Mark Sykes’s Sixth Sense of Humour


From Issue 17 (Jan 2012)

WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE about teleportation? Apart from being the coolest sci-fi gadget ever (an issue for which I’ll make my case in just a minute), the practical implications for humankind on this poor, soon-to-be-boned planet would be astronomical. Such as? No more fuel crisis, for a start; that alone means that if there’s one thing that the world’s scientists should put their heads together on, it’s the creation of the planet’s first instantaneous teleport device. Seriously, petrol and oil demand would become a distant memory, since all the utility vehicles and big rigs that are constantly transporting cargo from A to distant B would suddenly be redundant; cars would also be virtually eradicated (‘virtually’ because some people would still want to drive for fun, or to enjoy the scenery, or most importantly, to get laid in the back seat). And it goes without saying that a massive chunk of pollution would disappear, since no-one would have to use aeroplanes any more, and so the world’s countries would actually meet and surpass their carbon emissions targets, in spite of the population growth. The sick could get to a hospital within a couple of minutes, and vitally-needed donor organs could be whisked to their recipients in no time at all – there may even be a time where organs can be transported directly from one body to another, who knows?

On top of all that, the world would generally be a happier place, since we could get to see our distant relatives and loved ones; a man could take his family to that long dreamed-of holiday destination without putting his house in hock.

A working teleporter would, without any doubt, or any risk of exaggeration, be the most life-changing invention since the wheel, or any of history’s major discoveries. Electricity, penicillin, Tipp-ex – you name it; a fully functional teleporter, able to whisk anything or anyone instantly from one spot to another, would leave them all in the shade.

But apart from all that, teleporters are just cool. In fact,they’re easily the coolest fantasy invention ever imagined for the purpose of making sci-fi the greatest genre in the world. Phasers? No, because we know that they would just be developed for warfare. Holodecks? No, because in the same way that the internet just gets used for porn (try arguing, just try), people are only going to use them for shagging holographic celebrities, and all a girl would have to do to get into the tabloids is make a video of her riding Ryan Reynolds like a bitch from hell and post it. Lawsuitville.

Food replicators are certainly very useful, and to have an instant bowl of popcorn at three in the morning is a fantasy for many of us (and admittedly, solving world hunger is a fantasy for many more), but teleportation wins out because thanks to people like Charlie Bennett and Masahiro Hotta (look ’em up, I haven’t got the space needed to explain their work… or the brains, for that matter), humankind is actually a shade closer to achieving it than it is the food thing.

So once the actual science bit has been taken care of, what should the device look like? Well, that’s another cool thing about teleporters: we already have the vision laid out for us. How many movies, TV shows, games and comics are there that have already shown what it could all look like? Answer: so many that I’ll never be able to count them all here, but I’ll whip through a few of the biggies. Star Trek, obviously, should get first mention because of the fabulous way that Gene Roddenberry got round the budget-related issue of getting his crew members from the Enterprise to the strange new worlds they visited without going through the tedious crap of having to actually land the Enterprise (yes, I’m aware that they have shuttles), and made it look like the best thing ever. Another reason that the Star Trek method should get first dibs, is that if it weren’t for the transporter, we wouldn’t have any of the ‘transporter malfunction’ episodes to be found throughout the whole Trek canon: we’ve had evil doubles (several times), time travel and even Tuvok and Neelix melding together to create an entirely new person in an episode of Voyager – how cool is that! Okay, not so cool if you’re Seth Brundle from 1986’s The Fly… he used enclosed telepods that managed to get him trapped with a fly (clue’s in the title, people), and that’s an all-too-feasible bugger up that might put a few people off teleportation forever. If you had to meld with another animal, rather make it a cooler one, then you can take on its properties! Foxes, snakes, dolphins, panthers, wolves, eagles… whack one of those babies in there with you, and see what comes out the other side. Imagine merging with an owl – you could see in the dark, turn your head 360 degrees and eat mice! Okay, bad example. In fact, now that I vividly picture it in my mind… if it actually happened… merging with anything, even a wolf, would be pretty horrific. Especially for the poor wolf. So let’s drop that.

Ooh, I know a cool teleport device – the Jaunt, from the 1981 short story by Stephen King. If you haven’t read it, you really should (in Skeleton Crew) – in fact, you’ll find that in the 24th century future of the story, all of the wonderful things that I described at the beginning of this piece have come true, and people are able to take day-trips to Mars. The only thing is, King found a certain, ah… glitch with the technology, one that he explained so well that you have to wonder if there isn’t a grain of reality in it. The glitch is this: although any physical matter that goes through the Jaunt particulates, i.e. gets broken down into atoms and travels instantaneously, the consciousness of the traveller can’t be broken down, and so the journey for the conscious mind takes what the story calls ‘a billion eternities’, and when he or she comes out the other end, their minds have auto-cannibalised themselves, and they drop dead of shock. Lovely stuff. Sure, the simple answer is to put the traveller to sleep, and with a few grisly exceptions, that’s what happens in the story… but you know, you just know that if it were real, people would somehow end up going through it awake, and all the horrors that King portrayed in his story would come true. So no Jaunting.

You know what, I’m having trouble finding a teleportation method that doesn’t have a problem attached to it. Stargates make the planet ripe for alien invasion, Jumper (2008) proved that people who can teleport themselves anywhere with only a thought will just succumb to crime, and in Paul Cook’s underrated 1999 novel The Engines of Dawn, the ‘fractal compression’ method of teleportation provides a euphoric and addictive high for the traveller, and too many jumps become dangerous. So those are all out. In fact, any way you cut it, teleportation is bad news for Planet Earth.

So it’s settled. Like I’ve been saying from the beginning, teleportation would be the single most disastrous invention for the planet since the A-bomb. The horrific implications of DNA melding, crime escalation, drug abuse and general malfeasance mean that under no circumstances must scientists be allowed to continue with any research on teleportation. It’s not cool or clever. Just fork out the financially crippling airfare, get on a ‘plane and damn well fly to your cousin’s wedding in New York. Better to have jet lag than to turn up for the service and explain to the priest why you have a dolphin’s dorsal fin growing out the side of your head.


Image from The Fly © 1986 – Twentieth Century Fox

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Mark Sykes

What can be said about Mark Sykes?

Film actor, world traveller, model, novel writer, piano and violin player, ballroom dancer, deep-sea diver – he is none of these things.

Actual achievements include the odd play or musical, avoiding death by starvation through singing to people around London, and completing all three Halo games on ‘legendary’ level.

Literary influences include Philip Pullman, Carl Hiaasen and Iain M. Banks. Favourite activities include vacuuming, buying stationery, applying sun lotion to total strangers, catoptromancy, going to Paris to see his brother, getting lost in Derbyshire, and trying hard to tell the truth at all.

After being Something Wicked’s “Man In London” he now lives in Cape Town and is enjoying the sun.

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