At the end of Uncommon Scents, an unruly mob of conspiracy believers gathers in Boyd Park, a lovely city park near downtown San Rafael.
We wrote a scene filled with the creativity and diversity that people might bring to the world if augmented reality becomes widely available.
Our scene is packed with in-jokes, references to obscure conspiracy theories, Monty Python quotes, and programmer jargon.
It makes us laugh. It made other people irritable. People threatened to beat us with copies of our own book if the scene was not rewritten.
We scaled back the weirdness. Our vision of the future in Uncommon Scents is deliberately restrained.
A quieter, calmer version of this scene is still in the book.
This is our first draft, in all its demented glory.
The flat earthers stood off to one side of the throng in Boyd Park, yelling insults at a group of alien believers across the grass. “How can there be aliens? The stars are illusions! The only drops are in your IQs!” There were only four of them and they stood in a straight line to emphasize that circles are overrated.
The alien believers occasionally yelled back at the flat earthers, “Your mother was an alien and your father smells of soul drops!” Some of the alien demonstrators had brought handmade signs – “Welcome to earth, please fly carefully”; “Hands off my soul”; “I believe!” with a blue blob drawn in crayon and helpfully labeled “Lake Superior.” Plus one that said “I want to be probed” with a drawing of a figure being lifted into a UFO, which seemed a little needy.
Dr. Schochet smiled in spite of himself. It was unnerving to be confronted directly with evidence of the world’s disorders. He was empathetic but it was hard to look away, like being in the audience for a disastrous school play put on by slackers and mean girls – sad, sure, but also pretty funny to watch.
He took the drone up and scanned the crowd for other points of interest. There were perhaps 250 people in the park in real life, three or four times that many avatars crowding the space and occasionally walking through each other.
Two lines of avatars were forming up opposite each other. The avatars on one side were classically good looking, broad shouldered, high foreheads and solid jaws on the men, large eyes and slender hips on the women. One of them held a sign that said “My avatar, my choice,” with a picture of an egg broken open at the small end.
The opposite line was shaking their fists and yelling imprecations about bullying and body shaming. Their avatars were chosen to rebut stereotypes, with a variety of body shapes and facial features ranging from cartoons to deliberately misshapen limbs and faces. All of them, though, had oversized posteriors.
Dr. Ankoff had tuned in for a moment and saw Aryeh’s confusion. “You might not have seen them before. My wife follows the fashion industry, that’s where they mostly turn up. It’s a battle over stereotypes that started in the game industry and now gets fought out in the avatar market. The big-endians are upset by avatars that pander to the prejudices of, well, honestly, white males – huge breasts and impossibly thin waisted women, ripped abs and dimpled chins on men. The little-endians scream about freedom of choice and something they call the “right to fantasize,” which doesn’t sound as convincing as they think it does.”
“Big-endian? Little-endian? Really?”
“Yeah. Long history – look it up someday.”
Dr. Schochet went back to watching the demonstrators on the field.
The crowd was confined in a large cleared area in the middle of the park with a fence surrounding the group and penning them in. Slavering zombies were hurling themselves at the chain links to keep anyone from getting too close to the fence. Aryeh brought a drone in close to admire them. The woman eating brains with a spoon was a nice touch. One of the demonstrators yelled, “There is no spoon!” but no one paid any attention.
The fence and zombies were just visual effects, of course, and anyone could have walked through them at any time. But the CDC was relying on long-established behavioral research papers showing that people tended to believe what they saw, even if their brain was also sending a different message about reality.
There were so many 64chan conversations that the CDC social media team was falling behind. Members of the crowd were searching for kindred spirits, posting ideas about how to find each other in the crowd short of putting their names over their heads. Two women at opposite ends of the field pirouetted with arms over their heads until they spotted each other and ran towards each other and hugged. Several people were walking in an odd way that seemed familiar, a jittery step with the right leg, a forward aerial half-turn every alternate step with the left leg – not very silly but easy to recognize.
Many in the group were showing off their cosplay avatars: stormtroopers facing off against red shirts with phasers; steampunk vests and aprons and top hats; comic book heroes and villains; furries; manga figures blinking wide eyes; robots and aliens; Howard the Duck in heated conversation with Donald Duck about copyright law; and one avatar that looked like an Arrgle nanobot.
Prose and poetry were at war. Dr. Schochet listened in. Prose elitists were spitting out:
You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe! You are as a candle, the better burnt out!
The poetry group was standing its ground:
Your brow so grim
And your mouth so prim
And your conversation, so nicely
Restricted to What Precisely
And If and Perhaps, Oh No Sir.
How unpleasant to meet a Proser!
He wondered what had brought those two groups to the park, and what had sparked their old rivalry, and just in general what the hell was going on this morning in San Rafael.