Defying Doomsday Read-Along: Discussion Part 1 (Stories 1-4)

Posted by on Jan 12, 2017 in Books | 7 comments

Defying Doomsday Read-Along: Discussion Part 1 (Stories 1-4)


Welcome to the first discussion post for the Defying Doomsday Read-Along! If you missed the starting post, you can check it out here. In a nutshell, we read about four stories a week, with questions posting on Thursdays. Feel free to jump in and join the read-along at any point. You can answer the questions in the comments, or answer on your own blog and share a link below. You can also tweet as you read using #readDefyingDoomsday.

For next week, we’ll be reading stories 5-8 (“In The Sky With Diamonds” through “Selected Afterimages of the Fading”).

Below are the first set of discussion questions. (Yay!) Because these are short stories and it can be easy to confuse titles (if you’re me), I’ve given a one line reminder of sorts for each story before the question. Also, while some of these questions are more reflective and thoughtful, I also wanted some to be just plain fun. Here we go!

Discussion Questions: Stories 1-4

1. What do you think of Robert Hoge’s statement, made in the introduction, that ‘People with disability already live in a post-apocalyptic world.’?

2. In “And The Rest of Us Wait,” Iveta and her family join a multitude of others in an underground shelter to wait out the impending meteor impact. Many of the other refugees show anger and resentment about the “special treatment” received by those with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Is it really special treatment? And do you think this portrayal of resentment was realistic?

3. In “To Take Into The Air My Quiet Breath,” three sisters journey to a hospital through a land devastated by a flu epidemic. Despite the closeness of these sisters, there are so many silences, so many secrets being kept—and finally shared. How much hope do you have for these characters at the end of the story?

4. In “Something in the Rain” Holly takes good care of herself and her cat, despite something hungry in the rain. My question is, are you as much of a cat person as Holly is?

5. In, “Did We Break the End of the World?” Jin and Aisha are scavengers in a city after the Pulse knocked out electricity and left only teenagers. What would be your specialty to scavenge / sell at a market after the apocalypse?

6. Are there any other thoughts or comments you want to share?

Intisar’s Answers

1. This statement really struck me. It’s made me think a lot about how much privilege and ease I experience as an able-bodied person, and how much of human society and created spaces are structured in ways that exclude and/or dismiss people with disabilities. And, in the current context of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, watching our senators vote down amendments that protect the level of current health coverage, that assure coverage for those with pre-existing conditions (e.g. chronic illnesses), and so on–this statement as rung even more true my ears.

2. I’ve seen this kind of resentment before, and I most often associate it with someone of privilege who resents not being further privileged–without understanding just how narrow and self-serving their perspective is. So no, giving some an equal chance at survival is not special treatment, at least not in my book (no pun intended!).

3. I loved this story, though I have to say that the priest in the prologue, who told the twins they had roses in their lungs, made me want shake my kindle in anger. Gah! I did love how this was a story of leaving a safe space to take chances, and that included each of the siblings finally leaving the safety of silence to speak their secrets. I think the author wanted us to have a sense of hope at the end, with the moonlight shining on the rosebuds, and I suspect that if anyone can survive this particular apocalypse, it will be these three–and, I hope, Baby. They have grown up with pain and they have seen a great deal, and they know how to prepare and plan, and they are resilient in a way that many others are not. So I’ve got hope, here, even as I know that they’re living a particularly barren and terrifying post-apocalyptic world.

4. I’m with the cat. I loved the the ethical grays of this story, and the mix of pragmatism and love that we see in Holly. And, having young children and teaching them about rules and logical consequences, I was both shocked by and appreciative of just how that played out.

5. As a wordsmith, I’m having a hard time thinking about how to sell my art in a scavenger-based market. But then again, when you’re facing the end of the world, maybe stories become that much more important. I might have to work on my oral storytelling skills though, supplemented by scavenging and selling the best stories out there (and whatever survival guides I can find!).

6. I’m really just loving this read as much as I did the first time through. I’m hoping you’re enjoying it as well!

I’m looking forward to the discussion here!

