Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Escape Velocity

Science fiction has been serving as a respite from my usual delvings into the phantasmagorical these last two weeks. With the Stonehell layout underway, the Silmarillion acting as bedtime reading, and my return to my regular gaming group, I’ve reached my saturation point of fantasy. Something was needed to cleanse the palette. I thought supplemental viewings of Red Dwarf, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, and Heavy Metal might prove a nice diversion, which they did, but they also got me ruminating on sci-fi in general.

When it comes down to it, I’m a bit of an odd duck in regards to science fiction. I’m a big booster for the space program and advocate lifting humanity off of the third stone from Sol, but when it comes to choosing an entertainment genre, science fiction isn’t really my thing. There are the usual caveats and exceptions, of course. Star Wars debuted during my formative years, so the original trilogy remains close to my heart. The Forever War and The Stars My Destination rank high on my list of favorite novels, and Alien is responsible for my greatest irrational fear. But classics such as Asimov’s Foundation, Star Trek, Dune, and more just miss their marks with me.

The problem is that I like my science fiction the way I like my fantasy: extremely low in power and centered on the individual. I’m more fascinated by humanity’s attempts to reach our closest cosmic neighbors than by what happens once we spread across the galaxy. I also have difficulty seeing the allure of high-tech gadgetry. Since we are the “tool-using ape” and measure our progress with technological advances, wiz-bang gizmos are prevalent in these tales and another black mark for the genre in my mind. I don’t have issues with the “softer” forms of science-fiction, like cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, or sword-and-planet, because these are less technologically-centered (or have reasonably speculative levels of tech) than “hard” science fiction. The reboot of Battlestar Galatica had me interested for a few seasons simply because it was character-driven with clunky tech despite being hard science fiction.

In light of this, it’s not surprising that my role-playing background suffers from a dearth of sci-fi titles. I can only count Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Shadowrun, and Star Wars as games I’ve played more than once. Battletech lost me at “heat sinks”; Star Trek has no appeal to me at all, and I never had the opportunity to play Traveller, which is a shame because it seems to be the one title that, properly run, would have grabbed my interest.

To me, science fiction is best done “20 minutes into the future”: a time when the tech is still recognizable, the setting is closer to home, and the cast is mostly human. Give me tramp freighters bound for Mars over skirmishes with the Romulans in the Neutral Zone any day. I found the background to White Wolf’s Trinity to be one of the best I’ve read in a long time once you strip away the psionics and the space mutants, which is certainly not using the game “as intended.” The film, Event Horizon, remains a guilty pleasure because it features working-class spacers and an intra-system setting – gateways to Hell notwithstanding.

Despite my general opinion of the sci-fi genre, I can pick out a few brighter spots amongst the star field and will likely comment on one or two of them over the next few posts, if only to turn my attention away from the worlds of the fantastic for a moment. Consider this to be a basic introduction to my attitudes, likes, and dislikes so as to better illuminate what is to come. Until then, however, feel free to share your own outlook on what does and doesn’t do it for you in deep space.


Michael S/Chgowiz said...

Event Horizon is a no-so-guilty pleasure to me as it's easily one of the more quirky and interesting horror films to come out. I put it in the same vein as Hellraiser - twist people's reactions to the unthinkable.

What really made me sit back was when I got the DVD and was able to freeze-frame through those "visions" of what happened on the ship - makes me wonder what the original 130 minute screenings must've been like.

Vanadorn said...

The original Alien was the same thing - working class shlubs in space and their interaction/humanity.

Star Frontiers was wonderful and is one of the few games I still have on my shelf (besides D&D, Boot Hill, and V:tM MIT).

As for tactical games, I took place in a lot of war games (with the chits) and although we did touch on Star Trek universe a bunch, it left me feeling cold (no pun intended) and instead retreated back into WW2 and Vietnam era war game scenarios.

Should reread/run an S3 adventure soon Mike. :)


Neil Ford said...

If you haven't already encountered it, you might want to check out Diaspora http://www.vsca.ca/Diaspora/ - FATE powered sci-fi.

- Neil.

Gamer Dude said...

How about Firefly and Serenity? Those might appeal if you've never seen them before...fairly "working class" and gritty.

I remember seeing Event Horizon in the theatre in Toronto. I thought I was going to see a run of the mill SF spacer-type flick. Wrong. That movie scared the pants off of me...I'll never forget it. It still gives me the creeps.

Word Verification: "roper"

Vanadorn said...

Amityville Mike turned me on to Firefly/Serenity - so yeah, he's a fan.

Don't know if I'd actually want to play the RP game though - it's sort of a Lightning in a Bottle thing and am not sure that RPing a Malcolm Reynolds rip-off would be as appealing as watching him on celluloid.

lige said...

You need to watch Outland with Sean Connery and the new movie Moon. Both are about 20 minutes in the future. I'm with you on the sci-fi books you might try Vance's Sci-fi works as they then to be focused on the small things.

Matthew Slepin said...

I never had the opportunity to play Traveller, which is a shame because it seems to be the one title that, properly run, would have grabbed my interest.

Give me tramp freighters bound for Mars over skirmishes with the Romulans in the Neutral Zone any day.

Just yesterday, I found Paul Elliott's draft version of "Solar System Traveller", which might appeal:


David The Archmage said...

Have you read the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson? It's about 20 minutes into the future, and and damn good read!

Also, TSR's Alternity system did a pretty good job working in the sci-fi genre. It was pretty adaptable from 20 minutes to 2000 years into the future.

Mister Scratch said...

I played a fair amount of TRAVELLER back in the day and it would be right up your street. One of the most interesting facets of the setting was the "FTL travel but no FTL communication" aspect. If a message was going somewhere then someone had to take it which gave the whole universe a nice feudal feeling as the local nobility couldn't wait from messages from the Imperial Seat on how to handle the latest bout of mayhem. I seem to remember spending a lot of time looking for artifacts left by the Ancients because I thought it would be fun and my character was wealthy enough and unbalanced enough to do it.