This is wacky and weird and I kind of loved it. The answer to the question: Has the World Ended Yet (great question, aside from being the title of the book), is yes. We probably just haven’t figured it out. The ending is just out of sight, until it’s not.
In Peter Darbyshire’s book of short stories, the world has definitely ended or is ending, although it has ended differently and on a variety of scales per story. Sometimes it’s catastrophic for everybody, sometimes just a couple of city blocks frozen in time. He also places a couple of the stories right in hell and told from the demon’s perspective, which, as you can guess, is a little bit skewed. In Darbyshire’s fiction, the world and the people in it are somehow us and familiar and somehow not. Superheroes have to retire, angels are probably not that great, and everybody is fully aware that marketing is evil. And models are too. They still don’t eat anything. Except other people.
This is so campy, like an old episode of Star Trek, that sometimes you skim past the big questions (like: is this a metaphor for how we’ve commodified our entire existence, including our children?), and I think that’s just fine. Sometimes it’s OK to be entertained. It’s safer to stick with entertainment value in Darbyshire’s slightly terrifying and zany world. An angel possesses a plastic blow up sex doll in one story, so if you’re easily offended, I suggest avoidance all together.
Darbyshire’s world contains slivers that make you go: huh. That could happen. In one short story, a hired assassin lives in a shipping container in the parking lot of an abandoned Home Depot. People would do this. People already live in Wal Mart parking lots. In another story, a character manages to get their hands on a Starbucks coffee. Sure, the world ended, but corporations remain. And everyone still needs coffee.
In ‘Of Cthulhu,’ the narrator, (previously some sort of mythical creature), ends up needing to work as an agent at a temp placement office for other supernatural beings. “I tell my clients everyone goes through three emotional stages after losing a job: denial, rage, and acceptance. I tell them they won’t be able to find a new calling until they move on to the third stage. I tell them world destroyer, god of war, gateway to the apocalypse and earth devourer are no longer acceptable callings.”
Sounds like the worst job ever. Also, that’s a bummer, that world destroyer is no longer an acceptable job description. I would totally apply for that.
In the titular story, superhero Titan is forced into retirement not long before the world ends. As angels crash into earth, he considers that he should have used his powers for villany, instead of good. This way, at least he’d be able to enjoy the end of the world. He buys a fancy car and makes a last visit to his drug dealer, who makes Titan pay, claiming he shouldn’t abandon his principles even though it is the end of the world. Maybe this whole crazy book is about commerce and what it’s going to do to all of us.
Peter Darbyshire appeared at Event 81 (Trips to the other World) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.