Watchlist

32 SHORT STORIES BY PERSONS OF INTEREST


Edited by BRYAN HURT

"A brave and necessary set of early flares of the literary imagination into the Panopticon we all find ourselves living inside these days." —Jonathan Lethem

"While I was reading Watchlist on my computer screen, a multilingual secret agent somewhere in Pyongyang, Beijing, or Moscow was reading over my shoulder, my computer screen on her computer screen, and under a mountain in Colorado, an NSA analyst was reading over her shoulder, my computer screen on her computer screen on his computer screen. What I'm trying to say is: you should read Watchlist, but you should read it on paper." —Kyle Minor

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About the Book

Threats known and unknown.

Etgar Keret. Robert Coover. Aimee Bender. Jim Shepard. Alissa Nutting. Charles Yu. Cory Doctorow. Randa Jarrar. Katherine Karlin. Miracle Jones. Mark Irwin. T. Coraghessan Boyle. Dale Peck. Bonnie Nadzam. Lucy Corin. Chika Unigwe.

Footsteps in the night.

Paul Di Filippo. Lincoln Michel. Dana Johnson. Mark Chiusano. Juan Pablo Villalobos. Chanelle Benz. Sean Bernard. Kelly Luce. Zhang Ran. Miles Klee. Carmen Maria Machado. David Abrams. Steven Hayward. Deji Bryce Olukotun. Alexis Landau. Bryan Hurt.

We are being watched. That this statement no longer shocks is itself shocking. Post-Snowden, we know that the government — everywhere — has been reading our emails, listening to our phone calls, and watching whatever we do on the Internet. The only thing concealed is the nature of our watchers.

In Watchlist, some of today’s most prominent and promising fiction writers from around the globe respond to, reflect on, and mine for inspiration the surveillance culture in which we live. From drone strikes to birds mistaken for spies, paintings that change when they’re not looked at to machines that let their dying users look back and reconsider the most important decisions of their lives, these stories take a broad and imaginative look at the state of surveillance in our global and interconnected world. How does constant surveillance affect us? Does it change how we behave as we seek approval or avoid judgment from an often faceless audience? Do we know who’s watching? What does it mean to be watched?

By turns political, apolitical, cautionary, and surreal, these stories reflect on what it’s like to live in the surveillance state.

Publication May 21, 2015 • 372 pages
Paperback ISBN 978-1-939293-77-0 • E-book 978-1-939293-78-7

About the Editor

Photo © Emma Powell

Bryan Hurt is the author of Everyone Wants to Be Ambassador to France, winner of the Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction. His fiction and essays have been published in The American Reader, The Kenyon Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New England Review, Tin House, and TriQuarterly. He lives in Colorado.

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Read an Excerpt

From Zhang Ran’s “Ether”:

All of a sudden, I’m thinking about an evening from the winter when I was twenty-two.

          A pair of pretty twin sisters sat to my right, chattering away; at my left sat a fat boy clutching a soft drink that he kept refilling. My plate contained cold chicken, cheese, and cole slaw. I don’t remember how they tasted, only that I’d reached for the macaroni and dropped some on my brand-new pinstripe trousers. I spent the entire second half of the meal wiping at the crescent-shaped stains on my trousers as the chicken cooled in my plate, untouched. To hide my predicament, I tried to strike up a conversation with the twins, but they didn’t seem very interested in college life, and I wasn’t knowledgeable about pontytail-tying techniques.

          The dinner seemed to last forever. There was one toast after another, and I would raise my long-stemmed glass with whomever was standing, and drink my apple juice, perfectly aware that no one was paying attention to what I did. What was the banquet for, anyway? A wedding, a holiday, a bumper crop? I don’t recall.

          I sneaked peeks at my father, four tables away. He was busy chatting and drinking and telling dirty jokes with his friends, all his age, with the same thick whiskers and noses red from too much alcohol. He didn’t glance at me until the banquet was over. The fiddler tiredly packed his instrument, the hostess began to collect the dirty dishes and glasses, and my inebriated father finally noticed my presence. He staggered over, his bulky body swaying with every step. “You still here?” he slurred. “Tell your ma to give you a ride.”

          “No, I’m leaving on my own.” I stood, staring at the ground. I scrubbed at the stain on my trousers until my fingers were numb.

          “Whatever you want. Did you have a good time talking with your little friends?” He looked around for them.

          I said nothing but clenched my fists, feeling the blood rush to my head. They weren’t my friends. They were just kids, eleven or twelve years old, and I was about to graduate from college. In the city, I had my friends and my accomplishments. No one treated me like a little boy there, seating me at the children’s table, pouring apple juice into my long-stemmed glass in the place of white wine. When I walked into restaurants, a server would promptly take my jacket and call me mister; if I dropped macaroni on my trousers, my dining companion would wet a napkin and gently wipe it clean. I was an adult, and I wanted people to talk to me like one, not treat me like a grade schooler at some village banquet.

          “Fuck off!” I said at last, and walked off without looking back.

          I was twenty-two that year.

          I open my eyes with effort. The sky is completely dark now, and the neon lights of the strip club across the street fill the room with gauzy colors. The computer screen flashes. I rub my temples and slowly sit up on the sofa. I down the half glass of bourbon resting on the coffee table. How many times have I fallen asleep on the sofa this week? I ought to go online and look it up: what does holing up at home in front of a computer and falling into dreams of bygone youth mean for the health of a 45-year-old single man? But the headache tells me I don’t need a search engine to know the answer. This aimless way of life is murder on my brain cells.

          <Hey, you there?> Roy’s words appear on the LCD screen.

          <I’m here.> I find half a cigar in the ashtray, flick off the ash, and light it.

          <You heard? They opened a discussion group on how to tell the difference between bluefin and southern bluefin tuna sashimi by sight,> Roy says.

          <Did you join?> I exhale a mouthful of grassy smoke from my Swiss-manufactured cigar.

          <Nah. It looked even more boring than the last discussion group. You know, the “Long-Term Observation of the Probability Distribution of Heads vs Tails in Coin Flips” group.> Roy adds an emoticon: a helpless shrug.

          <But you joined that one.>

          <Yeah. I flipped a coin twenty times every day for fifteen days and reported my results to the group.>

          <And then?>

          <Turned out we got closer and closer to 50%.> Roy sends me a pained smiley.

          <You knew that would happen from the start,> I say.

          <Of course. But it’s so boring online that you have to find something or other to do,> Roy says. <Want to join the “Visually Differentiating Bluefin and Southern Bluefin Tuna Sashimi” group?>

          <I’ll skip it. I’d rather read a book.> The cigar has burned to a stub. I pick up the whiskey glass and spit out foul-tasting saliva.

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