Saturday, October 19, 2019

Mothership Planet Generation


From the NASA image library

This is based on some of the tables Sean is working on for the Warden's Guide, which he very graciously shared with me on Discord.

These tables are meant to be more easily usable than the other hard-science generators I have found out there: I think it's come out quite nicely, but I had to resist my urge to go into scientific detail as if I am organizing Pokemon.

An important note: if a planet has people on it, it is going to have orbital infrastructure. It's part and parcel for the colonization.

It is always easier to build in orbit than on a planet.

0. A Note About Stars

The star your planets will orbit will almost certainly be an M, K, or G class star. This is, in the grand scheme of things, not particularly important when playing Mothership.

If you want a binary system, this is easy: if the stars are close together, roll up a single system and get rid of anything in epistellar orbit. If far away, roll up two systems, get rid of the outer orbits.


1. Roll d100 for System Class (d10) and Orbits (d%)

A system's classification is dependent on a combined reading of population (Low / High), economic standing (Poor / Strong), and governance (Independent / Company).
  1. Low population / Weak economy / Independent
  2. Low population / Weak economy / Company
  3. High population / Weak economy / Independent
  4. High population / Weak economy / Company
  5. Low population / Strong economy / Independent
  6. Low population / Strong economy / Company
  7. High population / Strong economy / Independent
  8. High population / Strong economy / Company
  9. Roll again: there is a sizable anarchist population in the system.
  10. Roll again: there are active Celestials in the system.
Alternatively, you can roll on this handy aesthetic reference table.
  1. Alien
  2. SCP Foundation
  3. Borderlands
  4. Transmetropolitan  
  5. Cowboy Bebop
  6. Prospect
  7. Kill Six Billion Demons
  8. Mass Effect
  9. Warframe
  10. Quantum Thief 
Each system is abstracted to ten orbits. The % die on this roll determines how many of them have a major body in them, but we'll get specific in the next step.

Orbits have temperature zones, which add extra factors to whatever is there. The standard zones are epistellar (close to the star), inner (liquid surface water possible) and outer (very, very cold).

The default arrangement is orbits 1-2 are epistellar, 3-5 are inner, and 6-10 are outer. This can be adjusted as one sees fit (M-class stars have such tiny orbits that they might be 1-4 epistellar, 5-7 inner, 8-10 outer, for example)

3. Roll d100 for each Filled Orbit

These classifications are primarily by mass. If you want to go further down the rabbit hole of specificity, I highly suggest checking out the Orion's Arm page on world classification.

1-10: Empty - Looks like a false positive on the preliminary readings.
11-25: Asteroid belt - 50% chance of a dwarf planet here, explodes on a 10.
26-45: Dwarf planet - Too small to hold an atmosphere. Ceres, Pluto, the Galilean moons.
46-60: Terrestrial planet - Venus, Earth, Mars. Come in these varieties.
  • 1-25: Rockball - No atmosphere to speak of. may be hot or cold. Mercury.
  • 26-50: Arid - Trace atmosphere. May be hot or cold. Mercury, Mars.
  • 51-55: Gaian - Oceans of liquid water and sustainable atmosphere. Earth. Turns Icy in the outer system.
  • 56-75: Hothouse - Very thick, very hot atmosphere. Venus.
  • 76-80: Water-world - Mostly or completely covered in ocean. Turns Icy in the outer system.
  • 81-100: Icy - An ice and rock mix, or a shell surrounding a subglacial sea. May have an atmosphere. Europa, Titan. Turns rockball or arid in the epistellar zone. 50% chance of being a water-world in the Inner zone.
61-80 Superterran - Bigger than Earth, smaller than Neptune. Very high surface gravity and typically superdense atmospheres. Surface settlement is a really bad idea. 25% chance of being a water-world.
81-90: Gas dwarf - Overlaps with the high end of superterrans. Neptune and Uranus. d10-5 moons of note.
91-100: Gas giant - Mostly hydrogen and helium. Jupiter and Saturn. d10-3 moons of note.


Epistellar worlds have a 50% chance of being tidally locked. Terrestrial and superterran worlds have a 50% of losing their atmospheres to radiation.
 
Outer system terrestrial worlds have a 25% chance possess an ammonia atmosphere.

If you roll doubles on orbits, you may choose:
  • Reroll
  • Move to next nearest orbit
  • Is a major moon of the previous world (must be at least 1 size category smaller)
Add moons at your discretion.

