Archive for February, 2014

What we’re not talking about here are the opiate happy pills of Soma, Bliss or Dust. Nor the spaced-out interpretations of our puny human minds trying to wrap themselves around the truly ‘alien’ – 2001 A Space Odyssey/Contact/Fire in the Sky…. And while there is a focus on shifts in perception, they’re more of the bat-shit, jaw-mashing, consciousness expanding, pharmacopeia than anything offered by virtual reality. So neck yourselves either the blue or the red pill – Morpheus always knew they were both spiked – and join us as we roll our eyes to the back of our skulls for a look see.

Philip K Dick has been haunting these pages for the past few months, and there’s no way we can discuss drug related reality breakdowns without reference to his invention. Can-D and Chew-Z both combine with the doll-like dioramas of Perky Pat’s world in miniature in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, while the psychological splitting of Substance D fuels all the tempered madness of A Scanner Darkly.

Examples from a potent, drug related SF tradition, and contemporaries of the 60s revolution in the genre that found a home in New Worlds magazine. Here, under the alchemical guidance of Michael Moorcock, journeys through inner as well as outer space were positively encouraged – no doubt influencing narcotic anthologies like Michael Parry’s Dream Trips and Strange Ecstasies. All of which were part of an ongoing creative experiment that spilled over from the Beats and, most notably, from the addictive metaphors of William S Burroughs. If you’re looking for a modern advocate of this tradition, Jeff Noon is probably the best gateway as his continued experiments with narrative styles echo this ongoing engagement with alternate realities.

On the filmic side of the perceptive doors there are fewer examples of Sci-Fi trips than you might initially think. Maybe it’s a pedantic definition but, as mentioned earlier, the VR excursions of Brainstorm, eXistenZ and Paprika don’t require anyone raiding the medicine cabinet. Conversely, Ken Russell’s Alter States, Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly and Pete Travis’ Dredd (see above) all come with a visual genealogy that reaches back beyond The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

So just a cursory, and slightly bitter taste of psychedelics within the realms of SF. Enough, perhaps, to assist a fresh appraisal of an era of gaudy book covers, radical shifts in
theme and style and the welcoming in of drug related experiences as viable, cross-genre source material.

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Pulp Girl and Robot

Cybersex was a term I first encountered via a 1996 anthology edited by Ruth Glyn Jones. At the point of its publication, the internet was already refining the JPEG format – thus bringing the compulsive mix of porn and Skinner Box psychology into domestic life. But the idea of digital relationships had been a SF plaything since before Fritz Lang’s Maria and the implicit girl/robot combos of the 1930s pulps.

Skip forward to 1977 and we boot up Demon Seed – Julie Christie battling against the sexual advances of a deviant AI. From this point, while titles don’t exactly arrive thick and fast, the topic does sustain a creative interest: Electric Dreams (1986), S1m0ne (2002), Be Right Back (part of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror 2013) and Her (2014).

This being Drozbot, it’d be remiss if we didn’t focus on the manifestation of the lover and, as such, the advances surrounding physical, robotic companions.

Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep honed his boundary blurring work with androids, and is included here as a result of the conflicted sexual dynamics between Deckard and Rachel. Up to this point, though, it’s still a very male dominated space – as proven by the lurid image from Peril magazine above. Thankfully, with Joanne Russ’ 1975 feminist SF novel, The Female Man, we do finally encounter a male ‘sexbot’ in the guise of housebound Davey.

In recent years we’ve seen a plethora of fact and fiction relating to these erotic, cybernetic individuals. Taking Jude Law’s Gigolo Joe (AI, 2001) as an arbitrary starting point, we pass rapidly through a series of real world female robots, resulting in the contemporary attentions of Miya and Roxxy. Whereas in fiction, TV series like Real Humans (2012) and Almost Human(2013) openly engage with the moral implications of these new interrelationships. But it’s with Quantic Dream’s Kara test animation that the dilemmas we may well soon face become succinctly explicit.

Until next time, happy post-Valentines!

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Metropolis Flood

You might have picked up on the fact that it’s been raining here in the UK. But, for once, the current downpour has become newsworthy beyond our localised moaning. An omen of an impending, soggy ecostrophe? The scientific community are still puzzling over the historic data, but that’s no reason to stop us hypothesising on a demise more terrible than any damp, Kevin Costner sci-fi epic. So it’s to these imaginary flood plains and wetlands that we set course.

Garrett P Servis gives us one of the earliest speculative views in The Second Deluge (1912), in which the earth passes through an aquas nebular that inundates the planet – the idea of interstellar water being brought to the earth is being revisited as I write, with the waking of the robotic comet probe Rosetta.

Another early memory of a wet apocalypse came via a hand-me-down copy of The Beano – of all things. From 1960 to 1961 the comic ran its first, central colour spread of an adventure called The Great Flood of London. In this the Foster family have to deal with stray crocodiles, manta rays and unexploded sea mines in a world flooded after a comet melts the polar ice cap. It was a sanitised story of plucky children versus a hostile environment but, interestingly, it did predate the psychoanalytical depth plumbing of J G Ballard’s The Drowned World by a year.

For a more literary overview of the written SF heritage surrounding the idea of an all-encompassing flood, head to Kirkus which covers such seminal works as Stephen Baxter’s Flood and Ark among others.

However, it seems that the constant focus on how humanity deals with disaster, might actually be doing ourselves a disservice. Ursula Le Guin, in a recent review of Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea, calls for a “new take on dreary old Dystopia”. Perhaps there’s a fresh slew of inventive fiction on route where global warming is reduced, the poles do not melt or cause the planet’s axis to wobble or flip, and all the rain currently being dumped on the UK is somehow redirected to a national irrigation project in Ethiopia.

While we wait for that, we’ve got Darren Aronofsky’s Noah to look forward to. A potentially engaging return to the biblical epic with the director of Pi at the helm. And a film that I’ll welcome… As long as it stops raining here first!

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