Armageddons edited by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann
For those not familiar with the format, Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois have compiled a large number of themed anthologies each of which contains a number of stories dealing with a single topic. This book fills its 269 pages with twelve stories on the subject of the end of the world. They date from 1951 to 1998. Five of those stories are well worth reading but the rest are filler.

The finest story here is "A Pail of Air" by Fritz Lieber. It tells of a dark star passing through the solar system and dragging the Earth away. Without the sun it gets so cold that even the air freezes. How can people survive in this world? The other truely outstanding tale is Frederick Pohl's "Fermi and Frost" which describes a world slowly freezing over in the wake of a nuclear war. If you have not read those two stories before, they pretty well justify buying the book.

Gregory Benford, Nancy Kress and Raccoona Sheldon (aka James Tiptree Jr.) merit mention for their three stories all of which deal with the potential of advanced biotechnology to finish us off.

The remaining stories do contain some interesting ideas but in general, they are just not very well written and I think that the editors could have been more critical in the material that they included.

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rating
Six out of ten.
Some good stuff but a lot of filler
Detailed contents.
Pohl, Frederick: "Fermi and Frost"
A story about nuclear war and nuclear winter and the last survivors clinging to life in Iceland while the food runs out. It is a gripping and moving tale indeed. It is also one of the finest SF shorts ever. 10/10

Benford, Gregory: "A Desperate Calculus"
A group of scientists decides that mankind is a blight which must be attacked in order to reduce the damage done to the planet. Their reaction is to develop and distribute a new disease which does not kill but which leaves women sterile. As a read it was slightly heavy going but it was a fine idea 8/10

Kress, Nancy: "Evolution"
This story is told from the viewpoint of a woman living with her family in a near future America. Drug resistant bacteria have become more and more threatening until it seems that mankind itself is under threat. Society starts to collapse as researchers battle to find a solution. 8/10

Cowper, Richard: "A Message to the King of Brobdingnag"
Scientists working to increase crop yeilds come up with a miracle technique that massively increases plant growth. Sadly, the main beneficiary of the technique is pond algae and the resultant algal bloom destroys all life on earth. It is an interesting idea but it is very poorly written. Much of the detail is either wrong or implausible and the author introduces characters to solve a plot glitch and then promptly drops them. Should try harder. 5/10

Waldrop, Howard: "...The World, as We Know't"
Set in post revolution America, at a time when the debate between the phlogiston thoery and what is now understood of chemistry was at it's height, this pseudo Wellsian story wonders what would have happened if phlogiston was real and if it had been isolated and produced.You have guessed it, it would mean the end of the world. It's not a very convincing tale for the simple reason that we all know that Wells would have made a far better job of it. 5/10

Dozois, Gardner: "The Peacemaker"
This time, the armageddon is a worldwide flood resulting from the very sudden melting of the polar ice caps. This leads to widespread innundation and the story centres on a group of people displaced from the East Coast of the US. As cracks develop in the society, people look for answers in old ways and human sacrifices return. As a story, this suffers from the fact that it has little to say and it relies on the sort of last page plot twist that was the mainstay of fifties short SF. 5/10

Sheldon, Raccoona (James Tiptree Jr.): "The Screwfly Solution"
Suddenly, out of a clear blue sky, men start to kill women. A mania, that this is necessary to move mankind on to a higher plane of existance takes hold. At first, this is limited to just in a few places but eventually across the whole planet until there are no more women and mankind is doomed. But what caused this? Without doubt it is an interesting twist on the alien takeover theme. 7/10

Leiber, Fritz: "A Pail of Air"
This is the oldest story in the book but it still seems fresh and full of life. It tells the tale of the earth when a passing dark star has ripped it away from the sun. Without the heat and light of the sun the earth freezes over and almost everyone dies. One family susrvives in a sealed room going out regularly to scoop up a bucket full of frozen air in order replenish the atmosphere in their isolated room. This really is one of the finest SF shorts ever written You can really imagine how the narrator feels about life in a world where even the atmosphere has frozen. 10/10

Danzig, Allan: "The Great Nebraska Sea"
An Earth movement causes eight states in the centre of the US to collapse. A new sea, almost the size of the Mediterranian, opens up in the centre of the US. It reads as a historical documentary though rather than as a story. 5/10

Niven, Larry: "Inconstant Moon"
A solar flare sears half of the planet and causes storms and destruction over the rest of the world. Told from the point of view of a Californian who, mistaking the signs for the sun going nova decides to celebrate the last night of the planet. It's OK but it is certainly not at all special. 5/10

Landis, Geoffrey A.: "The Last Sunset"
A comet smashes into the planet. A hand ful of people know what is about to happen and they get about and hour and a half's warning. One man decides to celebrate the end of the world by holding the hand of the girl he has admired from afar. The best thing about this story is that it is vey short. 3/10

Barton, William: "Down in the Dark"
An asteroid impact wipes out all life on Earth and renders the planet uninhabitable. The only survivors are a couple of thousand people stranded on assorted bases on the Moon, Mars, Titan etc. They face little hope for the future until a scientist discovers that there are intelligent lumps of wax on Titan and that they are offering to help. It's an interesting idea for sure. The real trouble though is that the story is poorly told and it just drags. It could have been written in half the length and would have been better though of course authors get paid by the word and they have mortgages like the rest of us. 5/10