The Campaign for Real Fear – Penultimate Four

The four stories discussed below appeared in Black Static #18 as part of the Campaign for Real Fear initiative.

Under the Microscope by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt

This story reminded me of the scene in Erin Brockovich where the corporate lawyers are told that the water they are drinking comes from the site which they claim is not polluted. Hugh Richards, FoodooLabs CEO, is holding a press conference at which he defends his company’s use of nanotechnology in its products, and as he talks he imbibes own brand bottled water. Intercut with this are scenes of people undergoing traumatic experiences that are, presumably, caused by nanotechnology implants. It is rather an obvious piece compared to many of the other Real Fear contenders, and one that wears its heart (not to say its message) on its sleeve, plugging into our fear of technology with imagery to make a seasoned horror fan blanch. Interestingly, given that Richards himself becomes a victim, it would seem the corporate wrong doing is not intentional, merely the result of cutting corners or bad science, some combination of these and, possibly, a dozen other factors. Not so much a technophobic story then, as one that advises caution, a need for greater regulation and a ‘think before you leap’ mindset as we dash headlong into the future.

Cuckoo by Lorraine Slater

Another story that addresses our misgivings about technology. The female protagonist suffers a ‘silent miscarriage’, but her body continues to believe that she is pregnant. She goes online in search of a way to resolve these feelings, and finds a technique that involves ‘womb-shedding’, only as the download progresses the ‘laptop grew hotter and hotter on my thighs’, reminding us of her husband’s fear that using the computer might damage the baby, and at the end, with echoes of the film Demon Seed, it appears that her womb is no longer empty. Again, we see mistrust of technology, the idea that it could in some way gain consciousness and be inimical to human beings, wishing to supplant us, to assume the life we have. The protagonist’s body fear, the feeling she has of being out of control inside her own flesh, coupled with an unbearable sense of loss and loneliness (her husband is a soldier, on active duty in Afghanistan), lead her into folly, admitting something malicious into her life.

Showtime by James Carroll

At the start the story seems to be presenting a perfectly ordinary situation, that of a young man at the cinema purchasing popcorn and a soft drink to feast on during the show, but then it takes a full one eighty degree turn and becomes something else entirely. Deceptively simple, the story touches on how, in our media saturated lives, the line between reality and fiction has become blurred, so that the most terrible atrocities become a form of entertainment, with consumers who cannot differentiate between cinematic disaster and human tragedy, who may even precipitate such life taking events for their own gratification. It’s reality TV cranked up to the max, seeping off the screen and out into the world, and it’s an extreme already presaged in rolling 24 hour news channels that let us watch shock and awe rain down on some foreign field with the same detachment that we view the latest Arnie clone doling out death and destruction to all and sundry.

Infected With Death by John Fagan

This is a straightforward story, but also one of the grimmest thrown up by the Campaign and relentless in its brutality. For young Billy the bus journey to school is a source of torment as he is bullied by his peers, the taunt of “Queer!” a recurring theme. Ultimately he is stabbed with a junkie’s blood filled needle, the very fate he dreaded and sought so assiduously to avoid when walking to catch the bus, ending up in a hospital room and under sentence of death. It’s a powerful indictment of bullying and homophobia, with children who don’t seem to realise that their actions will have terrible consequences, an emotive story that pleads the case of the outsider faced with intolerance and ignorance. And, while it might seem that Billy is the one ‘infected with death’, there’s a case for reaching a similar conclusion with regard to his classmates and the sick culture that spawned them and endorses their prejudices.

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