream Askew,” which is also available to buy online. The themes and goals of “Dream Askew” pull together so much of what I loved about the stories in this anthology and this makes it a great note for editor dave ring to end on. Alder’s game is focused on character creation that allows the widest breath of gender, sexual, and romantic expression, and the game dynamics allow everyone in the group to develop the story (as opposed to having a “game master”), presenting a safe space for people to express when they’re uncomfortable with a story development that is triggering. Respect for identity and for personal trauma, community, communication: all things we should already have in our present day, but which are too often lacking, and which we will need as much or more in the world after whatever apocalypse does finally present itself.