Monthly Archives: November 2011
I just finished the fifth book of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. I don’t remember the precise title (Death Masks?), but that hardly matters since the titles are the least interesting or memorable parts of the series. They are wonderful fun, each and every one of them, and while they lack in some areas (Butcher’s a bit predictable at times), I recommend them to anyone looking for some light reading in the Urban/Contemporary Fantasy genre.
Anyway, the reason I bring Butcher up is that his main character, Harry Dresden, is confronted by an otherworldly
spirit who, as payment for services rendered, asks him for an honest answer to a question: “Why do you do what you do?” In other words, why does Harry, powerful wizard, bother living his life as a protector of the mortal world, which puts him in harm’s way, hurts his finances, and ruins his personal relationships. In essence, the spirit asks Harry why he is a hero. The best part?
Harry doesn’t know the answer.
As most stories–and fantasy/scifi stories in particular–have a hero of some kind, this is a question that really needs to be pondered by any writer in the genre. We too often, I feel, simply accept the actions of the hero at face value. We shrug our shoulders and give the ol’ Uncle Ben speech about ’with great power comes great responsibility’. Does it? Does it have to? I don’t think so. There’s no reason why Superman has to do the stuff he does–there are literally infinite excuses to be used to get out of helping strangers. The vast majority of humanity uses them every day, all the time; I’m no exception and neither, probably, are you. Even if we do help, it is in contained and focused ways–we give to this charity, but not to the poor directly; we’ll help people move, but we won’t care for their pets; we’ll make sure a drunk friend gets home okay, but we won’t confront him or her about their drinking problem.
I mean, ask yourself: if you could fly and stop bullets with your chest and do all the stuff superman does, would you spend all your time flying around stopping crime? If not, how much time would you spend? How long would you keep it up? Be honest with yourself.
A hero–by which I mean a real hero and not somebody we dub a hero due to some fluke of fortune–is something rare and special. I see no reason we should consider such people less rare and less special simply because they exist in another world. One of the reasons I like Harry Dresden as a character is that, for all the corniness to his person, he is a true hero but, at the same time, not an inhuman one or one that we simply accept at face value. Harry does what he does because, on some level, he can’t quite figure out what else he would do with himself. It’s a vocation, not something he shouldered because he figured he ought to. He doesn’t have a responsibility to help the helpless–this is constantly pointed out to him–yet he does it anyway. Why? He doesn’t know. He thinks he’s an idiot half the time.
I think folks with the ‘hero complex’ are people who don’t stop to think too hard about why they do what they do. They do it because they can’t imagine the alternative. That guy who runs into his neighbor’s burning house to save their dog is a hero not because he’s smart, but because he has to do that in order to feel normal. Most people wouldn’t. Nobody would blame him if he didn’t. He’s not showing off, he’s not doing it for the glory, he’s doing it because, dammit, if he let the dog die in the house it would bother him, like, forever. Yeah, it’s just a dog, but c’mon–you can hear it yelping, for Christ’s sake! You’re just going to stand there?
And another thing: you know what isn’t heroism? Revenge. Revenge is giving into your base impulses, demeaning yourself to a level of animal. We needn’t even talk of morals here or how it doesn’t solve anything–Revenge is allowing another to dictate your behavior; it is reactive, not proactive. It isn’t heroic, it’s animalistic. Frank Castle is not a hero when he kills the bad guys. If he is a hero, it is for other reasons entirely. Revenge makes for good stories and good drama, but it doesn’t make good heroes. I don’t admire such people, anyway–I understand them, yes, I even sympathize with them, but I don’t admire them.
The guy who jumps into the freezing river to save someone else’s kid? That guy is a hero. I admire him. Maybe he’s stupid, maybe he’s crazy, maybe he isn’t thinking things through, but he had to do it. He couldn’t stand there and watch. It isn’t his responsibility, true, but heroes don’t do heroic things because they’re supposed to. They do them because they can’t help themselves.
How can you ask this question? How can you not know, slug? How can you not see how you deserve this?
When your people came across the Great Mountains, we, the Children of Xarn, the proud arahk, were the sole inhabitants of these plains. We roamed and fought and feasted on the backs of the wooly manticore, the wolves and wargs heralding the approach of our tribes. There was enough for all of us–we grew large and strong off the fat of the land.
You changed this. We fought you, but you were cosseted by your foul sorcery, protected by your cowardly armor, aided by your fiendish steel. We died or were driven before your thrice-damned knights. The herds were slaughtered, the wolves–our allies–put to the sword. What holy places we had, you burned. Deny it–I expect you to–but it is all true.
Our refuge now lies across the feezing, sucking bogs of Roon. We live in a narrow valley ringed by mountains that spit fire and ash, choking our children and stunting our growth. Most die young, and their sires lay a curse upon your heads with every infant found dead–frozen or poisoned or starved. Then we eat it–we let its young flesh feed our hatred. We embrace the abominations you have made us, you miserable wretch. Know this before I kill you–I will wear your flesh as a skirt, I will whittle your bones into knives and spikes and arrows by which I can injure and maim and kill more of your cursed people.
You call us monsters? Yes, we are. We are the monsters you made. If you say we love war, it is because we had a good tutor. If you say we are merciless, it is because we have never experienced it. If you say we are hateful, you know nothing–hate is not a strong enough word. You are the Enemy, forever and always. Those of us who grow strong enough to venture into our old lands and see how you have filled them with your hard castles and endless farms will never tire of doing you harm. Every farm I burn, every village I loot, every corpse I eat and tool I steal means that my children grow closer to a day where they will know the color of the sun and taste the sweetness of a breeze untained by sulphur and ash.
That you claim to be innocent only makes me hate you more. It is a hatred that feeds me, nourishes me, drives me onwards. I have defined my life by the anticipation of your people’s death. Not only those that bear weapons, but all of you–the young the old, female and male, rich or poor. If my race must all suffer as one, so shall yours.
You ask why I hate you?
I hate you because you do not know.
Since I’m on an RPG-design kick, let’s talk music in RPGs. I’m fairly certain that, in this age of custom playlists and easily accessible music players, most modern GMs try to incorporate some kind of background music into their games. If you’re one of the ones that don’t, I’m going to try and convince you to. If you’re one of the ones that do, I’m going to suggest some ways you may be able to enhance its use and give you some pointers for tracking it down.
I’ve used music in RPGs ever since I returned to GMing regularly, which was in the early 2000s after a general hiatus in college (the odd one-shot here or there, but no campaigns). I started using it because RPGs always seemed to run like movies in my head, anyway, and a soundtrack made sense. Also, I found it added a nice flair to the mood of the game and, furthermore, I could even get my players on edge or get them to relax depending on the music I played. In a 7th Sea campaign I ran for years, everytime I played the theme music for the main villain (the nefarious ex-Kreuzritter, Gavin Fell), my players would literally shudder, and that was awesome. As the campaign wore on, certain player characters also earned theme music for particularly awesome feats (Helmut Dauben Kohb, for instance, basically owned the theme music to Conan: The Barbarian; remind me to tell you about that character sometime–absolutely most badass PC ever). It became a thing, and I made it a point to do similarly in all my campaigns. All you really need is a playlist and some kind of music player that can play a single track on loop (that’s important, mind you–a single track on loop). Being well behind the times, I still burn CDs; you, I suppose, could use one of your newfangled digital music whatsits or doohickeys.
