Saturday, September 12, 2020

#StayAtHome: Melissa Scott's "Finders"


"Finders keepers, losers weepers" may be the inspiration for the title of Melissa Scott's 2018 SF novel Finders. The book was the September discussion topic for the North Country Gaylaxians reading group, and it was a very lively, wide-ranging discussion! 

I read the book in three days, which is quite an accomplishment for me, as usually I get stuck in the first three pages of a Melissa Scott novel, and give up. I did that a few times in August with Finders, but used the Labor Day long weekend to push past that stuck point and read the entire thing. Somewhere between pages 75 and 100, this 360 page novel really took off for me.

This is fun space opera, that reminded some of the virtually assembled Gaylaxians of the novels of Andre Norton. Grand Dame with polyamory. 

It also reminded me a lot of the setting of the Stars Without Number RPG, although the particular transhuman Ancients in the story background differ in some details.

So what's it about? Finders tells the story of a starship salvage crew of three: a poly thrupple to be specific, recently reunited. Cassilde, Dai, and Ashe are "salvors": salvagers who search sites of the Ancients (humans, possibly transhumans, from two civilizations ago) for the "elements" and for "Gifts." Elements are small, jewel like colored pieces of technology that are incorporated into current-era technology as essential components  

(There isn't much discussion of this in the text, and maybe it will come up in future books in the series, but it would seem that current-era humans have lost the ability to create these high tech building blocks. So the basis of current-era technology is reliant on salvaging the space junk of the Ancients, and current-era people should eventually run out of this stuff that is the basis of their technology. Or so I'd guess. We'll have to wait for the sequels to learn if this is so.) 

Gifts are unique, extremely rare artifacts composed of numerous elements. They can do truly miraculous things, like confer the ability to heal otherwise deadly wounds and arrest terminal illnesses. Exposure to Gifts creates sensitivity to the proximity of others who possess Gifts. This is dangerous, as gifts are transferable.

Salvage activity typically happens through the purchase of licenses to particular sites, ruins, space wrecks, or portions thereof. Our protagonists engage in legal salvage - typically. There are also claim jumpers/pirates who prey on licensed salvagers (and each other), and the plot of this novel centers on one particularly vicious claim jumper who will stop at nothing to acquire the Gifts of the Ancients.

Why? You will have to read the book to see what happens. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

#StayAtHome: The Dialectic of Sex


Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution was one of the first radical feminist manifestos - if not the first. She points out in her text that at the time of publication (1970), there were no radical feminist utopias from which to draw inspiration (or a plan), so in the final chapter of her book, she writes the blueprint for a radical feminist utopia. (Although written in 1970, Joanna Russ' The Female Man won't be published until 1975.)

Firestone draws inspiration from Marxism, and specifically from Engels' method in influential works like The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State. She critiques reformist "American Feminism" (suffrage, the right to participate in social fashions like being a flapper, etc.), Freudianism as a flawed feminism, the origins of inegalitarian gender roles and ideology, the notion of childhood as an ideological construct that become a specific stage of human life (ideology as lived experience and practice, as Althusser would later hold), racism as a subspecies of sexism, male gender ideology, and romance. 

Firestone covers a lot of ground in a fresh way. She has a theory of totality.

The Dialectic of Sex puts forward a stages theory of human society that owes a great deal to Engels - and I like Engels, so no complaints there. And since there weren't any existing radical feminist utopian blueprints when she wrote Dialectic, in the last chapter of the book, Firestone proposes what a non-sexist society would look like: households, not families; collective child-rearing rather than parents; free love within a society free of gender norms.  In short, a communist future, although perhaps not the one envisioned by many male Marxist-Leninists. 

One can argue with whether certain elements for the future society would actually work, but one thing seems pretty clear: this radical feminism has very little to do with the contemporary brand of essentialism and transphobia peddled as radical feminism by the likes of J.K. Rowling and others. Rather, it points towards some of the futures proposed by Samuel R. Delany (Triton, Dhalgren, The Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand) and Cecelia Holland (Floating Worlds). 

