"Self-Regulation" by Ian Creasey — story background

"Roll up, roll up!  Get your doomsday devices here.  Always wanted to destroy the world?  Try it this afternoon!  Great prizes for the biggest bangs.  Building your own star snuffers?  We have all the equipment you need.  And if you've invented a better death ray than anything in our catalogue, we're always looking for new lines to sell...."

I watched my alternate with a critical eye, but found nothing to fault as he cried our wares.  He used exactly the same patter as I would have done — naturally, because he was me.  I needed someone to man the booth while I ran events, and the only person I trusted to front Drake's Devices was myself.  So here he was.  I'd nicknamed him Tails, since his timeline diverged from a coin flip.

He was also starting to grow a tail.  I winced as he took another gulp of Monster Tonic.  I was equally thirsty, and strove to suppress it by biting my claws.  It's an indelicate habit, but it keeps me sober — mostly — and it sharpens my fangs, too.

"Self-Regulation" is a comedy set in a milieu of stereotypical 'mad scientists' with extremely dangerous research interests.  It's a sequel to two previous stories, "Demonstration Day" and "Best In Show", which originally appeared in the now-defunct magazine Oceans of the Mind in 2003 and 2004 respectively.

I wrote the first draft of "Self-Regulation" in 2005, and submitted it to Oceans of the Mind because they'd published the previous instalments, but the editor rejected it.  I then submitted it more widely, but novelettes are a hard sell, and sequels to pieces published elsewhere are also a hard sell, so it languished.  At that point, many writers would have trunked the piece.  But I'm stubborn, and I hate having unsold inventory.  Every few years I dragged the piece out, re-edited it, and tried again.  Eventually it sold to Analog.  I consider this a testament to the improvement of my writing skills in the intervening period.  It may have helped that I fleshed out the story to a more natural length: the final version is about 25% longer than the original draft, which was written under the constraint of Oceans of the Mind having a maximum length for submissions.

The story is set in a Weaponry Fair, where scientists and dealers exhibit various forms of exotic weapons:

One was miniaturising hotel furniture with an Amazing Micro-Ray, while another wielded a Dehydrator on a phlegmatic Swamp Beast who'd obviously grown used to being restored from backup.  I admired the Offensive Projector that subdued victims with caustic jibes at their dress sense.  The annual Weaponry Fair showcased everything from esteem bruisers to planet busters.

The larger weapons need a sand pit in which they can be safely demonstrated, so the story's protagonist sets up a tournament in a parallel universe:

For promotional purposes, I'd organised a tournament exhibiting the more grandiose flavours of destruction.  I hastened to the auditorium, where a blooper reel of botched apocalypses was ending with a montage of meteorites that missed, fires that fizzled, and monsters who caught cold and died.

But the problem with alternate universes is that they contain alternate versions of yourself, who don't always agree.  And when there are such powerful weapons available, disagreement can be very dangerous....

Page last updated: 15 August 2022