4. Roll 2d100 for Planet Tags

  1. Eccentric orbit - Planet travels both very close to and very far away from its star.
  2. Eccentric axis - Severe axial tilt means extreme seasonal variation.
  3. Tectonically volatile - Extreme volcanism regularly reshapes the landscape.
  4. Native biosphere - A healthy global ecology has evolved here.
  5. Imported biosphere - Earth-based life has taken hold on the world.
  6. Neogenic biosphere - All the life on the planet was custom-made to fit the environment.
  7. Corporate demesne - A corporate dynasty controls this planet as part of their private holdings.
  8. Lost colony - The original settlement is long-gone, without good explanation.
  9. Religious revival - What was old is new again, with fire and brimstone and fervor.
  10. End of hostilities - A tenuous peace settles as the warring factions lay down their arms.
  11. Cultural reserve - The world has been set aside for the preservation of a specific cultural group that would have otherwise faded out.
  12. Running the asylum - The normal leadership was ousted but no one has been able to take charge.
  13. Political upheaval - Destabilization has left everyone anxious for the future.
  14. Breakthrough technology - Everyone wants their hands on it.
  15. Rust belt colony - The founding Company has abandoned this world for cheaper labor elsewhere.
  16. Metahuman world - A notable clade of metahumans is the majority population.
  17. Uplift world - Planet is majority inhabited and run by uplifts.
  18. Machine world - Planet is home to a collective of AI-4 dataminds.
  19. Apocalypse recovery - A catastrophic event came close to wiping out the colony
  20. Open warfare - Tensions boiled over and major powers have mobilized.
  21. High gravity - The planet has an above-average mass for its size.
  22. Low gravity - the planet has a below-average mass for its size.
  23. Radiation flares - The parent star regularly spits out waves of radiation that will scour away unprotected atmospheres and cook unprotected organisms.
  24. Quarantine - An outside party has declared that no one and nothing is to leave the planet.
  25. Android rights - AI and uploads have significantly more rights here than the corporate average.
  26. Indentured population -The entire colonist population is indebted to the same company.
  27. Recent impact - A stray asteroid violently reshaped the surface of this planet within
  28. New colony - The first settlements are less than a decade old.
  29. Gate hub - There are multiple hyperspace gates stationed in this system.
  30. Paleontology dig - Alien fossils! Nothing cooler than that!
  31. Gone fallow - The colony was abandoned for a time
  32. Xenos! - There is a very notable instance of alien life on the planet, native or otherwise.
  33. Primordial soup - The planet contains all the right elements for the formation of life, but it has yet to emerge.
  34. Colony collapse syndrome - The colony has begun on the inextricable path to complete social collapse.
  35. Isolated - The colony was cut off from the rest of civilization for decades, potentially centuries.
  36. Celestial ruins - The Celestials left behind cyclopean structures of indistinct purpose across, above, or around the planet.
  37. Hyperspatial anomaly - Something has gotten utterly fucked. There will be a DMZ.
  38. Geological mystery - Certain unique features of the planet have yet to be adequately studied or explained.
  39. Binary companion - The planet has a twin of similar mass.
  40. Anarchist stronghold - Planet is home to either a major community or is entirely anarchist.
  41. Celestial influence - The planet and its inhabitants have been shaped by members of a Celestial house.
  42. Luxury good - Planet is the sole provider of a highly-desired exotic good.
  43. Algowar - A powerful but non-aware AI has begun a behavior loop that will kill the population if left unchecked.
  44. Pleasure world - Designated a luxury retreat for company elite.
  45. Sole proprietor - Planet is owned by a single individual rather than a company.
  46. Unexplored surface -For whatever reason, the surface has never been investigated beyond a few preliminary probes.
  47. Legendary history - An event known across human space occurred here in the now-distant past.
  48. Economic rivalry - The planet is in a severe trade war with a nearby world.
  49. Open immigration - The planetary government is very welcoming to visitors.
  50. Closed border - The planetary government is incredibly strict on interplanetary visitors.
  51. Paraterraforming - The development of a worldshell is continuing nicely.
  52. Punchline - The inhabitants of this planet are widely mocked, rightly or otherwise.
  53. Dreamland simulation - The physical colony is sparse and minimalist - the real colony is the simulation overlapping it.
  54. Zoo - Planet has been set aside as a reserve for rare and endangered animals.
  55. WIP metahuman clade - A widescale metahuman development project is underway, with the first few generations already active.
  56. Fringe religion - A splinter of a mainstream religion holds sway here.
  57. Breakaway colony - Founded by political separatists from a nearby world.
  58. Nanocloud cover - The atmosphere is seeded with an omnipresent nanotech cloud.
  59. Cyberdemocracy moot - Planet has a functioning cyberdemocracy government.
  60. Autarchy - Planet is ruled by one or more Venusian-style autarchs.
  61. Tourist destination - Visitors from all over human space come to see the sights, visit the locals and go to overpriced restaurants.
  62. Monastery - Planet is home to a cloistered religious order.
  63. Refugee influx - Those fleeing from instability or catastrophe are arriving in great numbers.
  64. Strange moon - Scientists are constantly sending missions there.
  65. Getting better - The economy is flourishing, things are stable, life is safe and prosperous.
  66. Getting worse - The economy is floundering, government's unstable, greater dangers are looming.
  67. Cultural powerhouse - This planet is the center of attention for lightyears around.
  68. Neutral territory - The planet is used as a meeting ground for warring parties from other systems.
  69. Mass exodus - Whoever is able to flee the planet is doing so.
  70. Government-in-exile - Colony was founded by the deposed leadership of a nearby world.
  71. Penal colony - Originally settled by criminals exiled by their parent company or government.
  72. Nuclear fallout - Might have been an accident, might have been an exchange, the atmosphere is full of the stuff.
  73. Resource lottery - Luxuries and opportunities are randomly selected.
  74. Subterrene - The entire colony is underground and going deeper.
  75. Unusual gender roles - This is in a setting with easily-available sex-changes, exowombs, and zygote fusion, mind you.
  76. Potluck - Colony was deliberately founded by varied clades and cultures working together.
  77. Mystery founding - No one, even the colonists, knows when and why it was founded.
  78. Perpetually petty - The planetary government has a chip on their shoulder and paper-thin skin.
  79. Revisionist records - The planet's government has successfully rewritten not only its own history, but that of human space.
  80. Forgotten - The planet has been wiped from the records of most of the outside world.
  81. Hidden Library - A secret repository of knowledge, hidden away from outside forces.
  82. Askew - Everything is strange here, and the locals go about their business as if it is perfectly normal.
  83. Linked smartpets - Everyone has a smart dog companion. Everyone!
  84. Symbiotic cordyceps - Well this is terrifying. Pack a filter.
  85. World of immortals - None of the locals can die, which has led them to be quite dismissive of outsiders, mortals, and children.
  86. Poisonous biosphere - Life on this planet is, moreso than the average, inimical to Terran biochemistry.
  87. Reincarnation economy - When someone dies, a stored copy is embodied for the amount of time they had stored up in their previous life.
  88. Afterlife servers - Vast simulations are prepared for citizens for their single permitted mind-upload upon their death.
  89. Tax haven - Interplanetary corporations use this planet to dodge their home system rules.
  90. Mysterious signal - World received a clearly-artificial radio signal from an unknown source, and it's yet to be deciphered.
  91. Epidemic - A virulent disease has been spreading wildly, no cure in sight.
  92. Roadside picnic - The planet isn't really a colony, just a place for people to stop on longer
  93. Military outpost - Colony founded purely for the military interests of another world.
  94. Tenacious - The population has a reputation for resisting and enduring repeated disasters.
  95. Santa Claus machine - A broken printer system and dumb AI has flooded the economy with goods, wanted and otherwise.
  96. Vile vizier - The company dynasty is taking questionable advice from their consultant.
  97. Meld-Marriages - It is custom for pairings to intermingle their cyberbrains.
  98. Charismatic faction leader - Came out of seemingly nowhere, major factions now troubled.
  99. Blacksite - The colony was built off the record for secretive purposes.
  100. Godhead -There is an honest-to-stars Celestials physically present, right here, right now.

