25 thoughts on “The End of the World: A User’s Guide

  1. I have just bought this book that I did not know existed at all – until I googled ‘The Point of Oswald Masters’ having found myself referring to it HERE in the last few days.
    I simply loved that story so I wanted to read more by its author, Neil James Hudson.
    As a sort of caveat, I was instrumental in publishing that story in Nemonymous Eight (Cone Zero) in 2008.

    And I have not been disappointed by this book’s first story…



    “‘You’re aliens,’ I told him. ‘Aliens have apostrophes in their names. Everyone knows that.”

    A hilariously satirical and mind-stretching account of a deep space call centre run by an Earth woman named Miss Davidson, employing low-paid aliens who deal with customers on Earth, aliens who can’t pronounce the letter ‘s’, or can they?
    Customers’ complaints about their treatment are fielded by Miss Davidson herself…
    but I am not going to itemise the whole story. Needs reading.


    “‘Only half a mile away,’ I said frostily, ‘is a room devoted to the history of History.”

    And if the first story was a mind-stretcher, it was merely a taster or dress rehearsal for this one! I don’t know quite how to describe how I felt when reading it as NJH does something I feel that no other author can, i.e. make you doubt your own reality – for real! Not your sanity, but your reality. (You must already be insane to read this book in the first place, you see, I predict.)
    This story of a slowly accreting space station that acts as a vehicle for History and its indexation and cataloging, the indexers’ battle with miscellanea that the indexers can actually become if they are not too careful. This indexing and cataloguing is not OF history as I understand it but IS history itself.
    The arrival of a Professor to research the Index against its Curator’s wishes, with an authority from the Home Secretary, leads to a discovery of parasites…
    But I feel like a parasite upon this story by itemising it like this. So, I will stop right now and leave you to enter this amazing world yourself…

    “…and when one lives one’s life surrounded by the facts of humanity, it is a holiday to leap into ambiguity.”


    “She was too intelligent to be a police officer. She stared at him for a second, said ‘radii don’t encompass,'”

    It has been so good to revisit this story of an artistic rivalry. For me, a genuine classic that hilariously satirises the modern art world and its avant garde art but it also successfully shows you why such avant garde art should be taken seriously. No mean feat. But like signatures, which came first?
    (My own relationship with the avant garde here.)


    “‘Asshammers!’ I cry out.”

    This is a rather disturbing, stigmatically poignant, monologue, an old man who needs Gwynneth, attended by what he sees as chambermaids and a vicar and a doctor, and an imputed care home ambiance, and, in his real-time as well as our own, we gradually realise his predicament but know we shall never fully KNOW it. It is almost as if, at some stage, that the others in the story cry out from within their own version of Asshammers, not him. But that’s not in the story as the story cries it out, too, offstage, offprint, I guess.

    I am amazed that I know of nobody who has read this book, a book that, I feel, promises much. I simply KNOW this. I feel confident it is something special hidden within its black covers. I expect it to recognise me or me it, at last.


    “I wished I had more than one mouth.”

    This is a staggering work about sexual maturity determined by a single visitation, a work that may disturb you with its overt sexual descriptions. I normally would spurn such works myself. Having said that, though, this is an unmissable work for anyone interested in humanity as a sexual being, and its myths, couched as a fable, a participatory-permutational rationale of the mechanics and emotions and lusts and loves involved.
    Like previous stories in this increasingly remarkable book, it is outrageous or hilarious as well as mind-stretchingly serious. I don’t think I have ever read an author before having quite this ability, and with such an easy felicitous style, to boot.
    As an aside, those of you who know certain aspects in the great fiction of the late Joel Lane will empathise with me in wondering how an author of such fiction would have reacted to this story. He no doubt has his own wings now.


    “…one of those daft accidents that ridiculed our attempts to find life meaningful.”

    A boy’s memory of the era, around Reagan’s start of his Presidency, when, in the UK, we were all issued a booklet with the eponymous title – containing, in hindsight, ludicrously unrealistic instructions on preparation for nuclear attack, its words punctuating his memories like a refrain.
    Perhaps our fear was of the fear that was in ourselves, and the real dangers were in the smaller things between man to man not the weapons of mass destruction. Man as his own bomb. As it has turned out.
    Tellingly told.


