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In the Shadow of the Towers: Jeff VanderMeer Imagines 9/11 in an Alternate Reality

The Annihilation author explores President Bush's experience through a speculative fiction lens in "The Goat Variations."

The 17th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Virginia is upon us. But despite the years that have passed, the event hasn't—and will likely never—fade from the American consciousness: How could something like this happen? And what does it mean that it did?

As with other major tragedies throughout history, the emotional processing of a trauma often takes place within the safe confines of art. This was the case in 2015, when a group of genre writers compiled In the Shadow of the Towers—a story collection that reimagines 9/11 through a speculative fiction lens. While the rest of the world watched the day's newscasts in shock, Towers editor Douglas Lain notes that it was all "terribly familiar" to fans and writers of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. To find a sense of hope—and to come to terms with an event that so closely mirrored their favorite books and films—Cory Doctorow, James Morrow, and more did what they do best: They told stories.

Annihilation author Jeff VanderMeer also contributed to the collection with "The Goat Variations," which puts a new spin on President Bush's now-famous reaction to the news. During his reading of The Pet Goat to a classroom of second-graders, Bush's Chief of Staff informed him about the second plane crash—while the media captured his panic.

  • White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card informs President Bush that a second plane has hit a second tower. 

  • Photo Credit: MSNBC/YouTube

VanderMeer's scenario is similar to the one we know—but it's also altered. In "The Goat Variations," the U.S. faces threats posed by Christian fundamentalists, not Islamic terrorists, in 2001. It's this conflict that preoccupies Bush during his visit to an elementary school, in addition to a disturbing discovery made one year before...

The story flashes from Bush's present to 2000, when he learns of a top-secret operation stationed in the underbelly of the Pentagon. The government has been harvesting and studying "adepts," or human psychics, to survey their dreams for important information about the future. "Peter" is an adept of great interest, as he knows how to build a futuristic time machine that could prevent a prophesied disaster in September the following year. But unlike others of its ilk, Paul's machine invades human minds like a virus, and then mentally—rather than physically—transports its users to alternate universes instead of a single future. When Peter instructs Bush to build the machine, the president obeys.

By September 11, 2001, Bush's brain has already been infected. The following excerpt sees him read to a group of young students, and then experience 9/11 in various Americas...

Click here to read an excerpt of "The Goat Variations," and then download In the Shadow of the Towers.

In the Shadow of the Towers

By Douglas Lain

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Published on 07 Sep 2018

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