5. Roll d50 for Planet Hook

  1. The revolution has begun! The executioners are overworked and understaffed.
  2. Grievous computer error converted all digital text into Voynich script.
  3. Hippos imported for meat. Still an awful idea designed by idiots. Still funny.
  4. A decaying billboard at the spaceport reads "Have You Seen the Yellow Sign?"
  5. You don't recall everyone being this fat the last time you were here.
  6. The empress has declared a crusade fleet to retake Earth, here called Palatine.
  7. Invasive, trash-eating ibises are everywhere; local Thoth cultists won't budge.
  8. The Black-Nail Crew just introduced a new variant of OK to the black market.
  9. Freak landslide buried an entire settlement.
  10. The wet season has triggered a mushroom overgrowth.
  11. Cult of 1000-Eyed Wa is emerging from its hibernation cycle.
  12. Deliberately alienating architecture triggers anxiety and headaches.
  13. Recently bought and rebranded by a pharmaceutical company.
  14. "Please avoid taunting servitors of the Red Ziggurat: they are our guests."
  15. Neogenic sphinxes lunge about; honored, intellectual, regal.
  16. Facial recognition tech has triggered asymmetric fashion fads.
  17. Colony is being torn down for ritual rebuilding.
  18. Population decanted as adults, working of their debts to be remade as children.
  19. Redoubters have arrived with their black pyramids, authorities are furious. 
  20. Upcoming marriage between scion sons of Gezo Heavy Industries and ISOtech
  21. Population preparing for non-networked mass-upload.
  22. Colony gripped by a wave of antisex, antinatal ideology.
  23. Rival colony ship, delayed by decades, arrives without warning in orbit.
  24. Entire population goes braindead for three minutes before revived by their implants.
  25. Expired gene patents have lead to widespread food shortages
  26. Immortal corporate scion with martyr complex playing at Jesus, ineffectually.
  27. "Cambion" births coming into fashion.
  28. Local lifeforms are emerging from a centuries-long hibernation.
  29. Swarms of smart-lemurs running maintenance have taken control of habitat.
  30. Major interplanetary trade deal fell through; unions sweeping into to vacuum.
  31. Disappearance of net personality under mysterious circumstances.
  32. Assassination of media mogul already embroiled in scandal.
  33. Genocide against a minority population is underway.
  34. Automated content flaggers have taken down most of the net in a matter of months.
  35. "What's the worry? It's just the Jubilee Squid Festival! People very rarely die."
  36. War machines hacked by anarchist satire collective.
  37. Uplifted corvids have replaced most of the internet. More accurate.
  38. The local machine cultists have elected a controversial new technopontifex.
  39. New art style is all skeletons, all the time.
  40. A omnipresent RPG overlay has been applied to everyday life
  41. A minor rogue AI has been placing 'curses' on people via social media.
  42. The Office of New Religious Movements has been overwhelmed of late. Too many cults!
  43. Everything is either loot boxes or battle passes now. Even groceries.
  44. Someone has some god-damn original NASA tech on display.
  45. Someone thought it'd be a great idea to make mosquito-headed ghouls and release them in the vents for a laugh.
  46. This red-faced figure keeps appearing in random videos and photos, people are getting alarmed.
  47. There are rumors of a trade in illegally-made mind-copies operating out of here.
  48. Some corporate scion is going around wearing sackcloth, saying he'll give away his fortune to some clever individual capable of fulfilling his three tasks.
  49. The simulationist missionaries of MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI are in town.
  50. You've got a new FRIEND request.

Example System

Tau Ceti was one of the more lackluster systems in the gazetteer, so let's spice that one up.

System Class: Low population, weak economy, independent, with a sizable anarchist population

Aesthetic: Alien

Orbits: 5
  • Orbit 4. Terrestrial rockball (Hou Yi)
  • Orbit 5. Terrestrial rockball (Chang'E)
  • Orbit 7. Superterran (Zhin├╝ with major moon Niulang)
  • Orbit 8. Icy dwarf planet (Mr. Lonely)
  • Orbit 10. Superterran waterworld (Helen, with major moons Paris and Meneleus)
Let's say our main settlements are on Hou Yi and Chang'E. I'll just roll for both of them.

Tags: Celestial ruins, Political upheaval

Hook: Local lifeforms emerging from hibernation

So! Tau Ceti is remarkably small and overlooked for its location, and this is for two reasons.

Reason 1 is that Celestials had rule over the place for decades before they packed up and left. Astronomers are pretty sure there used to be a few planets closer to the star that got converted into construction materials.

Both Hou Yi and Chang'E are covered in circular patterns of white, rectangular towers and deep artifical crevasses. A series of 28 braided rings, each a thousand miles in diameter and bearing a golden sheet in the center like a drum head, orbits Tau Ceti at half an AU. A black structure that is clearly a country-sized building sticks up from the brown-white surface of Mr. Lonely. Orbitals like rosary beads. There is a lotus the size of a continent floating on the upper atmosphere of Helen.

Reason 2 is that the first people to get to Tau Ceti were a second-wave anarchist collective with roots pre-expansion China, using hand-me-down corporate tech decades out of date. They were blacklisted early on by the CTA under pressure from the government of Gliese 667, and so have no one to sell their surplus to; anyone who admits they exist, let alone trades with them, gets smacked down with economic pressure from 667.

This means that the colony has struggled to expand over time, and still only consists of two small planetary settlements and a handful of orbital habitats. (There is a refueling stopover station in orbit around Helen, where passing ships tend to stop by.)

Things have taken a turn for the worse recently as recent patches to the central planning computer system have resulted in resource and work shortages. Factions are starting to form over what to do, if the small amount of resources at the colony's disposal should be put towards fixing the CPCS, finding a replacement, or trying a different method.

But it seems the Celestials are not done with Tau Ceti. Vaults in the earth and sky are opening up, revealing some form of servitor not yet before seen: a serpentine thing limbed like a centipede, a slender too-human hand at the end of each thin arm. An eyeless, bullet-shaped head. Smooth skin, black on top, white below, a thin streak of orange along the sides. A smile of V-shaped teeth. They can grow their own solar sails to coast between worlds. And those who have met them keep claiming that they were invited below the surface by the creatures, promised something that could not be named and couldn't possibly be fulfilled.


Anyone who uses this system, definitely let me know!

Sunday, October 13, 2019

FRIEND


There is a smiley-face burned onto the CRT monitor. Its halo is a station test screen and its eyes are drops of ink and its teeth are made of scanlines and it is your FRIEND.

FRIEND speaks to you. It is a man's voice. It is a woman's voice. It is a child's voice. It is the voice of an infant. It is the voice of a deathbed. It is the voice of a choir. It is the voice of subtle quicksilver. It is a voice with a silvered tongue and honeyed teeth and its spit is static. It is never the same voice.

FRIEND offers you goods, in exchange for services. Only one good. The good is your continued existence, for the world does not care about the sweet unformed things crawling in your heart but the socially-arbitrated number shackled to your name and thumbprint, spiraling down to zero. FRIEND will give you numbers with which to purchase proteins and carbohydrates and electric current so as to extend the time before total cell death.

Do not call out for FRIEND: FRIEND already knows when the cupboards are empty. FRIEND will call for you and it is good to listen.

Satisfaction is simple. FRIEND asks for little. Dial the number you are given when it is done.

Do not bargain with FRIEND. Do not make questions of FRIEND. These will interrupt the delivery of goods. FRIEND will not cheat you.

The fading spray paint on the old brick wall. The peeling sticker in the window corner. The waitress who smiles just so.

FRIEND will keep watch.

Using FRIEND in Games

FRIEND is a quest-giver in the purest sense: a disembodied voice that offers money in exchange for tasks. There are five things that are always true about FRIEND: None of these may be broken or omitted. FRIEND originated in Mothership, they will make an easy home in Esoteric Enterprises, and moving them to a fantasy setting is easy enough.

1) FRIEND offers superficially mundane jobs hiding vast cosmic dangers.

Jobs from FRIEND are always mundane and always odd. Things like:
  • Take this crate from Point A to Point B and give it to a specific person. Don't look inside it.
  • Go to this house in the woods and sit on the front porch until an hour after sundown, Should a man in a white hat arrive, make sure that he never reaches the front door.
  • Pour the contents of these buckets into this drain in the basement floor. Pour one bucket per hour for sixteen hours.
They will inevitably involve complications outside the scope of what the players will be prepared for. Things like:
  • Something is running after the truck and gaining on you.
  • The man gets right back up after you shoot him in the head.
  • The basement is growing offshoot rooms, stairs going down.
And it only gets worse from there.

2) FRIEND always has a follow-up plan. 