What Makes Good RPG Music?
Well, in my opinion, there are three things to consider for any given song you want to use in an RPG–an appropriate style, a consistent mood, and a useful theme.
Style: Pick songs that fit with the kind of game you’re running. If you’re doing medieval fantasy, stay away from jazz or techno music; if you’re running a cyberpunk game, lay off the slow classical and opera. Western games should sound like western soundtracks, space opera games should sound a bit like Star Wars, and Cold War thrillers should take a cue from the James Bond flicks. This general style umbrella gives you plenty of different moods and themes underneath them (or they should), so it ought not limit your selection by much. It does, however, make the game sound like it ought to play.
Mood: A song should create a certain mood, and that mood should remain consistent throughout the song. Most songs are somewhere between 2 and 6 minutes long and the vast majority of RPG sequences are at least two or three times that long. So, if the song starts creepy, you want it to stay creepy the whole time. Nothing kills the usefulness of a song more than having the nice, quiet, pastoral sound change, suddenly, to frightening military music. Suddenly your touching reunion on the farm is being broken up by goblin invaders! Booo! This why, incidentally, you want to be able to loop a single track.
Theme: A song should themed to be useful in certain situations. I usually split my music into action themes, creepy themes, and environmental themes. The first is usually the easiest to find–fast paced, loud, exciting, dramatic. The second it the next easiest–slow, menacing, spooky. The last is the hardest to find, since it can vary dependent upon the kind of environments your campaign is going to spend time exploring. If the players a riding across the plains, what kind of music do you have? Sailing pirate-infested archipelagoes? Walking through a crowded marketplace in a foreign city? Try to cover as many bases as possible, since your players will often surprise you. I find myself frequently without appropriate music, despite my best efforts, and some tracks I thought would be useful are almost never played. Ah well…
In addition to this, it isn’t a bad idea to have an array of basic soundeffects you can play on loop. I got a sound effects CD ages ago and have used the campfire, rain, noisy tavern, and howling wind sounds a lot. When I ran a Star Trek campaign, I tried to get the general roar of the warp engines to be playing in the background whenever on the ship, and also tried to get the hum and beep of the bridge computers when players were sitting on the bridge. It made the whole experience that much more immersive and fun.
Know Your Score
It’s not only important to get good music, you also have to know that music very well. You don’t have a lot of time to remember which song is which on your playlist when the action is about to start–you should know which one fits and play it immediately. Furthermore, if you really know your music, you can cue certain reveals or certain moments in play to certain dramatic crescendoes in the song. There are a few songs I know really well, and if I detect a big crescendo is coming as I’m explaining something, I’ll try to drag it out a few seconds so I can time the reveal to coincide with the big BOOOM of the drums–this kind of stuff nets you major brownie points from your players (it’s not always possible, sadly, but I always try).
Also, if you’ve got a battle that’s really dragging itself out, it’s a good idea to shake the music up from time to time or even just turn it off entirely. The same song on loop for 90 minutes is going to drive people nuts–throw in some variety. Furthermore, if the campaign is running very long, consider shaking up much of your music, as well. Keep it fresh as best you can.
What follows is a list of movie soundtracks and bands that I’ve found very handy for producing useable RPG soundtracks. Check them out:
- Braveheart Soundtrack
- Kingdom of Heaven Soundtrack
- Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Soundtrack (and the others, too; careful, this one is very noticeable and so robs some originality from the game)
- Conan the Barbarian Soundtrack (big time awesome–one of my all time favorites)
- Gustav Holst’s The Planets
- Music from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
- The Score by Epica
- Gladiator Soundtrack
Swashbuckling/High Seas Campaigns
- Master and Commander Soundtrack
- Pirates of the Carribean Soundtrack
- The Red Violin Soundtrack (super creepy; great for horror games, too)
- Cuthroat Island Soundtrack
- The Score by Epica
Science Fiction Campaigns
- Any Star Trek movie soundtrack
- The soundtrack from any Metroid Prime video game
- Most techno music
- (A lot of the fantasy stuff works here, too)
- Underworld Soundtrack
- Blade Soundtrack
- The collected works of The Offspring
- Most Techno
- Whatever else floats your boat
There’s more, besides, but this is a lot of it.
If you haven’t tried music in a game, try it. If you have, keep it up and I hope some of my little tricks are helpful! Good luck! (Oh, and please give me suggestions myself–I’m always looking for new tips)
So, I’ve just had an idea. It’s one of those ideas which is probably going to eat up far too much of my spare time (wait…I have that?), but could potentially be enormous fun. It’s also one of those ideas that, now that I’ve had it, it is pretty much guaranteed I’m going to do something about it, so I may as well start now.
The idea is a role-playing game inspired by 1960s spy movies. I’m calling it ‘Our Man in Havanna’, but the exact title doesn’t matter so much right now. What’s important is that it is supposed to call up the image of cigarette-smoke filled nightclubs where dangerous men in dark suits play the intelligence game with their wits, a garotte wire, and a .32 caliber automatic. All of this was inspired yesterday, while my daughter and I were listening to this song by Pink Martini.
Anyway, here’s the idea, as it stands now:
One Hero: Most RPGs are ensemble pieces–because there are usually 3 or more players and everybody wants to be a hero, you wind up with a team of experts a la The A-Team, Mission: Impossible, and so on. This is great and all, but I want to shake things up. There is one spy in this game, he/she is the hero, and the story is about him or her. The players actually take turns playing the spy (more on that later) and the idea here is not so much to make your own character shine so much as to make the collective story awesome. Far from being competitive, this game is intended to be collaborative. It is, to my mind, one of the only ways you can have a single-hero story in an RPG without making people feel left out.
Set Roles: As mentioned above, the Spy is played by various people throughout the campaign. So what does everybody else do? Well, we’ve all seen spy movies–there are roles to be filled. Here they are:
- The Dealer is the GM, essentially. He/she controls the deck, sets the scenes, introduces the mission, and so on. He/she keeps his role throughout the game.
- The Spy is the person sitting to the right of the Dealer (at first). The Spy is the hero, as described.
- The Sidekick is the person sitting to the right of the Spy. They play the various assistants to the hero (which may change throughout the session of campaign, as the story dictates).
- The Spoiler is the person sitting to the right of the Spy. They play the wild card characters–love interests, double agents, important secondary characters, and so on. Again, these characters may change as the session or campaign progresses.
- The Extras is the person sitting to the right of the Spoiler. This player plays all the goons, civilians, and nameless whoevers populating each scene. This is a role usually reserved for the GM in a game, but I’ve often found that players can do it just as well if not better than I can, anyway.
- The Villain is the person sitting to the right of the Extras. This player plays the main bad guy–Dr. No, Goldfinger, Blofeld, whatever. Again, a typical GM role, but hilarious fun nevertheless.
