Tag Archives: science fiction

The Name Of His Wife

The Name Of His Wife

Jacob Brown sat on  a rough wooden chair. The light from a single flickering candle illuminated sod walls. He set down a wooden bowl filled with watery gruel, which was his breakfast, and blew out the candle. Dawn would come soon. No sense wasting wax.

There was a place across from him, a place where his wife usually sat. It was empty. It was always empty. Ever since…

Yesterday?

Last week?

Forever?

He shook his head. How could it be forever, he wondered. I mean, she was here. Until those damn orcs came. Until…

He struggled, for a moment, to remember her more precisely. Her laugh. The color of her hair. The things they fought about. Nothing came to him. All he knew was, she was gone, taken in a raid, and he missed her, and would do anything if someone could save her. He knew the orcs kept prisoners alive for weeks or months. He had some hope.

Maybe I could….he thought, then stopped.

I can’t do anything. I’m no warrior. I can barely guide a plow, much less swing a blade.

The sun began to stream through the wooden shutters. Jacob stood up and walked to the door. Have to keep the farm running, he thought. Nothing else to do. Nothing else I can do. He spared one last glance at the empty place setting…was she really here only last night? Or was the raid last week? Why couldn’t he remember? Then he walked out.

There were Heroes there.

You always could tell Heroes. Their clothes were bright and varied. Their armor shone, or glowed, or burned with heatless fire. They wielded swords too large for a normal man to lift, much less swing around as if it were a twig, or they were themselves glistening with magical might, their very flesh aglow. Some walked in the shape of a wolf, but spoke with the voice of a man.

They were walking to his hut, crossing through his carefully sown fields, stomping the few shoots which had managed to spring to life. Spring…was it spring now? He should be planting…but that didn’t seem right…he didn’t remember plowing last week…but he must have. The fields were plowed. The fields were always plowed… but he never remembered plowing them.

No matter. The Heroes were approaching. He struggled to listen to them. Heroes were hard to understand unless they deigned to speak to you; to Heroes, simple farmers and smiths and innkeepers barely existed. Jacob knew the rules – don’t interfere with them. They are children of the Gods, and they must be accorded all courtesies. Accede to their requests, and be invisible if they don’t want to deal with you.

Lately, though, he’d found it growing easier to hear them. He wasn’t sure why, but he could grasp snatches of their conversation.

“…you sure this is the place? I think I started in this village.”, said one. He was garbed in the robes of a High Priest of Simmureyal, and an angelic halo girded his skull.

“Yeah, there’s the guard who lost his socks. Why are we wasting our time here?” said another, a woman in glistening azure mail, an ax big enough to fell oaks strapped to her back.

Then their leader spoke. He was a knight, wearing a suit of heavy spiked mail. Jacob wondered at the ease with which he carried himself. Such armor must weigh hundreds of pounds.

“Look, this is the right one. I know this guy who knows this guy who’s seen some of the hidden areas. He doesn’t care about this place, but he told me about it. We can be the first to do it.” He stopped. “Hey, there’s the farmer dude. Jacob Brown. That’s the right one!”

“About time,” said the Priest. “We must have gone through a dozen of these stupid hovels. They all look alike.”

The leader of the Heroes approached Jacob, who quailed back. The Hero smiled in a friendly way, his helmet disappearing as they were wont to do. He spoke to Jacob directly.

“Ho there, Farmer Jacob! What news have you?”

Jacob blinked in surprise. He’d never had a Hero speak to him before. He stammered for a second.

“Is he responding?”

“Hold on, he’s going to. I know this is the right one.”

Jacob finally found his tongue. “Ah…ah…I….greetings, noble knight! You honor my poor farm with your presence. Please, if there is anything I can do for you…”

“We seek to doeth good for thee, humble farmer!” spoke the knight. “Be there anything ye needeth?”

Jacob shook his head at the odd accent. It was, he reminded himself, the way of Heroes. Need….

“My wife!” he finally sputtered out. “My wife…she was taken by orcs in the raid…the Yellow Fang tribe…they lair in the hills north of here, there is a chance she might be alive…”

The Hero just looked at him, as if waiting for something else.

Jacob’s mind spun. He had to offer them something for their risk…he couldn’t ask them to fight and possibly die for him without some token…but he had nothing…nothing but…

“I have so little to offer you if you will help me, but I…I have an old sword which my grandfather wielded in the War Of Tyrant’s Fall. It might…might be worth something to a historian, perhaps….”

The Knight made an odd gesture with his fist and turned to his companions. “Yeah! This is the right one! Damn! We do this fast and we beat everyone else to it!” He then turned back to Jacob. “Fear ye not, old man! We’ll get thy daughter back from thee orcs!”

