Slayer Lit

Slayer Lit Review

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APOCALYPSE MEMORIES

by Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz

Buffy

Reviewed by Shiai

"Knowing you, Buffy, means having to know the plural of apocalypse."

So once said Riley Finn, Buffy's former boyfriend. And he wasn't far wrong, what with the Hellmouth belching out all manner of creatures intent on destroying the world (or at least all of those pesky humans who live in it). Luckily for humankind, the Slayer was on hand to foil those plots again and again, and the Earth kept spinning, blissfully unaware of just how often it faced its Götterdämmerung.

What kept Buffy and her compatriots fighting to the end in each of those cataclysmic battles was the knowledge that they were fighting on behalf of Good. It inspired them, giving them strength to carry on long after it seemed there was no hope of victory.

But what do you do when it seems as if the forces of Good have decided to finally end the world?

The appearance of a mysterious being named Michael triggers a chain of events that Buffy is helpless in the face of: Sudden and impossible weather changes; the world's vegetation...plants, grass, trees...rapidly withering and dying; food everywhere suddenly rife with maggots (except for Twinkies, which perhaps isn't so weird when one considers what's in those things); plagues of insects; and, perhaps most ominously, the bodies of the dead rising from their graves. Buffy and the Scoobies initially believe that Michael is a demon, and try to deduce some means of stopping him. Making this more difficult is that whenever Buffy catches sight of him, she swoons and loses all focus and aggression, becoming too serene to do much more than follow Michael around like a lovesick schoolgirl. Buffy, Willow and Dawn, upon seeing Michael, agree that he is perhaps the most gorgeous man they've ever laid eyes on; all blond hair, blue eyes and a body that looks as if it was sculpted by Michelangelo. In his presence, all thoughts of fighting him are forgotten.

Spike and Anya, however, have a decidedly different take on Michael. Upon seeing him, they are filled with such fear and revulsion, they literally run for their lives. Just the thought of seeing him again is terrifying.

The Scoobies soon learn that Michael is not a demon...he is actually an archangel sent to herald the true apocalypse! Although he remains in Sunnydale, he's affecting the entire world, and Buffy and her friends are at a loss as to how to stop him...or even if they should.

The group is torn. Giles believes that this apocalypse, unlike all of the others they've stopped, is the natural order of things, and that they can't stop it, nor should they try. Buffy, however, refuses to surrender. Having already been dead and in Heaven, she's only recently come to terms with being alive again. And for all of life's pains and heartaches, she's not willing to give it up again so quickly, even if that means taking on God.

Thus unfolds what is quite probably the most philosophical of the Buffy books, in which the Slayer's physical strength is useless, and she must rely on her wits to try and avert what is apparently a cosmic inevitability. Since cerebral debate has never really been Buffy's forte, she doesn't attempt to intellectually justify the need to spare the world from destruction. Instead, she argues with emotion and passion, and with a bit of selfishness...she doesn't just want to keep on living for herself, she wants to see her younger sister grow up, fall in love, and have a happy life.

Michael sympathizes with her, and feels a certain empathy with Buffy...in a way, she's become the closest thing to a friend he's ever had in his eternal life...but he himself feels helpless to stop from completing his task. And with each ordained action he takes, the world takes one step closer to oblivion.

This is the first Buffyverse novel by Laura J. Burns and Melinda Metz, but both women are established television writers and fantasy novelists. Appropriately enough, it was the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show which first inspired both of them to become writers. So, they clearly have strong attachments to the characters, and it shows in their characterizations of Buffy, Giles, Willow and the rest. We get to see the characters as we want to see them, acting as we feel they should, speaking as we know they ought to.

I particularly liked the Xander/Willow dynamic they establish. The best of friends since Kindergarten, their bond wasn't always used to full effect in the latter years of the series. But throughout this book, Xander is not only supporting Willow, he's actively working to help her. This story takes place immediately after Willow's return to Sunnydale following months of therapy in England for her magick addiction. It was that addiction which very nearly led her to destroy the world herself, and it was only Xander's connection that stopped her from doing the unthinkable. That bond remains, and he is now determined to help her regain her confidence in using magick. Xander on occasion has been portrayed in some of the books as little more than a buffoon, given to tossing off sarcastic one-liners at the most inopportune moments, and little more than that. But this story finds Xander at his very best...loyal, loving, and unshakable in his faith in his best friend.

