Sci-Fi Drugs

The other night, I had one of those moments. It was a moment where I found myself thinking about a cool concept and realized that it would make a damn fine post. It’s also one that interests me quite a bit and has even influenced my own writing. So as quickly as I could, I hopped on my laptop (even though it was 2am) and began making a list of all the sci-fi drugs I knew!

To me, the reasons for including drugs as part of a sci-fi franchise are obvious. For one, drugs and drug cultures are very much a part of our society, so it’s only natural that a sci-fi author should have something to say about it. As Gibson said, all sci-fi is really about the time in which it is written, ergo fictionalized drugs in future settings are really a reflection on the attitudes of today.

On the other hand, creating fictitious drugs and inventing subcultures that use them are a good way to give a story some realistic background. Wherever and whenever a story takes place, you have to assume that they will have narcotic substances there, and what form they take and how they go about dealing with them tells you much about that culture.

Either way, it’s a subject that has fascinated me for quite some time. So here are some highlights from the wold of sci-fi drugs!

Can-D:
Here we have a designer drug that was created by none other than sci-fi great Philip K. Dick. As fans may know, this guy was somewhat of an expert on drugs, having taken part in the Californian drug counter-culture during the 60s and 70s. As a result, he had a lot to say about drug use, their impact, and drug policy.

In this particular case, the drug comes to us from the story of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Taking place in the 21st century, where global warming has sent millions of people off Earth to the hostile environments of the Solar System, people have turned to a combination of the drug Can-D and what are known as “layouts.”

Layouts are physical props intended to simulate a sort of alternate reality where life is easier than either the grim existence of the off-world colonies or life on Earth. By taking the drug in conjunction with the layouts, people are able to experience a sort of shared hallucinogenic state. This in turn has given rise to pseudo-religious cults that have grown up around the use of layouts and the drug, consisting of people who dream of better worlds than the one they are forced to endure.

Dancer:
To complete the semi-dystopian setting of his Bridge Trilogy, Gibson was sure to add a designer drug that was all the rage amongst Californians in the near future. The drug was named Dancer, a powerful and addictive hallucinogen that apparently came in the form of a red dust. People would take it orally, rub it on their gums, smoke it or snort it.

In short, Dancer was like a red cocaine, except that it caused hallucinations rather than manic behavior. People who consumed it would typically become euphoric and mellow, causing them to get all rhythmic and break into dance (hence the name). However, it was was also known to make people violent from time to time, which made it more akin to the the effects of PCP.

Inspired by California’s drug culture and the emergence of designer drugs in the early 90s, Dancer was clearly meant to serve as an allegory for multiple drugs, or as a prediction of what the next big craze could be.

Dust:
Fans of Babylon 5 ought to remember this one. Basically, the drug was a hot item on the black market because it had the ability to give users temporary telepathic powers. It was violently addictive, and known for giving a very powerful and unique high. However, in the course of trying to stop the Dust trade to B5, Psi Cop Bester acknowledged that the drug was originally created by the Psi Corps as a way of creating telepaths.

When they realized it didn’t work, the drug was abandoned, but made its way to the black market because of its obvious appeal. As a longtime fan of B5, I can honestly say it was elements like this that made me like the show. Not only was the concept and the name cool, the fact that it began as a government-sanctioned drug was also believable and clearly inspired by the history of many real-world drugs.

Neuroin:
Inspired by Philip K Dick’s short story, Minority Report was a quasi-dystopian future where the use of precognitives promised to eliminate all violent crime from society. But of course, there’s a dark side to all this, and it just happens to be linked to the underworld drug known as Neuroin, a powerful and addictive psychoactive substance.

Though it is never explained in any real detail, the name suggests that it is of the opiate family and possibly combined with a neural stimulant. In addition to being the drug of choice of the protagonist, it is also the very thing that created the precognitives in the first place. All three psychics were once children who suffered brain damage in utero as a result of their mothers’ neuroin use. Though damaged neurologically, a side effect was the development of precognitive powers, which the state began to use in order to engineer the process known as “PreCrime.”