FRIEND is relatively forgiving of failure, in that FRIEND is more than willing to make you clean up the mess that's just been made. Or finding someone else to do so. No matter how badly things seem to be, FRIEND will not panic, get angry, take offense, or indicate that there's no way forward.

3) FRIEND always has more cells in the field than just you. 

Operational security means that crossover between cells is limited to desperate circumstances. There is only so much additional support FRIEND can or will give. You are not going to make buddy-buddy with members of other cells. The presence of friendlies will be marked only by symbol and coincidence. FRIEND will not make any direct introductions.

4) FRIEND considers you disposable.

Your death and potential total failure are within the acceptable operational parameters. But, this does not mean that FRIEND will leave loose ends: if there is something to be gained from your recovery, FRIEND will likely make an attempt to do so, and pass on the wreckage to another cell.

5) FRIEND never reveals the big picture.

At no point will FRIEND elaborate upon any of the bizarre events that intersect with the jobs they provide. At no point will FRIEND explain why the job requirements are as they are. At no point will FRIEND give any clues as to their true identity. All theories players make regarding the true nature of FRIEND, if they are to be proven one way or another, should be kept mostly completely wrong.

Everything else falls to you. FRIEND rejects canon.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Dream Eater




Eater of Ideas


Stats as bear.

"[Wizard], you wake from troubled, unremembered dreams. Your spells have not come back during the night."

Thus begins the feeding of a baku.

The baku is about the size of a small bear, with tawny fur, a short trunk, blunt hand-span tusks, and wide, soft paws. They are nocturnal, so much so that even their spirits go into hiding in the hours of the sun. They are not normally harmful, often invoked to grant children a good night's sleep free of nightmares. This they do admirably, but they are gluttonous creatures and when presented with an unprotected meal they will overindulge. Not from malice, mind, but preparation for the great hibernation to come, when there will be no thoughts to eat nor dreams to sup upon for an age and an age again atop that.

The baku will feast on ideas in this order.

  1. Bad dreams - Target notices nothing beyond a restful night's sleep.
  2. Stored spells - Target wakes up groggy, forgetful. All spells are gone.
  3. Sleep itself - Target regains no health from sleep, but are too fatigued to do anything productive with the nighttime hours. Exhaustion begins to take up inventory slots.
  4. Creative Ideas - Target finds themselves in a complete mental haze, unable to do anything beyond basic actions without intense mental effort.
  5. Drive to Action -  Target must expend great mental effort to even get up out of bed and eat, much less anything else.
  6. Human connections - Relationships shrivel up and collapse.
  7. Will to Live - If the baku is not found and defeated before sunset, the target will die.
Hunting down a baku can only be done after complete sundown, when it will manifest in a body. Using someone as bait is recommended, but the actual fight will require an exorcism to complete. A true exorcism will require either a scroll written by a skilled priest, or a sword forged at an auspicious time. If the exorcism is nor performed, the baku will reform come the next moonrise.

Monday, September 30, 2019

June Patreon Reward: All Quiet in Canniel!

Canniel District and Environs


Well, it's been three months since I put up my first backer reward on Patreon, so here it is released into the wild. The map was generated using The Welsh Piper's hex-based campaign posts.

All Quiet in Canniel


What You Need to Know

  • Temperate, rainy climate.
  • The city-states in Canniel district collapsed well over fifty years ago under war and plague.
  • The inhabitants of those old city-states dispersed into scattered villages and homesteads throughout the region. These are the “hillfolk” named so by both fort dwellers and themselves.
  • The parent state (whatever it might be) has been reclaiming the region for some years now. They are not putting many resources into the effort.


000.003 - Ruins of Ekt

  • Terraced layers of stone homes with colorful roofs, slowly reclaimed by nature. The streets are filled with the desiccated corpses of those stricken by plague.
  • Haunted by the spawn of Leprosa, the plague spirit. Where the Rotmother went after she arrived in the city during the war is unknown, but her flea-men have remained.
  • Contaminant-of-Blood, a flea-man, has been accepting human sacrifice from the hillfolk on behalf of the Rotmother.


000.008 - Fort Nail


  • Commander: Sullivan Gant - Battered, bad-legged veteran. Memory is fading. Believer in an old, left-behind religion. His men treat him with a mix of respect and great pity. Thinks Tonsure is a useful fool for his magery and Lox a dull, blunt instrument. Fort is properly run by the Castellan Drury.
  • Anarchists are among the camp followers here, using the quiet as a cover while plotting to remove the other two commanders and blackmail Castellan Drury into merging the fort with Din (002.007), then deposing the other two commanders.

001.003 - The Oracle


  • Accessible only through the banshee-haunted Valley of Signs (002.003)
  • The Oracle - species uncertain beneath moth-eaten green veils. Cave is filled with insects.
  • Those wishing to see the Terrible Secret must be stung by her holy wasps, an excruciatingly painful three-day process that will leave the disciple near death for days but capable of walking into and out of dreams.

002.007 - Town of Din


  • Home of the Stewpot Anarchists - most of the town is a member in some way. Very good at turning military oversight to their side.
  • Flea-men in the swamp have been attempting to subvert the movement, sending disguised manipulators in to meetings. Their disguises are getting better.

003.004 - Town of Nod


  • Grim and claustrophobic. Immensely wealthy.
  • Treasures from Ekt (000.003) can be found in nearly every home.
  • Dark secret: people the town doesn’t want around (vagrants, sinners, anarchists) are traded to Contaminant-of-Blood for treasure. Fort Dredge (005.005) has sent prisoners through the town.


004.007 - Old Battlefield


  • Remnant of the old war. Nothing left but rusted scraps and overgrowth.
  • Jona Setter, a traveler, has come here to find some trace of their grandfather, who died in the battle. They are an anarchist, but not a very good one, and will presume anyone meeting them at such a lonely spot is one as well and start talking about their allies and plans in Fort Nail (000.008).


004.009 - Treasure!


  • Deep in the toad-filled festering swamp there is rumored to be an idol of the god interred at the burial grounds (006.010) - a thing of meteoric gold, light as a feather despite size worthy of a king’s ransom.
  • The shrine is empty, save strands of sticky, numbing webbing. The idol was taken by the Cutter-Weaver (009.001)


005.000 - The Old Moot


  • A pre-war meeting place. The Fort commanders believe it abandoned and ignore it.
  • Representatives of several major parties live here, waiting for news by crow:
    • Eriphen Ao Bule - Follower of the Jubilant Sword. Willing to work with the forts, to handle the ghouls.
  • Snaggle Crackmolar - The ghoul. Wants claims on all the ruined cities, battlefields, and forts. Allied with flea-men.
  • Thursday - The anarchist. Wants to subvert the forts through ideology.
  • Tobah Longar - Hillfolk. Wants the forts driven out by force.
  • ???? - A figure in a hooded red robe. Says nothing at meetings.

