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Drug Themes in Science Fiction, by Robert Silverberg (1974) [pdf] (erowid.org)
52 points by benbreen 17 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 17 comments

> That is, in a period of social upheaval such as we have experienced since the death of John F. Kennedy and the escalation of the Vietnamese war, conventional modes of behavior lose their appeal, and fascination with the bizarre, the alien, the unfamiliar , the strange, with all sorts of stimulation that provide escape from the realities of the moment, increases at a great rate.

Written in 1974, this comment still seems true today, although the means of escape is probably now social media, rather than the drugs being discussed by Silverberg

I disagree actually, there is strong resurgence of psychedelic movement(hence decriminalization of shrooms, etc in various parts of the country)

The Nexus Trilogy explores a 'drug' that lets users communicate with each other telepathically, creating a large network. Was a fun read.


The three books: Nexus, Crux, and Apex by Ramez Naam

I remember _Drug of Choice_ from 1969:


Of course not as many had ever heard of Michael Crichton at the time.

And this was way before the supposed Fyre _festival_.

Eventually when they opened the initial far-from-complete version of Disney World, isolated in the middle of nowhere like a hidden Emerald City far from Orlando, when you went there, after you left it felt to some extent like it could have all been a mirage or an expereience influenced by some kind of gas they had in the air or something.

Especially if you had been aware of what it was like when the area was 100 percent swamp, and back then it was still over 99 percent so outside appearances were no different yet.

The Bahamas is isolated too and it's a famous resort even though it's always been 99 percent desert islands the whole time itself.

From [1]: "Many musicians have made songs referencing their heroin usage." That article provides references and examples.

What do Apocalypse Now and A Scanner Darkly have in common? Drug abuse (I use the term abuse because the usage turns out harmful in both works). Philip K. Dick (writer of A Scanner Darkly, and other science fiction) is known to have used e.g. amphetamine.

I would assume its because the authors are or have been recreational users as well. Heroin was used as medicine long before it was made illegal. Musicians used it, and wrote about the usage. A lot of the references are hidden, for example Alice D. in Wonderland or Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. When I told my parents about that (they were teens/young adults in the 60/70s) they were flabbergasted. Its kind of like a wink or nudge, given drug usage or abuse being socially not accepted.

Edit: Another thing to add: Religions and traditions are full with drugs references as well. Find the mushrooms in old paintings of say Jesus Christ.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroin#History

Are you sure your parents weren’t just pretending to be flabbergasted? I was a kid in the seventies and it was pretty common knowledge that Lucy was a drug joke despite Lennon’s insistence that it was just based on a drawing his kid did.

About the average or random parent, no. Mine? Yes, 100% sure. My parents aren't native English speakers though. Plus, they never experimented much with that type of drugs (it was tobacco, alcohol, and a few joints during teenage years). I've been a tad more naughty, and that was a period in my life. It was after that period that I brought it up to my parents.

Found yet another reference (also brought up in the PDF), in Brave New World:

"Huxley took the name for the drug used by the state to control the population after the Vedic ritual drink Soma, inspired by his interest in Indian mysticism." [1]

Folklore has an abundance of drug references.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soma_(drink)

I wonder why the industry does not single out musicians who aid their work with drugs akin to using illegal supplements by athletes. It seems like by use of substances those musicians get competitive advantage over musicians who abstain from drugs and want to be on the right side of law. But somehow still the drug use among artists is viewed as "cool". This fascinates me that for one group such behaviour seems acceptable, but for another it's a big no-no.

My guess would be: because the audience - the general public - doesn't care about the in-industry competition for the top spots in music popularity charts[0]. People enjoy songs in isolation - a piece may be "good", or "bad", but isn't "unfair". In most spectator sports, however, ranking of the performers is everything, and perceived fairness is paramount - so the industry does its best to equalize every possible factor except the intrinsic qualities of people and teams.