If you have fewer than 5 players, you can whittle out roles as you see fit. Extra roles can be played by the Dealer. The objective of everyone is to make a cool spy story together–to entertain one another and have fun playing their roles. In this regard it’s almost like dinner theatre which, incidentally, I think the best RPGs are like anyway.
No Dice: Rather than using dice, the game will use a standard playing card deck (or decks–still thinking about that) in order to adjudicate the kind of things that dice usually decide. I want the game to play sort of like blackjack/poker/baccarat–high stakes, plenty of strategy, reading facial expressions, etc. I haven’t fully decided how the system is going to work yet (I just thought of this yesterday, after all), but I’m thinking it will work sort of like War, in general. If a player wants to do something, the dealer drops a card that represents the difficulty of the task and, to some extent, the nature of the obstacle. If the player can furnish a card that beats the value of the card laid down (aces low, but ace beats king), they succeed and may describe what they do. If they can’t, they fail. The suits of cards exhibit the ways which an obstacle can be overcome. So, for instance (not set in stone, but what I’ve got so far):
- Clubs is the use of force to solve a problem: beat up a thug, break down a door, leap a pit, etc.
- Spades is the use of stealth, subterfuge, or trickery: sneak past a guard, pick a pocket, spot a hidden door, shake a tail, etc.
- Diamonds is the use of resources or equipment: bribe an official, use a pocket laser to cut through a safe, slip knock-out drops in a drink, snipe a target with a high-powered rifle, etc.
- Hearts is the use of charisma, personal magnetism, and charm to solve problems: seduce the villain’s wife, impersonate a general, intimidate a contact, bluff in a card game, etc.
So, by way of example, if you want to break into the villain’s hotel room and I (or the villain) drops a 4 of clubs, that means the doors are locked tight and, possibly (if the Extras player feels like it) there’s a goon outside the door. The Spy would then refer to his or her hand and see if there’s anything of a 5 or higher. Depending on what is there, that determines how the spy can solve the problem. If all he’s got is a 5 of Hearts, he needs to charm his way into the room somehow (perhaps by speaking to the chambermaid), otherwise he can’t do it.
Face Cards will have additional crazy effects, but I haven’t determined what, yet. I’m also thinking that direct confrontations (like fights, chases, and the like) might involve more complicated contests, but I’m not sure how yet.
The idea here is to create a game that is stylish, cool, collaborative, and fun. I’m using cards because I want the players to feel like they’re gathered around a table of green felt in Monte Carlo, stuffed cheek-and-jowl with men in good suits, women in sparking gowns, and dark strangers with eye patches and the uniform of a third-world dictator. I intend to break the game into phases–the Briefing (wherein the Villain and other characters are created), the Investigation (wherein the spy figures out the Villain’s plan), and the Confrontation (wherein the Spy tries to defeat the Villain). I want death traps and car chases and snappy dialogue, goofy gadgets and, most of all, fun.
So, whaddya think? Sound cool? Suggestions? Advice?
There is much and more you do not understand, Earthchild, Awkward Wanderer, Child of Woman. You have seen me before; you know my people by our bright eyes and sharp laughs, by how the wind plays in our many-colored hair, and how we dance upon the sea. Yet you have not seen me for all this. You do not know. You dwell upon the surface.
Many things have I been called by your people. Selkie, they say, foul siren, windborn and too free. Or thief. Or murderer. Or sneak or cheat or liar. I laugh at these petty jibes—weak chains of words by which you would bind me, as you have yourself been bound. I, though, am shinh’ar, speaker of the Secret Tongues, ancient beyond your reckoning—I will not be bound. I fly with the wind or against it, as it suits me.
For long ages have I plied the waters of Alandar and dove in her depths. I know more than you. I know how the sun rises over each horizon, and how to read the future in the stars and clouds. I know the taste of fear and the sound of cold; I can speak with birds and gamble with the waves. Your sorcery of which you are so proud cannot do this; it is dissection of the Truth, distortion of what is Real. It is but another kind of chain.
You do not see your chains, do you? It is strange to me, for I have watched you and your ancestors forge them with great care over centuries—always improving their strength, always testing their power, sundering them only to reforge them again. You are bound from birth—to land, to kin, to country, to king, to philosophy and religion and god. It saddens us; for all that you revile us, we pity you. With you it is ever what cannot be done, what ought not be allowed, what must be stopped. There is no end to your bondage or the burdens it lays upon you.
Could you but sail the waves as we do and taste the bounty of the Mother of All Things! To wander free of care, to fight or to run as passion dictates, to be a mote in the wind—present and full of promise. I have taken many lovers, killed many foes, lost many battles, wept many tears; when it has ended, though, I have laughed. How can you not? Is this not beautiful? You wonder at the magic of our singing, you speak of how our voices might tempt sailors to founder on the rocks, but have you ever thought that the wonder you feel and the joy our songs bring is not our doing, but your own? It is your souls, bound and docile within your hearts, screaming out for their freedom!
Ah, but what grand jest this is. You will not listen; I have told you this before. If not I, then another of my brethren; if not you, then one of your fathers or father’s fathers. You are bound—you are Earthchild, doomed to live and build and die for duty or honor. I am shinh’ar, windborn, Speaker of the Secret Tongues, base selkie, siren, and foul cheat and liar. I make a game of your struggles; I mock your pain. Why would you heed me? Where would be your profit?
Call me mad. You I shall call slave.
Author’s Note: This is some introductory and conclusionary fluff to a battle report I wrote for one of my many Warhammer 40K boards. I think it’s a fun little vigniette in its own right, so I’ve put it here. If you are interested in the battle report itself (or curious about how 40K works), I’ve placed a link. Again, no infringement of Games Workshop’s copyright is intended.
Kryptmann Gore, Archheretic and architect of the Glorious Revolution, shivered in the cold morning dew. He had spent the last four days sleeping in the back of a ramshackle Chimera with the remnants of the Lustborn command staff–some of his first converts to the cause. They were all couching amid the ruins of a small trading post nestled in the rugged highlands of Hasturia’s northern continent, their eyes bloodshot and their moods iritiable. The drugs–both combat related and recreational–had run out yesterday, and already the withdrawal symptoms were taking their toll. Kryptmann knew one squad had died already from the effects, and another two had deserted over the night. “The fools,” he muttered, hugging his sodden coat closer to his body–Lysander and his Astartes would run them down and kill them before they cleared the first ridge.
“What are we waiting for, Kryptmann?” General Hortense asked in a ragged voice, his cheek twitching.
“The shuttle won’t land until we secure the landing area.” Kryptmann snapped. “You’re the damned general–you should know that!”
Hortense rose, his face pale with what Kryptmann assumed was anger, but realized was nausea. While the former High Commander of the Lustborn Legions vomited in the grass, Kryptmann looked at the small, pale man in the flight jacket who had appeared in camp the night before. “You’re certain your master’s ship is undetected?”
The pirate smiled, showing a decidedly imperfect set of teeth. “Low orbit, limited energy signature–the blockade won’t pick us up for hours.”
