After the Burn by Ronald Kelly

lincolncreadsbooks's review

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After the Burn is a collection of six short stories and two novellas based on the premise of a nuclear apocalypse and its aftermath, ranging in time period from right before the bombs (the “Burn”) to well after radiation sickness and various mutations have become commonplace.

“A Shiny Can of Whup-ass,” the lead story, tells of an elderly shopkeeper’s stand against a group of violent escaped convicts in the hours and days immediately following the Burn. The convicts are led by an evil man named Rott with a connection to the town, and Kelly spares nothing in his efforts to yank at the reader’s gut with the graphic, but entirely conceivable, depravity depicted. Sam, the protagonist, is a wily opponent and does a significant amount of damage to the bad guys even before the piece’s dramatic climax, which was foreshadowed enough for most people to see it coming. There’s a slightly less-telegraphed surprise at the very end. Being able to figure out the twists ahead of time doesn’t ruin the story at all, though. “Whup-ass” certainly sets the tone for the book. No one is safe, and it’s every man and woman for themselves.

Burn continues with “Meat is Life,” a story about the symbiotic relationship between a television chef and a stray dog who saves her life. It begins shortly enough after the Burn for Phyllis to still be wearing her tailored clothes, and advances us several weeks, possibly even a couple of months, along the timeline. Again, Kelly’s vision is perfectly reasonable and in keeping with our worst fears should an apocalyptic disaster actually strike, and the ending may surprise readers, though they’re certain to smack themselves upside the head, saying, ‘Of Course!’ once they actually get there. “The Happiest Place in Hell,” follows a group of survivors who’ve been holed up in Disneyworld (though it’s not called that, of course), and their struggle against the mental-hospital escapees who also live there, and do annoying things like shut off their water and eat people, all the while dressed in the park’s character suits.

“The Popsicle Man,” concerning the rescue of two children from a pair of sexual predators, showcases the closest thing to a hero a post-apocalyptic world is likely to ever spawn. While its happy ending is a refreshing change from the book’s previous three stories, there’s still plenty of disturbing things going on. “Evolution Ridge,” the story of a family dealing with radiation-inspired mutation, is a bit of a stretch in ways that can’t be detailed without ruining the piece, but is a fun read nonetheless. “Taking Care of Business” is a bit of a lark; the tale of an Elvis impersonator and a housewife rescued from a mob of mutant cows by none other than the King of Rock and Roll.

While the first three pieces introduce the Burn and describe the immediate collapse of society and the following three contain vestiges of the world we once knew, the last two stories take place so long after the Burn so as to be completely unrecognizable as taking place on our world. “Flesh Welder” pits a surgeon whose brain was joined with that of a welder against a sadistic military commander, with disastrous result. “The Paradise Pill,” is about compromise more than anything else, and involves a woman who’ll do anything to give her daughter the tiniest bit of happiness, offered by a drug that accommodates blissful, shared dreams.

Overall, After the Burn is a highly-readable mix of graphic horror and fanciful storytelling.

indiebookaddict's review

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After the Burn is a collection of novellas and short stories that all take place after nukes were randomly detonated across the globe. All were remarkable stories, but my favorites were:

A Shiny Can of Whup-Ass
I loved this one! It takes place in a rural town called Watkins Glen. After the Burn happened people cleared the town. A few stayed behind and were greeted by Rott a well-known serial killer and his gang who brought even more pain and suffering. A wonderful and unexpected ending to this one.

Meat is Life
Phyllis Pfizer was a culinary diva who had her own cooking show and many bestselling cookbooks. Her fame came from her enjoyment of meat. Phyllis’s culinary philosophy was that eating meat was a spiritual experience bonding two of God’s creatures together. When the Burn happened, Phyllis had to get creative with her meat prep and that philosophy of hers came back to bite her in the ass. Another fantastic ending!

Popsicle Man
Since the Burn happened sex offenders have been out like crazy targeting kids. On this particular night, the Clownies have a run in with the Popsicle Man who tries to protect the children. He has a really “cool” way of taking down the bad guys.

