The last thing I had published–the last thing I’ve had published in a very long time, it feels like to me–is a story called “The Daughters of John Demetrius” in the October issue of Analog. (I know that October was only a month ago, but I usually date my publications by the date an editor accepts them, rather than when the story actually appears in print, and I haven’t had anything accepted for publication since April). I was trying something new with this story, working to reduce the infodump and the throat-clearing that I think can be a weakness of my work. So, while there’s quite a backstory to the characters and the setting (near-future northern Mexico), I deliberately left a lot unsaid or only hinted at.
And, while quite a few people seem to like the story, the reviews I’ve gotten often complain of the backstory and setting being not fleshed out enough. As Greg Hullender at Rocket Stack Rank charitably puts it, “There seems to be a well-developed world behind this little story, and it definitely leaves you wanting to know more about it.”
I feel a bit as though I failed to hit the sweet spot with this story–while reminding myself, as always, that no story is to everybody’s taste. But Hullender and other reviewers are right: there is a world behind the story. Last month’s Analog piece is one of four stories I’ve written that I refer to as “John Demetrius Stories.” They don’t fit into a single narrative–I’m not planning to make them into a single narrative, anyway–and the first two I wrote are not intended for publication, but I do think that I have a story cycle growing in my mind that centers around the character of John Demetrius.
Who is John Demetrius? Well, I’m not entirely sure myself. The character came to me after the death of my brother Dave, and I wrote the first story with the idea of John Demetrius as a loose fictionalization of my brother. The loose fictionalization has gotten looser and looser over time, to the point that John Demetrius is my brother as he might visit me in dreams today.
I will say this: John Demetrius was a brilliant genetic engineer from a few generations before the story cycle takes place. He experimented on his own genome, he became an utter pacifist, and he wandered out of America into the south, siring children and coming to be regarded after his disappearance as some kind of spiritual master. He is, for the characters in the stories, a legendary figure whose real identity has been obscured by years of cultural accretions and appropriations of his name for all kinds of political purposes. Mythologically, he’s a reworking of the Green Man myth, a cousin of Tom Bombadil and Osiris and Jesus.
And that’s all I will say. “The Daughters of John Demetrius” is available in October’s Analog. I have another John Demetrius story, “Proteus,” which I hope to refine as soon as the current draft of Pacifica is finished. I have more ideas after that. If I can get a few of them published, I might even try to stitch them together into a single cycle: The John Demetrius Stories.