I have been published again, this time in an anthology! My story “Of All Possible Worlds” appears in the Swords v Cthulhu anthology which is available now. You can get it from Amazon, or the publishers website (which has it in electronic version as well as paperback), and likely many other book sellers. I am very proud of this story, so I will talk about it a bit below. But first – what other people have said (both about the anthology, and about my contribution)
Aksel Dadswell said: “One of the best Lovecraftian anthologies out there, and one of the best anthologies this year in general” & “The truth is, there are a lot of Lovecraft-inspired anthologies oozing out of the woodwork every year, and it’s just a matter of statistics that not all of them are going to be as original or scary or fun as they could be. Some of them, though, exceed all expectations, and Swords v Cthulhu is one of them.”
He does mention my story specifically at one point, noting “Just as the protagonist walks through the world as if in a dream, so the story feels like a waking haze. Dreams ooze into reality and back again with sickening ease. At one point the narrator proclaims that “every nerve had been frayed down to its raw, bleeding quick,” and I certainly felt that way, vicariously experiencing the horror myself. There’s a pleasing kind of bloody circularity to the story that gives it that little bit of extra weight, too.”
Teodor Reljic reviewed every single story in the anthology here! I think that means he liked it. In the review of “Of All Possible Worlds” he says “A story with grit and teeth, told by a surrealist street performer who would just as soon slit your throat for all your cash rather than simply accepting your busking tips.” :) I take that as praise! To dispel any doubt he mentioned on twitter “Loved this Ancient Roman mindfuck”, so there’s that.
This is the teaser from my story that the editors posted on Facebook:
“Darkness flickered at the edge of my vision. A shadow swooped through the air, movement where there should be none. I strained to look at it but there was nothing to focus on. An inexplicable presence descended to the savage’s side, and as it touched the sand, it finally resolved into a discrete thing with surfaces and heft.
Its body was that of an ox-sized crow, but bare of any feathers. Black skin stuck tightly to jutting bones. A jagged beak took up the entire face, its upper mandible curving down from the top of the skull. The wings consisted of long arms webbed to the body in the manner of bats. Cricket-like legs folded beneath it.
The Colosseum grew still. Even the gladiators gaped at this intruder. With a shout of glee, the barbarian wizard hopped on the monster’s back, throwing his arms around its neck. It leapt upward with a beating of its wings, a deafening squawk piercing the sky.”
Alright, so about writing the story itself. I’ll make this brief and spoiler-free.
The primary plot driver is my fear and loathing of dreams. Not just nightmares—all dreams. Every dream is an epistemic nightmare to me, because they implant events into my memories that NEVER ACTUALLY HAPPENED. This is extremely disturbing to me. My memories are me. They are the most personal record I have of what I am, and I’m already well aware that they are a shitty, corruptible record. I’ve always had a poor episodic memory. I can’t recall names well. I often embarrass myself in conversation by re-asking things that people have already told me which were fairly important events to them. I’m pretty sure I will lose everything I am via Alzheimer’s some day. So the absolute last thing I want is to start generating random, non-real events on the fly and sneakily implanting them into my self-archive. You know that fear transhumanists have of an outside entity hacking into your brain and rewriting your memories to alter you? It was nicely portrayed in the opening scenes of Ghost In The Shell, to use a well-known example. I have that, all the time, and the outside entity is my own fucking brain!
Sometimes the dreams are so unrealistic I’m able to brush them off as obvious forgeries (one of them is retold almost exactly as it happened within the story). But many are realistic, and I only discover them out of luck. I don’t know how many of my memories are like this. I assume/hope only a very small percentage. But that fear is always there. How much of my life is a lie?
I tried to demonstrate that fear in the story, and maybe make the reader feel a little bit of it as well.
Influencing this fear is also the common transhumanist “What if this is all a simulation?” fear, which I consider very related. “Wake up, Neo.”
Finally, if this is all a simulation, why is it such an awful one? Why is violence the final arbiter of all things? God could have made a world where humans were physically unable to harm each other, and he didn’t. That was just one more thing in a long litany of things that led me to doubt the God hypothesis in the first place. But if there was a God… the fact that the world is as it is says a lot about Him/Her/It.
My copies just arrived, so I haven’t read any of the other stories within yet, but a lot of them sound awesome, and I plan to over the next month or two! That being said, I’m kinda side-eyeing our publisher. The book seems to have had two different release dates (July 12 for Amazon, Aug 1 for all other wholesalers? Was that intentional?), and there still aren’t electronic versions available at Amazon or B&N. /shrug. Hopefully an oversight that will be resolved soon.
I’m glad to see your story is getting the recognition it deserves.