Flesh Welder
This one was insane! A surgeon/arc welder provides a service to the community often reattaching limbs and other surgeries to help them. One arrogant individual who came for his services twice got exactly what he deserved for all the torment he brought upon others. Fantastic ending and a great revenge story.

This was my first time reading Kelly’s work and I really enjoyed it. Each story was gripping, a bit gory, and well written. I can’t wait to check out more of his work.

our_bookish_reads's review

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Review and rating to come. 

Expand filter menu Content Warnings

karlakayjenniges's review

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adventurous emotional funny tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No


“Here’s what I came up with; a few tales of horror, humor, hope, and humility in the face of the blackest days imaginable.” —Ronald Kelly Brush Creek, Tennessee May 2022

“IT WAS a picture-perfect Fourth of July.”
“THEN AT MIDNIGHT, the sun came up, brighter than a billion sparklers and hotter than Hell unleashed. “
“Something bad was about to happen. Something that would send the little town of Watkins Glen spiraling toward degradation and Sam could feel it in his arthritic bones like a dark and creeping cancer firmly taking hold.”
“FOUR DAYS LATER, on July 10th, Sam discovered that he had been right. Around noon, the Devil rode down the center of Maple Avenue in a coal black Mustang.”
“As far as Sam knew, Rott had been confined to Death Row at Alabama’s notorious Holman Penitentiary near Atmore, a few miles from the Florida state line. Apparently the Burn had done a number on the correction facility’s elaborate security system and Rott had escaped, bringing an army of murdering brutes with him.”
“With fava beans and a nice chianti, I reckon.”
“Now ya’ll can probably reach me in a few seconds flat, but I reckon I can turn two or three of you roosters into hens before that happens.”

“PHYLLIS PFIZER WASN’T ACCUSTOMED to being hungry...let alone subject to the throes of starvation.”
“We love you, God, how great thou art...please, don’t let Trixie’s cooking make us groan or fart. Amen!”

“IT WAS a dark time for children.”

"Before long they finally made it through that awful gauntlet of deadly vegetation."
“And, at that moment, he knew that his family, once happy and strong, was slowly dying, as if from a slow and creeping poison.”
“It’s so warm and cozy down here, Papa,” she told him. “And I have friends. Oh, so many friends.”
“And God said unto the serpent, I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”

“—long before the world had done a fiery pirouette down the toilet.”

“We are both very powerful men, General Payne. You possess the qualities of leadership and military might, while I have the knowledge of science and medicine. Both are good things, precious things, when used within reason. But the abuse of either can destroy their practi‐ cality and lead to chaos. That is what has happened around us. That is why the great nations of this world have ground to a halt and the earth lies in ruin and decay.”

“SHE STOOD by the garden gate, breathing in the fragrant scent of honeysuckle. Joan recalled how, as children, they would pinch the stems off the tiny white blossoms and taste the drop of nectar hidden inside. The memory brought a sad smile. It seemed like a million years ago.”

**A post apocalyptic world where a nuclear blast has destroyed numerous parts of the world. There are survivors, but the world is now a place where everyday is a fight for survival. A fight to stay alive, to find food and water, a safe place to shelter, and to avoid the serial killers, rapists, drug dealers, cannibals, child molesters, and the criminally insane that are causing unspeakable acts of violence. Nature is changing from the radiation, everything has been contaminated, life is either dying or transforming into large abhorrent creatures. 

**My thoughts: 
All of these stories were fantastic!! I especially enjoyed Evolution Ridge and The Paradise Pill. Popsicleman was creepy, gave me spine tingling chills and Taking Care of Business was so damn funny, I chuckled all the way through.

As you can see by all the quotes I included, Ron’s writing leaves an impact. He had me reeling in disgust and at times had me cussing him out because of those damn snakes. These stories produce a fear of living in this kind of world and it produces that sense of really questioning what a nuclear apocalyptic world could possibly be like and what level would one stoop to survive. No matter how sadistic and scary some of the moments became, I loved every moment of reading this!! 
I also need to mention how much I love the artwork included!
 I highly recommend it!

acknud's review

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Very good collection of short stories based on post nuclear apocalypse. These stories seem heavily weighted toward mutation. Some are funny. Some are extremely sad. All are good reads.