“But we’ll still have orbital support?” General Hortense groaned over his wretching, “We need orbital support!”
The rest of the command group nodded, shivering and weak with need. All their red-rimmed eyes fixed on the pirate and Kryptmann. The pirate smiled again, “You’ll get enough. We have a Valkyrie with Imperial transpoder codes that’s inbound, and I’ve got a link to an artillery satellite–you’ll have support.”
The vox-man, Barent, jumped as his device came to life. Pressing the earphones to his head, he turned pale. “Sir,” he reported to Hortense, “It’s them…they’ve found us.”
The little group sprang into action, the terror they felt at the nearness of their foe enough to overcome their paralyzing drug-withdrawal. Kryptmann, the only man present not shaking with nausea and chills, licked his lips and stepped inside the chimera. “Not a chance, Lysander–you’ll never catch me alive.”
Read the Report of the battle here.
Kryptmann’s lungs burned almost as much as the tears streaking down his cheeks, but still he ran. The rest of the command group was with him, he thought–he could hear their panicked breaths and hurried footfalls around him and behind him, but they were laden with heavier equipment and armor than he, and they were falling behind.
In front of Kryptmann stretched a broad, beautiful valley of tall grass and scattered trees, all spread beneath a perfect sky of aquamarine. He felt, somehow, that the universe was mocking him.
There was a hiss and an ear-splitting pop as the first bolt hit home, killing the vox man–Kryptmann could tell from the timbre of his scream. Another shot didn’t follow for a few seconds, but when it did it killed the general with equal efficiency. “Bastards,” Kryptmann thought, “They’re taking their time with us. Emperor forbid they waste ammunition.”
Pop! Another man down. Kryptmann tried to count in his head–how many more before they got to him? His stomach churning with terror, he willed his legs somehow to pump faster. His ragged breaths were now tinged with gasps of pain.
Pop! Another garbled cry, another dead follower…
Kryptmann risked a quick, panicked look behind him. He only glimpsed five golden-armored giants, moving in perfect unison across a sea of green grass. A split second later, the arch-heretic’s hip exploded with a pop and a shower of bone-chips and blood. Kryptmann screamed and pitched forwards into the grass and rolled down the slope, limbs flopping like dead snakes.
He came to rest in a shallow gulley, facing up at the clear, perfect sky. The pain was so intense it was all he could do to breathe and moan in agony. His eyes were swallowed by the broad, blue expanse above him, and it was all he could see or think about for a long, long time. Gradually, he realized he wasn’t dead. There was the briefest moment of hope, but then he remembered something. Something very important.
The Astartes didn’t miss a kill shot unless they meant to.
Kryptmann waited, gasping in pain, until he felt his doom approach. Lysander’s heavy steps made the ground shake a full minute before he appeared over him, the Captain’s huge, scarred face looking down upon him like a god sitting in judgment. Kryptmann managed a smile and grunted, “Come to gloat?”
Lysander’s voice was as cold as winter itself. “I promised you when this began that I would kill you with my own hands, wretch.”
“You…you don’t intimidate me, you oaf. You…you mindless stooge…” Kryptman growled.
Lysander planted a huge, armored boot on Kryptman’s chest. “I always keep my promises.”
“You’re nothing but a servant. I…I was a god amongst men!” Kryptman managed, spitting blood through his teeth.
Lysander shook his head very slowly. “No, you were but a man. A man among rats.”
A moment later, the Captain’s golden gauntlet descended, and Kryptman lost sight of the sky.
Author’s Note: What follows is some of the campaign storyline for a Warhammer 40K RPG I ran last year–the whole thing worked out wonderfully, actually–and I just thought I’d include this here for fun. If running your own 40K RPG, feel free to use it yourself, if you like. No infringement of Games Workshop’s copyright is intended.
++Attention Lord Inquisitor, OrdoDacia++
+Even a Man Who is Nothing May Still Offer His Life+
My Lord Orsino,
In accordance with your wishes I have herein compiled a complete overview of the Lustborn Heresy, so that future Ordo operatives may know the signs and respond accordingly. Following the completion of this report, I will have myself mind-scrubbed to remove the taint of such knowledge from my soul. Should you wish to access it, only you will possess the knowledge of its whereabouts.
With Loyalty Always,
Hathbront Markuse, Savant
It is likely that the precise origins of this wretched cult will forever remain unknown, but this much can be authenticated. In the early part of 797.M41, a vessel of xeno origin—possibly Eldar—was found derelict close to Listening Post 44872-AF on the Octavian Frontier. An interceptor squadron, led by the Lunar-class cruiser INS Vigilance and supported by INS Merciless, boarded the vessel, expecting some kind of xeno trickery. The small crew of the xeno ship was reported as dead upon arrival, though later certain interviews with the Vigilance’s boarding team contested that fact (they insisted they were forced to engage hostiles—see report 777320). In any event the ship was declared secure and it was Captain Gethamy’s decision to scuttle it in deep space.
It may seem odd that this action indicated the start of one of the most dangerous heresies in recent history, given the relative simplicity of it, but one important detail must be indicated. The medical officer aboard the Vigilance was none other than Kryptman Gore himself (see POI file 1848301-K8). It is suggested by a number of our augurs and analysts that Gore managed to acquire some kind of alien biologics that enabled him to later create the Luster-V strain. This again merely reinforces the importance of careful =I= involvement and investigation into all xeno contacts, no matter how routine.
The archheretic Krytman Gore was born on Helica II into a wealthy mercantile household in 758.M41. He excelled at academics and was admitted to the venerable SaturnineUniversityin 780.M41, where he studied chemistry and medicine. Graduating top of his class, he took a post in the Imperial Navy as a medical orderly, midshipman rank. His service record is exemplary, with his superiors lavishing praise upon the young officer. This, in and of itself, seems suspicious, but it must remain suspicions—the war did a good job of making sure none of our operatives were able to interview those who knew him. The Vigilance was lost with all hands in its initial action against the traitor fleet in 814.M41 near Cordobo.
Gore left the Emperor’s service in 800.M41 and seems to have moved to Hasturia to take up private medical practice. We strongly suspect this move was not happenstance. Given what followed, it seems obvious that Gore already had a plan in mind and Hasturia met with his specifications.
Whether Kryptman Gore was inspired or assisted by xenotech or whether he was, instead, a chemical and biological genius, the end result is the same. Gore wasn’t practicing medicine on Hasturia to serve the populace, but rather using his medical practice as a guise for his medical experiments. We have recovered intermittent reports from the local Magistratum in Hanburg (Gore’s city of residence) that record accusations of malpractice and malfeasance levied against Gore by patients. It is unknown what became of these accusations—clearly very little. It is possible he was fined and lost substantial portions of his income and personal wealth. This, of course, did not deter him.
What Gore was working towards was a version of mind control in chemical or biological form. It is probable that he had a number of failed attempts at this, hence the complaints and subsequent fines. Still, he was learning. This experimentation, in all probability, took until 805.M41 before a finished product was ready. This biochemical substance is now known as Luster-V.
