Essay: “Slumming in Voodooland”, Brian Stableford, 1991.
While the overarching purpose of Stableford’s Tales of the Biotech Revolution series is to propagandize for reshaping the human body and human society via biotechnology, there are some stories that partake of his interest in horror and Decadent fiction. This is one.
It seems to be in the early years of the 21st century. The impending Crash brought on by Greenhouse Warming and a souring economy seems to have started.
Above the swamps encroaching on Old Suburbia somewhere on the coast of England are the Upland Estates, and in the Upland Estates lives Benny. He is, in essence, a Decadent. Rather like Charles Baudelaire, he is horrified by ennui. Its antidote, to use his word, is “zooming”, the:
cutting edge of experience, the chains of impacts that his atom of consciousness made as it crashed into new territory, leaving the familiar behind.
To borrow a phrase from John Brunner, he’s a “shockwave rider”. Benny’s hobby, and source of living, is organic chemistry and the drugs he sells from it.
Benny has his own circle of friends, Mikey, Delilah, and Fay. They’ve adopted his phrase “zooming” even if they’re not completely sure what it means. He’s mostly their leader because he has a car, the armored Thunderbug, for venturing out into the more violent world beyond Upland Estates where they all live. Delilah is Mikey’s hand-me-down me girlfriend from Benny. She’s been replaced by Fay, a woman born to a wealthier family than Benny’s and with looks tuned up by the best in cosmetic surgery. If only Benny could break through her reserve, induce some passion that’s absent even in their sexual couplings.
So, one night, Benny announces they are off to Voodooland, a roving and illegal show found in decaying Old Suburbia. Appropriately enough, the secret directions given to Benny take them to an old drive-in because drive-in stores are the “economic lifeblood” of suburbia.
Benny describes how he got tickets for the Voodooland show of Papa Ogo. As Benny says it’s not the sort of show “that high-powered pay-TV you cultured folks watch in order to avoid the ads” can see. No cameras allowed at it either.
Parked a ways back from the movie screen and stage in front of it, Benny and friends are forced to watch the show through binoculars.
And what a show Papa Ogo puts on. He orders a series of increasingly mutilated and obviously dead bodies out of their coffins and to walk and stand on stage. The last one even carries his own head. The zombies even tentatively caress, in sexually suggestive ways, each other which leads the seemingly erudite Delilah to quote “The grave’s a fine and private place . . . but none I think do there embrace.”
Benny wonders how the trick is done and if the zombies remember their past identities.
Then the sky lights up with a police raid and helicopters. It seems we have witnessed the illegal and probably unintended result of biotech research when the police announce they are seeking
Edward Ojeki, alias Juju Jake, alias Papa Ogo, on charges of industrial espionage, grand larceny, and illicit use of patented biotechnology.
(One wonders what the licit uses were.)
The kids do escape from the chaos of the raid and make it back home.
They all agree they were really zooming. But Fay is broken by the sights she has beheld of this new world, her reserve shattered.
He had the feeling, nevertheless, that she wouldn’t be going slumming with him again. In fact, he had a sneaking suspicion that she wouldn’t be going with anyone for quite some time. She would be staying home in the Uplands Ark, trying to forget about the wild, sweet world of the Greenhouse.
She couldn’t take it. She’d broken, while Benny was still intact. He realized that ever since he’d first set his admiring eyes on Fay’s neatly-sculptured face, he’d been trying to prove something to her, but he had only just discovered what it was. . . .
Stupes and skirts and stay-at-homes. That’s what they are, the Uplanders. Peel away the polished skin and they’re all the same underneath. They think they own the world, but they just can’t stand the heat.
Benny is the symbol of those who accept and are thrilled by even the grotesque novelties of the future, novelties that even the upper strata of society, like Fay, aren’t prepared for.
Papa Ogo’s little stage show doesn’t seem, at first, an argument for advanced biotechnology. It’s horrifying, evokes the horror motif of the zombie. But, if you look at it another way, biotech has already made some progress – how much we, like Benny, don’t know – towards the miracle of resurrection.
Dead men are starting to appear in the world – even though their presence, unlike many Biotech Revolution stories, gets a thin patina of scientific rationalization. And new men accepting of new wonders are being created.