Riding With the Duke by Jack McDevitt

This is the next story in the Future Visions anthology, and one of the few stories by an author I’ve not read before. He’s known for his big alien artifact-filled stories.

Published: 2015

Genre: science fiction

Setting: western Tennessee (the characters mention going to Pigeon Forge for dinner), near future

Summary: Walter Peacock’s life isn’t going quite as planned. He’s always wanted to be a physicist, but turns out he couldn’t handle the math for a Ph.D. Now, he’s stuck driving a taxi with no social life to speak of. He happens to meet someone, Diana Carter, and asks her out. Amazingly she says yes, multiple times. She gets him a Quark-box as a present, which “allows you to substitute yourself for one of the characters in a TV show or movie.” It’s kind of fun, but nothing special. He gets a job as a physics teacher even though he has no experience because the school needed someone on short notice. It’s only when he puts himself into some dramas with the Quark-box that he starts improving his teaching.

Final thoughts: An interesting concept, but I totally didn’t buy the relationship between Diana and Walter. Diana’s attitude toward Walter was odd and it always seemed like she was using him for ulterior motives. Those motives never showed up, but she never acted like she wanted to put Walter into the movies because she liked him. And then to have Walter suddenly get amazing as a teacher because he acted amazingly in the different movies. Not sure I buy that, either.

I can totally see how a Quark-box would be a major money-maker. Who wouldn’t want to watch themself star in their favorite show opposite their favorite actors/actresses? Whether or not it would change your behavior, I’m not so sure.

Title comes from: One of the movies that helped Walter was a John Wayne movie. John Wayne’s nickname was the Duke, and Walter was riding with him by inserting himself into the movie with his Quark-box.



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