Based on the film adaptation, the principal means of taking neuroin appears to be through a specialized inhaler. This would allude to the fact that neuroin was taken in vaporized form. In the end, this drug served as both a commentary on the dangers of escapism as well as a plot device. While neuroin was the reason for the precognitives existence, it was also how the main character chose to numb himself over the loss of his son.

Nuke:
The designer drug from Robocop 2, and one man’s attempt at achieving his dream of becoming a Jesus-like figure! Designed by Cain, Nuke was an extremely pleasurable and addictive substance that began making the rounds in Old Detroit by the second movie. Coupled with a Police strike and financial ruin, Nuke seemed to be the thing that would finally break Detroit and allow the greedy bastards at OCP to finally take over.

There are several kinds of Nuke, but by far the most popular variety comes in the form of the red sludge. This is known as Red Ramrod, and was followed shortly thereafter by White Noise, Blue Velvet, and Black Thunder. The color scheme alluded to Cain’s “patriotic” sentiments, as he was known to say that his drug was making “Made in America” mean something again.

Nuke comes only in liquid form and is taken by means of small needles that inject the drug directly into the bloodstream. Because of its highly pleasurable nature and chemical properties, only a few doses are needed before a person becomes hooked and will experience intense withdrawal if they don’t get a regular dose. A commentary on the emergence of designer drugs, it was also served as a means for making some tough observations on drug use and its effect on society.

Snow Crash:
This drug is, admittedly a little off the beaten path. Featured in the Neal Stephenson novel of the same name, Snow Crash was essentially an allegory for a system crash, but in neurological form. Taking the form of both an inhalant and a digital virus, the “drug” had the effect of rendering users docile, passive and babbling an idioglossia similar to speaking in tongues.

But of course, there was more to it than all that. Basically, Snow Crash was designed by an information tycoon named L. Bob Rife who wanted control over people’s minds and daily habits. Using a Sumerian tablet, he basically encoded the ancient “Enki virus” – a virus that altered humanity’s neurology and spawned modern languages. So really, he was looking to reverse the Babel myth, making humanity neurologically simpler and thus programmable.

In addition to being a commentary on the drug culture, Snow Crash was also an observation about the proliferation of computer viruses in the early 90s and an allegory on the similarities between ancient myth and modern technology. It was also pretty cool and weird!

Soma:
When it comes to designer drugs, Soma pretty much takes the cake. Derived from Aldous Huxley’s classic tale of dystopia and social engineering, Brave New World, Soma was the kind of drug that came with the label “good for what ails ya” and meant it literally. Designed to cure any and all emotional problems, the pill was mass produced and a key feature of the World State’s apparatus of social control.

Use of Soma is prescribed at a very young age to citizens of the World State, as soon as children are old enough to begin sleep conditioning. Slogans such as “a gram is better than a damn” are programmed into their minds so that they respond to emotional stress by simply popping a pill. This is often referred to as “taking a vacation”.

To illustrate the effects of the drug, Huxley relied on his own experience using mescalin and other drugs. Apparently, subjects using Soma would enter a dream-like state where everything became pleasant and agreeable, all their worries and unpleasant emotions melting away. This dream-like state could be discerned by observing a person’s eyes, which would become noticeably glazed.

In addition, though the state freely distributed the drug and there were no shortages, Soma was still designed to be non-addictive and with no harmful side effects. This, added to its effectiveness, made it the ultimate designer drug and a very effective means of social control. A commentary on the pharmaceutical industry of his day and on the drug culture of the 1920s and 30s, Soma remains the most popular example of a fictional sci-fi drug!

Spice:
Then again, the spice melange is pretty damn popular too. However, as the only drug on this list that is not designed or synthesized, and is by definition an “awareness narcotic,” Spice is really in a category of its own. Taken from the Dune series, Spice was the most precious resource in the universe in more ways than one.

For starters, Spice could only be found on one planet, the desert world known as Arrakis. Mining Spice was also a highly hazardous duty, due to the inhospitable climate of Arrakis and the presence of Sandworms. And given its many benefits, which included prolonged life and expanded awareness, it’s little wonder why it was so damned expensive!

