Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: Authors

You Need to Get on Board with Shagduk Right Now

Shagduk!

I am sure you already know the scoop on this one due to JB’s recent Geek Gab appearance. But let me tell you. Speaking as a guy that already has a draft of this novel in his hot little hands this thing really is the shizzle.

It’s got Fort Worth, Texas. Librarian chicks that are up to no good. Esoteric collections of obscure volumes locked away in the basement. Even a creeping suspicion that sinister forces are at work and that portentous things are happening just on the edge of your sight.

But you know me. Having spent years trying to get into the headspace of mid-seventies wargaming culture, I am of course completely blown out by the concentrated wonder that is exemplified by the year 1977 itself. Sitting on a bean bag chair while listening to records and reading the liner notes! The bass riff from the Barney Miller theme song! Long-haired skinny women that know how to cook and that don’t have any tattoos!

But that ain’t even the kicker. Something about the tempo and verve of the writing. It just feels like Zelazny to me! The main character himself. He could even be that guy Random from Zelazny’s Amber series, killing time on a parallel earth while cosmic things are happening in another dimension. With just enough Lovecraft to make you dread the inevitable moment when the other shoe drops.

You want in on this. YOU GOTTA GET IN ON THIS!

Back this kickass novel today. It’s the bro thing to do.

Somebody Did Something

Brad Torgersen writes over at John C. Wright’s blog:

All the reader mail I have received over the past six years, tells me that there is a very, very large body of badly-neglected fans, who have all but given up on Science Fiction, because the field has drifted too far away from the Campbellian ideal. These are readers who are tired of their fiction merely serving as a vehicle for the usual deconstructionist, identitarian, Cultural Marxist hectoring. It doesn’t take a herculean effort to rally these readers. They just need to be aware that somebody is doing something.

But this is bigger than Campbellian ideal– modern genre writing has drifted away from heroic fantasy, planetary romance, and the whole gamut of weird fiction in general. If you’ve ever wondered how things got this way and why somebody didn’t do something about it, then don’t fret. Because somebody went and did something.

It’s called Cirsova. Check it out. Back it today. And tell your friends!

“Wind is changing!” — Ghan-buri-ghan

Lovecraft Fusion: An Interview with Nick Mamatas

Jeffro: Okay, first off… where are you from?

Nick Mamatas: I am from the United States. I was born in New York of Greek immigrant parents.

Jeffro: Your parents… how did they get the notion to come over this way…? Is there some kind of story to it? You know, family lore that you can share?

Nick Mamatas: My mother was in the US, visited Greece, fell in love with my father, who left his home to be with her. Another element was the US-backed junta of the colonels in Greece at the time which made life difficult for sailors who would not find accommodation with brutal cryptofascism. The joke is this: “Hmm, is there a country whose government the CIA would not overthrow? I can think of only one…”

Jeffro: Okay, that’s funny. Can I ask how you got into Lovecraft? Were you initiated into forbidden lore by an acquaintance or did you discover him on your own?

Nick Mamatas: TV! I saw the episode of the Ghostbusters cartoon about the Necronomicon and one of the characters mentioned “Lovecraft” and I found myself thinking “Hmm, that seems real. Not like the rest of this cartoon. Like that is a real man.” Later, “The Rats in the Walls” was in a school book, and then I started playing RPGs and found Call of Cthulhu, which I enjoyed, and then I started reading Lovecraft in depth.

Jeffro: How did your Call of Cthulhu sessions tend to go? Were the scenarios all about archaeologists and socialites and private investigators battling cultists and blowing up interdimensional portals with dynamite and such… or did you branch out into other ways of framing “Lovecraftian” scenarios. [Note: I have not read the modules for that game, so I am not trying to characterize them with as being any particular way.]

Nick Mamatas: They went like most CoC games go—new character creation every two weeks or so! The main scenario I liked took place in the 1920s. I played a bomb-throwing anarchist!

