Author Playlists

Allegra Hyde’s Playlist for Her Story Collection “The Last Catastrophe”

“The fifteen stories in The Last Catastrophe are filled with many things—ghost moose, spaceships, vegan zombies, unicorn horns, cream soda, RVs, ferrets, enormous jars of mayonnaise—but they are also filled with music.”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Allegra Hyde’s The Last Catastrophe is filled with powerful, brilliant stories of the future brought to life by a masterful storyteller.

Alexandra Kleeman wrote of the book:

Dazzling, inventive, and glinting with dark humor, Allegra Hyde’s stories stare apocalypse straight in the eye and find precious glimmers of grace therein. This enthralling collection speaks powerfully to our time, and to those times that are still to come.

In her own words, here is Allegra Hyde’s Book Notes music playlist for her story collection The Last Catastrophe:

The fifteen stories in The Last Catastrophe are filled with many things—ghost moose, spaceships, vegan zombies, unicorn horns, cream soda, RVs, ferrets, enormous jars of mayonnaise—but they are also filled with music. Cher is blasted on boomboxes. An ex-DJ mourns his abandoned career. Characters narrate their experiences in a chorus of voices. Music is the stuff and the expression of life—even in the speculative realities that make up The Last Catastrophe.

Set in near and far futures, this collection explores existential questions relating to climate change, technology, consumer capitalism; music is a way to understand the collective consciousness that shapes and is shaped by those forces, because music is intuitive, primordial, subliminal, instinctual. It is absorbed and spread and enjoyed by human beings en masse—and can sometimes feel like the voice of an aggregate brain. This excites me as an author interested in the collective and often unconscious decisions that have given rise to the crises of the Anthropocene, as well as the opportunities we have to harness our collective power to change course for the better. Music can be a uniting force: a vehicle through which to express emotion—especially grief and pain—as well as a rallying cry. In this spirit, I’ve selected a song for each story in The Last Catastrophe. Some of the songs appear explicitly in a story and some are meant to resonate with a story’s overall essence. All of the song selections are throwbacks to some degree, which may seem discordant for a collection set in the future—but in fact reflects the reality that our future is a product of our past, and that we’re all inevitably connected across time and space.

1. “Mobilization”  [“Road to Nowhere” – Talking Heads]

The first story in The Last Catastrophe is about a vast caravan of RVs driving around the United States without a care in the world—that is, until the world runs out of fossil fuels. The upbeat yet doomed voices of “Road to Nowhere” encapsulate this trajectory. That the collective narrator of the RVs declares at one point “everybody loved Talking Heads” is not meant without irony.

2. “Disruptions” [“Animals Strike Curious Poses” – Prince]

A series of headlines from serve as an epigraph for “Disruptions.” One notes how tropical fish are being driven into new habitats by warming temperatures. Another highlights a strangely large gathering of walruses. All of the headlines are examples of global weirding—a term for the ways climate change is making weather systems, ecological systems, animal migration patterns, and other aspects of our natural world weirder than normal. Climate change is causing animals to strike curious poses, in other words—hence the Prince song as an anthem for this story.   

3. “The Tough Part” [“Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls” – TLC]

For the characters in “The Tough Part,” there are many tough parts, most notably the challenge of trying to save the planet’s remaining moose from extinction by bringing them to “a peopleless wilderness in Canada.” When no safe haven for the moose can be found, however, the challenge becomes existential: the characters must face the reality that there is no unblemished paradise that will solve all their problems. They’ll need to recalibrate their expectations; they’ll need to stick to the proverbial rivers and the lakes that they’re used to.

4. “Zoo Suicides” [“If I Could Turn Back Time” – Cher]

“Zoo Suicides” takes place at a zoo where increasing numbers of park attendees are ending their lives by sneaking into animal enclosures. A flummoxed zookeeper narrates the story and describes his escalating sense of frustration and disbelief: “…until a star-crossed couple broke through the twig enclosure, their boombox belting ‘If I Could Turn Back Time,’ the giraffes appeared entirely nonconfrontational.” In this sense, Cher’s song is part of the fabric of the story, but it’s also a song that speaks to the reality of worsening climate disasters that will likely make people wish they could turn back time.

5. “Afterglow” [“Tainted Love” – Soft Cell]

“Afterglow” is a story that explores how a toxic presence (e.g. pollution, chemical food dyes, a bad husband) can also be a source of beauty (e.g. sunsets, bodily transmogrification, artistic transcendence). Like many of the stories in the collection, “Afterglow” merges broad ecological concepts with highly specific individual experience. Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” neatly captures the paradox of toxic beauty on both a planetary and personal plane.

6. “Chevalier” [“Dancing Queen” – ABBA]

“Chevalier” is set in the eponymous small town where, on Friday nights (and other nights), the local teens drift aimlessly in and out of trouble, trying to stay entertained. Then one day one of them—Eddy—mysteriously grows a unicorn horn. Eddy’s friend Camilla (the story’s narrator) feels she is the only one who really cares about this development, and who sees Eddy for who she really is, but Eddy ends up leaving her and the town anyway. Camilla must wrestle with what it means to see that girl and also to wonder if she sees you.