A clear allegory for oil, all life and commerce in the Imperium of Dune revolved around Spice in one way or another. The Guild Navigators used it to achieve their limited prescience and guide ships through foldspace. The Bene Gesserit used it to enhance their mental and physical acuity and make contact with their “Other Memory”. And every house used it to improve their health and longevity. In short, without Spice, all trade and commerce in the universe would end and countless people would die.

And of course, there never would have been a Paul Mua’dib or a Leto II, and humanity would have died as a result! That’s quite a drug them people got there!

Substance D:
Once again, we have a fictitious drug that comes to us straight from the mind of Philip K Dick. Featured in his 1977 book A Scanner Darkly about the drug subculture of California, Substance D was a powerful psychoactive drug that also went by the name “Slow Death.” The name proved apt, as the drug was not only violently addictive, but resulted in brain damage due to overuse.

According to the story, Substance-D was synthesized from the fictitious blue flower Mors ontologica, which is Latin for “death of being”. In the course of the story, the protagonist – an undercover narcotics agent – becomes addicted to the drug, suffers brain damage and is sent to one of the new recovery centers (“New Path”) to get clean.

In time, he is given the task of working on one of their many farms and learns that these places serve as grow ops for the flower. Hence, we see that “New Path” is the source of Substance-D, and is therefore benefiting from both the drug and the harmful effect it has on society. A commentary on strong-arm governments and the pharmaceutical industry perhaps?

Final Thoughts:
When it comes to fictionalized narcotics, a few basic features become evident. For one, fictional drugs can take one of two forms, being either of the organic or synthetic (i.e. designer) variety. Second, their use as part of a story’s background is meant to call attention to our current drug wars, warts and all. But above all, they seem to serve as a form of social commentary by pointing to the ongoing nature of temptation, escapism and repression. On the one hand, human beings will always be looking for escapes and ways to ease the burden of existence. On the other, we are always likely to feel the need to control the flow of narcotic substances and legislate what people can and can’t put in their bodies.

Finally, I found that just about all the authors here were taking a descriptive, rather than prescriptive, approach. Essentially, they were content to sit back and make observations on the whole issue of drug use and moral legislation, rather than making pronouncements. This would seem the preferable option considering that you can’t really offer a clear resolution without sounding either enabling or preachy. Some say that drug use destroys society, other say that people have the right to put whatever they want in their bodes. And then there are those who say that human weakness is a constant, and that criminalizing such a thing turns a flaw into a war. Complicated!

On a brighter note, all this talk puts me in mind of my own fictional creations. Years back, when I was coming up with the concept for my Legacies story, I spent a fair bit of time pondering what kind of drugs people would be using in the relatively distant future. I think I might just dedicate a page or a post to just that topic. In truth, I’d like to know what people think about my inventions. Look for it, it shall be coming soon!

Cool Guns (vol.3)

ARASKANA HLR-12x:
Finally, I’ve found it! After much searching and digging, I finally found my way to the lasergun from the Akira movie. And I got to say, between anime, live action, and the gaming world, this weapon is about the most realistic take on a lasergun I’ve yet to see. Used initially by military forces in Neo-Tokyo to stop Tetsuo (unsuccessfully, I might add), the protagonist Kaneda would later use one as his personal weapon.

Powered by a portable battery pack, this weapon would fire a lancing beam of focused energy at its targets. In addition to being able to cut through metal and concrete, it was also capable of hewing off limbs. And it did too! Seriously, that scene where the army opens fire on the mob, ick and whoa in equal parts!

EM-1 Railgun:
Even thought I didn’t think the movie was that hot, these guns did inspired to learn more about coilguns, gauss rifles and EM technology. Known as the EM-1, this weapon was a prototype railgun that was featured in the movie Eraser. Basically, it was this advanced technology that set up the plot, and provided Arny with an excuse to do some Terminator-style double firing!

Running on the concept of a coilgun, the EM-1 would use a super-charged magnetic tube to accelerate a caseless slug to hypersonic velocities. This gave it incredible punch as well as range, and could eviscerate man, machine and solid matter with ease. An x-ray scope was also attached to let the gunner see through solid objects, which was handy considering that this weapon was designed to punch through obstacles and kill whatever was on the other side.