Interesting idea, new ways of thinking ==> new fears ready to plague a person. I appreciate your opening up about that. We (old fashioned types) have some fears of our own. But we all can be bigger than our fears, and the best is to put them to use, like you’re doing here.
“the fact that the world is as it is says a lot about Him/Her/It”
Sorry I can’t not touch the live wire… smarter people than us have tackled this hard question, and come out of it with their faith intact. I can’t write a book here, and couldn’t do the answer justice anyway. Just that that train of thought doesn’t make just the one stop.
>Sorry I can’t not touch the live wire… smarter people than us have tackled this hard question, and come out of it with their faith intact. I can’t write a book here, and couldn’t do the answer justice anyway. Just that that train of thought doesn’t make just the one stop.
Hi Rob! I am no stranger to theodicy. The story title itself is a reference to Leibniz’s offered explanation. To say that I’ve found all such arguments lacking would be an understatement. :) The closest I’ve seen is Scott Alexander’s “Answer To Job”, and I’ve always found infinite-worlds narratives fundamentally unsatisfying.
I think both conclusions (God & !God) are reasonable.
Anyway, this dream thing you mention. I’m afraid I’m a Jungian, too. You likely know this already, but even the most unromantic of the dream hypotheses tell us that they’re a necessary process of sorting through your day and making sure your brain is ready for the next day. If you know anything about neural networks, a new theory has it that the ‘weights’ of those neurons that have newly changed on the previous day are normalized to a lower factor, so the coming memories of the next day can overlay them without chaos. That may not make much sense.
But it gets even worse: I actually think dreams are trying to tell us something. And on days that I think about this (like today, no doubt) I get weirder and more creative dreams. I think the nature of dreams is at least partly driven by what we think is the nature of dreams. Some have told me profound stuff, and some, stuff that should have been very obvious if I wasn’t trying to avoid it. A few times I’ve told myself “I’ll dream an answer to this problem” and the answer came, or the answer came while thinking about the bizarre dream I had after asking that.
Truth be told, though, with some dreams I have to shake my head and wonder what the hell could be going on in there. But it never occurred to me to be uneasy about them. I hope something I said can help you rest easier. Do try it next time you’re creatively stuck. The answer could at least be amusing.
As a child, I had terrible nightmares, including awful recurring ones. I was eventually able to wipe them out completely. I have not had a nightmare in decades (as least as far as my conscious self is aware). One of the things I did as a teenager was to learn the art of lucid dreaming. Look it up. If you have questions, just ask. I am hardly an expert, but I got it to work for me. (And no, it is not a mystical or religious thing, though I have heard that some Buddhists practice a form of lucid dreaming.)
As for God, obviously too big a topic to tackle here, and also obviously one that you should not expect to be able to settle with any provable certainty as either a priori or a posteriori knowledge. At the end of any lengthy discussion relating to the nature and existence of God, I invariably end up with the conclusion that we are ill-equipped to answer the question(s). We are either lacking in the faculties necessary to understand, or we are far too ignorant and so lack sufficient knowledge, or (what seems most likely to me) we lack both faculty and knowledge. Perhaps we can discuss it over a few beers at Worldcon in the wee hours of morning when alcohol provides insights to which normal, sober mortals are not privy.
I’m conflicted about lucid dreaming. I’ve managed to get there a few times, but overall I’m actually really wary of it. 70% of that is because it seems to involve remembering your dreams a LOT more often on the way to mastering it, and my one saving grace is that most nights I don’t remember my dreams at all. It’s nice to just go to bed and then wake up, without having to live through hours of false reality in between. I don’t want to increase my remembering rate. The other 30% is I’m worried I’ll like dream-life more than real-life, and basically wirehead myself. :(
I find the God topic far easier. Re:” I invariably end up with the conclusion that we are ill-equipped to answer the question(s).” – nah. Every God I’ve been presented with so far by an actual believer has been easily demonstrated to be false. There isn’t even a contest, it’s like I’ve soaked my offering in water three times over and fire STILL came down from the heavens to set it alight, except the opposite. I have no qualms about dismissing every religious claim of substance. There IS the “We are either lacking in the faculties necessary to understand, or we are far too ignorant and so lack sufficient knowledge”… which, OK, fine… if there is some non-observable intelligence that doesn’t interact with humanity, of course I haven’t observed it. And yet I find the people who make that claim are never strong agnostics, which is the only position such a claim supports. They always seem to follow up with “And therefore you can’t completely dismiss that my favorite god may in fact exist!” Bleh. I can, and I do. My opinion has no bearing on your opinion (I say to my interlocutor), so please feel free to continue holding your beliefs. You don’t need to convince me, which is a fortunate thing for both of us.
When this was first published, it wasn’t available for kindle. I notice that it is now available for kindle so I bought a copy. Might want to update the post to that effect.