Monday, February 27, 2017
From the Zones is a community project curated here at Fate SF. It is a way of honoring and celebrating the Soviet SF novel Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, as well as the film based on the novel, Andrei Tarkovsky's STALKER.
To see previous Field Reports from the Zones, visit here.
For information on how to participate in From the Zones, as well as resources, visit here.
To get inspired, check out Hereticwerks' new Field Report, Images From An Abandoned Camera (2), a perfect example of how Zones can be deadly and unpredictable, where seemingly everyday phenomena can have quite startling effects.
From the Zones logos courtesy of Hereticwerks. If you like them, check out their Zazzle store for other neat things!
Monday, February 20, 2017
I ran 16 hours of programming at Con of the North: 8 hours of programming/2 events for the Saturday Night Space Opera theme track, and another 8 hours of programming/2 events for the Tékumel theme track.
Of the 16 hours, 12 were devoted to games of Fate. I'll write about the two playtests that I ran of the Fate of Tékumel RPG over on my Tékumel blog, but in this post I thought I'd provide a brief report on the Young Centurions game that kicked off the con for me.
As readers may know, Young Centurions is a prequel RPG to Spirit of the Century, and is powered by Fate Accelerated Edition. It's a pulp RPG featuring teens and set in the "'teens": the second decade of the 20th Century. In my opinion it's the best iteration of Fate published by Evil Hat so far, and a real gem of an RPG at $20 for a hardcover.
My game was called "Revenge on Mars". The location was a bit of a surprise to the players: I chose to set the game in Nisi Shawl's Everfair, a 2016 novel alternate history steampunk novel set in a democratic republic in the former Belgian Congo. As people may know, King Leopold's o-called Belgian Free State (i.e., the Belgian Congo) was one of the most brutal episodes of European colonialism in Africa, and what Nisi Shawl set to do in her novel is show that steampunk can directly oppose colonialism and racism, rather than ignore or celebrate it. A different world is (and always has been) possible.
Everfair was established by an alliance of African American missionaries and British Fabian Socialists. The Fabians were an odd bunch, believing that socialism could be achieved gradually, through participation in the democratic process and the development of a cooperative sector of the economy. They also believed in free love, which makes them strange bedfellows with the African American missionaries. There is also an African king who claims sovereignty over the region held by the state of Everfair, and the novel has complicated politics that play out over three wars (an anti-colonial war, WW I, and a civil war). The novel is a good read, and reminds me a great deal (for various reasons) of C.L.R. James' history of the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins.
In my story, which was set during WW I, the enemies of Everfair have their own strange bedfellows. European colonialists forge an alliance with a survivor of the original tripod invasion of Earth from Mars. There's an irony here, since one of the most famous Fabian Socialists was none other than H.G. Wells, the author of War of the Worlds!
The players created Everfairian characters who fought to protect their democracy from the alliance of Martians and European colonialists! In the Spirit of the Century universe, the heroes are often called "Spirits" or Centurions: born on the first day of the new century, they possess special powers and abilities. Their adversaries are often people who were born on the last day of the previous century; these foes are called Shadows.
The players made really interesting characters, including:
- An African witch who was the Spirit of Earth
- A child of African refugees from the Belgian Congo, and an autodidact adopted by missionaries; the Spirit of Knowledge
- Panthor, an African jungle lord; Spirit of the Wild
- A child of Scotts Fabian Socialists, an engineer, inventor, and tinkerer; Spirit of the Machine
- Mendelssohn, a German youth and airship pilot; the Spirit of Flight
It was a fun game and the players thought Nisi Shawl's setting was refreshingly unique and intriguing!
Saturday, February 11, 2017
We're running two Fate games at Con of the North. The first of these happens from 12-4 PM, on Friday, February 17. We're kicking the convention off with a session of Young Centurions, which is the teen PC version of Spirit of the Century.
Here's the blurb:
On the eve of WW I, Martian artifacts are uncovered hinting at a new tripod invasion. The teen heroes of the Century Club must find a way to defeat the Martian foes before the once again wrap their slimy tentacles around the Earth. Try out this easy, fun-to-play RPG prequel to Evil Hat's Spirit of the Century.
I was originally thinking of having the starting action scene set in NYC. Now I am thinking more about the African terrain of Nisi Shawl's Everfair. We shall see.
One of the considerations is the violence level. Young Centurions encourages the GM to avoid a lot of gunplay, since the PCs are teens. That might not be an ideal fit with the Belgian Congo, arguably the most brutal episode of European colonialism in Africa.
