Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Lie Injector

I'm not a great fan of the 'unreliable narrator' device. I think it's become rather overused, and it's rarely done really well.

However, as I discussed last week, I sometimes enjoy taking an idea to extremes. And a year or so ago, I tried this approach with an idea for a humorous short story that played around with the notion of the unreliable narrator.

It also drew upon my concerns about the direction that our technology is taking these days. We often read about the possibility of user-interfaces for portable microchip-controlled devices that can be wired directly into our brains. I began to think of what a 'next generation' i-Pod might be like in 10 or 20 years; and I figured it would probably become possible to 'listen' to music or 'watch' films via a direct neural connection without any actual sound or visuals. And, if so, it wouldn't stop there; somebody would figure out a way to use this technology to implant thoughts and memories - perhaps without our being aware of the fact, creating a new consciousness  that would be indistinguishable from our 'reality', a cocktail of truth and fiction.

So, my story was about a visionary inventor who broke away from working for Apple or whoever to develop his own prototype of such a device. His rationale was that most people are unimpressive in conversation because they lead such dull lives; our reality is too boring - but a little creative lying could make us much more interesting and entertaining people, immediately improving our social lives and making us more attractive to the opposite sex. Hence, he has created a Lie Injector, a portable device that gives you more diverting things to talk about.

But of course, he's been trying it out on himself. So, when he tells you about his invention, how can you believe him?


JES said...

As with most of your discarded story ideas, I wish I'd come up with this one on my own so I could un-discard it later.

The only hitch, I think: the main thing which makes people interesting talkers -- at least for me -- is how they talk about what-have-you... not so much what they're talking about. And if the goal is information-as-information (vs. -entertainment), the world of this story would no doubt end up populated mostly by people who speak unconvincingly about their assertions.

Which, hmm, seems to be pretty much the way the real world is now. :)

Froog said...

I agree about the importance of the individual voice (and that is my big weakness, I think; I'm not good at individualising dialogue).

The point of this scenario, though, is that there is only one guy - the inventor - who has this device; it is not yet even conceived of by anybody else. It would enable people to be completely convincing about their assertions (because they themselves wouldn't realise that they were false). But if its use ever became widespread, presumably people's levels of scepticism would be elevated - there'd be a sort of devaluation of the currency of the tall tale, encouraging people to become more and more outrageous in their self-reinvention (I picture something like the compulsive 'war of wittiness' waged in Victorian drawing rooms, as represented in Monty Python's duel between Shaw and Wilde). In fact, I had thought of giving the device an 'outlandishness' meter, so that you could select the magnitude of the lies you were going to tell.

A lot of early sci-fi/fantasy - Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells - uses this device of the lone kook who recounts an outrageous yet strangely plausible tale.