Jeffro: Bomb throwing. Always with the bomb throwing! Did you ever get to the point where you became more of a Lovecraft purist and maybe looked askance at what the role players have done with Lovecraft’s work…? Or are you able to compartmentalize well enough that you can just revel in blowing things up in the game as you slowly lose your sanity?

Nick Mamatas: I am happy with all sorts of détournements to Lovecraft. My own first novel combined Kerouac and Lovecraft. I’ve written a story about a post-Singularity setting called “Inky, Blinky, Pinky, Nyarlathotep.” It’s not even a matter of compartmentalization; Lovecraft’s fiction is deep enough to support a wide variety of people using it.

Jeffro: So you’re pretty open minded then. I’ve heard of people make tongue-in-cheek references to a “Derlethian Heresy”. You’re just not that sort of person…? At all…?

Nick Mamatas: Nope! I always tell people I like the top 3% of everything, and dislike the rest. So I don’t grab a science fiction novel because “Hey, it’s science fiction!” and any SF will do if I want to read something, I try to find the best out there and read that. Same with crime fiction, literary fiction, romance, music, RPGs, whatever.

Jeffro: Quite a few authors picked up Lovecraft’s oeuvre and ran with it in the years following his death. Can you recommend any of these earlier works as being in that top 3% that you’re talking about…?

Nick Mamatas: Bloch’s stories in THE OPENER OF THE WAY (of course they aren’t all Lovecraftian, but I still love “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper”) Ramsey Campbell’s early Lovecraftian stories (and of course everything since then Lovecraftian or not) and occasionally Frank Belknap Long, though he is hit or miss.

Jeffro: Now what about you? How did you get the notion to write your own Lovecraft type stories…? Do you have some kind of origin story that sums up your transition from fan to creator?

Nick Mamatas: Oh, it was a mercenary decision! Lovecraftian fiction has a built-in market. So too does tertiary material about the Beats. It occurred to me when I was in a bookstore and saw collections of both Lovecraft’s and Kerouac’s letters that the authors had a few things in common—New England roots, a circle of close writer friends, cult followings among readers, anxieties over sex and the size of the universe—that they could be combined. I also thought, “Wow, if people will buy books of their letters, surely they’ll buy a novel with them in it. I can sell to all the Lovecraftians and all the Beat fans.”

As it turns out, I was wrong—such a book will also sell to the overlap in the Venn diagram: people who like Lovecraft and also like the Beats, at least initially. Since then, the book, MOVE UNDER GROUND, has remained a pretty good moneymaker for me, with a German, Greek, and forthcoming Spanish edition, two film options come (and then sadly expired), and a pretty neat life as a Kindle ebook.

Then I realized I had a knack for combination and have done Lovecraft and Raymond Carver, Lovecraft and David Foster Wallace, Lovecraft and Hunter S. Thompson (my book THE DAMNED HIGHWAY, with Brian Keene) and many other stories. Most of my Lovecraftian fiction is collected in THE NICKRONOMICON, which really explains my view of Lovecraft more than this conversation would.

Jeffro: Can you tell us if there a particular website or format that we should patronize that would put the maximum amount of money into your pocket?

Nick Mamatas: For small press material I always recommend the publisher’s own website. Even if it doesn’t help me out anymore, it helps the publisher out more, and small presses need all the help they can get.

Jeffro: Hey, thanks for dropping by and taking the time to do this. This has been really informative.

Nick Mamatas: You’re welcome!

An Interview with Gregory P. Lee, author of “Lee’s Guide to Interstellar Adventure”

Gregory P. Lee is developing a campaign adventure for the new fifth edition of Traveller. Set in the Spinward Marches just after the Fifth Frontier War, the player characters join a circus and travel to twenty different worlds. Hijinks of all sorts ensue. Greg has kindly agreed to join us at Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog to talk about it.