The full Mechanicus report on the chemical structure of Luster-V can be found in archival report #CC8309961. In brief, it is a retroviral agent that radically alters hormone production in the body. Once exposed to a significant quantity of the substance, the victim is soon overcome with a feeling of quasi-orgasmic ecstasy as the body produces endorphins at a incredibly accelerated rate. The body then imprints this production of endorphins on a particular activity—that being whatever activity the victim is engaged in at the time of the drug’s activation. The victim is then chemically dependent upon the performance of that activity in order to produce endorphins of any kind. In essence, they are addicted to whatever it is they have been imprinted to do. One can immediately see the terrible and sobering effects such a drug would have in the hands of a power-mad heretic. To make matters even worse, Luster-V is permanent and self-replicating within a person’s system and can be passed down (in an inert form) to any offspring, allowing Gore and, later, the Chem Lords, to execute near-perfect control over a population thus afflicted.
Though tales of horror and mayhem are of little worth to formal reports, I feel it is necessary to point out the horrific results of a population infected with Luster-V. During the scourging of New Coplia, front line units reported hordes of emaciated, half-naked civilians imprinted as manual laborers running into crossfires to dig trenches in areas already overrun by Imperial forces. Elsewhere, we discovered women who had been imprinted during the act of childbirth serving as little more than horrifying breeding slaves, doomed to continually seek impregnation or suffer oft-fatal withdrawal symptoms. I need not mention, of course, the so-called Lustborn Elite—child soldiers imprinted on violence and warfare used as shock troops, commandoes, and even human shields against our forces.
As of this writing, there is nothing short of extensive gene-therapy that can reverse the effects of someone affected with Luster-V. Those actually ‘Lustborn’ (those who inherited the chemical from a parent) are beyond help. It is the stated recommendation of this report that they be put to death whenever found. It is both an act of mercy and the erasure of a profanity against the Emperor’s Light.
+The Corruption of Hasturia+
Of course, the full horror of Luster-V would not manifest itself for many years and, to the great regret and shame of the Ordo, its presence was not detected until it was far too late. This is, presumably, because Kryptman Gore was not so foolish as to begin imprinting people in obviously deranged ways. He must have worked with great subtlety, securing the dependence of various government ministers and underworld kingpins upon something only he could provide (such as placebo-effect sugar pills, for instance) by infecting them with Luster-V. It is hypothesized that these individuals, unaware of precisely why they needed Kryptman so much, soon began to depend upon him.
Hasturia was, of course, an ideal place to build a base of power. As a venerable agri-world that had been slowly growing its industry and urban centers throughout the 8th century M41, it was poised to become the next superpower in the Dacia Subsector as Aquilonia and Helica gradually faded with the tapping out of their resources. The prevalent cultural mood of Hasturia was energetic, optimistic, and forward-thinking. Government ministers were usually open to new ideas and radical new methods of governance and research and, therefore, had =I= agents and informants looking in a hundreds of directions at once. There was little chance we could have picked Kryptman Gore’s very quiet scheme for planetary domination out from among the many other, louder, and more flagrantly heretical activities of some of his fellow citizens (refer to reports 778012 through 779592 and their corresponding POI files).
Thus, Hasturia at this juncture was a balance of both agriculture and industry, with a population not so large as to be unwieldy for control but large enough to represent a good starting point for a larger, more widespread insurrection. We theorize that Gore knew this all too well, and chose Hasturia intentionally for his purposes. Regardless, however, of whether such theories are true or not, the fact remains that, at some point before 812.M41, Kryptman or his representatives had secured control of the top levels of the entire planetary government and had a firm grasp on the underworld and criminal element, as well.
Subtle and important shifts in Hasturian society, which had been happening throughout the early 9th century M41, picked up speed with Gore and the now Lust-addicted planetary leaders calling the shots. Recreational drug use skyrocketed, while crime simultaneously dropped to almost nothing. This indicates that there was a tight union between the underworld and the planetary governor, Ernest Falking, which was, no doubt, orchestrated by Gore. As society became progressively more debauched, we presume Luster-V continued to be distributed, and more people were made slaves to its will.
At some point during this process, Gore lost sole control of his creation, though we cannot say whether this loss was involuntary or rather another stage of his plan. Various government ministers saw what was happening and, presumably pondering the implications, evidently decided they wanted more than they had, and that Gore’s chemical mastery coupled with their ambition could provide it.
+The Cordobo Ambush+
Gore and the new leaders of the insurrection—later dubbed the Chem Lords—knew, and rightly so, that any action against the Imperium was doomed to failure without naval support. The timeline of when and how, exactly, the Traitor fleet was formed is not wholly known. Clearly some agreement with the Great Enemy was made—indeed, it is very likely a taint of the Ruinous Powers was evident from the very start of this process. In any event, a renegade fleet of considerable size was amassed in secret somewhere beyond the confines of the Hasturia system. The fact that there is no intelligence to indicate the details of this gathering of Enemy naval power can be partially attributed to the increased frequency of Eldar raids upon shipping in the subsector (see below), though it still exists as a stain upon the diligence of both the Imperial Navy and the Ordo.
The existence of the ‘Glorious Fleet’ and, indeed, the very first shots of what the Hasturians would soon be calling ‘The Glorious Insurrection’, manifested in a devastating raid upon the naval base at Cordobo in 812.M41. A battle group of two battleships, 15 cruisers, and no fewer than 80 smaller ships struck with remarkable coordination. Though a gallant defense was mustered and, thanks to the heroic actions of then-CommodoreMyraAtkin, the Cordobo base was not totally destroyed, loyalist naval power was struck a devastating blow. Nine ships of the line were irrevocably lost while another seven sustained crippling damage. There was also extensive damage done to the repair docks and command center. Though Cordobo would survive the war, it would be almost a decade before it was back to full operating capacity.
+The Lustborn Insurrection+
Much has been made of the military campaigns of the past 29 years, and it is not the purpose of this report to reiterate military history. Suffice to say that the Lustborn Cult wasted no time in consolidating its power and mustering together an army while its new fleet struck with devastating swiftness. As the subsector marshaled itself for a counterattack, many minor systems around Hasturia found themselves at the mercy of the traitor fleet.Cordobacontinued to sustain raids and the Stygian system was blockaded. War was joined, first naval and then ground forces got involved.
The Lustborn Cult used and, to the extent that it still exists, uses chemical agents and psychotropic drugs extensively in its forces. They are crazed and fanatical, often frothing at the mouth in frenzy and, one presumes, enjoyment. Though their tactical discipline was universally poor, their enthusiasm for their work was undeniable and the Chem Lords knew what they were doing. A stalemate, both naval in the space surrounding Hasturia and on the ground in Stygia, was soon underway. The war would grind on this way for fifteen years.
For reasons known only to their perfidious minds, the treacherous Eldar used the war as an opportunity to sow chaos across the Dacia Subsector. They made a habit of raiding convoys and attacking outposts, both Imperial and Heretical, for no apparent purpose other than to cause destruction and death. Most analysts agree that, were it not for Eldar ‘involvement’, the Lustborn Insurrection would likely have been contained in half the time necessary and many millions of lives would have been saved.
