Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Trouble on Triton


I'm a big fan of the SF&F of Samuel R. Delany, but Trouble on Triton is one of two books from his classic period that I haven't read - the other being Dhalgren. Actually, I did start Triton in high school, but its casual nudity in the workplace, and its men's co-op with a lecherous old gay man sitting naked in the living room playing wargames - well, that kind of freaked me out as a kid.

The society depicted in Triton is pretty clearly post-scarcity. I am racing through this book now, and it is very clear that it is one of Delany's best. Trouble on Triton belongs in any discussion of utopias/near utopias.

More on the novel once I finish the book!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

LGBTQ Genre Literature and Utopias

I prepared some notes for a friend who is hosting a panel on LGBTQ genre literature and utopias. These are just notes, so excuse the rambling tone. I'd invite comments on other LGBTQ utopias that people have encountered in SF&F.

First of all, I recommend this interview with Kim Stanley Robinson: http://www.jotdown.es/2017/06/kim-stanley-robinson-science-needs-to-think-of-itself-more-as-humanism-and-as-an-utopian-politics/

There’s a lot there to appreciate, including KSR's comments about Bogdanov

I was going to recommend KSR because for all intents and purposes, most of Aurora deals with a utopian society facing hard times. Unlike most generation ship stories, there is no hint of a command hierarchy. All decisions seem to be made by deliberation in communities across the ship. People who take care of the ship (such as the protagonist’s engineer mom) basically choose to do so on their own. They take responsibility for making the ship a better place – or at least one that continues to be habitable. I believe there is also an LGBTQ male couple: the pair of guys who adopt the kid on the autism spectrum.

Next, a couple of essays by China Mieville. Both relate to his contributions to Verso’s recent republication of Thomas Moore’s Utopia: 
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/nov/04/thomas-more-utopia-500-years-china-mieville-ursula-le-guin and http://salvage.zone/mieville_all.html

The book also includes essays by Ursula LeGuin, whose novel The Dispossessed, is inarguably a utopian SF novel (no idea if there are any LGBTQ characters there). I confess I have at least one copy of it within 5 feet of my reading chair, and have started it once or twice, but I have always stopped fairly early on. I’m probably too sectarian; it’s the Marxist in me that gets very impatient with anarchist viewpoints. 

Joanna Russ’ novel The Female Man contains the world Whileaway, an explicitly feminist utopia where men no longer exist, women create families and reproduce parthenogenically (more or less; I believe tech is involved). It is at least implicitly a lesbian world. 

That’s about the only explicitly LGBTQ utopia that I have read, although I’d guess Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing also comes pretty close.

If you think about utopia as having to start somewhere, and specifically in a determinate set of social relations, then a lot of Samuel R. Delany is suddenly relevant. Way back in the early ‘60s, we had his spacers, freebirds who take what jobs they will (Nova, Babel-17), and gathering as a community of their own kind in the spaceports (or on pirate ships!), sporting living tattoos/biografts and having their own zero-G version of WWF. Implicitly (maybe explicitly, I should read Babel-17 again, I mean it’s been a year already!) free love is a given among spacers.

Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is even more interesting. Two interstellar cultures, both with human members, are spiraling toward apocalyptic war. The Family is a culture organized fairly conservatively along lines of blood and family as traditionally understood. In contrast, the culture known as The Sygn (I think that’s the spelling) organize into nurturestreams which are definitely NOT organized by traditional notions of family (indeed the one nurturestream we see involves humans and giant spider aliens cohabiting and caring for each other!). The novel itself is one man’s quest to find his (male) “perfect erotic object”. There is also a sort of utopia of knowledge in this setting, an interstellar “internet” called General Information (this novel emerged in the early ‘80s too, well before the internet as we know it emerged!). 

There is a bit of a trend these days in SF that is worthy of note, and Greg Johnson was the one who brought this up last year at Diversicon. People are starting to write novels/create worlds in which some basic social issues have been resolved, such as sexual orientation, gender oppression, gender identity, although in other respects these are not particularly nice worlds. Ann Lechie, Ada Palmer, and Yoon Ha Lee have all come up with extremely hierarchical cultures in their recent fiction. These cultures have either abolished/suppressed gender distinctions, or these no longer matter for all intents and purposes. In Yoon Ha Lee’s case, sexual orientation is also a total non-issue. None of these societies is a utopia, but their authors are obviously on to something. 

And then there’s all the dystopian SF of the last decade – both YA novels and for adult audiences.

One of my professors, Anibal Quijano, had a particularly telling take on utopias. Thomas Moore’s work came out of the European encounter with indigenous peoples in the new world. Europeans often saw the indigenous peoples as being less selfish, less violent, and as having more prosperous and abundant societies than European ones. As I’m writing this, the internet is all atwitter with the discovery of an Aztec skull tower in Mexico City, but there is no doubt that Tenochtitlan was a more populous, cleaner, better managed urban metropolis than any European cities of the same period - however much violence may have been exercised in the temple sacrifices. (And I’ve seen compelling arguments by others – I think Silvia Federici in Caliban and the Witch - that the level of human sacrifice in Central Mexico at the time of the conquest was less than the level of death in Europe from executions of criminals and the witch hunts.)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Dresden Files Accelerated

Yours truly, Alan, Eric, and Bob

This is what playtesters look like! Our Thursday night group was very happy to playtest Dresden Files Accelerated, and equally pleased to see it come out in print this week! The people pictured above, as well as Rachel, were part of the alpha playtest of the game.

Our playtest campaign involved Prince (who was still alive at the time, and a withdrawn but real supernatural power in the local scene), a battle in Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis, and two evil suburban realtors (a husband wife team - the guy a mortal sex maniac; the wife a vampire - who operated as a wholesome Christian business couple).

Dresden Files Accelerated will get some use at conventions and for mini-campaigns.

Monday, February 27, 2017

From The Zones: A New Field Report!


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

Fate of Everfair


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
Our young heroes routed their human and Martian adversaries in a furious set of battles in the air and on the land surrounding the mountain stronghold of the elders who led the government council of Everfair!  Their very annoying youthful adversary, Anthony Blair Scouter (Shadow of Colonialism) met a particularly ill end (hurled from the heroes airship; this was totally justified), but the Martian got away!

It was a fun game and the players thought Nisi Shawl's setting was refreshingly unique and intriguing!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Young Centurions - Revenge on Mars



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, Part 2


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

The Fading Sun: Kesrith


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

Vintage Science Fiction Month


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.

Started:
  • The Bloody Sun and The Shattered Chain by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
  • The Faded Sun: Kesrith by C.J. Cherryh
Finished:
  • Tales of Neveryon by Samuel R. Delany
Brief Review: What if Conan the Barbarian were a gay leatherman? I last read Samuel R. Delany's Tales of Neveryon (1979) within a year of two of its publication. I have reread parts of the first story, "The Tale of Gorgik" several times (at least in part) but this was my first time in about 35 years rereading the entire book.

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!
Tales of Neveryon was very much worth rereading. As it was the first in a series of novels (including the first AIDS novel), I intend to read the rest of Delany's Neveryon series over the course of the year.

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.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Saturday Night Space Opera Zazzle Store

 Click on the image to get to the store!

Did you know there is a Zazzle store for our Saturday Night Space Opera game group? Click on the image or the link here to see all the cool SNSO swag you can order.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Strange Stars Fate Sale


You still have today to get in on the Hydra Cooperative's big PDF sale for the New Year. My Strange Stars Fate rulebook is part of the sale, as is Trey Causey's Strange Stars setting book, which every SF gamer should own. Check them both out, or the entire Hydra list here.