Jeffro: In some sense, this Kickstarter really is a follow-up project to your classic Gamelords supplement, “Lee’s Guide to Interstellar Adventure.” You got a positive review in Space Gamer #72, you managed to stand out in the midst of several products by the brothers Keith, and the product was a handy “little black book” sized affair. Altogether, you really made what turned out to be a fairly significant work of old school gaming.

Gregory P. Lee: To be very honest, I had no idea that my original Lee’s Guide had impacted so many players and referees. I lost touch with Gamelords as a result of some disagreements about the process and production of the second Lee’s Guide.  That’s why there’s no Volume 2, though I wrote a few letters for a ‘zine in the nineties. (Family and novels and law practice have kept me busy.) I know that at the time I insisted that the format be the same size as the original Traveller booklets. That was a standard for a good Traveller product up until the MegaTraveller edition. Most of the larger-sized products were printed on rather poor quality paper and just seemed cheap, whether they were good or bad.

Jeffro: As a Traveller referee… I’ve got to say… coming up with adventure ideas that leverage a world’s local color is my greatest challenge. And worse, my ideal is that the players have free range to go anywhere and do anything, so I can get particular stressed when I look at a sector map.

Gregory P. Lee: That’s one thing I insisted upon with Gamelords, and to a degree against GDW’s desires, was to divorce the product as much as possible from the growing “official settings.” I had created my own background when I started playing the game, because I didn’t at the time have access to the supplements. In my beginning work, the local space hadn’t been fully settled. I later found ways to convert that into something more like the existing Traveller setting, but it was still a very independent setting. I felt then, and still feel, that referees should be afforded that independence.

Jeffro: I have to say that I really like that you included a list of worlds in both the Marches and the Rim where these situations would be a good fit.

The Barbarian Knife Thrower, concept art by Tim Osborne.

Gregory P. Lee: Actually, Game Designers’ Workshop insisted on connections to their settings, so the compromise was to look for worlds on which these adventurers could be placed in both the Spinward Marches and the Solomoni Rim.  That was pre-computer.  I did all the searching by eyeball.

Jeffro: It looks to me that with Lee’s Guide, you really bridged the gap between the totally generic patron encounters of Supplement 6 and and the more detailed adventures set on specific worlds.

Gregory P. Lee: I will honestly say that the “patron driven adventure” leaves me rather cold. It amounts to, “You are a bunch of mercenaries. Go kill this guy and capture that guy and rescue this princess and recover that jewel.”  That shouldn’t be a staple.  It’s bad writing to use that too often, and creating scenarios is writing.

Jeffro: Traveller without patrons?! That’s almost sacrilege!

Gregory P. Lee: I think a better way would be one which requires the characters to learn something to get the hell out of the trouble they have gotten themselves sucked into. And, frankly, they didn’t get much chance to prepare in advance for the trouble they’re in. We see this in much of the original Star Trek. It’s a staple of Dr. Who.  It’s the “unintentional adventure.”  It’s certainly found in most of Heinlein’s better works, because the main character rarely originally intends to follow the path upon which he or she is placed. The early juveniles are particularly good examples of that: “solve the mystery to free yourself and succeed.”

Jeffro: Okay… you’re doing a campaign adventure set in the marches. You’re obviously standing in the shadow of the The Traveller Adventure here. Given how seminal that particular work is, how on earth do you get the nerve to tackle something like this? Traveller fans are some of pickiest and most exacting gamers around!

Concept sketch of the Zhodani Mind Reader act by Tim Osborne.

Gregory P. Lee: Really, I set this adventure in the Marches because they’re familiar and well-supported with data. I also thought that I would have more source material available to me to help me give local color. One of the great surprises of working with Don McKinney on this project  is that I ask him in e-mails about a particular world and he says there is nothing “canon” whatsoever about it. So, what I have been allowed to do, is actually detail a number of worlds that have not previously been detailed, whether in The Traveller Adventure, GURPS or elsewhere.

