DOUG McCORD

Fiction: The Volition Directive

A time travel novel built around one family, The Volition Directive traverses genres and the entire 20th century and beyond, centering on toxic notions of destiny.

A narrative puzzle inspired by David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, The Volition Directive is told through four parallel narratives which increasingly interact and ultimately converge: a man from another time and place trapped in the trenches in France in World War One; his daughter, a spy infiltrating Nazi Germany in World War Two using seemingly prescient insights; her grandson, a scientist who wins the Nobel Prize but gets roped into a toxic family business; a time travel mission embarking from 2032 that expects to go back to 1912, but actually ends up in a distant future. The pace accelerates as the mystery resolves, and we come to realize that all of these characters are parts of a single, interconnected family, which like a Moebius Strip perpetuates its destiny akin to a snake eating its own tail. The Volition Directive is a novel about the collision of loyalty and morality within a family, and the struggle to break from expectations.

Aspects of The Volition Directive come from my grandfather's World War Two journals. A highly-decorated fighter pilot who flew from bases in London, North Africa and Italy, I knew him as a small town farmer who refused to discuss the war. Near the end of his life he let me read the journals, and the entries chart his psychological shift: from giddiness as a fresh recruit stationed in California and flying the world's fastest planes, to the slanted, irregular entries he made as squadron leader, listing casualties and little else. I was most struck by one entry spanning a dozen pages, written in a jagged hand, detailing the carnage of a civilian bomb site he'd driven to in Italy when he was due to ship back home. He left the Jeep and tried to help survivors, but the dead included children and the living were in a horrific state. My grandfather wrote more detail about that single afternoon than about the rest of his life combined. While The Volition Directive considers several characters in different epochs and includes aspects of science fiction and time travel, it originates from this experience and centers on heroism, concepts of destiny and the madness that can grow from destructive ambition.