7. “The Future is a Click Away” [“Karma Police” – Radiohead]

A logical progression for targeted marketing—at least according to “The Future is a Click Away”—is a world in which an all-powerful Algorithm mails consumers what they need before the consumer even knows they need it. The universe of this story shows a community gripped by this cult of convenience; citizens treat The Algorithm like a god and accept all items it delivers to their door, even when those items start to seem potentially unnecessary. Eventually the abdication of agency catches up to these consumers, which is why Radiohead’s “Karma Police” provides the perfect soundtrack.

8. “Endangered” [“The Sweet Escape” – Gwen Stefani]

“Endangered” imagines a reality in which artists are treated like endangered animals—meaning they are caged for their own protection and preservation—until one day an artist escapes and makes a run for it. She doesn’t get far, however, because “Beyond the artist’s enclosure was, of course, another enclosure…And beyond that another. Our world was a series of concentric pens.” The escape, or the idea of the escape, means something, though, to those who watch her try—hence the if I could energy of Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape.”

9. “Loving Homes for Lost & Broken Men” [“Can’t Help Falling in Love” – Elvis]

 “Loving Homes for Lost & Broken Men” offers up a reality where there is a foster care system for wayward husbands. The story’s narrator, Claudette, hosts a rotating assortment of men in her home as penance for her guilt over a first-love-gone-wrong. When the irresistible Mr. Holmes shows up, however, she runs away with him to Las Vegas to get married. Is she a fool rushing in? I won’t answer here, though I will say that Claudette does eventually cruise past many Elvis-impersonators: “Cowlicked and sideburned. Some fat. Some thin. Most in white jumpsuits. A few in powder blue. All these resurrected kings—come back from the past. All these men inhabiting an alternative present.”

10. “Cougar” [“Maneater” – Nelly Furtado]

Around the world, wildlife habitats are being encroached upon by human activity. One consequence of such encroachment is that predators—tigers, polar bears, sharks—are more likely to appear in places where humans live and gather. This is the case in “Cougar,” a story about a digital detox center in California and a dangerous mountain lion stalking the forest just outside its gates. One of the detox center residents, LeeAnn, is so resistant to her treatment process at the center that she ignores the warnings about the animal and enters the forest. The question the story ultimately poses is: Who here is the actual man-eating beast?

11. “Frights” [“It’s the End of the World as We Know It” – REM]

Though there is still an opportunity for human beings to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, it is too late to stop many of the changes already in motion on our planet. We’re losing species to extinction, we’re losing coastlines to sea level rise, and we’re losing aspects of our way of life, along with so much else. REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” felt like the right song for “Frights”—a story told from the perspective of ghosts, who come to see The End Times as an unexpected renaissance in their paranormal realm.

12. “Democracy in America” [“American Woman” – Lenny Kravitz]

“Democracy in America” imagines an America full of speculative technologies and political possibilities. More importantly, it offers a near-future version of Alexis de Tocqueville’s famous 19th-century study Democracy in America. In this fictional scenario, the perambulatory French sociologist again roams the United States with the intention of writing a book about the nation and its people. “American Woman” speaks to the story because this Alexis de Tocqueville is sidetracked by a beautiful young American woman (who makes a troubling choice).

13. “Adjustments” [“Ice Ice Baby” – Vanilla Ice]

A section of “Adjustments” reads: “Once ice was so plentiful, people put it in their drinks just to watch it disappear. Ice was a toy. A diversion. An effortless gift. Ice was made into statuary. It was spread, for sporting events, on the oval floors of stadiums. Ice was everywhere, our grandmothers said.” The collective narrators are speaking from a future in which ice is a rarity, though the substance was once ubiquitous—and even inescapable—much like Vanilla Ice.

14. “Colonel Merryweather’s Intergalactic Finishing School for Young Ladies of Grace & Good Nature” [“Space Oddity” – David Bowie]

In this penultimate story, the character of Karoline has the opportunity to choose whether to go along with her galactic finishing school’s plan for her—to marry Young Captain Jamison and head out into space to find a new home planet—or to resist these expectations, and perhaps return to Earth. A key part of her decision has to do with her relationship with hBEC-49011, a computerized consciousness who helps keep the space ship/finishing school running in the absence of any ground control. It’s a story about communication, on many levels!

15. “The Eaters” [“Zombie” – The Cranberries]

The Last Catastrophe ends with a long story—a novella, really—about a survivalist compound in a world overrun by vegan-zombies who have consumed nearly all plant matter on the planet. “The Eaters” is about how different members of a community cope with crisis, but it’s also about how families cope with impossible decisions, as well as how individuals might choose to resist the easy path forward for the sake of the greater good. What’s in your head? ask The Cranberries in “Zombie”—a question posed to all the characters in “The Eaters,” and one I also hope readers might ask themselves upon finishing this collection and waking up in our real world.

Allegra Hyde’s first book, OF THIS NEW WORLD (University of Iowa Press, 2016), won the John Simmons Iowa Short Fiction Award. Her stories and essays have appeared in New England Review, Gettysburg Review, The Missouri Review, and many other venues. She is the recipient of three Pushcart Prizes, as well as fellowships and grants from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, The Virginia G. Piper Center, the National University of Singapore, the Jentel Artist Residency Program, The Island School, and the U.S. Fulbright Commission. For more, visit

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