Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Tempter

Although I quite like the science fiction genre, it hasn't appealed to me very strongly as something I'd like to try to write myself.

I have, however, experimented from time to time with a few short stories of this type.

I think the most intriguing idea I ever came up with (apart from this one that I just wrote about) was 'The Tempter' - which arose from a consideration of the possible uses of telepathy in a story, and from some speculation on what the world economy might be like some hundreds of years from now.

If we assume that a fairly utopian outcome is possible for the human race (if a plentiful, cheap, clean energy technology such as 'cold fusion' and the production of materials through bio- and/or nanotechnology eliminates resource competition and international strife), it seems likely that advanced computing/robotics will render conventional human labour redundant, which will create its own difficulties. How might such a radically transformed socio-economic system work? Well, I figured that probably creative endeavours would be just about the only area where human input would still be needed; and that probably (oh god!) the design of interactive computer games would be the largest and most lucrative field for such creative activity.

However, it further occurred to me that there might not be enough work for everyone who aspired to this kind of job - perhaps not even enough work to provide jobs for all the most talented individuals in the field. I imagined that a key area of competition between the leading games development companies might be to identify their rivals' most talented employees and tempt them to leave - not to come and work for them (there might be legal impediments to this; or perhaps just a lack of openings), but simply to rejoin the majority of the population in a life of full-time leisure.

And so I envisaged a niche employment opportunity for 'tempters', people with a limited form of telepathy; more a kind of empathy, really, the ability to sense a subject's tastes and interests, to identify their deepest desires. If people find their work fulfilling, what can you offer them to give up their work? Especially if they are already wildly wealthy and can have almost anything they can conceive of? You have to find something they will want, but haven't yet conceived of... and then make sure that you are the only person who can give it to them. But that might take you into some very dark places in the human heart. It could be a very dispiriting job, being a 'tempter'.

I've always felt that the best science fiction enables us to examine philosophical issues about how we should live our lives, what our truly important motivations should be. This story concept had a lot of scope for that, I thought.


JES said...

Ooooh. No obvious bones to pick with this one, I think!

I assume you know David Fincher's Michael Douglas/Sean Penn film The Game, right? I was very entertained by it, but couldn't help wondering if it wouldn't be subject to the same sort of mathematical and population limits as widespread vampirism/zombie-ism: if enough (teams of) people eventually purchased "the game" for enough other people, the games would start to overlap and intertwine in ways too unpleasantly uncontrollable.

(Several actual games came along a few years ago which implemented some of those ideas (without the involving-other-humans angle). Once you registered your copy of the game, for instance, you might receive mysterious emails -- real? or FROM THE GAME? -- faxes, voicemails, postal mailings, etc.)

To sort of merge this "tempter" idea of yours with the previous "Lie Injector" one: perhaps the people working as tempters would themselves be victims of someone uniquely positioned to offer them such a career...

Froog said...

The Game irritated me because it went too far over the top, and sacrificed all plausibility.

I was also a bit peeved because it was another of those story ideas that I'd had ages ago, in my teens, I think (did you ever read this post about the telephone booth?). In fact, it has just occurred to me that I 'anticipated' The X Files with this as well.

My scenario was that there was a sinister conspiracy - rich folks (or possibly aliens?) amusing themselves by manipulating the lives of the less well off - that was turning people into hit men, pitching them against each other in a mysterious game of murder and mayhem (hmm, so echoes of The Parallax View and The Contenders as well, and maybe even Carpenter's They Live! - no new thing under the sun!). I figured it wouldn't be too difficult, given our common predisposition to paranoia, to convince someone that there were people out to kill him; and once he's in that mindset, he might well discover a killer instinct towards anyone that appeared to be threatening him - not realising that his antagonist had been similarly duped into believing that there was a kill-or-be-killed situation between them.

One sub-plot involved a police detective who became suspicious about a number of crimes related to the hapless protagonist, but was warned off investigating by a shadowy federal agent who claimed there was a national security interest involved, and that all these matters had been given a special 'X' classification. When the detective breaks into his police chief's office to try to find out how many cases have been so designated, he finds that the cabinet for 'X' cases is empty - the records have all been removed. (As well they might be, I suppose, if this really were a national security matter, and they were trying to keep it as hush-hush as possible. But in those less sophisticated, pre-computer times of my youth, I thought the paperwork would just be removed to a more secure filing cabinet in the police station.)

When I began to envisage this as a screenplay, I toyed with a gag of showing only fragmentary glimpses of the people behind 'The Game' (hands, voices) - and suggesting that they were rich and powerful women. Feminist empowerment, or just playing on male insecurities??

Froog said...

I think I did consider the idea of a tempter who tempts tempters, but wasn't happy with it. The main model in my mind (a cinematic influence again!) was an obscure 1970s Canadian thriller called Skip Tracer (shown once on BBC2 when I was a kid; and it looks as though it may now be 'lost', according to IMDB) - about a repo man pursuing loan defaulters, who slowly comes to realise how much unhappiness he's bringing into people's lives.