Monday, December 14, 2020

Story Notes: "Where You Lead, I Will Follow: An Oral History of the Denver Incident"

Hello there! It's time for another installment of my "story notes" series, which comes around whenever one of my short stories gets published. Today's discussion/commercial is for the story "Where You Lead, I Will Follow: An Oral History of the Denver Incident," published October 2020 in the Baen Books anthology 
Weird World War III, edited by Sean Patrick Hazlett.

In early 2019 I decided to join everyone else in 2016 and start getting into Pokemon Go. And as I do with all video games, I'm talking obsessive interest for like five months until it became something to check on my phone once a day. But during those months my mind turned, as it so often does, to figuring out how the thing I'm obsessed with could potentially be used to destroy the world.

If you don't know what Pokemon Go is, it's an augmented reality games played on your cell phone where you're shown a mini-map of your surroundings with superimposed Pokemon, stops, and gyms. The similar game in my own story, Follow the Leader, is the same idea with a paranoid twist: The game sometimes asks you to interact with your real-world surroundings in order to complete its "Instructions," while your phone's camera records your actions for posterity. What kinds of things were included in these "Instructions"? Oh, they're innocuous things like moving a post-it note or stealing someone's pencil or going into the basement of your apartment building. A lot of actions that don't seem like anything at all, until it's too late.

As the title implies, this is an oral history, told by ten characters each with their own special connection to Follow the Leader and the ensuing catastrophe. This is among the more experimental stories I've written, but it came from necessity: No matter how many "zero drafts" I did I couldn't find a way to get across the scope and reach of the fictional game without at a minimum three characters, and at that point I figured I might as well round up to ten.

It's not a spoiler to say that the eventual result of all these small-scale changes is that Washington, DC was vaporized in a nuclear explosion, as this is revealed on the very first page. And since this is an anthology of alternative Cold War stories, the putative enemy is also not in doubt. But could the Russians really be behind such a complex scheme? Get your own copy of Weird World War III to find out! (And check out the Tangent review if you have a moment, for short reviews of the stories in the rest of the anthology.)