Escape Pod story: Save Me Plz by David Barr Kirtley

Please listen to the podcast first, as this discussion contains spoilers.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about worldbuilding and the importance of internal consistency in a story, especially in speculative fiction. Here's a story that does an exemplary job of playing by its own rules, and even better, does so in a surprising way.

Meg is a regular college student who takes a sword with her whenever she goes outside, just in case she runs into a goblin or a giant spider. Her boyfriend Devon has vanished -- lately he's done nothing but play this new MMORPG, and now he hasn't spoken to her in four months.

So Meg buys a copy of the game and logs in. She receives a mysterious message from Devon's character: "I've discovered something big in the game but I'm trapped. Help me, please."

Meg begins a quest to save Devon and is assisted by a character that sounds like the Dungeon Master from that awful D&D cartoon you may remember from Saturday mornings many years ago. The DM gives Meg a unique and powerful artifact, the Wand of Reification, which is capable of altering reality to make the wielder's dream come true.

Meg has an encounter with lascivious goblins in a black SUV (funny how these recently-fetishized symbols of conspicuous consumption are now used as an indication of selfishness and evil) and finds the castle where Devon is trapped. On her way in she finds another Wand of Reification resting on an altar. Then, an armory full of suits of armor and racks upon racks of wands similar to the two stuck in her belt.

She finds Devon, and he explains to her the following:

1. Their world is really just a sophisticated simulation (using Heisenberg's uncertainty principle / quantum mechanics to prove his point).
2. Their world has a bug in its programming, allowing Meg to receive 2 Wands of Reification rather than just one. (The DM appears and Devon hands him the extra wand.)

Then the big reveal -- Devon has been using Meg to get these wands (over 1200 of them!) repeatedly, and using the wands to change the world to be more like -- you guessed it -- a fantasy MMORPG.

There's one poignant moment. Meg asks, "Why can't I remember any of this?" Devon tells her, "Because if you restart a quest you lose all your progress." And she's set out to save him so many times.

In the end she agrees to help him again and there's a wonderful Mandelbrot moment where he explains to her that the way she has to re-start the quest is to sit down at his computer and play the MMORPG.

There's a flash-forward at the end of the story, wherein Devon and Meg (now Prince Devonair and the elf maid Lena) are globetrotting heroes who slay dragons by the truckload and commute to their adventures via dragon or unicorn. Devon's world is finally, fully in place, and the original world barely a shadow in Meg's mind.

Here's what works about this story: the author gives us a fantasy world, somewhat consistent with the world we know of in WoW or EverQuest. Then he exploits the same sort of loopholes that are discovered and exploited in the game -- the programming bug in the quest system. Then he uses the rules of the game to affect the real world, which becomes more like the game.

My exposition on the well-crafted nature of this story's plot is nowhere near as elegant as the construction of the story itself. It's definitely worth a listen if you're interested in plot. The writing is a little on the flat/uninspired side but if you can get past that you'll find a story that's highly virtuous in its construction.

Download Save Me Plz