When putting together the alt-history military science fiction short story anthology Weird World War III, editor Sean Patrick Hazlett did so with the one limitation that the titular conflict be between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. But in the following email interview about the follow-up, Weird World War IV (paperback, Kindle), Hazlett says that while it is about Earth’s fourth all-invitational conflict, the previous restriction as to the participants was lifted.
For people who didn’t read Weird World War III, what was that anthology all about?
Weird World War III is an anthology of stories that explores how a war between the United States and Soviet Union may have unfolded with a weird fiction twist. Think Tom Clancy meets H.P. Lovecraft. After all, what is the existential threat of nuclear annihilation but another manifestation of cosmic horror? It includes stories ranging from Soviet shamans summoning demons to cosmonauts and astronauts squaring off against each other and aliens on the moon’s surface to augmented reality games that lead to nuclear annihilation.
And then what is Weird World War IV about, and how is it different?
Every story in the volume is about a Fourth World War that occurs sometime after the third one. However, unlike Weird World War III, it does not have to be about a war between the United States and Soviet Union. Authors had much more flexibility for world-building in this volume, so there’s a much wider range of stories and settings. For instance, there are several stories that involve invasions of Earth from other dimensions, as well as a few post-apocalyptic tales. One story’s even about a hyperintelligent, cybernetic war dog in the far future.
It doesn’t sound like it, but are the stories in Weird World War IV sequels to ones in Weird World War III?
None of the stories in Weird World War IV are sequels to those in Weird World War III. As a result, they include a much broader array of stories ranging from a post-apocalyptic retelling of the Arthurian legend to a war between humans and Neanderthals to corporate intrigue in space to a werewolf penal colony on the Moon.
How did you decide who to ask to contribute to Weird World War IV?
I generally invite authors I enjoy reading and who could provide a unique perspective on the theme. For my Weird War anthologies, I always like to have a healthy mix of military and intelligence veterans. In this volume, veterans include Deborah A. Wolf, Brad Torgersen, Michael Z. Williamson, Stephen Lawson, Weston Ochse, Freddy Costello (pseudonym), and T. C. McCarthy (former CIA). I also like to invite contributors who are well-known for writing weird fiction and horror, but some of whom might not yet be familiar with Baen’s audience like John Langan, Laird Barron, Nick Mamatas, Maurice Broaddus, Weston Ochse, and Erika Satifka. Of course, I also make sure I include a healthy mix of Baen stalwarts like Brad Torgersen, Martin Shoemaker, D. J. Butler, Michael Z. Williamson, and Eric James Stone. It also never hurts to have headliners like Jonathan Maberry and Steven Barnes.
And did anyone do it specifically because they had read Weird World War III and liked it?
At least one author agreed to submit a story to Weird World War IV because he enjoyed reading Weird World War III, and that was David VonAllmen. However, there certainly may have been more, they just haven’t told me yet.
In a similar vein, are any of the contributors to Weird World War IV people who were going to write something for Weird World War III but needed more time, and their story could still work for IV?
One author who had planned on submitting a story for Weird World War III could not ultimately do so because of a death in his family. Fortunately, he was able to contribute a new story to this volume, and it is a great one at that.
And are any of the contributors to Weird World War IV people who were going to write something for Weird World War III but then you realized their story should take place after the third World War?
No. That did not happen as I explicitly asked authors to submit stories about a weird World War IV.
Like Weird World War III, Weird World War IV mixes alternative history and military sci-fi. But are there any other genres at work in this collection?
Absolutely. There is a story about wizards in the Pacific Northwest as well as a humorous story about bureaucratic lawfare. This anthology also includes an Afrofuturistic story. There’s something in this book for everyone.
Was there anything particularly challenging about putting this collection together?
The only real challenge in putting this anthology together is the exact same challenge I had in editing Weird World War III: getting authors to turn their stories in on time. It was particularly acute in this volume because I had an accelerated deadline to deliver the final manuscript to my publisher. All told, I had just shy of six months from getting the greenlight to deliver the final manuscript. I’m extremely grateful to the authors for delivering their manuscripts under this very tight timeline.
Now, in the previous interview we did about Weird World War III, you said it was the first anthology you had edited. Did you learn anything putting it together that directly influenced what you did with Weird World War IV?
I’m always learning. For one, my production process is far more efficient. The first time around, I had to create my contract templates from scratch, build a production schedule, develop a promotion plan, launch a website, and a hundred other small things that really added up to a lot of work. This time I had all this infrastructure in place and was able to leverage it well. In fact, I could probably produce 3-4 anthologies a year now that I’ve done all this up-front work.
And, on the flipside of that, did you learn anything while assembling Weird World War IV that you wish you knew before starting work on Weird World War III?
I’m constantly learning new things with each successive volume, but the bulk of it still occurred during the production of the first one. As such, there’s no specific lesson that I acquired in assembling Weird World War IV that I wish I had known before starting work on Weird World War III.
So, is the plan that you’ll next do Weird World War V, or are you thinking you might do something else?
I expect the next book in the weird war series to be Weird World War III: China. Stay tuned.
Finally, if someone enjoys Weird World War IV, what military sci-fi novel would you recommend they check out next? And to keep it interesting — i.e., keep you from getting any angry emails — let’s say it can’t be by anyone who contributed to III or IV.