    And following my reference to ‘man as his own bomb’, we now have a similar but figurative bomb in the shape of HIV2.
    A story of a woman diagnosed by blood test with this disease, and murky dealings, and miracle cures and I got confused, I’m afraid as to exactly what was going on. It didn’t help with the two male protagonists having names beginning with H.
    I am sure it must be a story as good as those above, but I can’t confirm this because all my real-time reviews (except rarely) are based on a reading as a first impression


    “‘You can’t be a hero when it’s too late,’…”

    This eponymous work is a brilliantly witty but serious vision of the end of the world by climate change, where humanity’s diaspora is northward to Alaska or Greenland, and not only humanity.
    But, by devious or subliminal means, selfishness takes sway in ingeniously corporative ways and this User’s Guide (cf the intrinsically ludicrous Protect and Survive guide earlier in this book) becomes a logically pointless guide a bit like the sixth cone syndrome, I guess, and the fact that this book’s actually advertises Apocalypse Cola on its cover proves something, a pointless Cola (like Coca or Pepsi themselves?) that wants the fruits of the post-Apocalypse, post-modernist world market itself. Even this book’s table of contents not lining up the story titles with the correct page numbers joins in.
    Loved it. A good story that turns into a masterpiece in the context of the book in which it is contained like its own Apocalypse Cola. A clever blend of a cartoon and reality (cf Welcome to the Arms Race by Justin Isis).

    “‘Don’t wait for the butterflies to leave,…”


    A mind-boggling fable of neural filters, in a world where one can set such filters to tune out or block things like politics, or violence, or advertising, etc., with Brian Rix Whitehall farce repercussions for this lecturer himself as well as for one of his students and his wife. Some metaphysical conceits here on memory, personal responsibility, emotions and reality that are beautifully conveyed by a deviously easy style. A complexity without complexity. The neural filters also have unknown presets….
    Another Hudson story that is hilarious and serious at once.

    Serendipitously, this story complements (and vice versa) another story (by T.R. Napper) that I reviewed only yesterday here. Utterly different stories from each other but essential to read both to get the whole experience with hopefully nothing filtered out!


    “‘What do you want from these sessions?’ asked Doctor Hockfield , as I lay on his couch, sinking into it as if into the soft earth by my imaginary lake, or a grave.
    ‘I want to be haunted,’ I said, surprising myself.”

    Arguably, on first reading, a classic ghost story, a recurrency of visitations to the death bed (Freudian suicidal motives?) via regression’s treatment, a haunting guilt of self…
    I would be interested in others’ views on this complex work. None seem available.

    “I added him to my blocked senders list.”


    “‘I didn’t raise you to be gay.’ That hadn’t been fashionable for ages.”

    A provocative and ‘ad absurdum’ extrapolation upon eugenics when applied by parents deciding on the individual traits of their forthcoming child … and on-going after the baby is born.


    This, I suggest, is a work of genius, assuming I have got my head round it properly, and it is not easy to do so.
    It also has overt sexual descriptions that are vital to the time paradoxes involved, there being a deep poignancy in the relationship between the male narrator and the woman he ‘meets’, the male living unnaturally in reverse and the woman living naturally in reverse, if there is such a distinction at all. When coupled with an ‘approaching’ war, the reader’s imagined implications about this situation, and who is coming and who is going, become also unbearably sad. Again, I would be grateful for anyone’s views on this potentially significant work in the SF field.

    I note that the narrator was or is or will be a senior technician at the Large Tachyon Collider. So as well as Hudson’s work appearing in Cone Zero (2008), it was also soon to appear in another book anthology of mine with a near anagram of Cone Zero as its title, i.e. CERN Zoo (2009), if I had been in a time-possible position to consider it for publication…


    To avoid the Zero of extinction by alien forces upon us, employ Zeno’s Paradox? (Or by extending the amount of additional pages on this book’s table of contents exponentially?)
    If this book’s eponymous tale was ABOUT the End of the World: A User’s Guide, this girl’s timed diary – an exponentially provocative and stoical vision by implication – is in fact tantamount to the User’s Guide itself. As sponsored by a TV programme called Celebrity Circus, I suggest.
    Incorporating implications of humanity’s shame, bringing this apocalypse upon themselves by dealing wrongly with the aliens, and internecine strife, race and pillage, between our peoples, even families… I dwell on its fine inscrutable ending. Did it reach Zero? Or did it walk backwards as in the previous story? Or something far worse?
    (On a personal note, I helped form the Zeroist Group at Lancaster University in 1967…)


    “There were two Erics breathing the same air, two Charlottes drinking the same water.”