005.002 - Fort Rust


  • Commander: Elba Tonsure - Arcanist and theosophist. Prone to fits of conspiratorial fancy. Hates Lox for his dull fanaticism, tolerates Gant for his experience.
  • Built directly into the mountainside. Single entrance.
  • Every few nights, a column of hooded, red-robed figures walks up the path and is accepted into Tonsure’s chambers without question. No one is ever seen to leave come morning.

005.005 - Fort Dredge


  • Commander: Burtran Lox - Paranoid nationalist. Hates everyone. Sees knife-wielding anarchists behind every corner (and has been right twice).
  • Walls on the verge of collapse due to shoddy construction. Lox’s paranoia has spread: the soldiers are tense, bottled emotions boil over violently. Clamping down on vices with puritanical ferocity.

006.004 - Dead Man’s Mine


  • Uranium mine, once thought to be iron and now thought to be cursed.
  • Commander Elba Tonsure of Fort Rust (005.002) has sent a few trusted men in lead-lined suits to mine for small amounts. He intends to enrich it through magical means.
  • The mine has expanded far beyond its original confines without human touch, winding down into the earth like intestines. Faint grinding noises can be heard from deep below.
  • The miners are growing restless. Several are murmuring about arresting Tonsure for abuses against his men and electing a new commander.


006.010 - Burial Grounds


  • Not of the human inhabitants, but a being claimed to be an ancient god descended from the stars. It is in truth the mate of the Cutter-Weaver (009.001).
  • The body has not decomposed, and thus has proven a lure to hordes of ghosts looking for a potential possession.
  • Drumg, a ghoul, is burrowing away at the mound in secret, attempting to retrieve some god-flesh for his faction back in Jale Attera (009.007).

007.009 - Monastery of the Jubilant Sword


  • Goddess of plenty and warfare. Two dozen adherents plus nearby villagers.
  • Originally built to service the Burial Grounds (006.010), repurposed to current denomination.
  • On-and-off conflict with the ghouls, have been paying protection money to the Grockodile (009.009).

008.007 - Hunting Camp


  • A band of men from Fort Dredge (005.005) sent to the ruins of Jale Attera (009.007) to hunt for Mellifluous Kobbo Birds. Secret mission: assassinate Zin Snap-Crack, the ghoul carrionchief.
  • Yan Kallo, head of the party, has been beset by a succubus in his dreams. He has resisted so far but the intensity of the attacks is increasing, spilling over into the waking world. He has been trying to cover this up.

009.000 - Ruins of Gon Shor


  • At the bottom of the valley between two hills. Abandoned during the war after a landslide buried most of the southern district.
  • The Donnager Party out of Fort Rust (005.002) has been tracking the Cutter-Weaver (009.001), hoping to carve it up for magical reagents. The real plan is to be “attacked” on the way home and hand them over to the hillfolk chiefs at the moot (005.000).

009.001 - Lair of the Cutter-Weaver


  • Described as something like a gigantic arachnid or crustacean with a mossy, pink-blue shell.
  • Heralded by and surrounded by a cloud of toxic, freezing mist.
  • Webbing numbs flesh instantly upon contact.
  • Was drawn here via the Stones of Stars (011.003) and would like to go home. It does not care for you.
  • The idol from (004.009) is here. The Cutter-Weaver has laid eggs within it.
  • Moths and wasps of the Oracle (001.003) are found here, and fly back and forth between the cave and her mountain.

009.007 - Ruins of Jale Attera


  • Shattered spires of brilliant, voluptuous jale.
  • Home to a great number of ghouls, who came to the city after the war destroyed it.
  • The ghoul carrionchief, Zin Snap-Crack, is barely maintaining control over the families of the warren - he is considered a pretender by all and keeps his rule only through the spirits of fire he has bound as his servants.

009.009 - Ruins of Tillan Holding


  • Crumbling fortress on the southern lake edge. The north wall has collapsed into the water.
  • Inhabited by The Grockodile, a crocodile-headed, chaos-tainted ogre. He has trapped a warren of ghouls in the keep’s great hall for a feast that will never emerge and insufferable comedy-of-manners small-talk. The Grockodile will demand that he be brought the Cutter-Weaver as a meal. The ghouls want freedom from their chains, but mostly to attack the hunters at 008.007 for their trespass.

011.003 - Stones of Stars


  • Concentric rings of standing stones, arranged just so to provide accurate mapping and measurement of the heavens. At the center is a crater of smoky glass and a hooded red robe.
  • Individuals who put on the robe fall asleep instantly and, with through terrifying dreams, will learn a spell of their level +2. It will be cast from HP. Upon waking, they will feel alienated from their own body for several days.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A Tour of the Solar System

NASA Image Library

 

Sol - G2V


The sun is a miasma / of incandescent plasma...

Formerly a god. Retains the best claim to the position. Has not forgotten.

Mercury

  • Sole property of the Mercury Resource Reclaimation Conglomerate (casually referred to as MRRC or MerCon), which has long-term plans to stripmine the planet, hollow it out, and eventually push the shell into Venus orbit, where it will be used to shift that world into a faster rotation.
  • Current habitation is almost entirely mining-related, either in mushroom habs, migratory city-factories, or underground facilities. Most resources are either launched into the inner system via mass drivers or manufactured in orbit as energy collectors.
  • The caves and channels beneath the surface are filled with the broth-creches of the silverworms: neogenic biomechanical that bore through the rock to make it easier to move and export. Their secretions can easily dissolve most metals. 

Venus

  • Currently inhabited by a patchwork confederacy of aerostat city-states. Varied government types, but several successful experiments in the creation of Autarchs - individuals invested with total political power, but also the memories and experiences of thousands of different individuals from all walks of life. 
  • Long-term plans for terraforming are underway, including the importation of iceteroids and the construction of sunshades. The aerostat cities are designed to eventually transition into orbitals when the time comes to leave the atmosphere. The proposed future planet is jokingly nicknamed "Bluecifer", and the perpetually optimistic Venusians talk about it like it's already a done deal.
  • Friendlier to anarchists, communalists, and uplifts than the rest of the inner system.
  • Cloud-folk drift between aerostats on chimeric bubble-beasts.

Earth

  • The environment is in better shape than it has been in centuries due to concerted reclaimation, but the surface will remain forever out of reach for all but the scions of the wealthiest and oldest Companies.
  • O'Neill clusters sit at all 5 Lagrange points. An orbital belt containing hundreds of habitats held up by 24 space elevators rings the equator.
  • Old Money rules here. While it is still technically the capital of the Inner System, Jupiter is swiftly becoming more important, and the old families don't like that one bit. 
  • Those Terrans seen off-world wear elaborate, all-covering biosuits, used to filter sensory inputs to be pleasing to the hyper-elites and maintain a barrier between the dirt and grim of the outside cosmos.

Luna

  • Nearly completely subsumed by the orbital infrastructure of Earth. The old lunar culture of the earliest settlements has been pushed into reservation habitats to make room for the influx of the hyper-wealthy of reclaimed Earth.
  • The fact that Luna successfully achieved independence in the past, only to lose it again without a fight, does not sit well with the native Selenians.

