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 Sage, Just the Caffine Talking, and the Vodkapundit.