Help me find a short story about mind control graffiti
October 28, 2013 11:53 PM   Subscribe

This thread and this hypnotic diagram reminded me of a science fiction short story premised around the idea that breakthroughs in psychology and applied mathematics had made it possible to design two-dimensional black and white images that would produce extreme effects in anyone who looked at them. The result was a society in perpetual counter-terrorism lockdown. An image like "The Parrot" could cause immediate seizures and fatal strokes, and one terrorist sneaking a placard of it into the Superbowl could not only kill everyone in his immediate area but also viewers at home. Our main characters in the story are tweens who attend a school with translucent windows. They've gotten their hands on a low-powered nausea-inducing image and they've formed a secret club to take turns looking at it. Where can I find this story?

The story was definitely published in an anthology but that's all I can recall.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Sounds like BLIT by David Langford.
posted by theyexpectresults at 12:09 AM on October 29, 2013

Best answer: Definitely Langford. See also comp.basilisk and a previous metafilter post.
posted by wayland at 12:15 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Definitely David Langford; you're remembering Different Kinds of Darkness, one of the sequels to BLIT.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 12:16 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

And here's the ISFDB's list of places it's appeared, in case you'd like a print copy or you want to figure out where you first read it.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 12:21 AM on October 29, 2013

Response by poster: There's more than one story set in this universe? Thanks!
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:40 AM on October 29, 2013

Oooh, this sounds awesome - and I wanted to mention that Stephen King's short story "Everything's Eventual" also features graffiti that can injure/kill people.
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:40 AM on October 29, 2013

Not set in the same universe, but with similar themes to the stories mentioned above is Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. Flashes of binary code in the form of video static that not only reprograms human brains, but also can affect the computing hardware used to render and display it.
posted by radwolf76 at 7:12 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also related: "Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-Tah-Tee!" by Friz Leiber, about an infectious meme that nearly overwhelms society.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:54 AM on October 29, 2013

I hadn't read Different Kinds of Darkness. Very cool.
posted by Hactar at 8:04 AM on October 29, 2013

Best answer: The four stories in Langford's "basilisk universe" are:

"BLIT" (1988)
"What Happened at Cambridge IV" (1990)
"comp.basilisk FAQ" (1999)
"Different Kinds of Darkness" (2000)
posted by Chrysostom at 11:34 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

The wikipedia entry on BLIT has some more info on were the story/idea has been referenced by other sf writers as a kinda in joke
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:40 PM on October 29, 2013

It's the same plot as Monty Python's funniest joke in the world sketch.
posted by w0mbat at 3:50 PM on October 29, 2013

I can add another: Ian McDonald's book "Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone," a thin book but a good read, is about a graphic arts student who was experimenting with fractals (which were big in SF back then) and found that certain fractal images could produce profound emotional changes in people. Eventually he finds the most powerful ones-- one that essentially induces emotional peace within a person, and another which can destroy a person's mind. For reasons I don't want to reveal, he has them tattooed, one on each hand.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:49 PM on October 29, 2013

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