Another good dynamic is that between Buffy and Dawn. Their combative sisterly love/hate relationship grew rather tiresome on the show, but the authors strike a nice balance here. We start out in familiar territory, with Buffy doing something without really thinking of the ramifications for Dawn, and her kid sister reacts as expected, with screaming and accusations, punctuated with storming out of the house. But all of that is swept aside when Michael arrives and triggers the apocalypse, and Dawn finds the maturity to be there for Buffy when the Slayer needs her, facing the one foe she seemingly can't beat.

There are a few curious omissions here, however. First and foremost, if the world is ending and it's no secret, it would have been nice to have gotten a better glimpse at the global reaction. Is there mass chaos? Do warring peoples suddenly decide their lifelong hostilities are no longer important, and they make peace? Is there rampant free love in the streets? The most we really see is panic in Sunnydale, and not much of that.

Of specific import to fans of the series, it will become readily apparent that Burns and Metz chose to selectively ignore events which occurred immediately prior to the start of this story. In the Season Six episode "Same Time, Same Place," Willow returns to Sunnydale, but is so afraid of seeing her friends, she inadvertently uses magick to make herself invisible to them, and they to her. That is referenced, but the consequences of Willow's spell...nearly dying at the hands of a demon...is essentially erased. Apocalypse Memories takes place within days of that episode, but here Willow is hale and hearty, and not recovering from her near-fatal wounds as she was on the show. I'm not quite sure why the authors didn't want to at least reference the fact that Willow was still physically recovering from her injuries, as doing so wouldn't have taken away from the story at all.

Also, one of the major subplots on the show at this point in time was Buffy's "shell shock" at having died, only to be resurrected months later (and "torn" from Heaven as a result...although her friends didn't know that yet; they thought they had saved her from a hell dimension). But here, Buffy seems relatively unfazed by it all. And given her own later proven uncertainty about continuing to live, here she entertains no reluctance to go on breathing. Again, I think it would only have enriched this story to introduce those elements into the debate.

It's worth noting that, while this story takes on what appears to be a very Christian concept, that of the Apocalypse, it's established that end times are de rigeur for virtually every religion known to man, as are the belief in angelic beings. So the debate never centers on God (or any god) being the force behind this, rather just vague references to the 'Powers That Be' whom Michael serves. It's been one of the great curiosities of pop culture that a television show crafted by a professed atheist, Joss Whedon, became what many theologians (such as Fr. Andrew Greeley and Jana Reiss) consider to be one of the most positively spiritual programs in TV history. So, it would have been nice to have seen the characters explore their own faiths in the face of Armageddon.

Fans of Spike the vampire will no doubt be pleased that he is portrayed throughout this story more or less mentally stable, although on the show during this period of time, he slipped in and out of sanity as a result of having regained a soul. But this is one time when Spike might just prefer to be delusional, because Michael's arrival does not bring good news for him. The reason why both he and Anya are horrified at the very sight of him is because they have been judged by the Powers That Be, all of their recent good deeds aside, to be creatures of evil, and thus they are bound for hell. Personally, I dispute such a Fundamentalist ruling; they have done many terrible things, yes...but they have also worked hard at redemption. Neither Spike nor Anya are perfect, but then again, no one is. It seems unnecessarily cruel to decide that they have no hope of ever overcoming their pasts. There should have been at least some small wiggle room, some glimmer of hope.

The nature of this story means that there is far less action than Buffy readers are used to (although that doesn't stop a frustrated Buffy from still taking a few pokes at things she can't possible beat up), so some may find this tale a bit on the dull side. And those who are looking for a ringing, lyrical treatise in favor of the continued existence of all life may be disappointed by Buffy's somewhat uninspired arguments. Still, in a way, the end of the world isn't really the central story. It's the subplot, with Xander helping Willow to regain a measure of confidence in herself again, that's the real story.

In the final analysis, Apocalypse Memories can perhaps best be described as a bunch of good characters in search of a good story. There are some interesting flashes, and a distinctly different menace, to be sure, but overall the book has the feeling of being a 'holding pattern,' rather than a momentous event in the lives of Buffy and the Scooby Gang. If you've read the rest of the Buffy books and you've got some spare time, this will fill a couple of hours. But skipping this one won't mean the end of the world, either.

** 2 out of 5 stars