Science fiction, not fantasy. Pointing toward the future.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

#StayAtHome: Three Classic Doctor Who Novels

I read three more Doctor Who novels in the last couple weeks. The first of these was Brian Hayles novelization of the Third Doctor episode, Doctor Who and the Curse of Peladon. This classic adventure is set on Peladon (also the name of the young monarch) and presents a feudal world with an important mineral resource considering its future. The monarch needs to decide whether to join the Federation, an interstellar polity that includes Earth, the Mars of the reptilian Ice Warriors, Alpha Centauri (a green, single-eyed, multitentacled, hermaphroditic alien), and Arcturus (a pulpy, spidery little thing in a life support vehicle).

It's my favorite Doctor Who episode, and Brian Hayles' novel doesn't disappoint, providing a sense of the interior life of our characters. He also introduced a few inventions of his own, including Alpha Centauri's color changing according to their moods.

Next up was Terrance Dicks' novelization of the Third Doctor episode, Doctor Who and the Monster of Peladon. It is set 50 years after Curse. Peladon has been a member of the Federation for about 50 years, the Federation is at war with Galaxy Five, and Peladon is a critical supplier of the mineral trisilicate. The planet is ruled by Queen Thalira, but she is a monarch in name only; the real power is held by the chancellor, who is also the head of the temple of the royal beast-god Aggedor.

Aggedor has been manifesting as an apparition and disintegrating miners; this is bad for production. A rebellion is brewing, but there is also fear that someone else is manipulating things behind the (rock) curtain. (Hint: the villain is on the book cover.)

Dicks' terse style keeps the story moving, but doesn't add much that wasn't in the original story. No color changes for Alpha Centauri. Our big, green ambassador is also consistently referred to as a "he" which is jarring if you watched the original episode or read Hayles' novel.

The best read of the three was Ben Aaronovitch's Remembrance of the Daleks, which is the novelization of a Seventh Doctor episode. Aaronovitch is best known today for his Rivers of London urban police fantasy series, but this was his first novel ever. It is a humdinger, the best Doctor Who novel that I have read to date.

A number of years ago, I read Aaronovitch's later Doctor Who novel Transit, which is an original narrative rather than a novelization. Although rather notorious with Virgin Books for introducing the phrase "the taste of  semen" to the Doctor Who canon, Transit's story about interplanetary skatepunks piggybacking on a hyperspace tube system left me wondering "what is the point of all this?"

Not so, with Remembrance. This is an incredibly fast-paced story, in spite of being a bit longer than the traditional Doctor Who novelizations, featuring a factional struggle between the Renegade Daleks and the Imperial Daleks on Earth, on Remembrance Day weekend, in 1963.

There are some fun Easter eggs in the story, including the Dune-like imaginary references included in some chapter heads, inserting Bernard Quatermass into the Doctor Who universe, and the implication that one of the supporting characters was friends with Alan Turing during the Second World War.


See The Everwayan for more #StayAtHome entries.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Doctor Who And The Irish Question

Have any episodes of Doctor Who, or the books, comics, CDs, etc. dealt with the Irish Question, directly or indirectly? I can't think of any, but I'd love to hear from people who know of such episodes/media.

As an aside, many fans are quite fond of the UNIT characters from the 1970s, but UNIT itself: it's all to easy to imagine that this kind of paramilitary group was originally set-up as an anti-IRA death squad. Maybe they did that on the side; maybe their scientific advisor steered them onto a different path...

Sunday, July 14, 2019

"Anarchy in Amhor"


Last night, I ran the John Carter of Mars RPG for six players as part of our monthly Saturday Night Space Opera event; last night's games took place at the Source.  In my Barsoom, Red Revolution has broken out in the far northern city of Amhor. A couple of months ago, a mysterious band of blue clad "mercenaries and pirates" had overthrown the despised and feared Jeddak of Amhor, the cruel Jal Had. Following Jal Had's overthrow, the blue clad warriors had reportedly plunged Amhor into chaos. 