Still, Nisi Shawl did some very interesting things with her alternate history setting, and I can think of some synergies with what I want to do in this game.
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
The Faded Sun: Kesrith is the third book I've read by C.J. Cherryh, and my second book for this year's Vintage Science Fiction Month. Set on a desert planet under a red sun, this novel features two alien races in conflict with each other, and with humans. One can see a bit of a Dune influence with the honor-obsessed Kel: the indigenous, golden-eyed humanoid desert warriors whose way of life is threatened by offworld great power politics. The burrowing predators lurking under desert sands further the sense of a Dune-influence.
But the comparison ends there, because C.J. Cherryh is far more interested in how alien species interact among their own kind, and with other species, than she is with the great power politics of space empires that captured Frank Herbert's imagination (almost as much as his fear of male sodomy).
The most interesting species in this story is the regul, whose younglings are mobile and subservient to their much more massive, sessile, and long-lived elders. The regul are a species with a strong aversion to lying. But their elders have a great propensity to conceal or omit important facts, details, and truths in order to pursue an advantage against other elders of their own kind or of other species such as humanity.
The regul are retreating from Kesrith, ceding the planet as part of the settlement that ends their war with humanity. Of course, the regul didn't prosecute this war themselves. They used mercenaries, the Kel, who have suffered enormous casualties in keeping their military commitments to the regul. The Kel are now a dying race.
The Fading Sun: Kesrith tells the story of what happens when a dying race, the Kel, are cornered by humans and regul alike on the Kel ancestral homeworld of Kesrith. A human warrior crosses paths with a Kel; all hell breaks loose.
This is an enjoyable first novel of a classic '70s SF trilogy.
Is it gameable? I dare say yes! In fact, the Vokun species in Trey Causey's Strange Stars game setting was based in part on the regul. As I read the novel, I kept on thinking of the Traveller RPG. The struggle of a small group of characters to survive on a harsh alien world, get into space, and ultimately set a new course for their lives feels very Traveller.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
C.J. Cherryh's The Fading Sun: Kesrith (1978) has been with me since high school. My best friend, Steve - the first person I gamed with - read the entire Fading Sun trilogy back then. He really liked its narrative about the Kel, a dying race of honorable space mercenaries, and their dog-bear (sehlat?) companions. I finished Yoon Ha Lee's Ninefox Gambit last month; Lee's faction of black-clad warriors is also called the Kel. This can't be a coincidence.
The Fading Sun: Kesrith is one of the books I am reading for Vintage Science Fiction Month this January.
Monday, January 9, 2017
We are once again back in Vintage Science Fiction Month, and I have started several and finished one vintage SF work already. Vintage is defined as published in 1979 or before.
- The Bloody Sun and The Shattered Chain by Marion Zimmer Bradley
- Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
- The Faded Sun: Kesrith by C.J. Cherryh
- Tales of Neveryon by Samuel R. Delany
The book is a set of linked stories, and it is implied that the stories happen somewhere in ancient Central/South Asia of our own Earth's prehistory. While the story features dragons, in most other respects, it is a swords and sandals novel without other explicit fantastic elements.
Gorgik, the protagonist of the first story, starts the narrative as a slave, and ends as the leader of a slave revolt. Other stories focus on female protagonists, and some of the protagonists and characters cross paths with each other in successive stories.
Tales of Neveryon can be considered anthropological SF, as the stories explore:
- The mysteries of commodity chains, as embodied in children's songs about the bouncing balls that appear and disappear over the course of each year in the port city of Neveryona.
- The gendering of creation myths, the creation of gender, and the mystery of why men's genitalia are more vulnerable than those of women.
- The uncomfortable connections between slavery and sexuality. Or, the gayest daddy leatherman Conan you've ever seen!
Gameable? This is Fate SF, so we're going to ask that question! Tales of Neveryon has its Gorgik the Liberator, and Everway has its Tales of the Gorgeous Liberator! Anyone seeking to create game worlds that take culture and political economy seriously can take a lot of inspiration from this book, and the subsequent ones in the series.
I also found a passage in the book that is very suggestive of Tekumel. The connection might even be real, considering that both Delany and Barker taught at the University of Minnesota:
Outlook: January is a busy month, with the North Country Gaylaxians' discussion both Tales of Neveryon and Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang in the first half of the month, and the Second Foundation Reading Group discussing Nisi Shawl's Everfair towards the end of the month. But chances are good that I will finish at least The Faded Sun: Kesrith before February arrives.