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.

  • The Bloody Sun and The Shattered Chain by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
  • The Faded Sun: Kesrith by C.J. Cherryh
  • Tales of Neveryon by Samuel R. Delany
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.