Many theories have been posed regarding the Eldar purpose for these attacks, but this analyst believes such speculation to be idle. It is enough that the Eldar hate us and, at heart, are cowardly and mercurial. It was for their sport and enjoyment that they became so engaged in the war and nothing more. Their motivations are alien, and we ought not waste time ascribing their actions logical purpose.
It is, then, with great luck that Admiral Atkin was able to finally draw the balance of the Eldar forces into a battle around the Bonner system that resulted in a stunning victory for humanity. This point—822.M41—is widely considered to be a turning point in the war. This is also the year that the Imperial Fists and White Scars Chapters of the Adeptus Astartes became involved in the conflict, finally breaking the stalemate on Stygia and spearheading the Imperial attack against Hasturia itself.
+Victory On Hasturia+
As of this writing, all conventional Hasturian and, by extention, Lustborn military power has been utterly defeated. Their fleet has been scuttled or captured, their armies have been crushed, and their capacity to make war has been razed, purged, and sundered. The Imperial Fists, with their typical enthusiasm, continue to operate on the planet’s surface, purging every last stronghold of the heretical cult with fire and blood.
Kryptman Gore is dead at the hands of none other but Captain Darnath Lysander of the Imperial Fists, his body pulped into little more than a bloody paste. All attempts at a post-mortem interview have failed, and with him dies much information about the Lustborn cult that would have been useful to us. A complaint has been lodged with the Fists’ Chapter Master, and it will no doubt be ignored.
As the above may indicate, our victory may have been too complete. All of the Chem Lords are dead, either killed in action with our forces or by their own hands. Most of the secondary tier of the Lustborn government is also dead or missing, though some of them do reside in our custody and are undergoing interrogation. In the chaos surrounding the siege of Hasturia, it is possible if not likely for elements of the enemy to have slipped through our blockade only to infiltrate other systems in the sector. Indeed, given Kryptman Gore’s apparent foresight and attention to detail, it is possible sleeper cells already exist on other worlds and have existed for some time. There is intelligence gathered on Aquilonia IV and elsewhere to support this possibility, and operatives are currently investigating. We may have stamped out the fire, but the embers are still hot.
Furthermore, the cost of the war has been high. Nearly three decades of all-out war has left a great mark upon the subsector. Stygia and Hasturia are absolute ruins—billions dead, nearly all urban centers ruined, infrastructure all but destroyed—while numerous lesser worlds underneath Lustborn authority have been significantly damaged. Refugees have been pouring into Helica II and Aquilonia IV for years now, stressing their already fragile planetary economies to the breaking point. Even comparatively remote worlds, such as Bonner and Vaskeri Prime have felt the pinch, with their planetary production quotas rising by up to 33% to meet increased demand for comestibles. The damage to our own military units is, of course, extensive as well. The navy is at a little over a third of its strength in 821.M41, and a huge proportion of most planet’s PDF are deployed on Stygia, Hasturia, or its environs, leaving much of the subsector relatively susceptible to attack. We have been fortunate that the Octavius frontier has been quiet for the past few decades. This cannot remain the case for much longer—greenskins are not known for their attention spans, and their notice will stray back our way eventually. When it does, I pray to the Emperor that our armies have regained their strength, or we are all lost.
The Ordo Dacia is engaged in a subsector-wide sweep of all populated systems to root out any and all remnant of the Lustborn Cult wherever it is found. Inquisitors and their Interrogators are encouraged to track the trade of illicit drugs, pay attention to chemists and medical personnel in particular, and to keep an eye out for any locals behaving as though in the thralls of Luster-V. Due to the cell-structure of these groups, only the leaders are of any worth in interrogation. All adherents to any cult, no matter how fledgling, are to be put to death and their leaders captured for further questioning.
Vigilance is key. The cult is nearly destroyed, that much is certain, but now is not the time to rest on our laurels. As the rest of the sector attends their victory parades and declares their holidays, our operatives must have our eyes open and our wills girded for their task that still lies before us. We failed in stopping this cult before it became a danger; we must not fail in stamping it out now that it is on the run.
As has been happening this week, conversations on Facebook have been firing up my desire to write blogposts. In this instance, it was the comment from a friend of mine that she had just finished Doctor Who, Season 2. The consensus from a lot of the comments were that it was an episode they enjoyed. Before I start tearing into it, I’d like to make it clear that I don’t begrudge people their enjoyment of Dr. Who and, if you liked the finale, good for you and I hope you enjoy the rest of the series. I, however, finished saw the Season 2 finale myself a few weeks back and it basically confirmed my general difficulties with the show and has seriously dissuaded me from watching any further episodes.
Allow me to elaborate (spoilers below):
The two part finale begins with Rose and the Doctor arriving back in London to, presumably, visit Jackie. They discover that the world has become infested with some kind of ghosts, who show up and walk around and people are generally excited to see. Jackie insists that the ghost that shows up in her house is that of her dead father or grandfather or something. Since this show rarely deals with phenomena that aren’t interested in mass genocide of some kind, I am skeptical Jackie is correct, but whatever.
The Doctor is also skeptical, so he breaks out a bunch of his stuff from the TARDIS to perform an experiment involving 3D glasses. I wonder what the deal is with the glasses, of course, but the other people on the show stick to their general lack of curiosity about the things the Doctor does and nobody asks. I’m still with the episode at this point, so I don’t make a big deal out of it.
Oh! I forgot to mention that this episode was preceded by a maudlin speech by Rose Tyler indicating that what follows is the story of how she dies. I’m pretty excited by this, since I can’t stand Rose Tyler and I think her being killed off is an excellent idea. I digress, however…
The story begins to take a turn for the absurd when we find out that Torchwood is actually running these experiments with some kind of interdimensional hole that produces a lot of power and, as a side effect, seems to admit these ghosts to the world. The first thing (of many) that is pretty stupid about this is that they have the levers that control the weird portal and the work stations for the scientists monitoring it in the same room as the phenomenon. What kind of idiots are running this place? Who finds themselves an interdimensional hole and then puts all their workers right in front of the damned thing without so much as a pane of security glass between them and who-knows-what? If I were working on that project, I’d be asking questions like ‘might long term exposure to whatever is coming out of this hole be bad for us or mess with the computers?’ or ‘wouldn’t it be a good idea to keep this hole behind thick doors in case it, you know, explodes or something?’ This, however, is the world of Dr Who, and the Idiot Ball is hugged with all the affection and tenacity of a little girl hugging her teddy on the way to school.
