September 22, 2023

Put that in Your Tic Hole and Smoke It

Man After Man, Dougal Dixon
Blandford Press (UK), 1990

The air is hot despite the overcast skies, and you keep your skin covered up to avoid burns from the harsh rays that do make it through the clouds. The sound of machinery, old machinery that is somehow still sputtering along, drowns out all noises around you. You hate to be somewhere you won’t be able to hear someone sneaking up on you, but if this place is still running there may be supplies, maybe even food, and you can’t afford to pass by without checking. 

You stay low, find a door and force it open. It smells stale and musty inside, like no one’s been in or out for a long time. But there are still lights on so there may still be food, so you head deeper. Then you see it, at first just a misshapen pile of lumps but then you recognize arms and legs, too many of them, coming from a mushy body. And then you realize it is looking at you, a startlingly human face surrounded by soft flesh. 

Looking for an exceptionally weird, lumbering dork to add to a campaign set in some style of dystopian future? Look no further, friend, for it is time to meet the Tic. 

When writers and artists and gamemakers talk about the future of humanity and genetic modification, it tends to take on a cyberpunk vibe. Future humans will have chips in their brains hooking them up to the ‘net, or super sweet mods like mechanical hearts that last forever or legs that turn into guns. It’s all futuristic and a little sexy and, if not mildly realistic, something you can imagine wanting. Are you telling me you wouldn’t at least consider trading your dumb meat arm for a robot arm that can plug into a mainframe and also shoots electricity from your fingers? 

In Man After Man, our dear friend Dougal Dixon humbly suggests: what if the future really sucks, though

Instead of sweet cyberpunk technology, Dixon veers us into a much grosser direction. It won’t be bitchin’ mechanical mods that we’re implanting into our flesh, but instead… more flesh. Like, a lot more. He creates a timeline in which we get really bad at inventing technology, but kind of OK at growing fake flesh and body parts, a future that’s more Videodrome than Blade Runner.

 In a thousand years, mankind is destined to become the dumpiest version of itself. Dixon imagines a future for humanity that is increasingly dependent on technology to survive (we’ll talk about that more another time), and that ultimately shifts from hardware and wires to bioengineering. Instead of using mechanical parts to keep our stupid doughy bodies functioning, we’ll just start growing a bunch of spare parts and grafting them on as replacements, backups, or just for the sake of fashion. 

To get a little Human Centipede, there’s a hint of real life medical accuracy here. Kidney transplant recipients don’t have their old kidneys taken out, the new ones are just added. If you have multiple kidney transplants, and many people who receive a kidney transplant do, you could end up with four or five kidneys floating around in there. The idea is that you may actually do more harm in removing the organ than by leaving it, and they’re still functioning a little so you might as well leave them to help the team effort. So, if you squint and look at it just right, there’s some kind of real world logic in the idea of, say, just adding more arms instead of lopping off the old ones. Instead of getting sweet robot parts, humans graft on lab-grown arms that are impossibly strong, plug in replacement organs when the originals start to fail. 

Dixon also says “Fashion plays a part in such surgery” without really elaborating, leaving us with illustrations of fleshy piles with too many arms and the realization that this is the form our descendents have chosen for themselves. 

According to Dixon’s vision of the future, homo sapiens accessiomembrum (and yes, “accessiomembrum” is Latin for “add extra limbs” because why not) is also the end of the line for technologically advanced–and technologically dependent–humankind. Their position at the top of the evolutionary ladder is based on being able to use the remnants of technology that they did not develop in the first place. When their planes and communication and industrial food production fail, they’re doomed to… well, be murdered and eaten. 

If you do have the misfortune of meeting a Tic, know that they may be stronger than their doughy bodies suggest, but also that they’re monumentally bad at pretty much everything and will probably do a very bad job in a fight. 

Dex Dylan is the founder and acting president of the International Society of Astrocryptozoology. For decades, Dex has scoured the skies and seas (and sometimes the land, but honestly it’s so crowded) for hints of unusual life forms, and has done extensive research into the possible existence of chupacabras on Mars.