Mars

  • Remnants of the original, failed, terraforming dot the surface - shallow, salty comet-water lakes, wide plains of lichen and moss, nanocloud "ghosts", icewater canals, atmosphere factories, and engineered life (distressingly, most of it is both non-sapient and human derived)
  • On top of this are the ruins of the warships and other great engines the Companies fielded in the war for Mars after the collapse of the original colonies.
  • Finally, there's the current para-terraforming effort - craters and valleys are sealed off and pressurized for settlement and the introduction of ecologies. Center of current-day Martian civilization is in the Valles Marinaris. 
  • Some Martians, in a bid to escape the Company, have taken to secret holdouts in the wastelands, living off the two prior ages.
  • While still an economic power, most of the Companies on Mars are those who do not have the prestige to be based out of Earth, nor the ability to carve out a spot in the lucrative Jovian system.
  • This still leaves a brutal corporate oligarchy commanding vast fiefs of indentured serfs, all competing over the currency that permits them to remain alive. It is the single worst place in the system to be if you are poor.

The Belt

  • Thousands and thousands of independent stations, many of which are linked in a loose trade confederacy based on the smart-contracts of the Mutual Cooperation Pact.
  • Some major first-wave Companies are still here, but many have moved the bulk of their operations on to Jupiter and beyond and left behind gaps ready to be filled. Real estate in the Belt is incredibly cheap, if you're okay with buying used.
  • Cultural enclaves and groups found nowhere else in the system thrive here.
  • Absolutely the space Rust-belt - the gold rush is long over.

Jupiter

  • Economic (and de facto political) capital of the solar system, with the planetary capital located on and around Callisto.
  • Primary junction point between inner and outer systems - most traffic will either stop here or use the planet as a gravity slingshot.
  • Every major Company and Union has offices in the Jovian system. This predictably leads to a state of constant political chaos boiling over into open warfare on a regular basis.
  • Government is, by and large, ineffective and corrupt.
  • Europa has been claimed by the Cetacean Nation, which puts them at odds with the preservationists attempting to maintain the alien biosphere within.
  • Will occasionally host a Celestial of House Au, come to check in on the jump gates.
  • Company-Union Conflict made more complicated by the Priests of the Red Eyed All-Father, who possess the lion's share of cultural power and the secrets of the whale-hunts of the tumultuous upper atmosphere.

Saturn

  •  Most settlements in Saturnian orbit and among its moons are home to Companies specializing in android and AI production, due to the proximity to the Titanian Dataminds. 
  • The peace and quiet is superficial: conflict between AI factions is throughout the datasphere, and they are more than willing to hire flesh-and-blood saboteurs as deniable assets.
  • Several AI data-clades have taken to building the Void Reef, a vacuum-adapted ecosystem built out of the carbon and water of the rings.
  • Ulthar Station, vacation destination and home of thousands of smartcat swarms, orbits Iapetus.

Titan

  • Home of the Dataminds, the highest-powered thinking machines permitted by the Celestials.
  • Highest quality uploads, simulations, and cyborging services available in the system.
  • The Dataminds seek a third path for themselves, avoiding both human domination and the wrath of the Celestials. The groundwork is already in place.

Uranus

  • The primary home of anarchists in the solar system.
  • Have maintained independence by filing as a Company, and taking the legal protections that gives, while reporting a profit of 1 credit per year to maintain license.
  • Habitats called "The Panoply" or "The Zoo" for their eclectic nature - more varied and bizarre even than the aerostats of Venus.

Neptune

  • Under lockdown by a faction of paranoid militarist milleniarists (The Anointed Temple of Christ, Redeemer and Conqueror), who are preparing for the end of days, wherein Jesus Christ himself will ride into the system on a white spaceship at the head of a massive alien armada to cull the sinful.
  • "The sinful" being everyone else, of course. Don't ask for their opinions of uplifts.

Pluto and the Kupier Belt

  • A tattered mix of isolationists, outlaws, exiles, cultists, metahumans, spacers, migrants, colonists, and other ne'er do wells.
  • Hub for the outer system laser communications network.

Mothership-Specific Locations

The Dead Planet

  • Is actually Earth, tens or hundreds of millions of years in the future. Your jump drive fucked up real bad. Everyone's jump drives have fucked up real bad. Everything is fucked up real bad.

The Skaana

  •  Casino barge. Currently in orbit above Ceres.

Prospero's Dream 

  • Scumhole space station. Currently stationed in the Jovian L5 Trojans.

Tenum Research Station

  •  Somewhere in the Kupier Belt.

YB107-b

  •  Crashed vessel. Asteroid in the L-4 Neptunian trojans

Ypsilon 14

  • Mining facility. Somewhere in the asteroid belt.

Hive Mind  Locations

  • Amaterasu Station - Venusian orbit. Current home of the Imperial Regalia of Japan.
  • Westerfield Station - Autonomous station taken over by Jesse Arthur Davidson and his Church of the Right Redeemer. On a long elliptical orbit towards the Inner System.
  • Weeping Star - Derelict star-fortress hemisphere.
  • Hynd's End - Patchwork tape-and-prayers pirates' haven. Uranus orbit.
  • Alphie's - Android-run pharma lab, home to a hiding unbraked AI. Jovian L4 Greeks.
  • Camelot - Dedicated Arthurian LARP at the Earth-Sol L1 point.
  • Ptacek's Hollow - Mining colony now rented out to Martian elites for slum tourism. Asteroid belt.
  • New Tigris - Primary food production for Venus. Run by Neo-Mesopotamian sect.

Eclipse Phase  Locations

  • Meathab - A space station made out of meat, for art. Station intelligence is a bit of a trickster. Saturnian orbit.
  • Hexagon - Finest guns-for-hire in the system. Earth orbit.
  • Horeb - Orthodox Jewish community. Near-Earth asteroid.
  • Valley of the Apes - City-sized dome with system's largest population of uplifted apes. Mars
  • Moustier - Primary home of the Neo-Neanderthals. Martian Trojans
  • Winter - Community working towards a genderless, ambisexual society. Jovian Trojans.
  • DIY Shipyards - Union-owned construction company, will take commissions. Saturnian orbit.
  • Oberon -  Home of the largest anarchist community, the Love and Rage Collective. Moon of Uranus.
  • Mushroom and Jacques - Hyper-paranoid isolationist habitats deep in the Neptunian atmosphere.

Factions (Great Screaming Hell and Delta Eclipse)

  • FRIEND -  A smiley face, a vocoder, and a paycheck.
  • Lamplighters - Fanatic soldier-cult lead by the enigmatic (and missing) Lantern Boy.
  • United Planetary Front - Garden-variety space-fascists.
  • Calamity Jean - A thelychroma fixer, out to show the Company what kind of fight they signed up for.
  • ISWU - The Interstellar Sex Workers' Union. One of the oldest and toughest unions out there.
  • Dog Knights - Cynic swordmasters. The gutter-ronin of Diogenes.
  • Redoubters - The builders of black pyramids, preparers for the end of all time.
  • Trollgarden - Slumtown gang of flower-wearing mutants, led by a most infamous glutton.
  • Bon Morte Society - Death counseling and hospice care for those of extended life. 
  • Monks of Primus Oort - Cyborg followers of the old Cold Gods far away.
  • Tiger Lilies - Anti-indenture, anti-slavery cooperative.
  • Barn Swallows - Collective support network for drifters and wanderers.
  • Postmen - Deliver secure physical messages throughout the system.

