Rebooting Sci-Fi's Transgressive Roots: Amphetamine Sulfate's "Human Rights" Collection
Many will misconstrue that transgressive literature gives an author an excuse to use the mere rhetoric of taboo. As if they’re just passing off dirty notes in school, some settle for this desperate scavenger hunt of naughty language and hollow subject rather than exploring entirely alternate environments outside their classroom. Others might consider transgressive to be the antithesis of genre, yet if you follow its subterranean roots back to the sixties, one place its spirit materialized was in the Science Fiction New Wave movement; JG Ballard, Samuel R. Delany, William Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, Anna Kavan, and Ursula K. Le Guin weren’t just rejecting the present—they offered new futures where abjection and decay buried pillars of convention before them.
Amphetamine Sulfate’s new Human Rights science fiction collection is not a themed anthology by any stretch—it’s a striking declaration of the root’s continuum, featuring novella-length stories among shorter sprints and essays by some of today’s finest avant-lit scrawlers. It’s likely to invite comparisons to Harlan Ellison’s vital Dangerous Visions anthology (1967)—a book that declared, "Out with the old, in with the new," with its compiling of prescient nightmare scenarios told in often rebellious prose-style, which changed the way readers thought about science fiction. And in retro-parallel, Human Rights is likely to change the way readers think about transgression; the way it's lodged firmly in the present, it suggests the future is far more disturbing than we could ever predict or imagine, because—surprise—it's already here. The stark black and white cover of the robot dog is a breathless image, one we can’t wish away—a shared hallucination materializing/militarizing against us from Pandora’s Tech Box.
The choice to begin the collection with Ian Haig’s “Container Bodies” feels like a strategic opening statement, a repellant invitation, an endurance piece you’ll never forget. I’d argue it's life affirming — if you’re not riddled with paranoid hypochondria by this convincing dissection of body parasites as aliens, you’re likely already dead. Haig sets the tone for the rest of the book, blurring the lines of fiction, apocrypha, medical essay, and personal diary in this 70-page mind-burner.
Alexandrine Ogundimu offers multiple pieces: “Autogynephilia,” “Fringe Benefits,” and “Fascism Is Imperialism Applied at Home” — all a voyeur’s glimpse into the inner war of trans experience; acute demonstrations of the phenomenon’s inherently sci-fi nature, a sharp focus on precarious liminal spaces between gender, persona, identity, and calamity.
“Fractals” by Thomas Moore explores the soulless, puppet-robotic element of the content creator, how some might assume they’re playing God when they are merely another vessel; our eyes seeing the world through those who pull our strings. SJXSJC revisits the lurching presence of the formless Madhab (who you’ll “know” from his novel Sex Shops of Sherman Oaks) in his piece “Orch Hit Two,” another endurance piece for those put off by truly futuristic writing; fragmented sentences separated by ellipses like shards of broken glass in our real-time ruin.
Some might assume Adam Lehrer’s primer on Crypto-Transgression is about cryptocurrency, but no—Lehrer has given us something far more valuable here: a manifesto, a renewal of vows to true counterculture in the art world, full of adrenalized paradox and occult defiance. His use of the term crypto-transgression speaks to a new generation of artists who communicate not only symbolically, but subliminally through their pieces, rendering their work impossible to “cancel.” Demanding more than our five senses, Lehrer suggests proper digestion of these movements require expanding our definitions of morality, a reminder we cannot be criticized when merely documenting our cataract visions induced by culture’s wear and tear. Lehrer completes his section with an in-depth index and visual aids from the leading artists in these waters: Lionel Maunz, Maggie Dunlap, Nick Campbell, Madeline Kuzak, and others.
Adult film actor/author Christopher Zeischegg shows us “The Most Important Part,” where only death can help a man named Singer achieve self-realization through the comet trail he leaves behind. In a dark-web hustler’s world of assisted suicide, Singer finds Theo, the only one brave enough to help as long as it’s on his specific terms. Zeischegg’s novella approaches surrealism in the same fashion as the Black Dahlia, suggesting our “most important parts” are merely the beginning, and an unsettling video game scene makes this piece all the more hypnotic. Fans of Dennis Cooper will relish.
Audrey Szasz’s “A-Z of Robomasochism” is an inventive commentary on our abusive relationship with technology. Through a call and response between news headlines and rebuttals from their compromised subjects, Szasz implies the more our robotics resemble human behavior and form, the more it exacerbates our self-hatred, until we lash out. Unsatisfied with merely playing God, we destroy to create only to destroy it again.
Other stories by Simon Morris, Kenji Siratori, Philip Best, David Cotner, and Blake Butler go beyond judgement or description, while Grant Maierhofer’s interview with Jarett Kobek further bleeds the fiction’s format. And if you finish, you’re still not even done—there’s a “Further Reading 1967-78” list, compiling an essential list of classic sci-fi, largely plucked from the New Wave era.
Amphetamine Sulfate’s foray into science fiction leads synthetic hard science to roost; an event horizon from where we're surrounded, pushing boundaries beyond effect of the detached observer. You can close the book, but to ignore a collection like Human Rights is to deny the existence of civilization's black holes, where light cannot escape to infinity.
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