Seven Stones: An Anthology of The Wrecked Earth
C.E.L. Welsh (ed.)
There was a period of time when I was quite keen on backing IndieGoGo and Kickstarter campaigns; and while I was wary enough not to fund anything technology or games-related, as they always seemed to be the campaigns most likely to collapse in on themselves and take my money with them without returning a product, I was much less conservative with campaigns launched by authors or publishers. I funded a string of them in 2015 and 2016, and fortunately I was never disappointed in what I got in return; although I often had to wait a while, past the official deadline that a campaign had invariably set for themselves, I received a number of novels, novellas and anthologies that I greatly enjoyed.
One of the last Kickstarter campaigns that I decided to fund was for Seven Stones: An Anthology of The Wrecked Earth. I liked the idea of the setting – a post-apocalyptic Earth ravaged by constant meteorite showers that had destroyed cities, continents and even civilization itself – and although I hadn’t heard of most of the authors, I had heard of one – William Meikle, who even back then was fast becoming one of my favourite authors. With his name attached to the project it was a foregone conclusion that I would back the campaign, and this decision was only made easier by the fact that the author/publisher running it, C.E.L. Welsh, was asking a mere $1 for an eBook of the anthology. Certain it was a mistake I signed up anyway, but fortunately a few months later I was promptly delivered an eBook of the anthology – my only regret the fact that I hadn’t increased my investment and gone for the option to get a signed, paperback copy of the anthology.
So, what to make of this incredibly inexpensive and prompt title? Well firstly, I absolutely love the cover art – it’s what attracted me to the campaign in the first place as I was scrolling through Kickstarter – even before I’d noticed Mr Meikle’s name attached. A fantastic comic-strip style, full-colour illustration by Jeremy Mohler, the foreground is dominated by a leather-jacketed, modern-day Barbarian who wields a ridiculously-sized battle-axe and a combat knife the size of his forearm; he is surrounded by what can only be taken to be mutant rats of some kind, all muscles and fur and beady eyes that glow a radioactive neon-red. Behind the combatants lies the ruins of civilization – wrecked cars and a shattered overpass, and meteorites arc overhead in the twilight. It’s such an iconic piece, and after reading the anthology I can confirm that it absolutely strikes the right tone, capturing the often over-the-top nature of the setting and its stories. Frankly, it’s cool, and I don’t mean that in an ironic tone either.
Moving into the anthology itself, it contains seven original short stories in The Wrecked Earth setting, as well as two excerpts from Sunder, the second title in C.E.L. Welsh’ own original series. Each story or excerpt is also accompanied by a piece of black and white art work which captures a particular scene or moment; they’re all by different artists, which I think is a great idea as it gives a nice variety of art styles as you read the anthology. Another reviewer labelled the entire setting as “Imagine Conan, raised by a biker gang, in the world of Mad Max”, and I genuinely can’t think of a better description of the world these stories take place in. It is unashamedly pulp in nature, drawing on any number of influences, and frankly I loved every moment of it.
The first story in the anthology is by William Meikle, entitled Staying Alive Among the Beasts, and is both an excellent short story and also a brilliant introduction to the setting as a whole; an aging, ailing zookeeper tries to keep his animals alive, defending them against hunger, thirst, meteorites that can mutate with just a touch, and also roving bands of bandits. One such band attacks the zoo, looking for food, but fortunately Fred Atkins has a plan up his sleeve; suffice to say, I’ll never quite look at elephants the same way ever again. This is then followed by Hope and Desire by Scott Colby, which takes a sharp look at the nature of leadership in a post-apocalyptic scenario and also the role of government; when the world ends, “might makes right” is no longer the sole domain of the government and its elected representatives. Teddy’s Treasure is a short, distinctly strange story by Craig Terlson, which follows a survivor of the apocalypse and the unique skills that he has gained as a result of a nearby meteorite and how he survives in the wastelands. The editor himself, C.E.L. Welsh then takes a hand, giving us Wrath of the Rat God, featuring his hero Clutch; the same muscle-bound, axe-wielding Barbarian from the front cover, Clutch fights off mutated rats and the power that controls them in a fast-paced, action-packed story that also has a surprisingly tender twist towards the end.
Sherphard’s Choice by Mike McLarty is perhaps the best story of the anthology, rivalled only by Mr Meikle’s tale. It follows a survivor known only as The Shephard as he approaches a surviving village in order to solicit a “donation” – not supplies or weapons, but rather one of the few remaining children. It’s a gut-wrenching, horrific task that he undertakes, sifting through the children to find one pure enough to take away, and only does McLarty paint a picture of a determined yet fundamentally broken man, we also get some intriguing insights into how the village survives, and a much greater power that rules the surrounding area. Sea of the Dead by Joseph Milne is a fun aquatic and shore-bound adventure that shows the price to be paid for trying to harness the powers of one of the meteorites that caused the apocalypse; and The Vale of Purity by Jeremiah Tolbert is a distinctly chilling tale of fanaticism, blind faith, and how these can lead to incredible perversions of power.
All in all, Seven Stones is a fantastic little anthology, full of high-quality post-apocalyptic stories and excellent interior art work, and with a brilliant piece of cover art, and I firmly believe that it is a credit to both the authors, the illustrators and Mr Welsh himself. I look forward to reading Mr Welsh’ other titles set in The Wrecked Earth, and hope to see another anthology in the not too distant (and hopefully not apocalyptic) future