  • MoH

    1. Intisar, I love this question and your answer to it. Before I became disabled, I was often confused when disabled friends or acquaintances were just like, “nope, not doing that” if there were physical or social barriers. (Hopefully, I was less obnoxious about my privilege than I fear I was!) The other line in the introduction which brought that home for me was, “So much of our world is a not-made-for-us space that disaster may as well have already struck.” Like you, I am scared about how bad things will get with the repeal of the ACA, and a P-E who has a terrible record on everything the ADA.

    2. I’d copied the scene on the meal queue into my diary the first time around because the accusations of special treatment–and especially Mandy’s reaction to them–resonated so deeply with me. 🙂 Another thing I love about this story is Mandy’s relationship to her family, and the way that plays out as they are lining up for food. I think our language about disability and chronic illness (“special needs,” “special ed,” and “requests for accommodations”) reinforces the idea that equal access to essentials is a very special favor, though I definitely agree with you that the resentment comes from a privileged “all for me” perspective. In that respect, it’s very much like the rest of the ugliness that brought us Trump.

    3. Gorgeous story! I do have hope for the characters in the end. I hadn’t really noticed the way the writer used silence, or thought about the significance of such different images of roses bracketing the story, until I saw your comments before rereading “To Take Into The Air My Quiet Breath,” so thank you for that! I was also struck by the characters’ gradual shift towards trust and interdependence, and how it led to the decision, “No more waiting for someone to save us.”

    4. Well, my partner and I have nicknamed our cat, “Little Kitty Full of Magnificence and Awesomeness.”:) (No, really, we have and she is.)

    5. Hmm, I have a good eye for spotting unusual things. I’m a bird-watcher *cough, giant nerd*, and while I consistently miss the obvious, I’m quick to notice changes in patterns, like a new nest or an owl in plain sight in daylight, so maybe it would be odd, useful things that were accidentally left behind.

    6. Thank you so much for hosting this read-along! It’s wonderful to get your thoughts on an anthology I enjoyed so much and get to know a little about you.

    • We all get obnoxious about privilege at some point, I suspect, no matter how well-intentioned we are. My goal is not to rise to the “Let them eat cake,” level! To be serious, I think we often have no idea just how much privilege we have until we’re able to put it into context… which often means first or second-hand experience. For me, as a little kid visiting Pakistan, my parents would send me home with their aunt’s maid to visit her family. I still remember their single-room home, without running water or electricity. That was formative for me, as were the few books I read that put me in the shoes of those with different, “less-privileged” lives. So I totally believe in the power of books to combat privilege!

      I hadn’t thought about how the language we use around disability and chronic illness reinforces the idea that equal access is a favor to someone, as opposed to their natural human right. That makes a lot of sense and deeply disturbing. Are there terms you’ve heard used that don’t do that?

      And yes! In “To Take Into The Quiet Air My Breath” – that shift from being alone together to being interdependent and trusting again definitely gives me hope for them again. They have to move forward from where they were stuck–not just physically but emotionally and mentally–if they’re going to make it through. And I really think they will. 🙂

      Ooh, you sound like a handy person to have around during / post-apocalypse. I’m good with the obvious, so we’d make a good team. 😉 That’s a really neat talent/skill to have!

      And your kitty sounds magnificent and awesome! I wish I could meet her. Kitties for the win!

      • MoH

        “We all get obnoxious about privilege at some point, I suspect, no matter how well-intentioned we are….To be serious, I think we often have no idea just how much privilege we have until we’re able to put it into context… which often means first or second-hand experience….So I totally believe in the power of books to combat privilege!”

        YES to all of the above!

        “For me, as a little kid visiting Pakistan, my parents would send me home with their aunt’s maid to visit her family. I still remember their single-room home, without running water or electricity.”

        It is great that your parents did that. It makes sense that it had a strong impact on how you move through the world to this day.

        “Are there terms you’ve heard used that don’t do that?”