The next stupid thing that happens is that two of the Torchwood personnel go off to fool around in some abandoned part of the building. It just so happens that cybermen are hiding in there and they start lobotomizing the Torchwood people, one by one. Okay, reality check: (1) it makes sense that, given how fast they were building this skyscraper to reach the magic hole, that there would be unfinished and unfilled parts in the building; (2) it makes no sense whatsoever that these unoccupied parts of the building wouldn’t be surveiled by security on a regular basis; (3) it makes no sense at all that the people who work at the ultra-secret high-security defense organization wouldn’t be made aware of what was going on in the abandoned parts of their office suite; (4) even if they weren’t, it doesn’t make any damn sense why a cyberman would hang out there, apparently indefinitely, and hope against hope with all his little heart that the *exact* people he needs to control would just happen to wander in and they would just happen to be alone and he would just happen to be able to come upon them unawares and that they would just happen to have their screams unheard. What happens if a painter wanders in one day? Does the Cyberman kill him? Isn’t he reported missing? Don’t they smell the body? Really, really stupid plan, Cyberman. Idiotic.
Okay, so the Doctor and Rose trace the location of where the ghosts are coming from (who, it should be noted, aren’t just in England but are covering the entire globe–important for later) and zap over there in the TARDIS. Jackie happens to be on board (because we needed a way to keep her in the episode, I guess, which is just as well because I like her). Torchwood is waiting for them and are very excited to meet the Doctor. The director takes him around, shows him the stuff, tells him he’s a prisoner, and so on. He tells them Jackie is Rose and leaves Rose in the TARDIS. This is among my favorite parts of the episode, because I like the Doctor and Jackie, and Rose isn’t there to foul things up. The Doctor convinces them that opening and closing an interdimensional portal just to see what happens is a bad idea (which they should have known anyway). The director agrees (oh, yeah, her *office* is one thin pane of glass away from the evil portal–STUPID DESIGN) and orders it stopped. Of course, the cyber zombie people the hidden cyberman has been creating over the course of the past few hours open the thing all the way, which causes tons of trouble.
Turns out all those ‘ghosts’ were really cybermen. They’re from that other dimension, where we ditched the other good character in the show, Ricky, because he made things actively interesting between the characters and we can’t have that in Dr Who, now can we? Anyway, the cybermen now appear all over the Earth at once and start making demands. This leads me to ask the following question: Why did they bother with the whole ghost nonsense in the first place? If all they had to do was turn the dials to 11 and let them all through, why didn’t the lone cyberman they could get through (and how did they do that, exactly? Well, nevermind…) just waltz into the control room, electrocute anybody who got in the way, and open the damned portal himself or hold someone hostage until they did it for him? WTF, cybermen?
The people of Earth proceed to be spectacularly incapable of fighting slow moving armored people, despite some guy somewhere realizing the rocket launchers work just fine at killing them. No lights go on in any heads, nobody starts any kind of guerilla campaign, nobody figures out that they can just run faster than them or hide or whatever. Airpower is never deployed, tanks never hit the streets, the whole Earth just rolls over. Fine, I’m willing to give it to them. Let me ask a larger question though:
What the hell are the cybermen doing here in the first place? If they had umpteen billions of cybermen (the number you’d need to lock down the whole world), why not just conquer the world they were on? If they couldn’t win against the forces of righteousness on the alternate Earth, why hadn’t the alternate Earth people already wiped them out? When we finally get an answer to this question (when the good guys port in from their own dimension and start kicking ass), it’s ‘they’d barricaded themselves in their factories!’ Well Jeez, I guess they got you there. The human race sure hasn’t figured out how to blow up factories. That’s never happened–we’ve never pulled it off. Factories are just too damned tough to blow up, I guess. What’s that? Oh, it seems like Torchwood has passed the Idiot Ball! I beaut of a throw, snatched from the air by the nimble metal fingers of the cybermen.
Hold on, though, we aren’t done with the eye-rolling, yet. You see, the way the cybermen got here was by hitching a ride on a voidship, which travels through the emptiness between dimensions (well…you know what, nevermind–let’s not get into the inherent paradox of movement or existence in a non-place defined by its lack of space or existence. The show has the good sense of having this baffle the Doctor, so we can take it. To be honest, I thought the concept was pretty cool). Of course, the voidship contains Daleks. True to Dalek form, rather than killing everyone in the room immediately (which would make sense), they decide instead to chat. Rose (who got there by pointless misadventure), Ricky (who got there for a good reason) and the scientist guy (who should have called security as soon as he found Rose, but I guess they were busy being idiots somewhere else) are now having conversations with Daleks for a while. Everytime this happens, it drives me absolutely bonkers. WHY THE FUCK DO DALEKS PARLEY? Once, just once, I’d like them to show up and shoot everybody as soon as they walk in. No conversation, no exposition, no nothing–just killing. It’s what they’re supposed to do! Of course, they are the Grand Masters of Idiot Ball Conveyance, so they don’t.
Eventually we get some fun with Daleks and Cybermen yelling at each other. Of course, the Daleks should just start shooting (because what do they care what the cybermen are doing? They aren’t Daleks, therefore they ought to be destroyed. Where is the nuance in that philosophy? Why do they have conversations with other people at all? Why do they even bother yelling EXTERMINATE when actually what they should yell is DELIBERATE!), but they Daleks don’t shoot and the ensuing conversation just goes to show everybody just how idiotic the behavior of the villains in this episode really is.
Anyway, the Daleks have their hands on a Time Lord artifact that is a prison full of Daleks, which the Daleks open and release millions of Daleks into the world (you know, for a species that is supposedly ‘wiped out’, there sure are a buttload of them still out there). They proceed to have a little cybermen/dalek/human war across the world, where they fly around and shoot things occasionally and everybody runs around in the street like an idiot (dude, go inside!).
Our heroes, meanwhile, run around and avoid cybermen in the Torchwood building; this mostly involves running up and down stairs. For reasons completely in violation of the cybermen rules, the Director of Torchwood, now a cyberman, somehow resists her assimilation and starts killing cybermen. Way to break the rules for no reason, Dr. Who. Jackie and alternate-world husband have a touching reunion. I like this part.
Of course, by now we’re all waiting around for the Doctor to pull the solution out of his ass, just like always. He does so, by saying that he can reverse the portal and all the people from other dimensions will get sucked in. That’s what the 3d glasses are for, I guess–seeing who’s from another dimension. Anyway, because the portal is in the same room as the levers that open and close it, it’s dangerous for Rose and the Doctor, since they have visited the other dimension and come back at some point in the episode. The others go over to the other dimension where they’ll be safe, but Rose won’t go. Fine, whatever.
They pull the levers, the vacuum turns on. In violation of all physics, even theoretical or imaginary physics, all the cybermen and Daleks all over the world get sucked through the portal in, like, two or three minutes. I don’t need to do the math to point out just how ridiculous this is. What about the cybermen in India (who we were shown)? Did they go through the planet or were they dragged along its surface at a billion miles an hour? How much stuff did they destroy along the way? How many people were killed? Why wasn’t the building built around the portal ripped apart? How were the Doctor and Rose not ripped off the levers either by the force of ‘suction’ (since it obviously had to be incredible) or by getting banged into by passing cybermen/Daleks. Why aren’t the Daleks still shooting people on the way (sorry, side point)?
Inevitably, we know that Rose gets sucked off. Somehow, by a sheer chance that strains the imagination to accept, her non-father appears and grabs her out of danger at the last second. How the hell does he do that? How does he know where she is? How does he know the right timing? How does he have time to grab her and hit the button before getting sucked in? Does he have some kind of interdimensional periscope? Who the fuck knows. The show isn’t interested in making sense, and it can’t hear me over the sound of how cool it thinks it is, so fuck it.
