Essay

Fantasy’s Most Wanted: Drug Use in the Sci-Fi Fantasy Universe

Made-up substances that spark worlds of action and adventure

Generally speaking, you don’t want a drug addict for a friend. But one look at the sci-fi and fantasy shelves will show you plenty of heroes who are just that. Take a look at these made-up substances that spark worlds of action and adventure. 

The Drug Addicts

It’s never easy being a drug addict, but it’s especially hard to be Jake Cardigan in the TekWar series by William Shatner. Jake, a former cop busted for his use of the drug called Tek (a computerized brain chip that lets you live out your wildest fantasies), is sentenced to 15 years of suspended animation. But Jake turns his life around and becomes involved in an action-packed, complex fight against Tek.

Bob Arctor of Philip K. Dicks’s A Scanner Darkly is not so lucky. Bob is an undercover agent working to stop the dealing of Substance D, but he slowly becomes increasingly addicted to the drug himself.

 Shady Business

Of course, these struggling addicts didn’t get those drugs by themselves, so what about the drug-dealing underworld? Perhaps the most famous drug network in science fiction history comes from Dune by Frank Herbert. In this book, the drug Melange is the source of all intergalactic commerce. This highly addictive drug causes people who take it to live longer and, sometimes, even foretell the future.

In Paul Di Filippo’s Cosmocopia, the artist Frank Lazorg is sold a scarab-beetle wonder drug.  At first, this drug revives Lazorg’s art career, but eventually it takes him out of this world—quite literally, in fact.

 Worldly Problems

Now, what if addicts and cartels weren’t the whole story? What if the entire world was using drugs? In Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, for instance, everyone pops the government-sponsored happy-pill called soma.

The Giver by Lois Lowry takes this one step further by creating a world where drugs no longer just distort reality, but replace it all together. A whole society is founded on taking pills every day to suppress biological urges.

One thing that is clear both in fantasy and in real life is that it’s certainly best to stay away from drugs—but if you’re merely a reading junkie, feel free to get your book fix with these great sci-fi fantasy stories!

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