“Still Life” by Victoria Feistner (13074 words)
No Spoilers: Oliver is a former YouTuber who got caught out on location by the end of the world. And okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. But not by much. Called the Crash, the end of civilization has left most of the UK in ruins, and while some pockets of people still hold on, most are fleeing south toward larger cities. Oliver’s in a bit of trouble as the story opens, so it’s luck that Gunny shows up to save his ass and recruit him as a travelling companion as they both try to keep their sights on getting home. For Oliver, that means Kent. For Gunny, that means North America. To get there, they both need to cross a lot of ground, and deal with their own complicated feelings about a future where civilization might be doomed. Optimism struggles against realism and human nature in this story where the characters are certainly flawed, but also trying their hardest to live in a world worth living in.
Keywords: Post Disaster, Travel, Repairs, Civility, Guns, ATVs
Review: I’m all for post-disaster/apocalypse stories that complexly take on the idea of survival-at-all-costs vs not-being-murderous-assholes that many such stories just sort of gloss over. when “civilization” falls, most of the time it means a return to a kind of “lawlessness” that never really existed. Because, really, hospitality has always been one of the most important things. globally, it’s never been, like, Okay for people to just straight up murder travelers. Not that it didn’t happen, but normally that’s not going to be the case. Of course, with something like the collapse of the system that keeps everyone fed, there would be a bit more of a dire situation. And I like how this story handles that, having a mix of people really going all in on looking out for themselves and some other people who are still trying to do good.
And I like that Oliver wants to be one of the later. And how he’s pushed into being one of the former. Because when Bad Things show up, sometimes there’s really no avoiding a fight. So he fights sometimes, and it’s something that gets at him. That causes him trauma. And I love that because of how true it feels. These situations are incredibly traumatic but rarely do you see people in these settings deal with PTSD even when it’s not about murder. Because Oliver doesn’t kill anyone, but even getting into a fight is enough to really shake him, and it sort of taps into that feeling of loss, of confusion, of fear at everything that has happened. So when the time comes again where he can try to trust someone or lash out...well. But even then the story lingers and really gets into his complicated shame and guilt about that. How he feels that he’s lost at that point, but it doesn’t make him stop trying.
And really that I feel is where the story shines, that it shows characters trying to navigate this really messy situation, and finding messy solutions. Solutions that aren’t total solutions. because what they find is that they have to keep trying. And that when they fuck up they have to try and make up for it. They have to try to foster the best in people without thinking that they could never do evil. And it’s not perfect and it’s not even very pretty but there is a hope to it. That they can maybe keep something of their principles while also surviving. And that if ever came to a point where their survival depended on doing something truly evil, they might not cave. They might refuse to bend that far. And while it’s not the greatest of hopes, it is something. That, in the end, what they have are each other, and the kindness that they can share. And without that, the world might not be worth saving. So yeah, it’s a wrenching and moving and great read!