Tough Travels – Drugs

Every Thursday, Nathan (over at Fantasy Review Barn) leads the gang in touring the mystical countryside, looking for fun and adventure. His Tough Traveling feature picks one of the most common tropes in fantasy each week, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones, and invites us to join in the adventure. All are invited to take part, so if you're joining the journey late, no worries . . . we'll save you a spot in the caravan.

This week’s tour topic is: DRUGS

DRUGS - Driver of all the underground economies. At times glorified, at times responsible for all the world's evil, but just as common in Fantasyland as our own.

Okay, how can you talk drugs and not bring up melange (aka spice) from Frank Herbert's Dune. Taken in small doses, the bitter cinnamon flavored drug bestows longevity and increased awareness (and turns your eyes blue). Taken in larger does, it can bestow psychic abilities on the user, but it also leads to monstrous mutations.. It's not just recreational, however, it's also used to make interstellar travel possible, allowing spice-addicted navigators to safely find their way through space-time. Of course, getting it is just a tad more dangerous than harvesting a few weeds and seeds - you have to battle massive alien sandworms (with teeth) for their larva.

To borrow another example from the science fiction shelves, the very basis of William Shatner's Tekwar series was a drug called Tek. Explored in both the books and the television series, Tek was a mind-altering digital drug that bestows a virtual reality high that makes its users euphoric, and which makes their wildest fantasies seem tangible and real, but pretty much leaves them catatonic and useless until it wears off. As you might expect, it's a cyberpunk sort of take on his T.J. Hooker TV series, with the main character a cop who, having been framed for Tek dealing, is awakened from suspended animation to fight the Teklords.

Okay, it seems we're just going to stick with the science fiction theme for a while, and talk about the ketracel-white of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. With the Jem’Hadar soldiers of the Dominion genetically bred with an addiction for it, the drug is prominent on both the television show and the extended universe novels. It's often subtle, with the reptilian storm troopers injecting the capsules into their uniforms and then inhaling the white substance, but the show also dealt with the consequences of addition and the pain of withdrawal. Basically, they're super obedient and fearless when high, but rage-fueled suicide squads when deprived.

Actually, you know what? Most of the fantasy examples I can think of are drugs that deny a hero their powers, suppress their magic, or wipe out their memories - and I absolutely despise that trope. Let's stick with the stars and make a clean sweep of things.

Since we're sticking with the science fiction theme, let's stick with idea of extended universes as well. Next up is the seemingly innocuous (and gross) curdled milk that gets the Newcomers from Alien Nation so seriously drunk. Of course, you can forgive a little fermented drunkenness once you realize the lower class workers on the Tenctonese ships were kept in line through a drug called jabroka, which was a powerful, highly addictive narcotic that caused brief euphoria. While an overdose of sour milk might leave the Newcomers with a headache, overdoses of jabroka caused monstrous mutations.

Finally, in the one instance played largely for laughs, we have the drug Bliss, which was featured in the expanded universe Red Dwarf novel Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers. It's a brown powder so potent that it can cause addition simply by looking at it (and, yes, they do make the requisite jokes about how hard that made it to police!). Those who take it become convinced that they are all-powerful gods, but are completely incapable of walking or tying their shoes for the 20 or so minutes that they're high. As for the side-effects? Nothing short of severe, incurable depression lasting not just minutes, but years . . . 25 years, in fact.

By the way, can I just say that somebody needs to make the Alien Nation and Red Dwarf novels available electronically? Tekwar has been done, and you can get the Red Dwarf audiobooks, but there's a serious opportunity here to tap into an existing fanbase.


  1. Deep Space Nine is the only StarTrek for me. It is so far and above the others series it isn't even funny.

    There was a lot of drugs in sci-fi, huh? guess we know the real reason humanity looks to the stars =)

    1. Not that far off from reality - the more technologically advanced we get, the more complex ways we seem to find to manufacture them.

  2. Who knew there were so many drugs in Star Trek?

    1. Ketracel-white was pretty daring at the time, and one more example of how dark and gritty DS9 was compared to its utopian sister-sagas.

  3. Yep, sci-fi seems to be the place to be for this week. I would have put in Dune, but I never actually finished the book. It was a while ago though, when I was still new to the genre, so one of these days I'll have to pick it up again and give it another shot.

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum


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