1. Soma (Brave New World, Aldous Huxley)
Ah, soma. Huxley’s wonder-drug—”half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a week-end, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon”—which makes everything feel good and happy and warm, which makes everyone and everything delightful and attractive. More concisely, it has “all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects.” Which, wow.
Okay, so I know soma ultimately makes human life cold, empty, and meaningless, but still—doesn’t it sound good? For daily use.
2. The lotus flowers (The Odyssey, Homer)
Because all is well in the land of the Lotus-eaters:
Any crewmen who ate the lotus, the honey-sweet fruit,
lost all desire to send a message back, much less return,
their only wish to linger there with the Lotus-eaters,
grazing on lotus, all memory of the journey home
(trans. Robert Fagles)
When to take it: a summer afternoon by the pool when you honestly cannot be bothered to think of anything, possibly ever again. Augment with a cocktail and some bread and honey and brie, to be festive.
3. Melange (spice) (Dune, Frank Herbert)
The universe of Dune runs on spice, which comes from the sands of Arrakis. Not only does it make humans healthier and live longer, but in some, it can heighten perception to the point of prescience—which is what makes interstellar travel possible. It tastes like cinnamon, “but never twice the same,” as one character puts it. “It’s like life—it presents a different face each time you take it. Some hold that the spice produces a learned-flavor reaction. The body, learning a thing is good for it, interprets the flavor as pleasurable—slightly euphoric. And, like life, never to be truly synthesized.” Of course it is also “a poison—so subtle, so insidious… so irreversible. It won′t even kill you unless you stop taking it.” Indeed, withdrawal is fatal, which is a problem, because it’s extremely addictive. Whatever, though—why would you stop taking a drug that would make you live young forever? Also for daily use, because otherwise you’ll die.
4. Verbaluce™ (“Escape from Spiderhead,” George Saunders)
Now, to be fair, I wouldn’t want to be in the same scenario as the characters in Saunders’s short story—humans as lab rats—but I wouldn’t mind some of their drugs once and a while. After all, that’s why they’re making them, right? Of particular interest to literary types is Verbaluce™:
He added some Verbaluce™ to the drip, and soon I was feeling the same things but saying them better. The garden still looked nice. It was like the bushes were so tight-seeming and the sun made everything stand out? It was like any moment you expected some Victorians to wander in with their cups of tea. It was as if the garden had become a sort of embodiment of the domestic dreams forever intrinsic to human consciousness. It was as if I could suddenly discern, in this contemporary vignette, the ancient corollary through which Plato and some of his contemporaries might have strolled; to wit, I was sensing the eternal in the ephemeral.
For book parties, obviously. Perhaps listicle-writing, also.
5. Nepenthe (The Odyssey, Homer)
Sorry, The Odyssey again! The drug Helen gives to Menelaus’s men translates literally as “not-sorrow”—which sounds ideal to me, except possibly for the fact that this is a not-sorrow brought about by forgetting, which seems like it could have some side-effects:
Into the mixing-bowl from which they drank their wine
she slipped a drug, heart’s-ease, dissolving anger,
magic to make us all forget our pains…
No one who drank it deeply, mulled in wine,
could let a tear roll down his cheeks that day,
not even if his mother should die, his father die,
not even if right before his eyes some enemy brought down
a brother or darling son with a sharp bronze blade.
So cunning the drugs that Zeus’s daughter plied,
potent gifts from Polydamna the wife of Thon,
a woman of Egypt, land where the teeming soil
bears the richest yield of herbs in all the world:
many health itself when mixed in the wine
and many deadly poison.
(trans. Robert Fagles)
When to take it: before funerals, obviously. Also after meetings.