Science fiction has introduced us to a number of enticing concepts: ansibles, transporters, self-lacing Nikes. As a genre, it is indeed very good at thinking of great new things to try, explore, and implement with almost no QA testing. What the genre sometimes does poorly is consider the consequences of its actions. The holodeck is a wondrous pit of desire for those unable to make it to Risa this season…right up until a computer-programmed criminal mastermind gains sentience. Creating a man wholesale out of scrap metal and a compost heap sounds like a splendid idea…until turns out ugly, you decide you hate him, and you banish him to a life of homicidal rejection.
Let us take a moment to reflect on just some of those moments when big science failed to see the flaws in its glorious inventions, until it was far, far too late.
False Hearts, by Laura Lam
Lam’s just-released adult debut is the newest addition to this ill-omened canon, introducing us to formerly conjoined sisters Taema and Tila, who thought being raised in a mysterious cult was going to be the roughest patch of their lives. Once free from their crazy upbringing and living in San Francisco, the sisters become embroiled in a gruesome murder and an undercover mission to bring down a crime syndicate. Entwined with this plot are two powerful psychological drugs: Zeal and Verve. Entirely legal and rampant, Zeal allows folks to enact their deepest desires (think the “quit your job” or “sex for days” variety), realistically and cathartically, within their dreams. Hawked underground, a tweaked version, Verve, gives far-too-real life to a much more violent dreamscape. Because why would anyone have predicted the possible complications from legalizing Fantasy Island narcotics.
Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton
Crichton’s best-known Sam Neill vehicle is the Grand Poobah of poorly thought-out scientific dabbling. Hopefully, we learned a few lessons from this dinosaur-fueled horror show: 1) If you’re going to begin tinkering with recreating an extinct species, start small with, like, a harmless dodo; 2) Hodgepodge genetic engineering is ill-advised; and 3) Guesstimating with DNA is especially foolhardy when you are dealing with raptors—in the kitchen, Phil.
Parasite, by Mira Grant
It all started out so well. Much like the humans who created zombies by trying to cure cancer and the common cold in her Newsflesh series, the good folks in Mira Grant’s (née Seanan McGuire’s) Parasitology series think they’ve stumbled upon the key to good health: genetically engineered tapeworms. Practically everybody has one of these little heroes cozying up in their digestive tracts, keeping them safe—until the tapeworms go rogue, of course. You see, they don’t just want our guts; they want our lives. It’s a mistake science will only make once, but once is probably enough.
“The Veldt,” by Ray Bradbury
Despite the rocking parties thrown and smoothies consumed in Disney’s Smart House, homes that get to know you are just tragedies waiting to happen. Bradbury’s classic story warns us about both VR technology and absentee parenting. When you rely on a house to raise your kids, you shouldn’t be too surprised when the kids develop more of a bond with the nursery that recreates their every imagined whim than they do with you. What I’m saying to the Hadley family is: you brought this on yourselves.
Afterparty, by Daryl Gregory
To round out the list, let’s return to the theme of narcotics deployed with a remarkable lack of foresight. In this particular rendition of the near future, “smart drugs” are what all the kids are doing. And by doing, I mean creating. Much like meth or Shrinky Dinks, these drugs have been rendered so simple to produce by technological advances that anyone can design their own neuron-altering cocktail. Things do not go off without a hitch, as protagonist Lyda learns after she helps create a drug that engenders a complete, biochemically produced belief in God that proves deadly.
What’s your favorite example of science gone sideways?