Guitar Case Rocket Launcher:
Here’s a movie I never expect to take anything from. Desperado, the Mexican western-style shoot-em-up directed by Robert Rodriquez, featured a lot of cool guns. But in the end, I’d have to say the coolest were the ones sported by his band members, which came embedded in their guitar cases. Where one man relied on cases that had built-in automatic weapons, the other fired rockets out the front!

I’ve looked it up and can’t find any info on how they rigged this case to do this. Probably just a launch tube and some fire crackers. But it was still pretty cool, and not entirely ludicrous either. Assuming you don’t mind ruining a few guitar cases, this weapon would probably make a great conversation piece and its owner a hit at parties!

Joshua:
Ah, my favorite of the bunch! Known as Joshua, this BFG is named in honor of the Hebrew warrior who led the Israelites to victory over the Caananites, in brutal, genocidal fashion! It’s essentially a massive long slide, chambered for the mighty .454 Casull round which is used primarily for hunting wild game. BIG wild game!

In Alucard’s case, the gun was also fitted with silver-tipped bullets for hunting vampires and demons. So in addition to packing a massive punch, it could also turn the undead into ash with a single blast. And of course, Alucard’s super-human strength gave him the ability to endure the weapon’s massive kickback!
Jackal:
What do you know, it’s two for one day! Here we have Alucard’s second gun of choice, known as the Jackal. Officially, it’s known as the ARMS 13mm (.51 cal.) Anti-freak pistol, and in many ways represented a step-up from the earlier Joshua. Also produced by Walter, the Hellsing organization’s own gunsmith, this weapon was made in response to Alucard’s request for something “bigger”.

And that’s precisely what he got! In addition to having less kickback than its predecessor and firing spent casing to the left (so as not to obscure Alucard’s view of the target), this gun also fired 13mm (.51 cal) bullets and came in a sleek, black gunmetal design. In addition, it also had the words “Jesus Christ is in heaven” scrawled on the side, no doubt a comical reference to the man Alucard intended to use it on!

Leonhearts Gunblade:
Is it a gun, it is a blade? Well… yes. The property of Squall Leonheart, from Final Fantasy VIII, this weapon is basically a stainless steel broadsword with an inset .44 magnum revolver. Firing this gun off in the midst of a sword fight not only has the potential to punch a big hole in the enemy, it also produces a wild vibration in the blade that makes it cut even better.

Much like Cloud’s Blade from FF VII, it is heavily oversize, though not as much. Though even the designer claimed that it had an “odd appearance” in hindsight, and the configuration makes it look a little unwieldy, you can’t deny that its pretty damn cool!

Prosthetic Leg Gun:
Now here’s a novel take on both movie guns and prosthetics! Taken from the movie Planet Terror, is essentially a Bushmaster Carbine with the addition of an M203A1 grenade launcher.

This gun made its appearance when the character Wray gives Cherry Darling (played by Rose McGowan) the assault rifle grenade launcher combination as a replacement for her prosthetic leg. She put it to good use, alternately kicking and blowing bad guys away with it!

Pauza P50:

The Robocop franchise was nothing if not good at popularizing cool guns! And this one was no exception. Known as the P50, this .50 cal semi-automatic sniper rifle was featured repeatedly throughout the film. Intended as a shout out to the “Cobra Assault Rifle” from the first movie, this weapon had the same things going for it, namely explosive, punchy firepower!

It’s first appearance was during the robbery of the gun store at the beginning. It later appeared in the hands of some of Cain’s thugs who used it to blow Robocop’s hand off during his initial confrontation with the crime boss. It was then used by those same thugs later on Robocain himself. Robocop then confiscated it and used it against Robocain during their final confrontation. With one clean hit, he managed to destroy Cain’s autocannon’s with this baby. Always great when accuracy and firepower come together!

The Samaritan:
Named in honor of the fact that it puts monsters out of their misery, Hellboy named this one “The Samaritan”. Although the caliber is not listed, the bullets appear to be at least one inch (25mm or 1.00 cal) in diameter, glass tipped, and filled with holy water.

