Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Strange Stars Inspirations

By now everyone's heard the news: the setting book for Trey Causey's Strange Stars is out now in both print and PDF.  But there's more news! So read on!

This week, Chris Kutalik of the Hill Cantons published an in-depth interview with Trey about the development of the Strange Stars setting and the inspirations behind it. A few of those inspirations just jump out at you from the cover, but some are less apparent at first glance. If you are interested in contemporary science fiction, I encourage you to check out Chris's interview with Trey!

The Strange Stars setting is designed to be open enough so that GMs can work in their own inspirations, as well as compress or expand certain aspects of the setting and timeline to fit their own personal vision for the setting.

Since the summer of 2014, I have been writing the Strange Stars Fate Edition Rulebook, which will be out a bit later this year as one of two system rulebooks for Strange Stars. Trey is writing the other rulebook, which will be compatible with the phenomenal old school d20 SF RPG, Stars Without Number. 

My work on the project is based on a very close reading of Trey's Strange Stars blog posts, I learned about the setting as Trey revealed it post-by-post on his blog. Over the summer and fall, I have revisited the Strange Stars Index constantly, reading both the posts themselves, and the comments for additional details on the setting.  Finally, I have also been fortunate to have a lot of direct access to Trey to answer questions and make sure I am getting the details right.

I offered to work on this game because the setting resonated with me in many ways. It was close to the SF that inspires me. What are MY inspirations with Strange Stars? Here's a few:

  • Frank Herbert's Dune: I still remember how excited I was the Chrismas my parents gave me the original three Dune novels in a boxed set!  The excitement and the memory has stuck with me all these years, and I see Dune's influence on the Strange Stars setting. If you've read Dune you know that there's a setting glossary in the back of the book. It wasn't the first one in SF, but it is certainly one of the most memorable. Now, imagine that encyclopedia is a full color, well-illustrated guide to the universe. Do that, and you'll have a sense of what you are getting with Strange Stars. (Hint: there might even be an order like the Bene Gesserits.)
  • Cordwainer Smith: You may or may not have heard of Cordwainer Smith, who in his spare time wrote the classic handbook on psychological warfare. Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind science fiction stories were some of the first in SF to deal with what we now call transhumanism. He also created one of the first future histories in SF. It's probably no accident that there is also an Instrumentality in Strange Stars! While most of Smith's SF was written from the late 40s-the mid-70s, the majority of his SF is still in print. Baen SF has very affordable two book collection of his major works.
  • Alistair Reynolds and Iain M. Banks: These two authors have very different styles, but both Reynolds and Banks were key figures in what was dubbed "The New Space Opera" just a few years ago. I see Strange Stars as very much part of that new space opera, which not only deals with the traditional themes of interstellar travel and conflict, but also with the themes of transhumanism. 
  • Paul Zindell and Raymond Harris: Both these authors bring the weirdness to space opera. Weird as in really weird. In Zindell's Neverness, bored people genetically regress themselves into Neanderthals to see what it's like. That could totally happen in Strange Stars, where humanity has fragmented into many different subspecies that are collectively known as Clades. I've written before about Raymond Harris' Broken Worlds, which offers yet another kind of space operatic high weirdness and fragmentation. In both novels, humanity has been to the stars for a very long time. Humans have changed: in both obvious ways - and in subtle and dangerous ways - as humanity became isolated on the diverse worlds that they settled. Strange Stars has this same tension between isolation and discovery, raw difference and transhuman continuity.
There is a lot to explore with this setting. In my next post on the game, I'll be talking about the strange territory we took ourselves into during a recent playtest!


  1. I think you're on the right page. :)

  2. The Clades description makes met think of Michael Swanwick

    1. Hi Timon: Welcome to Fate SF! I haven't read Swanwick, yet, so what do you recommend?