Mind control is a favourite staple of the technohorror stories that characterise the cyberpunk genre. The possibility that a technology could be invented that might intrude upon a person's most intimate space is a modern interpretation of the old fears of witches and warlocks. This article looks at three examples of mind control exhibited in the cyberpunk novel The Verity Key.
The first is a basic and overt display of psychological black magic, as seen in Chapter Three. The story's protagonist, Jonty Gillespie, is taking refuge among a group of cybercultists when he is approached by the intelligence agent Richard Nordmark. The cultists, in an attempt to dispel the agent's presence without physical conflict, embark in a ritual war dance.
Although this ultimately proved ineffective in the story, the same approach is used every day in real life. Any display of physical or mental power might induce fear in any weaker person who saw it, even if it was as little as striding confidently along a path in expensive clothing.
The second is also overt but is much more intrusive. In Chapter Six, Jonty has been taken prisoner by the security services when some psychologists tasked with breaking down his resistance introduce him to a device called The Red. This apparatus forces the user into virtual reality environment that generates a horrorshow of believable impressions in order to cripple him with fear and self-hatred.
When encased inside the chamber of The Red, the subject of it entirely forgets that they're in a virtual environment, meaning that the illusion is not only believable but can have the effect of traumatising its victim. The effect of The Red is such that the demoralising effect of the illusions creeps into Jonty's subconscious, meaning that he must strive to find peace and dignity again.
The third is more subtle and is only achievable by use of the Verity Key itself, a device that offers its controller the ability to remotely usurp the minds of other people and to control their behaviour. Although the exact mechanism of the Verity Key's control is not explained in the novel, its effects are described as allowing the consciousness of the user to replace that of the target so that the body and mind of the target come under the user's control.
The disturbing thing about this level of technology is that it could operate on a person without them being aware that they were being manipulated. Subtle things like memories, beliefs and attitudes could be imperceptibly removed (or added), causing the target to think that they had made decisions about things when they really had not.
Because people are so complex, and their motivations overlap in all manner of ways, any malicious force that took control of their mind would be nearly impossible to detect. For this reason, the remote mind control attacks described in The Verity Key are an example of the future possibilities of literature opened up by the reality of scientific and technological advancement.