Editor Sean Patrick Hazlett has an anthology about war coming out at, shall we say, an evocative time — and as he explains in this Big Idea, the stories in the Weird World War IV anthology are not blind to the events in the world as it happened over the last couple of years.
SEAN PATRICK HAZLETT:
When Alfred Werner asked Albert Einstein in a 1949 interview what weapons he thought nations would use in World War III, Einstein replied, “I don’t know. But I can tell you what they’ll use in the Fourth: rocks!”
The Big Idea for Weird World War IV builds upon the premise of its predecessor anthology, Weird World War III, which explored how a war between the United States and Soviet Union might have unfolded under weird fictional circumstances. This time writers imagine how the war beyond the next world war might evolve. Unlike the prior anthology, which focused exclusively on fictional conflicts between the United States and Soviet Union, Weird World War IV has a much broader scope, granting authors more flexibility in creating a much wider range of potential futures.
The cultural products of an age often bear the hallmarks of that period, whether conscious, subconscious, or unconscious. The stories in this anthology not only reveal the horrifying visions of the war beyond the next, but also the anxieties and tensions associated with our own place in history. One of the most fascinating things about putting together this anthology was how its stories often had more to say about the current social milieu than the worlds each writer had created.
Composed in the wake of the great pandemic year, many of these tales highlight several common themes. Whether a particular story skews to the political left or right, more often than not, it expresses distrust of public institutions and modes of economic governance. At its core and across the ideological spectrum, all sources of grievance tend to be in opposition to, rather than in support of, current political or economic trends—a focus on what divides versus what unites us.
The artists in this book ran through the great gauntlet of 2020—a year in which intense political polarization and civil unrest peaked at the same time a lethal pathogen rampaged throughout the globe, killing over five million souls as of January 2022. It was a moment in history when nearly all institutions failed to live up to expectations.
It is not surprising that trust in public institutions greatly eroded in 2020—governments displayed staggering incompetence, the media sensationalized and distorted information, small businesses failed, and people suffered and died. The Chinese leadership suppressed information about the coronavirus and hoarded medical supplies early in the outbreak, putting the fragility and vulnerability of the global supply chain into stark relief—a supply chain constructed from decades of corporate offshoring and associated with the precipitous decline of the American manufacturing base. It is therefore not surprising that many people, Americans in particular, exited 2020 with a profound mistrust in their public institutions—a mistrust showcased in many of the stories in this anthology.
And yet amid the madness of the 2020 pandemic, there was a glimmer of hope. Before most Americans even knew what the coronavirus was, it took Moderna just two days in January 2020 to design a vaccine and less than a year for people to begin receiving vaccinations. This was a tremendous testament to the efficiency and effectiveness of the partnership between private and public entities. The lockdowns demonstrated to employers and millions of workers that mind-numbing commutes wasting hours of workers’ time and negatively impacting their productivity and mental health were no longer necessary as many jobs could easily be done remotely. As in any crisis, humanity adapted and overcame many of these challenges—just as it does in many of Weird World War IV’s tales.
While the full story of the 2020 pandemic is yet to be written, the myriad histories of World War IV are available now. How will the survivors emerging from World War III’s radioactive slagheaps fight the next war? Will they wage it with sticks and stones… and sorcery? Or will they use more refined weapons, elevating lawfare to an art and unleashing bureaucratic nightmares worse than nuclear annihilation? Will they struggle against each other, interdimensional invaders, or the Great Old Ones themselves? What horrors from the desolate darkness might slither into the light? Wipe away the ashes of civilization and peer into a pit of atomic glass to witness the haunting visions of World War IV from today’s greatest minds in science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
After all, those who fail to learn from mistakes in the future, may repeat them in the past.