Jeffro: The basic structure of the campaign sounds very similar to John Ford’s “Roadshow” from the Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society #23. The premise was that the player characters were roadies for an insanely popular amp-rock band that was touring a series of twelve worlds on the Solomani Rim.

Gregory P. Lee: I cannot honestly say that I recall John Ford’s article, though there is a very good chance I must have seen it thirty years ago.

Jeffro: We’ll chalk it up to parallel evolution, then. It seems that with that type of frame, you’ve really struck a good compromise between having total wide open play and having a campaign limited to only one or two worlds visited.

Gregory P. Lee: Cirque traverses twenty worlds at Jump-3. This Campaign will require at least twenty game sessions to complete if each planet is actually used. This lets the players go from the Fifth Frontier War “target” of Rhylanor all the way to Regina, the growing center of power in the Marches. Along the way they will stop at primarily Imperial worlds, but also a couple of Border Worlds (formerly Sword Worlds). As I think I’ve hinted, they will in fact attract the interest of Zhodani and Sword Worlders. However, problems they face will also have a basis in the systems they visit.  And they have a contract, mind you, to get all the way to Regina. It’s a scenario that gives the players a lot. They have a Jump-3 vessel, they have a purpose in life, and they will have many things to do that have nothing to do with setting up tents and serving popcorn.

Jeffro: I have to ask… why did you chose to use a circus as the core premise of the campaign?

Gregory P. Lee: Well, traveling circuses travel. They have colorful, interesting characters with unusual skills. They have a schedule to meet which means that solutions to each problem must be found on a reasonably timely basis. They come with animals which can be used by the referee for players. Although I have veteran of the Fifth Frontier War set up as the leader of this whole outfit, I decided that there needed to be a primary performing Ringmaster. I made the ringmaster a Vargr because it was twisted a little to the left– a dog introducing animal acts…! Similarly, I decided that some of the performers would be a troupe of Aslan. I also have some relatively standard humans, like the Barbarian Knife Thrower.

Jeffro: With all the worlds you’re covering, it sounds like there’ll be plenty of room for the usual suspects to butt in, too.

Gregory P. Lee: Have no doubt, there are undercurrents. Zhodani are interested in Cirque des Sirkas. A group of Vargr pirates are interested. Even Duke Norris gets involved.

Jeffro: Alright, Greg… that’s about all we have time for on this installment of Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog. Thanks so much for dropping by to fill us in on the finer points of your Kickstarter campaign!

Gregory P. Lee: Thank you, Jeff.

“Lee’s Guide to Interstellar Adventure” is available in PDF Format from RPGNow and on CD-ROM from Far Future Enterprises. “Cirque: Touring the Spinward Marches in Traveller5“is currently on Kickstarter. Finally, Gregory P. Lee has also written three novels: “All Shall Go to Wrack,” “Demand the Debt that’s Owing,” and “Long-Remembering Harpers.”

Forbidden Thoughts, Apocalyptic Obsessions, and… a New Darkship Book!

Jeffro: Today on Jeffro’s Car Wars Blog, we have with us special guest Sarah Hoyt here to discuss science fiction, big ideas, and… her upcoming sequel to the award winning novel, Darkship Thieves. And I’ve got to say, anyone that’s a fan of Traveller, GURPS Bio-Tech, GURPS Terradyne, or GURPS Transhuman Space should really take a look at this series. Welcome, Sarah!

Sarah Hoyt: Thanks, Jeff. Glad to be here.

Jeffro: One of the greatest challenges in running a wide ranging space-themed campaign is (in contrast, say, to something like Dungeons & Dragons) you have to flesh out all of these contrasting worlds and societies and cultures for the players to encounter and explore. Now… from a gaming standpoint… one of the coolest things about Darkship Thieves is that we get a close-up look at a world where there are practically no laws. Almost unthinkably… there’s not even any traffic laws…! How on earth did you extrapolate out what a society like that would actually be like…?