In addition, the construction of the gun is heavily consistent with the name. The metal is forged from a combination of Irish church bells, cold iron from crucifixes, blessed silver, and other mystic metals. The handle wood of the grips is believed to be that of the cross of which Jesus Christ was crucified on. Holy religiosity Batman!

It weighs ten pounds, making it double effective as an impact hammer. And of course, the size of the gun also gives it a kickback which would be capable of breaking a regular man’s hand off. Hence, nobody but Hellboy even takes it out for an evening of monster killing!

Wow, a third installment! Did NOT see that one coming. And I’m really trying to get off this guns and robots kick, I swear! I’ll be back tomorrow with something else… maybe!

More Giant Robots

Welcome back. I had a lot of fun with the last installment, so here’s another! Updated, expanded, and with plenty of additions. Ah, screw it! Let’s get to it.

Immortal:
Back to the Starcraft universe for a sequel. Much like its predecessor, the Immortal was a vehicle for severely wounded Templars who still wanted to serve. Developed shortly after the Brood War, the Immortals replaced the aging Dragoon design and improved on it in many ways.

In terms of armaments, the Immortals boast two phased disruptor cannons which pretty much doubles their firepower. Their chassis are heavily armored and of course boast shields that can even withstand attacks from heavy artillery.

The Immortal’s one weakness is that their shields are only activated when they are hit by heavy munitions. In addition, their weapons are best for ranged attacks. This makes them somewhat vulnerable to close encounters with small arms fire and auto-cannons.

Mad Dog:
Another classic mech from the Battltech universe. Much like the Mad Cat from the last installment, the Mad Dog is another omnimech. It’s configuration, which appeared to Inner Sphere forces as a bird of prey, earned it the nickname “Vulture”.

Heavily armored with a n8 and a half ton ferro-fibrous shell, the Mad Dog is still fast and maneuverable, able to run at over 85 km/h. In its standard configuration, it carries two large pulse lasers in the arms, two medium ones (typically mounted underneath) and two shoulder mounted missile launchers.

Quick, powerful and versatile, the Mad Dog is well represented in the armies of every Outer Sphere Clan. In fact, the Mad Dog and Mad Cat are so close in design that they are often fashioned for the same mold. They often serve alongside each other for mutual support in the field of battle.

Madox-01:
When it comes to big, mechanized war machines, much like many cool inventions, the Japanese seem to have the market cornered. But what do you expect, they got their first and pioneered the whole concept. And this example is one of the many originals shows to popularize it.

Taken from Metal Skin Panic, the Madox-o1 was a prototype mech design built by the Japanese Self Defense Forces for use against tanks. Armed with a large caliber minigun, a chainsaw, a grappling claw, and can also carry an assortment of missiles. It is deployed by helicopters to a field of battle, but is also capable of running speedily to wherever it needs to go.

In the story, it becomes the property of a mechanic who climbs into the mech and “merges”, meaning that the machine comes to recognize him as its controller and won’t let him leave. As a result, Koji – the mechanic – is stuck with the machine and forced to defend himself when the authorities come looking for it. But in time, it is agreed that the best thing for all sides is if Koji works for the government and uses the machine for good. Everybody’s happy!

Metal Gear Ray:
Since these guys are so damn good at producing mech designs, I just had to return to the Metal Gear franchise! Picking up after the first game, this next example comes from its sequel: Sons of Liberty.

After the events in the first game, the world was apparently flooded with designs for the Metal Gear Rex. As a result, Ray began as a proposed countermeasure design, an amphibious design produced by the US Marine Corps. Because of this, Ray was the first Metal Gear that was both amphibious and not specifically designed for nuclear warfare.

Originally intended to be operated by a single pilot, the final Ray design was completely unmanned. Its primary armaments consisted of two machine guns, anti-tank and anti-ship missile banks, cluster bombs and a water jet cutter. Its smaller frame and lighter weight also meant it a lot speedier and more agile than its behemoth cousin, Rex.

