One of the coolest books I read for the Tiptree Awards last spring was Dangerous Space by Kelley Eskridge. This collection of short stories deals with pain and sensuality, performance and art. And the best piece in the book is the main novella, about a rock band who use a new technology that enables the audience to feel the lead singer's twisted emotions. The novella, also called "Dangerous Space," follows Mars, an impressario whose gender is never specified and who also stars in the story "And Salome Danced." Mars has a dangerous habit of getting too closely involved with the artists he/she works with, and so it is in "Dangerous Space." Mars goes to work for a rock band called Noir, who need some help hitting the big time, and gets involved with the lead singer Duncan Black. A lot of the novella deals with the relationships between Mars and Duncan, and the young sound tech that Mars schools, and the other bandmembers. Plus the creative process and the stormy personalities that go into a band on the rise. But then Eskridge throws in the cool invention of F-tech:
F-tech was just coming into use around that time in the pharmaceutical industry: feeling technology that allowed researchers a first-hand experience of reactions in subjects testing new drugs - nausea, fatigue, the specific location of headache, all available through an adaptation of augmented cognition technology that mapped limbic brain activity and physiological sensation. It took some bright spark from marketing who didn't give a shit for the purity of science to realize the tech was a better product than any of the drugs it was helping to test. The company began marketing to doctors: instead of relying on the patient to fumble his way through metaphor or vague pointing, just put on the funny wire hat and for those few moments, make his experience your own. Feel your appendix swell inside you; share Alzheimer's dementia; find out what PMS is really like. It took a second and a half for the adult entertainment industry to get in on the game, and have some fun with the name F-tech, with dramatic results: since it was real-time tech that only worked with real-live peole, porn was out and peep shows were in - and everyone was curious to find out how the other half lived.
Just when the twisted egos and skewed emotions between Duncan, Mars and the rest of the band are at their most treacherous, the band decides to play a show using F-tech to let the audience members "feel" what it's like to be in the band. With fascinating results. A lot of the other stories in the book deal with feeling and artistry as well: in "Strings," a violinist plays a Stradivarius in a dystopian future where you're not allowed to create or improvise, only play existing music with total precision. "Monitors" watch and grab anyone who makes mistakes or, worse yet, expresses themselves. (It feels more like a metaphor than a plausible future, but it's no potent for that.) In "Salome Danced," Mars gets involved with Jo, a seductive chameleon who seems to switch genders at will, first playing John the Baptist, then Salome, and finally wanting to play Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. In "Alien Jane," Rita gets a new roommate in a mental institution: a woman named Jane who can't feel any physical discomfort, making her an attractive target for doctors wanting to do bizarre inhuman experiments. (Sort of like the comic and TV show Painkiller Jane, except that this Jane's natural anaesthesia turns out to be a bit more complicated.) Taken as a whole, it's a thrilling look at the vulnerability involved in performance: both in the obvious sense of having to open yourself up in front of an audience, but also in the more subtle sense that artists often wind up having to share a lot of intimacy with their fellow performers and creators, in public. The title story, in particular, is a great primer in how to create a captivating future technology that transforms society - and then use it to help tell a small, personal story. [Amazon]