There was a time in my life, not that long ago, when I was convinced the entire human race would dissolve into gray goo. I’ll explain in a moment. I was obsessed with the idea of “progress,” and how the term is truly subjective. What some perceive as progress (iPhones, SpaceX, baconnaise, etc), others view as regression, focusing more on what we lose from these advancements than what we gain.
Everything I was stuffing into my head back then had some connection to the idea of progress. Eventually I came upon the three-part documentary series TechnoCalyps, and still to this day it’s one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen. Long story short (and a bit of a spoiler for the documentary, I suppose), there’s a theory that nanotech robots have the potential to infinitely self-replicate, destroying the entire biosphere by feeding on organic matter, humans included, until only grey goo and the nanobots remain.
The theories presented in TechnoCalyps are wild and likely not to happen, but still they terrified me to no end. I couldn’t shake the feeling of impending doom. Still can’t. Any time life’s got you down, I highly recommend watching this documentary. You’ll see that things really aren’t as bad as they could be, haha.
Anyway, so in this state of mind, I was developing my pitch to the publisher, and suddenly I randomly remembered an episode of Unsolved Mysteries I’d seen sometime in the 90s. When they aren’t terrifying, human brains are kind of hilarious in they way they work. There I was, trying to come up with a cool idea for a book pitch, and my brain just kept flashing images from Unsolved Mysteries. I could even hear the theme song playing in my head.
The episode I remembered that day was the one about the Taos Hum. If you’ve never heard of the Taos Hum before, it’s basically a constant buzzing sound that really annoys about 2% of the population in Taos, New Mexico. Why only 2%? Because the other 98% can’t hear it at all. The source of the hum is unknown, but there are several theories of what it could be, none of them very interesting, in my opinion. After a little research, I discovered this phenomenon is happening all over the globe.
Then, like the Television Man from my other novel Automated Daydreaming, my brain quickly “changed channels” and all of a sudden I was thinking about David Cronenberg’s body horror classics, such as Scanners, Videodrome, and The Brood (okay, I admit, I’m always thinking about Cronenberg movies, but still). Then click I was on to another channel, another thought: Toynbee Tiles.
Yes, I know it’s random, but this is actually how my brain works.
Sometime in the 1980s, mysterious plaques began appearing on the streets of Philadelphia. Literally on the street. These plaques, now known as the Toynbee Tiles, were all adorned with cryptic nonsensical messages that really creeped everyone out. Eventually, the tiles were traced back to a local artist, and while I agree that it’s a pretty interesting project, I have to admit that the reveal was a bit underwhelming. In my head, there seemed to be something much more sinister going on.
The last piece of the puzzle fell into place as I thought of a book I had read earlier in the year, The Selfish Gene by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. In this book, Dawkins introduces meme theory, which is essentially the idea that thoughts are living things, seeking to replicate within as many hosts as possible, like a virus.
Are you starting to see the connection now?
My thought was that if one of these memes, or thoughts, could actually do physical harm to the body (like a Freddy Krueger-version of the nanobot horrors from TechnoCalyps, attacking from within the host’s own brain), then how could this meme be transferred?
I needed a way that caused the meme to replicate slowly. I wasn’t interested in writing a pandemic novel. I wanted to write a body horror novel. So how could I achieve this?
Perhaps the protagonist can hear something that others can’t… a strange, cryptic, nonsensical message that he becomes obsessed with… what if hearing these words caused the meme to spread? Or better yet, what if the meme was so strong, that the protagonist became obsessed with finding a way to get other people to hear it for themselves? What if he was successful? If this meme could cause physical damage to the body, would that be the end of the human race?
My mind was running wild with ideas. I couldn’t write them down fast enough. I was scribbling things like “colony collapse disorder” and “brain transplants” and quotes from Carl Sagan. By the time I was through, I knew I had a story bigger than I’d ever had before. I had a novel, and it was time for me to start writing it.
The next few posts will feature interesting factiods and shouldn’t require as much reading as this or the previous post. Special thanks goes out to anyone who actually read this! Hope you all are enjoying it so far.
Until next time…