In An Unknown Country, the latest in Fox Spirit‘s Fox Pocket series of anthologies, was released earlier this week. It’s a great book in a great series and if you want examples of how healthy, and viable, flash and short fiction are as markets then buy any volume of this series.
My story in this volume, Overwatch, is a nasty little counterintelligence story. I’m really proud of this one especially as it’s definitely outside my usual comfort zone. So, below is the cover for the anthology (Which is also a link to the buy page) and below that are (very spoilery) notes on how I built the story.
-Overwatch, in this instance, is not the fun-looking new computer game. Rather, it’s a military term meaning that a unit or individual has been tasked with supporting another unit while they’re carrying out fire and movement tactics. In other words, overwatch involves getting to high ground and providing real time intelligence and support to someone on the ground. There’s an interesting power dynamic there that I wanted to play with, and that’s where the conflict between Alpha and Bravo’s views of the world came in.
-I learned the term ‘Overwatch’ from old US TV show The Unit, an everyday story of an entire Ranger unit speaking like David Mamet. It’s a wildly variable show but if you’re interested in the field, then I’d recommend it. If nothing else the Spear of Destiny/Possibly dead Valhalla monks episode is worth it for how batsarse crazy the concept is. Also to reassure me I didn’t imagine it…
-So, Bravo represents the silent, competent special forces operators or at least the way they’re presented on screen. Alpha is the direct result of inhaling a lot of the Complete George Smiley radio dramas the BBC did a couple of years ago. They are about as perfect a crash course in classic British espionage fiction as you could hope for and they rattled around in my head for a good long time. The tired, morally neutral spies that trudge through Smiley’s Europe aren’t Alpha. But odds are she was trained by them.
-The collision between the two could definitely be read as the collision between two schools of thought or two ways of telling stories. I would love to say that was the plan but I had no idea it was at the time. Works though.
-I love the National Portrait Gallery. It’s a deeply eccentric, sprawling building that’s like a really condensed, visual Cliff Notes for the history of artist technique and culture in the UK. It made sense to put Bravo there because it’s got rock solid vantage points for Trafalgar Square. Plus, thematically having a man who is entirely anonymous on a building filled with portraits celebrating famous people appealed to me.
-Some tropes, and lines, rattle around in your head for years. I first wrote about wards of the government being hothoused into weapons over a decade ago for an unpublished graphic novella called Breeding Cuckoos. That idea has surfaced repeatedly since and Bravo is probably the closest I’ve got to being happy with it. That last line, and Bravo claiming his lack of identity as an identity in itself is something I’m still really proud of.
-My huge thanks to Darren for being so incredibly patient with on the last minute edits on this. One of the big things I did was make it more ambiguous which side each one of them is on. It could be a mass, Hydra v Shield esque purging of sleeper agents or it could be a coup with Alpha the only one who doesn’t see it coming. Either way works.
So there you go, Overwatch. I really like this one and it’s an amazing anthology. Do pick a copy up and find out just how much the Fox Spirit authors can do in a small space.