I'm looking for a story that's told in the second-person - "You are doing this" etc. At first it seems mundane, but then it us revealed that all the characters, including you, are wearing backpacks filled with dynamite, everywhere you go, burdening you with discomfort as well as with the risk of death at any time. It's an obvious nuclear proliferation metaphor and quite short. I read this in some sort of a book - an anthology or possibly a mostly non-fiction book with some flash fiction fables. It's rather like Varley's Manhattan Phonebook (abridged) or Douglas Hofstadter's Tale of Happiton

As I think of it, I believe the story starts as if it will be a retelling of the Sword of Damocles

  • When did you read this? Magazine, anthology or online?
    – DavidW
    Nov 29, 2022 at 22:12
  • edited to provide more information
    – Andrew
    Nov 29, 2022 at 23:46

2 Answers 2


"The Sword of Damocles" by Bruce Sterling, from Asimov's magazine (like half the stories I ask for identifications of), in February 1990.

It's not quite in the second person, but it is addressed to the reader in a chatty way:

You, my audience, on the other hand, look really great. You're all young rambunctious aristocrats whose parents are paying for this.

And the central theme is the analogy between the sword of Damocles and nuclear weapons.

He's been carrying this massive weight of explosive with him all the time , wired to his body in a kind of backpack . In fact , everybody in the Palace has got a TNT - bundle of their own , too . They just haven't really noticed it, until the situation was made metaphorically clear. Everybody in Syracuse has their own share of explosive. Every man, woman and child on the planet; even the innocent babes in their cradles. Everybody carries their share of the global megatonnage; they're never without it, even when when they somehow manage to forget about it.


Fredric Brown wrote a couple of short stories in the second person: "The Hall of Mirrors" (1953), which is about time travel, and "The Gamblers" (1951), with Mack Reynolds.
I've read them a very long time ago but there are chances that one of them is the one you're looking for: there aren't many stories written in the second person.

You can read "The Hall of Mirrors" here.
I couldn't find "The Gamblers" online but I remember it's about "you" gambling your chances at survival.

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