        I try to frame things in terms of access and barriers when I can since those are the areas where I’d like to see change, e.g. “education that’s accessible to everyone,” instead of “special ed.” I’ve heard others use the term “universal design” in similar ways, but I can’t quite manage it linguistically. 🙂 Lisa Egan wrote a really good article about language, bodies, and access if you have time to check it out.

        “I’m good with the obvious, so we’d make a good team. ;)”

        I’d be honored ! 😉

  • 1) I can definitely see why Hoge’s statement reflects the reality for many disabled people. Just looking at how mobility challenged people may struggle outside the US, even in major European countries, is enlightening. No ramps, few elevators, even in a big country like Spain, I’ve noted many a time to my husband that wheelchair or walker accessibility is often awful. Or look at those of us who must eat a special diet. I’ve got celiac disease and have to avoid Gluten to avoid destroying my small intestine. Being stranded for hours recently in an airport, I struggled to find anything I could safely eat. In a true apocalypse, well… the first story hit home for me.

    2) All you have to do is watch grouchy people standing in line and quarreling about how elderly people, families with very small children, or those in wheelchairs get to have special assistance or go first in order to see how sadly true this depiction was. I loved the lines about equality meaning we get the same chances even if we are not equal and it not being the same/fair treatment if it hurts some of us and not others.

    3) I want to believe that the sisters stand a chance. Poor Baby, though… The secrets the sisters hold from one another are very visceral in feel. Even just the lie about the black phone that Eliza tells to get them out of the home… I think if they perpetuate hiding things from one another their chances may be fewer. Especially for Annabelle, who is so ill. I hope they manage to get through to whoever dialed them up!

    4) I have seven cats and I’m with Holly! Cats over bullies any day. Seanan McGuire is one of my favorite authors. I started her fan group on Facebook. I’d never read this story before.

    5) Since I’m a chemist, I have some skills useful for surviving. I’ve also got a background in microbiology immunology from my undergrad degree, so I have some skills here, as well. Probably good for things like purifying water, etc. But I guess that I think the most useful skill to have is the will to survive, which Aisha seems to have in spades in “Did We Break the End of the World.”

    I’m enjoying this anthology so much. Thanks for creating this read-along!

    • I had no idea that so much of Europe is so inaccessible–for some reason, I never envisioned the US as a “leader” in accessibility (possibly because we have a long way to go), so I find it quite depressing to learn that Europe is not on top of these things. Developed countries really have no excuse whatsoever for not championing accessibility. Not that developing countries get a free pass (they don’t), but developed nations should easily have the wherewithal, funding, and activism to get this done right yesterday.

      And ha! I’ve totally been the family with little kids getting glares at the airport as we go to the front of the line. And been ridiculously grateful to be able to get my kids on and settled before they fall apart. The first author really did a fantastic job of weaving in the issue of “special treatment” and equal chances with the story itself.

      Yeah, there were a lot of secrets and lack of trust at the beginning of the “To Take Into The Air My Quiet Breath” – and that does make the future seem potentially bleak and terrible. But the fact that those secrets started coming out, that they started sharing each others burdens at the end of the story, still gives me hope. It’s not going to be easy, and I’m especially worried about both Baby and Annabelle, but if they continue to open up and work together, I think they have a chance…

      Woohoo for cats! 😉 This is actually the first piece I’ve read by Seanan McGuire, but it won’t be the last. I had the honor of sitting on a panel with her at a fantasy con in Baltimore, and listening to her speak at other panels, and she’s both a fascinating and thoughtful (and hilarious) person, and clearly a talented writer. I’m looking forward to reading more from her!

      And you’re a chemist! Definitely a great skill to have post-apocalypse. But I agree, the will to survive is by far the most important. Looking at Aisha vs. Mari (different stories, but still), you can see how clearly that makes a difference. When it comes to survival, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve been through, or what you’re capable of, if you can’t face another day. (My heart broke for Mari.) I think I’ll take Aisha as my model for will to survive too.

    • Oops! I hopped over to your post but forget say thank you here. 😉 So glad you’re enjoying the read-along–I really enjoyed your answers and the discussion on your blog as well!

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