LIT UP Soma, Spice and Substance D: A History of Drugs in Science Fiction (1 Viewer)

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Lorna Wilson

Roaming Contributor
Retired Global Moderator
Aug 4, 2016
An interesting article..

As long as we’ve been telling stories, we’ve been telling stories about drugs. At 4,000 years old, the Epic of Gilgamesh is generally considered the oldest known work of literature. And ultimately, it’s about drugs: the end of the tale fixates on a desperate, insecure king’s quest for a substance that can make him feel young again.

“There is a plant that looks like a box-thorn... if you can possess this plant, you'll be again as you were in your youth,” Gilgamesh explains to his undead boatman buddy Ur-shanabi, in what may be the earliest-documented fictional effort to score drugs. “This plant, Ur-shanabi, is the ‘Plant of Heartbeat,’ with it a man can regain his vigour.”

Gilgamesh then announces that he intends to test the stash out on an unsuspecting old shepherd, making him perhaps the only fictional hero to threaten to roofie the elderly with immortality, but that’s beside the point. The point is that the drug works both as narrative fuel and as a potent symbol (in the case of old Gilgamesh, it's his fear of death and the lengths he’ll go to confound it).

Ever since, humans have been taking drugs in fiction, usually as a vessel for exploring ideas about science, social order, or human nature. Our drug fiction has proven remarkably capable of both reflecting and dissecting the anxieties about the present in which it is written—we can learn a lot about the fears and aspirations of a given period by its characters' bad trips—and even of predicting the future.

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