If Speculative Fiction Genres Were Psychoactive Drugs

Every genre of speculative fiction has its own signature atmosphere: often a combination of fantastic, awesome, terrifying and bizarre. So do psychoactive drugs – and the two match up. This article looks at which drugs give a vibe that best matches the vibe from a genre of speculative fiction.

High fantasy fiction matches up to cannabis. Lord of the Rings contains a couple of sly allusions to cannabis use, most notably when Saruman admonishes Gandalf for his “love of the halfling’s weed” while explaining how Gandalf missed a clue that he should have noticed. The scene in the film Fellowship of the Ring where Gandalf and Frodo sit above the drunken revellers and smoke some magical substance from a pipe is one familiar to most stoners.

Some of the experiences that Elric has in the Stormbringer series of novels by Michael Moorcock were also very likely to have been cannabis-inspired. There’s something about Elric’s experience of having an extremely powerful ally that couldn’t really be trusted that speaks to the paranoia that sometimes comes with the cannabis experience.

The sword and sorcery style of low fantasy matches up with psilocybin mushrooms. It’s unlikely that Robert E Howard took any magic mushrooms before writing any of the Conan the Cimmerian stories, but the protagonist’s many adventures in dark, subterranean caves and inside fantastic towers and castles are reminiscent of the depth and range of sometimes terrifying personal insight that often comes with mushrooms.

The Forgotten Realms universe of Dungeons and Dragons adventures, with their massive, dark forests full of elves and goblins also relates closely to the vibe of the psilocybin mushrooms experience. The reason why magic mushrooms enthusiasts are encouraged to try taking five grams in silent darkness is because it leads to exploration of a fantastical inner world, and going down into the subterranean to arise wealthier at some later point is a regular theme.

Most of what sells as science fiction could have been inspired by LSD. Stories like The Demolished Man, with a very strong psychological content, harken to the disintegrative effect that psychedelics can have on the personality. The main character of The Demolished Man, somehow between protagonist and antagonist, ends up having his personality completely demolished (and then rebuilt) as punishment for his crimes, reminiscent of how the psychedelic experience can destroy a person and then build them back as something stronger than before.

This sense of twisted psychology comes through also in the writings of Philip K Dick, who had himself tried LSD. Psychedelics might have inspired the plot of Ubik, in which the character Glen Runciter experiences a believable but bizarre reality while his physical body is “on ice” in a cryogenic chamber. Wondering if you’re really dead or alive is the kind of thing that LSD can make happen to you.

The almost schizophrenic belief in a hidden real world outside of this merely simulated one is a mainstay of cyberpunk literature, and is similar to the impressions one gets on DMT or salvia divinorum. For thousands of years, human shamans have been having experiences of dying to the physical world and being reborn to the real one, like Neo did in The Matrix. In that regard, The Matrix is really a retelling of the ancient mystery school teaching of death and resurrection, reclothed in 21st-century technology.

A description of what might be the spirit of the DMT experience is given in the ANZAC cyberpunk novel The Verity Key. In the chapter Mindknife, the protagonist Jonty Gillespie has his perception altered by ingestion of a drug called Cinque Nuevo, which briefly blasts his consciousness out of his physical body and into an entirely external dimension that is occupied by beings that take the form of balls of light, while mechanical constructs that might be metaphors churn around him.

The datura experience is pretty similar to what befell many of the unfortunate researchers in the Cthulhu mythos of H. P. Lovecraft. A disquieting sense of things not being quite as they should be grows into an intense paranoia that leaps at every shadow and from there to total psychological collapse at the raw horror of reality itself. Alien beings that seem to have come to Earth just to torment you is the kind of thing you’re dealing with in either case.

Datura is also the kind of drug that fits the background of weird horror stories such as those in His Master’s Wretched Organ. Talking to grotesquely deformed entities like Mr. Creamfeather and eating tobacco cakes are the sort of horror that, once experienced, leaves a person never quite the same again. The concept of ordeal rituals that leave you wiser for having suffered come to mind here.

Others are arguable. The steampunk of The Rocketeer might suit opium, the boo-yah aggression of Starship Troopers might suit mescaline, and the gritty military noir of the Altered Carbon series might be the old classics of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.

It might be hard to read any speculative fiction on most of these drugs, because a person on them is more likely to be occupied with the inner theatre of the thoughts in their head than a book in the external world. However, it might be possible to have a richer experience of reading speculative fiction after having tried some of them, because they could open your awareness to realms of thought previously unimagined.

Are Establishment Forces About to Collapse Into One Party?

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In the world of the cyberpunk novel The Verity Key, politics has sunk to such a degenerate level that no-one has any confidence in politicians, no matter who they are or what they promise. In response to this, there is no longer any room for shame in politics. The left and the right have collapsed into the Establishment Party, which doesn’t even pretend to stand for anything other than the naked self-interest of the powerful.

Francis Fukuyama wrote about a ‘Great Pendulum’ that swung back and forth throughout history every half century or so and whose oscillations heralded new ages and epochs. A Taoist might understand this as the dynamic between masculine and feminine, in which the excesses of one kind of energy lead naturally to the rise of the other.

The Great Pendulum may have swung the furthest to the right in the 1940s and 1950s, which were characterised by nationalist wars and widespread acceptance of eugenics and the physical elimination of those considered unworthy of life. The revolution against this way of thinking occurred in 1968, and was marked by student protests, LSD and Woodstock, culminating in the ‘Summer of Love’.

If the pendulum has swung left since then, and if this swinging left has been characterised by gay marriage, liberal immigration laws for people from impoverished countries, and the obesity epidemic, then perhaps it has been half a century since 1968 and the pendulum is about to swing back. The mass sexual assaults and terrorism so far in Europe this year might see 2016 remembered as the ‘Summer of Hate’.

If it does, we may see a revaluation of values that indicates the pendulum will swing to the masculine side once again, as it last did in the Victorian Age that marked the height of the British Empire, one of the most audacious attempts to impose order upon chaos ever devised.

Donald Trump may be a harbinger of this revolution. Then again, the real opposition for Trump may come from within his own party, in the form of the Establishment favourite Ted Cruz. Certainly Donald Trump destroyed his opponents in the Republican primaries by appearing as more of an alpha male, which might suggest a shift away from the consensus politics of the last 50 or so years.

Bernie Sanders might not represent a swing to the right, but his rise in influence could nonetheless reflect a switch to a more rational way of trying to improve the lives of the citizenry, as opposed to the trend-based, emotion-driven, suffocating maternalism represented by Hillary Clinton.

Seen in this way, Clinton and Cruz have more in common with each other than either does with their opponent in their party primary. This might turn out to be the embryo of what will one day become the Establishment Party.

In Europe, a different process might lead to a similar result. Already in some European countries, France and Sweden the foremost, there is an open conspiracy to deny all media time to the growing far-right parties. This conspiracy might turn out to be the last stand of the regressive left as the momentum of the great pendulum proves unstoppable.

If the far-right parties continue to grow, all other parties might come together in some countries to resist them. These new parties will be grand coalitions of conservatives, social democrats and perhaps even Greens, and will be Establishment Parties in all but name.