Westworld Episode 1, “The All Night Horror Show” by Orrin Grey and “Escaping Dr. Markoff” by Gabriella Santiago

Since at least December, a new issue of The Dark Magazine arrives every month on my ereader. I’ll admit, I haven’t had much of a stomach for horror since my kids were born, despite my brain being wired to write it. In fact, almost every story I’ve ever sold has some element of horror in it. When you’re a parent, everything is terrifying. I’ve had nightmares about my son grabbing knives off the counter and running away–as he does with my phone, books, etc. And I worry when he runs outside before I can get my shoes on because I know it only takes a second. I worry that he will catch the big bad germ, or take a spill on his bike–even though we never wore helmets when we were kids and we’re all fine–and I worry, most of all, that some great misfortune awaits him and the rest of society, something born of a collective misstep, an oversight that only a society addicted to technology, and amused by themselves could fail to predict or prevent. Perhaps it is just this fear that led me to consider the stories “The All Night Horror Show” and “Escaping Dr. Markoff”, both in March’s issue of The Dark alongside the premier of Westworld’s season three premier. 

In the episode, Dolores, played by Evan Rachel Wood who is as fierce and sexy as ever, metes out revenge on deserving, greedy stockholders, a spherical AI runs autonomously, doing things absolutely no one knows about, while the heir to the company that controls the AI reveals his impostor syndrome to Dolores, who is ironically stalking and carefully seducing him. It feels impossible to reconcile previous episodes with this new series that has broken out of the theme park, and yet, it’s inevitable that there should be so much technology freely available to everyone. Aaron Paul, of Breaking Bad, playing the role of Caleb, uses the gig economy to swipe through different levels of criminal-for-hire work while chatting with an AI designed to help him overcome the loss of an old war buddy. Dolores uses a modified version of Google Class and Alexa torture a stockowner. All of these are reasonable predictions–realities, in some cases–of where this technology will lead us. And while it’s amusing that the very first instances of humanoid robots–using the term loosely–created have already been exploited for sex, it’s horrifying that that dark desire could lead to a place like Westworld, where fake lives play out over and over for our amusement, waiting for the reckoning of a careless child, devoid of empathy. 

Sentient creatures will only tolerate this for so long. This is played out when the normally mild-mannered Bernard Lowe, now working some blue-collar job outside the theme park after Dolores set him free, activates killer-robot mode when threatened by coworkers who discover his past. 

All of this leads me to the March issue of The Dark, which seems to have keyed into cinema’s life-becomes-reality theme. In the “All Night Horror Show” by Orrin Grey, a couple of desperate, low-level criminals try to steal from a washed up horror movie star they don’t recognize. When they finally get inside the house, the truth is revealed–he really is exactly what he was on stage. The monster everyone was in love with but had forgotten. Even the criminals’ masks are copies of its face. Imagine breaking into Michael Myers’ house.

In the steamy, sensual story “Escaping Dr. Markoff” by the fabulous Gabriella Santiago, the vintage movie The Monster Maker (1944) is retold from the perspective of the unheralded assistant, whose lust makes her both a target and antagonist. Driving the other characters and actors wild as the perspective of movie frames to behind-the-scenes blurs, the assistant takes advantage of men and women when Dr. Markoff ignores her, using his mutating serum to coerce a famed concert musician into allowing him to marry his daughter. Interspersed throughout the narrative are notes that the assistant’s sexual behavior has been caught on film, shown to audiences, and cut. Not because they find her offensive–when she seduces the musician, he calls her a fast woman with a chuckle, then pushes up her skirt–they all want women to act this way. It’s just that they are uncomfortable talking about it, showing it, allowing the meek, window dressing assistant to take any power away from the male psyche. To undermine what scientific power only males can exert. “You are my assistant and don’t you forget it.” 

Santiago underscores her personhood by saying, “She used to have a degree on the wall.” “She herself is a doctor.”    

No doubt the depiction of meek women in thankless Hollywood roles helped shape history, and the rise of horror movies have helped fuel some deranged, violent acts. The question is, when will anyone learn?

Abused technology, AI specifically, will revolt, and sooner or later the world isn’t just what we make it; it’s what we predicted it will be.

Want more Sci-fi that explores how technology will be used to exploit our world? Check out Vernacular Books’ new anthology, The Way of the Laser.

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