World War One in Fantastic Fiction: “Old Virginia”

Old Virginia“, Laird Barron, 2003.

In 1959, in the woods of West Virginia, a secret CIA research takes place to test the psychic abilities of an old woman. It is hoped she will be a potent weapon in the Cold War. She does turn out to be a weapon — but for something far older and much more inhuman than either the United States of America or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The narrator is about 70 years old. He has spent a lifetime doing covert missions for America and seeing many theaters of war — unlike the men he administers on this, his final project.

None of them had been in a war. I’d checked. College instead of Korea for the lot. Even Dox had been spared by virtue of flat feet. They hadn’t seen Soissons in 1915, Normandy in 1945, nor the jungles of Cuba in 1953. They hadn’t seen the things I had seen. Their fear was the small kind, borne of uncertainty rather than dread. They stroked their shotguns and grinned with dumb innocence.

In case you are wondering, American troops were in no way at Soissons in 1915 nor could I find record of any major fighting in the area in 1915. Likewise, Normandy was firmly in Allied hands in 1945. Batista was in power in 1953’s Cuba, and the CIA was not running operations against him.

So, Barron uses Soissons — where American troops did fight in 1918 — as part of a supersecret history of American covert activity.

More conventional is Barron’s second use of the Great War — as shorthand for twentieth century horror, indeed its opening act. And also a resume enhancer for what an ancient entity has in mind for man:

“We need men like Adolph, and Herman, and their sweet sensibilities. Men who would bring the winter darkness so they might caper around bonfires. Men like you, dear Roger. Men like you.” Virginia ended on a cackle. Hiroshima bloomed upon my mind’s canvas and I nearly cried aloud. And Auschwitz, and Verdun, and all the rest. Yes, the day was coming.

World War One Content

  • Living Memory: No.
  • On-Stage War: References but nothing on stage.
  • Belligerent Area: No.
  • Home Front: No.
  • Veteran: No.

More World War One in Fantastic Fiction.

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