Monday, February 22, 2010

Illium by Dan Simmons

Hector. Paris. Achilles the Man-slayer. Helen. Menelaus. Agamemnon. These are the names from the epic The Illiad by the blind-poet Homer. Some would say it is a complete flight of fancy, while others feel there is a kernel of truth wrapped in centuries of elaboration and divine motivations to explain inexplicable events. What if, however, it is an exact retelling of the Trojan Wars, and the Gods indeed walked among mortals?

This is one of the themes of Simmon's book Illium. But rather what if the Gods were not divine beings sprung from Zeus and his inveterate coupling with anything that moves, but rather powerful and technologically advanced "post-humans?" With the ability to displace both time and space, the Gods have been observing, intervening, and guiding the war in a way that Homer relates. Observing on behalf of the Gods are the Scholics, men plucked from their own time, experts each on the Illiad. Of these, Hockenberry -- a contemporary of ours -- observes the action with growing disinterest...that is until he is given the Helmet of Hades and a QT medallion by Aphrodite with the purpose of killing Athena.

The advanced technology of quantum teleportation used by the Gods does not go unnoticed. The Moravecs, advanced bio-electro-mechanical entities seeded in the far reaches of the Jovian moon-system, have observed the massive use of quantum technology, which threatens the long-term existence of the solar system. An expidition involving the deep-sea moravec Mahnmut and the Hardvac moravec Ophu is dispatched to investigate and perhaps put an end to this "quantum polluton"

Finally, on Earth, now inhabited by perhaps a few hundred-thousand "old-style" humans, Harman, Daemon, and a few others meet Savi, the "last" Jew, as they attempt to unravel the mystery of the "Post-humans."

Overall, Simmons creates a well-crafted story that rolls along, and tempts the reader with ever increasing layers to the puzzle. The nature of the Trojan Wars unravels slowly, while the "old-style" humans are propelled into a world far more complex than their previous "eloi-like" existence suggests.

It's very hard to find any faults with the story, well crafted as it is, and indeed has inspired me to want a Achaian Greek wargames army.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Fading Suns Game Material: The Megasewers of Midian

Introduction: I have been, for a long time, a fan of the Fading Suns game setting. I ran a short campaign a few years ago, and generated some material for it. Recent posts on the Fading Suns Yahoo group reminded me of this material.

Sadly, the original source of this documentation no longer exists -- Holistic Design's Fading Suns web forum. While Holistic has faded away as a supporter for the game (I don't think the website has been updated in some time), Redbrick is continuing to support the game in their own way. 

So here I present some of the ideas I used in my campaign. Enjoy!

* * * * *

During the 2nd Republic, mankind’s ability to innovate and invent was not matched by any time before or after. One of these results is the vast waste disposal system beneath the crust of the planet Midian. The original settlers, mindful of the environmental effects civilization had, took every practical measure they had to mitigate this impact. However, by the time of the 2nd Republic, the technology and finances finally existed that allowed them to create one of the most impressive feats in waste management anywhere in the Known Worlds. This involved a massive network of tunnels, sluiceways, canals, and other water management systems, that disposed of their waste directly into the hot magma beneath the planetary crust. Organized in nodes, the most important – and extensive – node is under the capital city of Saiwhun.

The network is simple in concept, though the execution is titanic in scale. Beneath each major city a network of underground canals empty into large, domed galleries that serve to hold the water for a time. This water then collects and concentrates wastes from the cities and industries above. An automated process then vents the water into massive, hundred meter wide disposal pits that are, in some cases, more than a kilometer deep. Further channels at its base redirect the water deep into the interior of the planet, and disposes of it into the planetary mantle. The results: any toxins, poisons, or rubbish are instantly incinerated (though some planetologists would call this the ultimate form of recycling) and the water is super-heated and percolates through the crust, removing any final poisons or toxins and locking them deep beneath the earth. Finally venting beneath lakes, oceans, and other areas, the water is again reintroduced into the bio-cycle.

Originally, this system was carefully monitored and maintained by a powerful computer network, but also could be controlled locally by a number of sub-stations located within the system. Maintenance was carried out by a vast army of automated, or remotely-operated, machines or supervised by a small but experienced team of human operators.

Since the Fall, the system has been neglected and fell into disrepair. No longer possessing the knowledge to maintain – let alone navigate – the vast tunnel network, the local governments and ultimately House Li Halan, have allowed their efforts to lapse. While the system is so well engineered it requires little actual intervention, after a thousand years of neglect, it has begun to malfunction in places. Pumps have failed, galleries have become super-concentrated with toxins and rubbish. And some of the local and subterranean life has begun to infiltrate the system and use it for their own purposes.

Additionally, the network has become the favored hideout of miscreants, fringers, down-and-outs, escaped serfs, and others on the periphery of civilization. Often tales are told of strange rituals that supposedly take place there, criminal underworld deals gone bad, and even tales of secret bases, complexes, temples, lairs, vaults, and storehouses from everything from demonic or alien infiltrations, to local crimelords’ stashes.

The network has shown its fair share of attention from more well-to-do seekers. Drawn by tales of secret technosophy or heresy, the Temple Avesti periodically sends its members through seeking forbidden tech or rites. Tales of alien or seditious presences has frequently drawn the attention of the local Imperial Eye commander, while noble curiosity or simply responsibility has prompted Duke Alexander Zhu Li Halan to send patrols to clear out criminal dens or dangerous creatures that make their homes here. Finally, the Engineer’s Guild has conducted periodic expeditions here, though what they are doing here, studying, or looking for they have never revealed.

While the population using this system is more often than not human or (rarely) alien in nature, a number of local (and not so local) fauna has made this are their home. Sightless, anemonie like Midian Cavern worms have become a frequent and taxing problem, snaring unsuspecting travelers or prey with their sucker-covered tentacles, only to shrug off any weapons fire from their armored, segmented bodies. Other, more mundane creatures also make their home here, including a number of different species of fish – some growing to considerable size and easily swallowing a human victim whole. More troubling is the infiltration of the network by neo-raptors. The result of a 2nd Republic Big Game Hunting theme park, these are genetically reconstituted Velociraptor  neo-dinosaurs that have survived the Fall and made Midian their personal hunting ground. Fulfilling a niche similar to the Terran wolf, for the most part they shy away from civilization, but any traveler in these depths should beware and never travel alone – or unarmed.