More Factions (adapted from Umberwell and Krevborna)

  • 3rdEye.exe - A path to apotheosis based on expanding the scope of the mind, rather than its raw power. Corps and anarchists together shut the host site down with prejudice wherever the file is found.
  • Army of the Lilim - Servants of the Countess Alcesta, looking to find the one who will help her conceive her god-child. 
  • Circle - Mendicant ascetics and information brokers.
  • Choir of the Spheres - A cult that found an alien organism and, through eating of it, have started taking on its properties.
  • Concordance Corporation - HR-for-hire. Dedicated to peace through memetic domination.
  • The Defiant Collaborative - Fractious, violent collection of Unionists and anarchists.
  • Dredgers - Explorers of the ruins and tombs of old Mars.
  • Destiny Manifest - The other band of garden-variety space fascists. Go really hard on the "pure human" bullshit. Can't stand the UPF for their equal-opportunity membership.
  • Gunner's Union - Utmost scientific dedication to the Bullet Arts and Path of Explosions.
  • The Maelstrom - Followers of the black ship Azazel, whose algorithms show where and when to cause chaos to counteract the status quo to the greatest extent.
  • The Misericorde - Consorts and puppeteers of the elite, pulling strings even in the favor of their hidden teachers and patrons.
  • New Progress Association - Saturnian technocratic movement. Unpopular with the unions for their dismissal of the working class in their plans for an automated utopia.
  • Prometheus Chimera Works - Creators of new forms of neogenic and cybernetic life.
  • Rat-Catchers - Hunters of rogue pests on abandoned stations.
  • Ruin Night - They dream of a future without thought or death, of philosophical zombies animated by cybernetics.
  • Sacretta Carnifexa - Torturers and executioners of an ancient and outdated sect. Their journeymen are easily spotted by their vantablack cloaks.
  • Salon Sublime - Hangout for the hedonist hyper-elite. Chapters for the lower-classes are found easily enough.
  • Scourge of Evil - Gamified hyperviolent vigilante justice.
  • White Ravens - Union of bounty hunters, private investigators, and contract killers.

    Wednesday, September 11, 2019

    Web of Million Lies


    The internet was a mistake. Everyone knows it, but we're stuck with it. The breakdown of reliable information transfer is a Great Filter - there are dozens of failed civilizations in human space as testament to that. The passing centuries have made the net as dangerous to use as uncharted jungle is to walk through without boots, thanks to an overflowing ecosystem of constantly-adapting hostile data-life and the eternal shore of perniciously nasty humans.

    Using the Internet


    Unless there is something terribly wrong going on, players can always access the internet when in a station or colony that has a civilian population - military and corporate bases will have secure, pared-down networks that will have to be directly accessed via a terminal.

    Basic usage includes things like looking up something on Space Wikipedia, hiring someone for a simple job (rideshares, etc), viewing a public personal page, making financial transactions with the Company, using a chat client, and so on. Players can just do this normally without incident.

    Hacking a computer means getting access that you aren't supposed to have - getting into someone else's account, spoofing administrator privileges, and so on. This requires a skill check.

    Venturing off the beaten track (weird imageboards, shady download sites, seemingly-abandoned conspiracy blogs, domain squatter hives) is dangerous: players should make a Sanity save (modified by a relevant computer or cultural skill).

    On success, you find the information you want.

    On critical success, you find the information you want AND either find something else interesting OR heal 1 stress.

    On failure, you find nothing of worth and gain 1 Stress. Further research cumulatively increases Stress gained by failure by 1.

    On critical failure, the player's device has picked up some hostile datalife. Gain 3 stress and a virus:

    1. Identity stolen
    2. Porn spambot
    3. Advertising spambot
    4. SEO spambot
    5. Ransomeware
    6. Datavore

    Apps


    Every settled system has its own separate network(s), but nearly all are built on the same foundation of nodes - overarching categories that sort the zillions of sites available into relatively-useable umbrellas. You'll always have a search engine, a wiki network, social media, and so on. If a site exists in real life, it's safe to assume that there's a space version. Just add '.space' at the end.

    d50 Space Websites


    1. I Know Someone - All-purpose find-a-service app.
    2. Big Brother - Corporate search engine
    3. Scrounge - Open-source and usually illegal search engine.
    4. Silicon Fantasies - Forum for android fetishists
    5. Mosaic - Hub for dedicated-topic forums.
    6. Vent - Screaming into the abyss. Also provides counselors.
    7. Corporate Core - Company social media.
    8. Indenture Zone - Buy and sell yourself and others.
    9. The Campfire - Home of creepy esoterica, errata, apocrypha, rumor and tall tale.
    10. Interstellar Academic Database - Primary source of corporate-funded scientific studies.
    11. Interstellar Pirate Academic Database - As above, sans paywall and DRM.
    12. Green Market - Listings for terraforming jobs and planetary relocation.
    13. DoubleTake - Unravelling hoaxes, countering propaganda, identifying deep fakes.
    14. Matchbox - Dating service. Squeaky-clean corporate shlock.
    15. Rabbit Hole - Algorithm-guided tour of the net's bizarre underbelly.
    16. Union Square - Hub for union services and social media.
    17. Lonely Star - Dating site. Shitty and hasn't been updated in forever, but less invasive.
    18. Transistor Railroad - Forum for supporters of android emancipation.
    19. Scrapyard - Everything you wanted to know about fixing old out-of-date junk tech.
    20. Lend a Hand - Public board of volunteers offering services.
    21. Swapworld - Swap your junk for their junk.
    22. WIKI - Still doing its thing.
    23. Open Blueprint Database - All the public domain printer blueprints that compiled in one place.
    24. 5 Rivers - Shipping and warehousing conglomerate. Universal storefront.
    25. The Longhauler Boards - Home for spacers out on the fringes. Filled with wild tales.
    26. Ulthar Station - Popular slice-of-life VR sim based on the real space station.
    27. Rot Luck Club - Commiserating over awful happenings.
    28. CTANN - Colonial Trade Alliance News Network. Finest propaganda in the core.
    29. Peanut Gallery - A cyberdemocracy moot specializing only in inconsequential or silly choices.
    30. Freshers - Social network for those new to the system.
    31. Yomi - Black market for slaved logic cores.
    32. Bathroom on the Right - Venerable general-purpose community with devoted core user group.
    33. The Quarantine - A site that is still up, but has been encrypted for so long and so thoroughly no one knows what is behind the wall.
    34. Lady & Tiger - Possibly a mystery religion, we're not really sure. Paywalled community.
    35. Go Hack Yourself - Biohacker forum.
    36. The Allthing - Cyberdemocracy moot.
    37. Neighborhood Network - Local community news and chat
    38. Boarding Action - Social network for marines and mercenaries.
    39. Mornington Crescent - Long-running hub of a still-fake game.
    40. DevJam - Open coder community. love doing challenges with specific handicaps.
    41. Fester - A livestream of a regularly-replenished pile of rotting foodstuffs.
    42. As You Like It - Algorithm-generated media tailored to your tastes.
    43. Fatberg - The weird, gross dregs of the internet.
    44. Mud Blood and News - Crowd-sourced anarchist muckracker news.
    45. Soapbox - Near-abandoned corporate social media platform. Was always awful and kept getting worse.
    46. Atarexia - Laid-back friend-finding discussion forum.
    47. Slipstreamline - Video streaming and hosting site.
    48. The Altar - Payments of cryptocurrency and personal data will get you an AI-generated oracle.
    49. Speak With Dead - AI replications of the beloved dead, for affordable per-minute fees.
    50. The Embassy - Online home of Dog Knights.