    I found this story genuinely frightening even with its bravura Swiftian ‘Modest Proposal’ farcicality. It tells of a world where we have all doubled up, but which of the two of us is real? A world that needs thinning back out again to deal with the resultant scarce resources. Where genuine identical twins are protected by the police.
    Do we play chess to decide, or take government-sealed tablets, one poisoned, the other not. The repercussions are mind-bending, the post-resonance to this story after you have finished reading it deafening. Another arguable masterpiece. And, as a bonus, it also has mention of the Large Hadron Collider in it.


    If I found the previous story frightening, I found this one worrying. There is a deadpan obsessiveness about the female narrator PA and her surveillance of the surveillance of her by her boss. Even to the extent of the laboured surreptitious systematic trial of a four digit code to his safe over several months…
    The ending is even more worrying as I couldn’t get fully to the bottom of it. It was a bit like the theme of the previous story doubles, but slightly off kilter. And the fact she scratched her face to match an earlier photo? Or did I get that wrong?
    I often believe there may be some mischievous spirit somewhere behind all these stories, something probably disowned by NJH? The prose style and its themes add to that belief. And perhaps I am getting nearer and nearer it, each time I read another story in this black Lulu book that I discovered out of the normal mainstream of the Internet, only because of earlier synchronicities that fortuitously led me to it.
    It is almost as if I feel I am trying to crack the four digit code of this book itself!


    “This movement of energy would itself consume energy,…”

    …like the surveillance of surveillance in the previous story?
    This story is a Daesh for Death, or a Gahan Wilson splodge, what this story calls a ‘nihil’, with offshoots called ‘nihilets’, attacking our world with splodges of non-existence. It is an engulfing story in itself, as we follow the narrator and those responsible for halting this menace, but like the spirit behind this book itself, I gradually sense the colourless splodge of non-existence is more mischievous than evil when, even when, poignantly, a nihilet from it masquerades as the narrator’s lover who had earlier been engulfed by it.
    There is a disappointing ending to this story but, on my thinking about it, that’s probably its deadpan purpose?
    This book REALLY does have a uniquely absurdist blend of seriousness / despair and hope / hilarity. The IS state that ISN’T?

    “‘It’s almost as if it were feeding on his despair,’ she said.
    ‘If that’s true, we really don’t have a hope,’ I said.”


    “Ten rows up, about a third of the way in from the right, was the brick with the largest void in the mortar surrounding it.”

    A short short about a close examination of an old brick wall with its variable rough features and flaws as perhaps an avant garde artwork from the Oswald Masters world, a wall with a tiny nihilet in its mortar to worry and tease bigger, as if laboriously solving that earlier four digit code – in the hope of escaping from the Kafkaesque cell that the wall helps enclose, but when the brick finally falls through he sees the eyes of this book’s surveillance of itself.
    I sense this is where authors hit their heads against a brick wall, one that they have themselves created on paper. All of us know that feeling, I guess, till the paper itself runs out, too.


    “The point is, I had a decision to make, and I knew I was going to get it wrong.”

    The point of the sixth cone syndrome, I guess?
    The little voice here is called a neg-chip implanted in the head, a throwback to an ancient alien attack where they perhaps implanted neg-chips into the heads of human beings to keep them under? And you can’t now decide to have it removed or reprogrammed into a pos-chip because the neg-chip tells you that there would be no point. Yes, no point.

    As it says somewhere in this story, “the circles of logic”, I can’t get my head round them, I said that before, but it is almost satisfying to know I can’t get my head round these circles. This book has become my own little voice, and I have now reached the end of the book and if I told you how it ended with the ending of this story, representing the four-digit CODA for this whole book, you would probably never have started reading it in the first place.

    This final story is full of the quandaries of human nature, the responsibility of being a human being and bringing other human beings into the world, with the prospect of that erstwhile Brick Wall or, here, having your bed replaced by the concrete surface of a car park. But nothing is as simple as that. Because, if I advised you, as part of this review, not to read this book because it has got a neg-chip in it, you would probably defy me and become entrammelled by it as I have done, incapable of not-finishing it. But if I told you that it is a probable masterpiece with a pos-chip in it, a book that I have fortuitously discovered on Lulu, you would likely take that opinion coming from me with a pinch of salt and probably deny you have read this review at all, which you probably haven’t read anyway. But that’s my neg-chip talking. Or Asshammers?

    Having said all that, this is indeed a great book I have discovered for myself. And hopefully for you.


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