[0] - Hell, at least for pop music, IIRC those charts are mostly manufactured anyway and have little to do with any subjective or objective qualities of the songs in question.

But wouldn't the public also enjoy seeing the athletes breaking the records beyond what is possible without any supplements? I must admit that I like music that has been done under influence as it feels more stimulating. But I wonder if there are other areas then, where such culture is acceptable? It seems like it is widely accepted that bankers or stockbrokers also give themselves a boost (you never read about stop and search around the financial districts)

> But wouldn't the public also enjoy seeing the athletes breaking the records beyond what is possible without any supplements?

Absolutely yes, I've had several discussions with people about this exact concept. The conclusion of those discussions is mostly something like "because theres probably a legal liability maze to do it without getting sued and given that, nobody has done it yet"

The competition would go from just being the sport to being also who's body can handle the most before serious health complications. There would be lots of heart attacks and other medical emergencies resulting which would all point a finger to whoever created such a situation.

> But wouldn't the public also enjoy seeing the athletes breaking the records beyond what is possible without any supplements?

The answer seems to be an obvious no? Besides, if you simply want competitors to go faster you could just give them bicycles. Or cars.

Going faster where the vehicle is a human body. Imagine athletes being sponsored by various pharmaceutical companies. When I read it, it actually sounds very creepy, but I'd watch a horror movie based on such scenario.

Sport is a much more objective measure than art.

The drugs that are illegal for sports are all about pushing the body further, lifting that extra 20 pounds or shaving off that half-second. Art is very subjective though, so it cannot be pinned down in the same way. And there is no clear line on how “drugs” affect art, because “drugs” is a broad category that conflates a lot of different things under a single umbrella.

Would Morrissey’s music have resonated with so many if he was on anti-depressants? Or maybe he is/was, and that’s what gave him enough drive to make the music he did/does. How did Lou Reed or Kurt Cobain’s harder drug use affect their music? Did the effects come from the drug or from their lived experience while taking it? Would you consider someone who uses caffeine to have a competitive advantage? What about cocaine or amphetamines instead?

It’s not as simple as pointing to steroids or amphetamines in sports (and I’m not claiming that’s trivial to do), and it is not competitive in the same way. There is an element of training to making art, but someone with all the technical training in the world can still fail to make things that captivate people, with or without drugs.

Art is made from experience. Some kinds of drugs are very good at giving some kinds of experiences. I cannot say for sure, but I suspect that someone with talent and deeply-affecting life experiences can easily match someone else with talent who has had deeply-affecting drug experiences. The commonality is in the talent and the depth of experience, not the method.

I believe you hit the nail on the spot :-) I especially like your point on anti depressants. We can also take alcohol (in whatever amount) into the equation. I know, its called "alcohol and drugs", but alcohol is simply a [regulated] drug. It doesn't fit the narrative of 'drugs are bad, mkay' though, but I believe that narrative is even on mainstream on the way out.

> How did Lou Reed or Kurt Cobain’s harder drug use affect their music?

As a kid I read the book "Come As You Are" about Kurt Cobain (who was kind of a music idol to me, long before I could understand English well enough to understand the texts). He had severe back troubles, supposedly stemming from his choice of going left-handed guitar player. He was both left and right-handed, supposedly (elsewhere, from what I understood, people who are both are actually left-handed but partly adapted to right-handed world).

As with Philip K. Dick, I can totally imagine a writer on amphetamines. I'm a former Ritalin (Methylphenidate) user (legal with subscription). Whenever that worked, I could finally focus. Uppers help you focus for a while.

It seems strange to me that in 2020 no major research center has been established to actively try and invent Huxley's Soma! As if medicinal uses are all well and good, but hedonics, mystical practices and pure escapism are not deemed necessities for human existence ;)

I recommend reading Wireheading Done Right


There are some excellent interviews with Andrés Gómez Emilsson about this topic. Here's a great start:


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