"The Last Day" -- Ellen Ohfrom Diverse Energies, edited by Tobias S. Buckell & Joe Monti
From Tobias Buckell's Preface:
I write adventures about the future and of future worlds, and they're populated by a diverse set of characters. Why? It's the future face of the world. It's us. All of us. And we all deserve to be seen in the future, having adventures, setting foot on those strange new worlds.
As much as I totally support the sentiment in that passage—as well as the idea behind Tu Books, which is to bring more diversity to speculative fiction—I found it pretty jarring to move from such an inspirational introduction to "The Last Day", which was brutally, devastatingly dark. And is set in a world that, honestly, I can't imagine anyone wanting to see themselves in.
It's set in war-torn Japan, either in a post-apocalyptic future or in an alternate version of the past. (Unless I missed an indicator somewhere—I rather hope not, though, as I liked the idea that it could have been set in either time frame.) After decades of fighting, there are only two governments left on Earth: the President of the West and the Emperor of the East. Children are being drafted into the Emperor's Army at younger and younger ages, the civilian populace is starving, and there are rumors of entire city populations just... disappearing.
On the fateful day—note the title!—that the story takes place, twelve-year-old Kenji goes out scavenging for food with his friend Akira... and it isn't long before they both know that their lives will never be the same again.
Good stuff. Dark, but good. It reminded me of the Hunger Games trilogy, not in plot or style or tone, but because it espouses the idea that no one really wins in war. Or, more specifically in this case, that "War was only good for governments and always bad for people". In addition to the up-in-the-air nature of the era, there are also hints about a possible paranormal ability, though that, too, is debatable.
While it totally works as a stand-alone story, there are so many unanswered questions by the end—the main one being, "OMG, WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT?—that I wondered if "The Last Day" was originally a prologue to another story, or some sort of writing exercise to create a backstory for one of the characters. (<--Not saying which one, as that would very definitely affect your reading experience.)
Looking forward to more from the author—she's new to me—and this collection!
Book source: Review copy from the publisher.