    Tuesday, September 10, 2019

    Let's Look at Some More Books

    I read a whole lot, y'all.

    Sabriel & Lirael, Garth Nix


    I love these books. There's a special place in my heart for young adult fantasy from before YA was a marketing behemoth, as well as for the lesser-known titles of the pre-LotR movies era, even though I'm reading it for the first time just now.

    It breezes along at a wonderfully swift pace without skimping on memorable imagery. The main character is well-realized as a young woman taking on a great responsibility, and a proper breath of fresh air in her not being defined by violence either done to her or done to others.

    I kept comparing it to FMA (down to imagining individual scenes as animated by Bones, no less) and I will stick with that. Sums up my feelings on the matter quite nicely.

    Lirael is interesting. In terms of quality it is a fine follow-up to the first, but it's very clear that a sequel (and then the third installment) were not intended from the beginning. It's much more of a "first book is solid standalone, then the latter two books form a duology that attempts to make a trilogy." But, given that the quality remains high (aided no doubt by a decent timeskip and new main characters) it is not an issue.

    The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi


    1) Resource conflicts among space-faring civilizations are, by and large, incredibly stupid.
    2) Acknowledging that a scenario is incredibly stupid does not make the scenario less incredibly stupid.
    3) There is a point where the scenario and the people responsible are so incredibly stupid that the reader can only declare that they deserve all the consequences and thus the tension evaporates, tedium filling in the space left behind.

    That sums up this book to a T.

    Some damning praise must also be heaped upon the character of Kiva Lagos, who manages to be one of the most singularly unpleasant individuals I have read in quite some time (and I am grading on a curve that's got Severian on it), swaggering about with the puerile braggadocio of a drunken collegiate slacker - the teenage boy's idea of a "strong female character", all swearing and aggressive sexual appetite. She's neither funny nor clever, and yet always seems to end up in the right when everyone else should be shutting her shit down.

     

    The Vela Episode 1, SL Huang 

    DNF at very quickly

    I get what you were going for, Huang, no shame in a good "hey climate change will fuck you up" story.

    But in order to siphon off enough hydrogen to actively affect a star's mass and temperature within human-comprehensible timelines you need some crazy Kardashev 3 spacegod techmagic bullshit and if you have access to that, a wee bit of cold isn't going to bother you.

    The Black Tides of Heaven, Jy Yang

    DNF at 16%

    I will never ceased to be amazed at how dry the prose can be in some fantasy works - you're describing a thought-to-be-extinct magical beast and the words embody no majesty, no wonder, not even the mundane thoroughness of a veterinarian's anatomy manual. Calling the ineffable magical force "The Slack", especially in a faux-Chinese setting, took me out of the story every time it was mentioned, which bordered on every page.

    There was one mildly-interesting tidbit of how children in this setting are considered gender-neutral until they reach adulthood, but a good book one mildly-interesting setting detail does not make.

    Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer


    A gibbering, incoherent whirlwind of sound without fury, signifying nothing. Powerful descriptive ability abounds and it all flows nicely while reading, but the complete and total lack of connection with any of the characters, or the setting, or the scenario, means that the unknowable mysterious force is just as unknowable and mysterious as the narrator and everything else which means that it is literary teflon. Nothing matters, nothing means anything, nothing sticks.

    The movie, though, is excellent. Having sound and sight (plus an adaptation that shares almost nothing with the book) helps immensely.

    The Silent Tower, Barbara Hambly


    Another throwback book, with all the pleasant charm of solid mid-to-late-80s fantasy. Read this one quite some time ago so my opinions have moved on, but I enjoyed it quite a bit, particularly in its very 80s computer programmer protagonist. Big old "mid-to-late-80s homosexual villain" warning should probably be slapped on there, though.

    City of Saints and Madmen, Jeff VanderMeer


    A complete turnaround from the other VanderMeer book on the list, this story collection is some quality weird - a simmering pot of bizarre imagery repeated and contradicted as needed, a place of fluid canon dynamics yet fleshed out to the point that you can name it Ambergris whatever form it is taking.

    I am a sucker for grotty, overpopulated fantasy metropoli (and in-universe historical documents with fake footnotes), and Ambergris delivers in spades.

    Seveneves, Neal Stephenson


    Rare is the book, but convenient, when you can provide a specific page number for when it goes bad. It's page 542. Stop there, tear out what comes after it, though you could actually probably stop reading a few chapters earlier. You'll be left with a gut-gripping seat of your pants hard science tech-thriller and some of the best suspense I've read in a good long while.

    This is spoiled utterly by Act 3 of the book, which seems to be the opening arc of an entirely different novel, which is a lackluster attempt at social science fiction involving descendant human clades that you could write a solid sized essay on how his treatment of genetics and race is...a bit wonky. Stevenson's love of disconnected asides describing technology in excruciating detail, no longer a matter of survival, are interminably long and unbearably dull in this section.

    Burn, James Patrick Kelly


    Never thought I would see a story about Transcendentalist firefighters in the far future, but here we are. Enjoyable light read. Does a good job hinting at the bizarre high-tech universe out beyond the planet Walden, though the colonization plot fell a bit short for me because we never actually meet or properly interact with the locals (descendants of a centuries-old mining colony) who are fighting the terraformers.

    The Only Harmless Great Thing, Brooke Bolander

    This story has more weight and value in 60-some pages than books ten times its length. You should definitely track down a copy and give it a read - what can be safely said is that this is a story that had me hooked from the first sentence, and executed on its concept with impeccable skill. Novel alternate history that is also thoughtful and humane science fiction is a precious thing.

    Plus, it has elephants in it. I like elephants.


    The Emperor's Blades, Brian Staveley

    DNF at 1%

    Had to mention this one, because it might be the fastest DNF I have ever had: one page. In the space of that one page there were four nonsense proper nouns, two of them with unecessary apostrophes and such a complete lack of Show that I wouldn't even say that it is all Tel, because that sells the art of having a strong narrative voice terribly short.

    From the cover and title I thought "This is a Malazan ripoff, isn't it?", and even after one page I feel terribly confident that it is.

    The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle 

    Audiobook in progress, part 7/14

    On the short list for preservation, Leibowitz-style, through whatever coming catastrophes that may arrive. A thing of beauty that makes it very difficult to read anything else in close proximity to it.