MSZ-007 Gundam:
Speaking of anime and Japanese robots, the next examples comes from a similarly old-school show, Gundam! Known as the Mass Production type Z Gundam, this “Mobile Suit” is one of the more popular mechs from the series. And for good reason!

In addition to being able to fly on its own without having to transform into a fighter configuration, this mech also carries a beam rifle and can get into hand to hand combat with its pair of beam sabres. Just because you’re a futuristic robot suit doesn’t mean you can’t go samurai on your enemies asses!

In addition to being able to run at high speeds, its thruster packs provide a whopping 1.53 G (73900 kg) of thrust. This makes it capable of operating in air, space and on land. Its diverse weapons capabilities also mean it is able to perform ranged and hand to hand attacks. In short, its versatility makes it popular, and pretty damn cool to look at!

Robocop 2:
Also known as “Robocain”, this monster appeared in the sequel to Robocop and was intended as his successor. In the midst of the police strike in the second movie, OCP intended to fully replace the police force with cyborgs. All they needed was a human brain to make the prototype work… again.

Unfortunately, due to some tampering from a rather ambitious OCP exec, the brain came from former drug kingpin and Jesus wannabee Cain. Rather than protecting and serving, he saw this as an opportunity for quasi-godhood. Heavily armed, armored, and clearly nuclear powered by the symbol on the right side of the chest plate.

And who wouldn’t feel like a god with this kind of firepower? Though somewhat cumbersome and easy to trip up, the Robocain suit had all kinds of advantages. A rotary cannon was its main article, mounted on one arm, while a shoulder mounted autocannon added some punch. While its right hand was articulated, its left was little more than a hydraulic fist. Hard to describe, but if you’ve seen the movie, you’d understand.

At the end of the movie, Murphy and Cain get into it, with Murphy being heavily over-matched. In the end, he managed to defeat him by having his partner distract him with a vial of nuke (the designer drug he invented) and then jumped on his back and ripped his brain out of the head assembly. A grissly death, but a fitting one for a criminal madman with a god complex!

Tripod Walker:
I always say there is nothing like a classic, but when it comes to giant robots, this is the cat’s ass of classics! Taken from H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds, the tripod walker was the proposed design of what an alien attack machine would look like. Tall, tripedal, and using heat rays to annihilate everything in their paths, these robots served as an inspiration for countless other franchises and genres of sci-fi.

In the novel, Well’s describes his creation as follows: “Machine it was, with a ringing metallic pace, and long, flexible, glittering tentacles… Behind the main body was a huge mass of white metal like a gigantic fisherman’s basket, and puffs of green smoke squirted out from the joints of the limbs as the monster swept by me. And in an instant it was gone.”

From this basic description, movie makers and conceptual artists have through several renditions. The latest, which were featured in the Stephen Spielberg remake, were updated to look sleaker and more modern; in essence, less Steampunk-y. However, they retained the same basic design, consisting of a central “head”, three legs and a series of beam emitters mounted underneath.

Zentraedi Battlepod:
As artists concept, by VulnePro at deviantArta finale, it’s back to the Robotech universe with the Zentraedi Battlepod. Built by the alien race that are the main antagonists of the show, this battlepod is essentially a mass-produced infantry mech and the mainstay of the Zentraedi forces.

Known as the Regult within their own ranks, this mech is fast, maneuverable, and highly versatile, especially when compared to heavier mechs like the Tomahawk. It lightweight and chassis-mounted thrusters ensure that it can make high jumps and operate in zero gravity.

It’s weaponry is also more sophisticated than the average human design, which includes two quadruple-barreled medium beam cannons, two single barrel light cannons, and two light pulse beam cannons mounted on the back of the head.

However, the Battlepod has a discernible weakness, which is its light armor. Although this makes the pod faster and more maneuverable, especially in space, it is not capable of withstanding direct hits from autocannons, missiles or lasers. In the end, the Battlepod’s greatest quality is it’s quantity. Later generations would be upgraded to include heavier weapons and armor, but for the duration of the First Robotech War, Zentraedi forces were stuck with this one.

Well, that was fun, again! Bring on the suggestions, I still got a few to work through. See you next time!