In the faraway Twin Cities of Helium, Princess Dejah Thoris had assembled a band of heroes to put the niece of Jal Had, a young female gladiator named Hadra Ja, on the throne of distant Amhor, winning the city as an ally of Helium. The amply-scarred Hadra Ja had made a name for herself as a capable warrior in the Arena of Lesser Helium. Our heroes agreed to help put her on the throne.

Our heroes soon found that they had their hands full. One character, Joseph Stands Alone, a Pueblo Indian, soon realized that Hadra Ja was almost entirely lacking in political instinct; she was a sword, and saw the sword as the solution to everything. He set out to begin her political education on the long flight to Amhor.

Once the PCs arrived at the city, a brave Okar and Joseph discovered the true nature of the blue clad mercenaries and pirates: they were two platoons of U.S. Army Cavalry! While the PCs didn't figure out all the background events, they soon learned that the 9th Cavalry Regiment, one of the all-African American Buffalo Soldiers regiments, had acted shortly after the overthrow of Jal Had to abolish slavery and execute slaveholders and slave merchants. The all-white 7th Cavalry Regiment's platoon, led by one Lt. Rice, used force of arms to try and stop the 9th. The 7th seized the palace, and allied with Red Martian mercenaries and the upper classes in the city, while the 9th went underground, stole a flying warship, and organized militias among the toiling masses and the former slaves.

The player characters ultimately allied themselves with the Buffalo Soldiers, and struck a deal with both the workers' militias inside the city, and a Green Martian horde that had been expelled from the city, to retake Amhor and put the young Hadra Ja on the throne.

The insurgents were successful. Hadra Ja has been installed as the new Jeddak of Amhor. She is supported by workers' militias, and has welcomed the Green Martian horde back into their Greentown enclave within the city. As for Lt. Rice, his whereabouts is unknown, as is the whereabouts of the warship seized by the 9th Cavalry Regiment. 

Amhor is once again at piece, albeit a fragile one perhaps, and Helium has a new ally in the distant north.

(Oh, and in the real world, the 7th didn't have a Lt. Rice, but it did have a Private named Edgar Rice Burroughs.)  

Friday, April 19, 2019

Mystifying Oracle

Mystifying Oracle ARU

I ordered an All Rolled Up (well, maybe TWO, one is still on the way) for my John Carter of Mars RPG dice.  I decided to order the Mystifying Oracle, because I often spent time with a cousin when we were young playing with her Ouija Board. It also fits into the whole psychic medium, theosophy zeitgeist of the John Carter era.

Here's what the ARU looks like loaded with dice, three dry erase pens, and three canisters of tokens:

Here's the flat view of the ARU with John Carter of Mars RPG character sheets:

Finally, here's a close up of the rule book and a character sheet. The PC is from another world, but not Earth. Can you guess from where this character hails?

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The U.S.S. Republic

As part of our monthly Saturday Night Space Opera event last night, I ran my second episodic adventure with the crew of the U.S.S. Republic, whose crew includes young Midshipman James T. Kirk, and his good friend Benjamin Finney. This adventure involved the rescue (?) / recovery (?) of a Discovery-class starship stuck in the negative energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy.

It was a fun adventure with a lot of surprises for the players - and for the GM - and a lot of laughs in the midst of space madness, sheer terror, and conspiracy! And Gorns.

The game was also an opportunity to use a couple of my prize props: the Star Trek: Discovery Eaglemoss models of the U.S.S. Enterprise and the U.S.S. Discovery. Both models are really gorgeous.

Thanks, as always, to Jay Mac Bride for organizing the event, providing the playmat and sheet protectors for the character sheets, and a special thanks also to Matt Towle for the lovely Rainbow Dice he gave me!