That leaves us with the touching final scene, involving the Doctor somehow contacting Rose and drawing her to a beach (why? Why can’t he appear to her somewhere else? Ah, whatever…) where they say their goodbyes. The Doctor tells her
she’s officially ‘dead’ in the other world. My wife boos and hisses at this; I nod in agreement. We wanted Real Death, dammit. They kill everybody else in the damn show, why not Rose? Anyway, the episode ends. I imagine I’m supposed to feel bad, but I don’t. Rose is lame and I’m glad she’s gone.
There you have it. Those two episodes aggressively refused to have anyone act in an intelligent manner besides the Doctor and strained my suspension of disbelief well beyond the breaking point. It was, in a word, ridiculous.
My friend Marc Hirsh drew my attention to this article by Tasha Robinson which he thought hit on some of the themes explored on this blog. I agree with it wholeheartedly, and feel like a lack of attention to the ‘rules’ in scifi/fantasy/horror is one of the great weaknesses in the genre as it tends to be shown in film (and, as Marc pointed out in our discussion, in a lot of comic books, too).
I explore this problem partially in my critique of Dr. Who, as well, and it mostly boils down to the fact that, if you don’t handle things right, the audience feels cheated. This is uncommonly easy to do in a scifi or fantasy setting, since the rules are pretty much all subject to being violated. As a scifi/fantasy author, it is part of your responsibility to establish new rules and to keep those rules sacred, only violating them when something truly extraordinary happens (and in those instances it ought to be treated as something truly extraordinary). Dr. Who does a particularly bad job at this much of the time and, hence, I don’t particularly love the show.
It is interesting to note, however, that most of the stories cited by Robinson in her article are film or television iterations of the ‘speculative’ genres. The one she holds up as consistent is a book. Granted, she is writing for the AV Club, but I think the difference is important beyond that. Exposition in scifi/fantasy is, for me, the most challenging aspect of the story. I might know how I want my world to work and have my rules all laid out, but conveying those to the audience in a way that isn’t just a massive info-dump of soul-killing expository narrative is rather difficult. As a result, exposition takes time–it gets spread out over chapters, not pages, and it takes a while before you feel at ease in the world (this is something I’ve discussed as well, and as a chief aspect of the genre that I enjoy).
In books, laying out exposition over a significant period of time is fine–you’ve got the space and the time. In a movie or a TV show, you don’t have that luxury. You can’t easily spend 15 minutes of a film explaining the nuance of some minor point of an alien culture which comes up later. You can do it, sure, bit it’s often quite difficult and, for the purposes of TV/movie executives, unneccessary. They aren’t making movies so they’re internally consistent–they’re making movies so they’re exciting and will sell well both here and overseas. The screenplay or teleplay is a tightly paced entity, and only exceptionally clever writers are going to get their exposition onto the screen and not see it left on the cutting room floor. For every one of us who saw Transformers and asked ourselves ‘what the hell is going on?’, there were probably 15-20 people who answered ‘what do we care? Things are exploding! Yay!’
So this problem (and a problem it is) is partially economics, partially lack of skill on the part of the authors, and partially laziness. That doesn’t make it excusable, but that, in my opinion, is why it happens so often. We (or ‘I’, I suppose, depending on who’s reading this), as scifi/fantasy authors, need to be constantly aware of Chekov’s Gun. We need to create a world where the audience can follow along and understand the action, otherwise we’re just cheating. We’re using the opposite of Chekov’s Gun, which I might as well dub ‘Batman’s Utility Belt’.
I know I, myself, obsess over the consistency of my own work. I’m constantly finding tiny ways in which I’m violating my own rules, and it drives me crazy. I try very hard to remove them, but I think I’ll always find ways I think it could be better. That, I guess, is the burden I carry if I want to create new and fantastical worlds for my readers to experience.
I think, on balance, it is certainly worth it.
This is more me thinking out loud than expositing a theory: Do/Have/Will Social Constructions (i.e. governments, political ethos, economic theory, social mores) constitute a kind of technology?
The knee-jerk answer is ‘no’. Technology is most commonly applied to engineering and the harder sciences – it involves
tools, gizmos, or arrangements of same in ways to ease our lives. If we consider technology in wider sense, however – as from the Greek tekhnologia, which means ‘systematic treatment’ – couldn’t social constructions fit? The modern postal service, for instance, is a systematic treatment involving, at its heart, a societal convention of what constitutes ‘mail’, how it should be treated, and who is responsible for it. Yes, the crunchier kind of technology is involved, but those are merely time-savers. The inherent social construction of ‘mail’ is something else and, I feel, somehow technological.
I’m thinking about this for two reasons at the moment. First is that I’m teaching a class on Technology in Literature this spring, featuring a lot of science fiction works that we will be analyzing in historical contexts, and I’m noticing just how much society dictates technology and vice versa (more on that in a minute). The second reason is that, given all the social upheaval in the world (Lybia, Syria, Italy, the OWS movement, etc., etc.), one is forced to wonder if there isn’t a better system that we could implement to organize ourselves. Science Fiction is awash in such theories, from Heinlein’s various and sundry new societies in novels like Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress all the way to Iain M. Banks Culture novels or Star Trek’s Federation of Planets. Could any of that stuff work, one wonders? Is the reason it hasn’t so far is that we just haven’t ‘invented’ such a society yet?
Getting back to my first point above, it’s fairly clear that technology has a formidable influence over social constructions (just look at Facebook or, hell, look at the compass) AND that social constructions have a formidable influence over technology. After all, the reason why Europe wound up conquering most of the Earth isn’t because they were inherently smarter or better, but because they had a fractured social landscape that encouraged warfare and emphasized the acquisition of land in such a way that encouraged the growth and development of military technology to the point where they were simply the best at it (and please don’t start pleas for the skill and mastery of this or that indigenous people at warfare – the results really speak for themselves; the British Pound still trades favorably against all international currencies and the Zulu nation are a disaffected minority group in a mid-level African country holding a mere fraction of Britain’s much-faded influence and power. Guess who won that conflict?).
One of the problems, perhaps, with thinking about social structures in terms of technology is that we like to think of
technology as a linear progression, no matter how many technological dead-ends and reversals have shown themselves throughout the millennia. Societies, we have been trained to think, are not better or worse than each other so much as they are different. You can’t sit there in judgement of Russia’s predilection for Vodka and insist it is ’less advanced’ than the cultural constructions of other places. Society doesn’t really work that way, does it? We aren’t taking steady strides towards the Social Singularity, are we?
Or is it the other way? Is technology not actually striding towards anything so much as it is following one of many, many possible paths that may or may not pay off, but does not indicate the ‘right’ way to do anything. What kind of world would we live in, then, if Betamax had trounced VHS, or where Tesla had overcome Edison? Still better: what kind of world would we have lived in where that would have been possible?
Wheels within wheels within wheels…