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Sold Viewed Playful New: High Weirdness

By Terry Fleming • February 22, 2022

Author Erik Davis coined the term High Weirdness in his book of the same name to refer to a genre of Sci-Fi and philosophical writing that charted "the emergence of a new psychedelic worldview out of the American counterculture of the seventies." He took the term from the book High Weirdness by Mail (which was written by Reverend Ivan Stang of the Church of the Subgenius) that documented the strangest organizations that advertised their brochures and newsletters in the back of comic books in the pre-Internet world (right next to the ads for X-Ray glasses). But while Davis focused primarily on authors from America's west coast, I'm going to expand the category to include a bit more. And since it is weirdness, let's start with where we usually end…

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First stop along the way of our weird journey has to be author Philip K. Dick, and since truth is often stranger than fiction in the High Weirdness world, let's begin with his Exegesis. Never let it go unsaid that Dick didn't live some of the concepts he explored in his novels—the Exegesis covers his private journals, where he theorizes that all of reality is determined by… Well, let's have him explain:

"One day the contents of my mind moved faster and faster until they ceased being concepts and became percepts. I did not have concepts about the world but perceived it without preconception or even intellectual comprehension. It then resembled the world of UBIK. As if all the contents of one's mind, if fused, became suddenly alive, a living entity, which took off within one's head, on its own, saw in its own superior way, without regard to what you had ever learned or seen or known."

Ah, hyper-intellectual mania, the sort of thing science fiction was made for!

And following that, a good gateway drug for his novels is The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Why not? We're not taking baby steps, here. After that, try Ubik (which somewhat explains the stuff he was babbling about in the above quote), and then the entire Valis series (which features a character named Horselover Fat. Yes, Horselover Fat. I don't know about you, but I live for the day when I can read an angsty-teen dystopian novel featuring this character's daughter, named Ponygirl Cholesterol. But I know, I'm a bit of an optimist).

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Let's be honest, when it comes to translating High Weirdness to the big or small screen, Hollywood's record is spotty, at best. For every epic artistic achievement like Blade Runner (loosely adapted from Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) there's a Steven Soderbergh's Solaris, which frankly can't hold a candle to the original Andrei Tarkovsky version. But if you want speculative science fiction brought to the screen in a way that really rattles the riff-raff, look no further than 2001: A Space Odyssey (taken from the novel by Arthur C. Clarke), which has one of the trippiest endings of all time. David Cronenberg's Crash—adapted from the novel of the same name by Weird Elder J.G. Ballard—does for sex what Odyssey did for space exploration. Or how about we acknowledge that David Lynch is an Official Cinematic High Weirdo (check out Lost Highway if you don't believe me)?

Here are more film adaptations of Dick and Ballard's works:

High Rise

A Scanner Darkly

Empire of the Sun

Minority Report

Total Recall

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You might think that video games are the perfect place for High Weirdness, but it's difficult to incorporate the obsessive brain mania (i.e., Obbrainia, which I just invented and yes, will become a thing) of HW into typical video game play. So instead, allow me to recommend some titles of Low Weirdness (or just plain weirdness), which video games do exceptionally well.

Saints Row

Luigi's Mansion 3

Demon's Souls

Five Nights at Freddy's: Security Breach

Pikmin 3 Deluxe

Dying Light 2: Stay Human

Tiny Tina's Wonderland Chaotic Great Edition

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Some writers were not content to be mere Sci-Fi gods, and so they became gurus, instead. Here are a few:

Carlos Castenada
Castenada claimed that he received sacred tutelage from a Yaqui "Man of Knowledge" named Don Juan Matus. While some believe Don Juan never existed, there's no doubt that Castenada captured the spiritual imagination of America with his bestselling book The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. What followed was an entire series of books based on his unique view of what he called "nonordinary reality."

Robert Anton Wilson
While Castenada helped to launch the New Age movement, Robert Anton Wilson described himself as an Agnostic Mystic and mined the areas of satire and conspiracy theories for his work. His primary goal was "to try to get people into a state of generalized agnosticism, not agnosticism about God alone but agnosticism about everything." He's best known for his Illuminatus! series.

Terence Mckenna
The L.A. Weekly described Terence Mckenna as "the culture's foremost spokesman for the psychedelic experience." One look at books like Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide and Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge - A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution and you'll understand why. But Mckenna is not just a farmer in the psychedelic experience, but also a philosopher, with titles like The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching and The Archaic Revival, he attempts to guide us through our own encounters with the psychotropic and, well, the highly, highly weird.

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