Too Many Controllers

There’s a contest on Inkshares every two months or so, in which people submit novels on a given theme/genre in hopes of winning the usual publication deal–though the parameters are different. Instead of gunning for 750, you’re gunning for a spot in the top three among all the submitted works–that is, the three entries with the most individual backers. The latest one started yesterday, in collaboration with, and the chosen theme was video games.

The previous contest had been for a hard science-fiction genre, and had not generated quite as much excitement as some of the older authorial hands were used to. So when this theme was announced, a little ripple of cynical mockery ran through the Slack channel where some of us now hang out. We’d see, someone said, a solid swath of near-identical TRON knockoffs. (This has not proven to be the case, but that’s beside the point.)

It seemed a shame. I could see a lot of potential for other related plots. How about a murder mystery surrounding the takeover of an old Infocom-esque company, I said, thinking of Jimmy Maher’s chronicles over on The Digital Antiquarian. Or how about some sort of Wodehouse-inspired comedy about people turning an old castle into a VR environment for some game or other, and clashing with the castle residents…. That last idea caught my interest and held it. I could make a short story out of it, I thought. But there was no way I could do anything approaching the effort required for a contest, not while I’m still struggling for pre-orders on “Murder at the Veterans’ Club”. (That’s still a thing, by the way. Please help.)

FinalWe could do an anthology. Ten of us for 1/10 the effort (easier on those of us with active campaigns) and 1/10 the (potential) royalties.

I take full responsibility for sparking the idea, but I was not the one who grabbed it and ran with it. That was mostly Ricardo Henriquez of “The Catcher’s Trap”. Before I knew it, we were 15 authors with 15 stories, a book cover, a promotional video, a Twitter account, and a Strategy with a capital S.

The anthology’s in the running now. “Too Many Controllers”.

Here are the opening paragraphs from the story I’m contributing. It’s still a work in progress, of course, so things might change.

It wasn’t Wally’s fault. Not really. Lord Bassington reminded himself of this as he carefully descended the tower steps, watching for any stray cables and cameras that the Company might have placed or replaced while no-one else was looking.

The “Company” in question was Inky-Blot inc., offering the latest in virtual reality gaming to the masses. Their logo, an artistically rendered ink blot that looked far too much like far too many things for Lord Bassington to look at it without his brain wanting to throttle his kidneys, was plastered on either side of the castle gates and on every car, van, or lorry to have passed through over the past month.

Only Wally called them Inky-Blot in private. Everyone else in the castle, from Lord Bassington down, called them “the Company”. Mrs. Kirke the housekeeper was known to accompany the reference with a carefully aimed wad of spit.

Paul Inman put together a simple little game for the book: Inky Blot. It’s simple, yet strangely addictive.

I’ll admit to a feeling that I really should have written something to represent the Interactive Fiction contingent in a field where most people envision … just about anything but. Maybe I’ll make Lord Bassington an IF fiend or something. But this was the inspiration that hit, so this is the story I’m writing.

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