Sarah Hoyt: I wish I could tell you it was a strictly rational process. Of course, at the time, I was much more of a fire-breathing Libertarian than I’m now, so part of it was working out from first principles how things would work. But things like lack of traffic laws and financial regulation have been dispensed with at various times in history. What is amazing is how little harm results from dispensing with regulation. To be honest, Portugal has traffic laws– it’s just that they’re not really enforced.

Jeffro: I was reading Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Dead Eagles to my son the other day and the title character actually sneered at a “red neck” type guy while using traffic laws as the case in point to justify gun control. It really struck me how in-your-face the book was with its politics. In contrast, reading Darkship Thieves… I was just shocked that I was being entertained without having someone hammer a particular set of ubiquitous talking points into my head.

Sarah Hoyt: My kids think that Darkship Thieves hits people over the head with its politics, partly because they’ve heard me rant before. But yes, most books are very over the top in regulatory/progressive/”standard” politics. The reason people don’t notice it much is that these are the same “morals” they hear preached everywhere, from school to all forms of entertainment, to, often, the pulpit if they attend church. As such they’ve become really good at tuning them out. I think it was like that with the oppressive religiosity of the Middle Ages, by which I don’t mean a belief in God, but the way that everything you did in art or public almost had to refer to Christianity. People expected it, those in power thought it was good for you, and so it appeared everywhere. I think despite the united front, all these statements had far less effect than we think they did. And I think the editors who think they should educate their readers are having far less effect than they believe, because… well… people tune it out.

Now, considering how unified the front of statism and political correctness is — are they still having an effect? Sure they are, just like medieval Christianity still had an effect. It sort of created the impression that nothing could exist outside it, and it took three centuries of people trying to dismantle it to have an effect. (The advisability of that dismantling and what followed I leave as an exercise for the class. I’d have hated to have my work confined to religious subjects as much as I hate political correctness, but I’m one of those people who was born to be difficult.)

Jeffro: I grew up in the eighties when just about every role playing game was apocalyptic: Gamma World, Car Wars, Twilight 2000, After the Bomb…. I guess that being under the constant threat of nuclear war, it was just the only way to deal with it psychologically. After the Berlin Wall fell, this genre fell out of favor… but now with Zombie themes being ultra-hot and even stuff like Hunger Games being a mega-hit, it seems like it is picking back up again. Do you have any armchair theories on what’s driving the appeal?

Sarah Hoyt: I do have a theory. I think the role playing — and much of the science fiction — of the time was apocalyptic because (I think I’m a good ten years older than you) I could watch writers and artists decide that once Reagan had been elected, it was all going to go to hell. I know Reagan was a good way from being a libertarian of any stripe, and I know there are problems with what he did, however, I think you people who came after aren’t quite aware of what a break he was. You see, we’d been on a path to increasingly more socialism. The problems of socialism were prescribed against with… more socialism. Reagan was a step in the other direction, which might have worked well enough if people had realized he wasn’t a savior, and had stayed on it.

Anyway, artists and writers and probably game makers, indoctrinated in the ideas of Marxism from their youth, simply assumed terrible things would result from Reagan’s presidency. Nothing less in fact than the collapse of civilization. So they wrote science fiction and games, etc. on this idea, because the crash was going to come any day now. Literary science fiction never snapped out of it. They got in this rut of the future being worse than the past.

Here’s the thing, though. I get the impression that even people who are indoctrinated to think that they should be taken care of by the government can sense the crash coming. Part of the sense of urgency and dissonance comes simply from tech moving so fast it is making most of our careers change in unpredictable ways. (And I don’t mean writing careers, here, but careers in general.) But the other part is realistic — we’ve come to the end of cake. That is to say, we’ve run to the end of this idea that the State should substitute for mother and father, for religion and arbiter of moral. We’re now left with the certainty that this super-entity cannot survive as constituted. Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, California, all of it is on borrowed time, thin planks over an endless abyss.

