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The Practical Guide to Punching Nazis

Alex Shvartsman is a writer, translator and game designer from Brooklyn, NY. Over 100 of his short stories have appeared in Nature, Galaxy's Edge, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and many other magazines and anthologies. He won the 2014 WSFA Small Press Award for Short Fiction and was a two-time finalist for the Canopus Award for Excellence in Interstellar Fiction (2015 and 2017). He is the editor of the Unidentified Funny Objects annual anthology series of humorous SF/F. His collection, Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Storiesand his steampunk humor novella H. G. Wells, Secret Agent were both published in 2015. His website is alexshvartsman.com.
1. Act natural. You don't want to give them a reason to suspect you. When they realize the data card is missing, somber men with humorless eyes will invade the lab. They'll interrogate everyone, even the purebloods. Keep your head down and don't draw attention to yourself. As far as they're concerned, you're not bright or motivated enough to be a Party member, let alone to break the encryption and steal the data. You're almost entirely beneath their notice. When they fail to discover the thief, they'll drag your boss away. He isn't so bad, considering, but someone has to be held responsible. His removal is as unfortunate as it is inevitable.
2. Go to the library. Walk through the deserted halls, past the shelves filled with party dogma, thick hardcover tomes with spines that have never been cracked. All the way in the back find the small stack of dilapidated volumes misfiled decades ago by some brave librarian. Rifle through the dog-eared copies of Das Capital and Common Sense and The Fountainhead: a smorgasbord of ideas that share nothing in common except the fortune of surviving the purge because those in power are ignorant of these books' contents. Pick the book espousing the philosophy that suits you best and hide the data card inside. Don't worry; this is the last place anyone is likely to look.
3. Quit your job. Better yet, fail to grovel properly in front of the new boss and get yourself fired. Be patient. For the sake of your friends and family, let enough time pass that no one thinks to connect you with the eventual break-in and fire at the lab.
4. Study the past. Learn about the way people spoke and dressed and carried themselves from old books and movies. Figure out how people expressed themselves from the ancient Internet archives, if you can access them. Question anything written about the past since the Party came into power.
5. Prepare to blend in. The technology is experimental and imprecise. There's no telling where you'll end up, so you must bring all kinds of camouflage. This is especially important if your skin tone or bone structure or gender aren't optimal for whatever decade you arrive in. Bring a Hugo Boss uniform and a Zhongshan suit, an ushanka hat with a hammer-and-sickle badge, and a red baseball cap, a white hooded robe and a leather trench coat.
6. Don't hesitate. When the opportunity to break into the lab presents itself, retrieve the data card and go for it. Bring a can of gasoline. Pour it generously over the prototype and the computers. Whatever else happens, the Party cannot be allowed to perfect this technology.
7. Make history. Use the equations on the data card to program and activate the prototype. You're ready to become the first human ever to travel back in time. Drop the lit match as you step through.
8. Ascertain the time period and location. You will most likely end up in North America, sometime between 1940 and 2030. If punching Nazis is widely considered patriotic and depicted on propaganda posters, you've arrived too early. If punching Nazis is punishable by death, you've arrived too late. If punching Nazis is morally ambiguous, bingo.
9. Don't bother stepping on butterflies. Mathematical projections have definitively proven this is not an effective way to change the future. Instead, find the nearest Nazi and punch them in the face. Do this quickly and walk away before anyone has a chance to react. Cover your face and turn away from cell phones and cameras.
10. Keep punching. The fate of the future is in your hands.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 31st, 2017


I'm not an overtly political writer, but I don't shy away from allowing my opinions to bleed through the story, either. When a video of a certain unpalatable racist getting punched in the face by an anonymous vigilante appeared online and was subsequently turned into a meme, I freely admit to having watched that meme; on repeat and with schadenfreude. I'm not generally in favor of punching people for their beliefs, but my grandparents fought in World War II and lost family members and friends in the holocaust, so I can't help but believe that when a certain line is crossed such behavior becomes justified, and that any individual voluntarily identifying themselves as a Nazi is fair game. It struck me as fascinating that we, as a society, went from our heroes punching Hitler on the pages of comic books to debating whether it's okay to punch Hitler-wannabes. I imagined a dystopian future where people might regret having once held back, and this story coalesced.

- Alex Shvartsman

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