When cannibalism will be the height of fashion


If you write sf/fantasy/speculative fiction, or have ever attempted it, you’ll know that people are always offering you ideas for stories.

Most of the time these suggestions (“There’s this whole galaxy in space, right, run by the Catholic church, and its entire economy is geared into the production of rosaries and statues and crucifixes… “) are made with the either humorous or completely serious demand for 50% of the proceeds.

That is, you, the writer, do 99.9% the work, while the non-writer gets half the royalties for nothing more than communicating to you a flash of inspiration they had when peeling the spuds or sitting in the bath.

The thing about ideas, though, is there’s no such thing as an original one. All art is plagiarism, and all that. In sf for instance, there’s no end of great stories about computers taking over the world. There are also a lot of dire tales about a couple who, in one way or another, end up going back to the beginning of time and who find, hey wow, that they’re Adam and Eve. Someone writing in Interzone years ago dubbed such tales “shaggy God stories”.

Ideas, like information, want to be free. The idea is not in itself the big thing in any creative venture; it’s the graft that goes into it. The finished work should be copyright to the creator, not the first notion.

I mention all this because a thing in yesterday’s Observer put me in mind of a story I wrote about 25 years ago. I’m not sure it was ever published and can’t find it anymore as it was probably lost in the Great Amstrad PCW Meltdown of ’89. The story mentioned, merely in passing, that in this world, artificial meat was produced for the masses in big vats. I called this stuff “shamburger”.

As the newspaper article states right from the start, though, my idea (apart from the name) was in no way original. Winston Churchill certainly got there first, and artificially-cultured flesh is probably a feature of countless sf stories since (I can’t think of any off-hand, although the thing about classic spec fiction ideas is that Isaac Asimov usually got there first. )

So now we’re on the verge of it becoming reality, raising all sorts of interesting questions for vegetarians and vegans.

But here’s an idea for you … Once the tech is established and working, it’ll only be a matter of time before some attention-seeker or celebrity chef will be offering human flesh on the menu. It may just turn out to be a gimmick, or more likely one of those things which a minority of folks seeking “decadent” thrills try and find they like. You get some human stem-cells, turn it into muscle fibres. Nobody gets hurt, and “long pig” is on the menu.

There are all sorts of moral objections to this, and of course religious types would probably be outraged, your publicity-seeking chef would say where’s the real harm? After all, how is this in any way worse than eating human placenta?

The question “who does it hurt?” is a reliable starting point for constructing a speculative fiction story.

Here’s one steer. That artificial human flesh would have to contain someone’s DNA. The stem cells have to come from someone. To start with, it’d probably be that same controversy-seeking celebrity chef. Maybe then it’d move on to the DNA of other celebrities living and dead, with or without their consent.

You figure out the rest of the story. I’m giving you this idea for free, don’t want 50% or even 1%. Ideas are free. The real work, and consequently the real value, is in turning them into stories with a beginning, middle and end. And the process of writing gives you loads more ideas as you go along, like a throwaway line about vat-grown shamburger.


2 Responses to “When cannibalism will be the height of fashion”

  1. Ummmm Heston burger or maybe a slice of Mirren breast, I will get my coat!

  1. 1 Cheryl's Mewsings » Blog Archive » Science Fiction Food

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