Jeffro: Wait a second. There were plenty of apocalyptic movies in the seventies– Death Race 2000 would be the one most familiar to Car Wars fans. The eighties… I guess I can see more of a Corporations-are-evil and a Technology-will-ultimately-destroy-us type of edge to the Alien and Terminator franchises, but in that same time period you also had Star Trek: The Next Generation painting sort of a Techno-Socialist utopia. Can you really pin a fit of apocalyptic obsession on Reagan’s presidency…?

Sarah Hoyt: My impression of the “it’s Reagan, we’re all going to die now” thing comes from being in writers’ groups in the eighties. People really thought this. Or as one of my editors charmingly said, “when Republicans are in power all you can do is scream and die.” (Don’t get me started!)

Jeffro: Well then… speaking of things falling apart… I really laughed when I finally figured out who these Usaians were. How did you come up with those guys?

Sarah Hoyt: The Usaians were a throw away scene in the first book. I had this brilliant flash of insight, because I’d just been reading about the history of Judaism and Israel. I have a bad tendency to plot by flash of brilliance. I know generally where the story is headed, and what propels it, but I find myself suddenly confronting plot-issues and devising scenes in solution, and then throwing in whatever latest neat idea just crossed my mind. In this case, I needed to have Thena acquire a communications device, and I thought “Hey, waiddaminute, she can trade something, so I have a scene with a merchant.” And because I’d just been reading about Judaism and it had occurred to me that ancient Israel and the US were both countries founded on “a law” or a “writ” of sorts (both of them extremely debated) that both strayed from the writ at periods in their history, and that both had a tendency to blame anything from natural disasters to military cataclysm on this straying. So the idea came to me that after the fall of the USA, the principles of the republic would get enshrined as a religion, and that more people claimed to be Usaian than could be logically descended from Americans, and also that these people would be very good at a sort of covert free market.

Jeffro: Okay, we’re about out of time here…. What can you tell me about your new book… Darkship Renegades?

Sarah Hoyt: Darkship Thieves leaves Eden in an odd position. There have been problems collecting energy, which means there is a crisis. We all know that crisis tend to bring out those who are hungry for power, and that Eden is also curiously defenseless — being a society of tradition and not of written law.

It is also a small and rather closed society. Which leaves Kit and Thena both as odd man (and woman) out. So when they return they find themselves in trouble as, potentially, the only thing standing between those who would rule the world by rationing energy– which is not only a way of ruling, but a way of destroying an industrial society. This is a very difficult position, and it ends up meaning that Kit and Thena have to come to Earth again, to get the secret of the powertrees. In the process we find more about the history of both the Earth and Eden, and the men who were the original Good Men.

I’d like to say this book is about the inevitable hunger for power by individuals — a drive that Marx completely forgot to list, possibly because it was his — the weaknesses of a country without a written law (or with a written law that can be reinterpreted out of all shape — did I say that aloud?) and the madness of trying to create ideal rulers. But really, truly, it’s a fun space adventure with much shooting and an insane cyborg. (And come on, who doesn’t want an insane cyborg?)

Jeffro: Woah. I confess, I preordered the book sight-unseen… but this sounds really good to me. Especially the shooting part. (But yeah, I want to hear more about those powertrees, too, so I can steal them for a Gamma World session…!) Thank you for stopping by to fill in some of the behind-the-scenes details.

Sarah Hoyt: You’re welcome, Jeff. Thanks for having me!

Jeffro: Okay, folks… that was Sarah Hoyt, author of the sequel to Darkship Thieves— the just released novel Darkship Renegades. Pick it up from Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, or Baen Books today! Also, don’t miss her frequently updated blog, According to Hoyt. Finally… continue reading the Darkship Renegades virtual book tour by checking out Scrambled SageJust the Caffine Talking, and the Vodkapundit.