It’s Only Temporary, a novella by Eric Shapiro

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The world is about to be destroyed by a giant rock from outer space.  That’s been a premise of bad movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact, and good movies like—well, maybe we can grant When Worlds Collide.

Eric Shapiro‘s novella It’s Only Temporary is more concerned with the impact of the certain knowledge of doom on the individual rather than its cosmic mechanism.  This book owes at least a little to the comic apocalyptic visions of writers like William Tenn, Robert Sheckley, Kurt Vonnegut, and Douglas Adams, to name a handful.  In terms of style it’s close to the earnest, restless-reckless youth tone of Cory Doctorow.  But even in such fine company, Shapiro is his own man and writes in his own voice.  

The government has known for years that the world has been on a collision course which will wipe out all life forms bigger than a cockroach.  Only in the last six weeks have our leaders leveled with the public, presumably to let people tie up the loose ends of their lives but seemingly out of a perverse urge to watch anarchy loose itself on the world.  

Maybe somewhere the great and powerful are building escape ships or giant underground bunkers, but we get no hint of that from Sean, our 23-year-old narrator.  He’s made his peace with the certainty of The End but is left with what seems a purely personal problem.  Who should he spend his last day on Earth with?  He has a truly loving (and convincingly depicted) relationship with his parents but with less than a day to go, he decides it’s time to cut the apron strings and visit his ex-girlfriend, Selma, who lives an eight-hour drive away.  

His encounters along the way take up most of the story, and through them we get glimpses of how the rest of the world is coping.  There are the great deniers, like the cranky diner proprietor who almost blows away Sean with a shotgun for walking away with a drinking glass.  We meet impotent misogynists with a clumsy but cruel program to take out their anger, and the woman Sean rescues (would you, by the way, stop to help a stranger with doomsday a couple of hours away?).  Sean also helps a couple deliver their poignantly timed baby—life goes on, even when it’s about to end—and encounters a deadly metaphor for anarchy in the person of a deranged circus performer.  

As ironic as the arrival of a baby on the eve of apocalypse, Sean grows up a bit, and Selma does too.  Shapiro more than justifies his focus on this couple rather than on the world at large.  In flashback we see just what made the relationship so essential and character-defining to both of them, what broke them up, and why it’s so important that they’re together on the last day.  How you decide what to do with the time you have is the big question, as Sean notes in the first paragraph.  And Shapiro makes you believe it’s at least as important as an escape ship or a giant underground bunker.  

This book has its own site, where you can download "Now-a-Days," a pretty good, Colplay-ish theme song for the novella by a performer named Bilvox.  Who says this isn’t the halcyon heyday of manic multimedia marketing? 

Publisher: Permuted Press (July 1, 2005)
Price: $8.99 US, $11.49 Canada
Trade Paperback: 104 pages
ISBN: 097655593X