“Wife, good sir.”

“Ah…right, yes, your wife. We’ll getteth her. No problem!”

The ax-wielding woman spoke. “Hey, where’s Korson?” Even as she finished, though, there was a flicker, and a shape appeared, a tall, thin, man in long robes, surrounded by swirling mists of fog. “Sorry…got dropped. The cat yanked the interface right out of my socket. Took me a minute to reorient myself and plug back in. Let’s go!”

Jacob stared as he watched them saunter off, this time crossing his western fields. They were taking the single straightest line to the orc’s lair, ignoring the roads, moving with Heroic grace and speed over his fields and the thorn-strewn lands beyond. Could they do it, he wondered. Could they save my wife?

What was her name? Why can’t I even remember her name?

It was maddening.

He thought about trying to undo the damage the Heroes had done to his field, but realized that if… that when they returned with his wife, they’d just tromp back over them again. A headache was beginning to form; every time he tried to remember any fact about his wife other than “She’s gone”, the pain spiked. I have to talk to someone, he thought.

The village proper was less than a mile down the road. He passed old Sergeant Tomlinson as he headed there. The “Sergeant” was nothing of the kind, having never served in any organized army, but he had some idea of how to wield a sword and could raise the alarm if bandits or orcs were spotted.

“Ho there, Tomlinson! How goes?”

“Not too bad, not too bad. Realized I’d walked out on patrol today without me socks on, if ye can believe it! Fortunately, there was a gnome walking by here looking for odd jobs, so I sent him. Nice little fella.”

Jacob frowned. “Didn’t you… didn’t you leave them behind yesterday, too? And wasn’t it some apprentice wizard you found to go fetch them for you?”

Tomlinson flushed. “Well, how daft d’ye think I am, losing my socks two days in a row! I think I’d remember if I lost ’em twice…ah, here’s the fella now.”

Jacob watched as Tomlinson happily took his socks back and tossed the gnome a few copper pieces for his trouble. The gnome looked at Jacob oddly, as if searching for something, then shrugged and ran off down the road.

Tomlinson put on his socks gleefully. “So, where ye headin’ to?”

Jacob shrugged. “The village. I need…I need to talk to some people. Tomlinson…did the orcs raid last night? When did they come?”

“No orcs for a long time. Can’t recall any raids.”

“But…my wife…they took my…”

Jacob stopped. A shifty-eyed man in worn leather walked by them. Jacob flinched back, wary for the few coins in his pouch, but the man ignored him. Instead, he fixed a piercing glare on Tomlinson, then seemed to notice something and smiled.

“Hey, Sergeant. I don’t suppose you have anything you need doing?”

Tomlinson nodded. “Do indeed there! As it turns out, this morning, I forgot me socks…and the road is cold this day! My house is over that rise. If you’d be so kind as to fetch them for me…”

Jacob backed away and hastened for the town. Either the whole village was going mad…or he was.

***

The Green Gander Inn formed the physical and cultural center of the town. It was a large, two story structure, with a roof of thick thatch and walls of mortared stone braced by timbers. Smoke poured from the chimney, and the smell of roasting meats wafted out. A steady stream of people dashed in and out of the place, running pell-mell to and fro. Jacob knew none of them; they were all apprentices of one sort or another – young men eager to take up the mercenary’s call, novices fresh from seminary, would-be sorcerers still struggling to master their first spells. There were a lot of them in the area, Jacob noted, though none of them were the children of anyone he knew. They never seemed to settle here, either… just vanish into the great large world beyond the village, to return on occasion as Heroes, or never to return at all.

The inside of the inn was brightly lit by oil lamps and a roaring cookfire. Jacob looked around, and finally spied Sackson. “Sack”, as he was commonly known, was a fixture at the Gander. Jacob pulled a stool up and sat down next to him. The apprentice’s chatter was simply a vague buzz at this point.

Sack stopped drinking for a brief moment, raised his glass in acknowledgment, then downed the contents in a single gulp. The bartender quickly replaced it.

“What’s up, Jake?”

“You didn’t hear? The raid? My wife?”

Sack frowned. “The raid…Right. Orcs attacked the village last…night, was it? Got your wife. Tragic. Here. Have a beer on me.” A coin appeared in his hand and was flicked to the bartender; a second mug was quickly placed on the bar, in front of Jacob, who ignored it.

“Sack…we’ve been friends for a while right?”

“Ever since we were kids.”

Jacob nodded. “What was my wife’s name?”

Sack’s face froze. Totally. All hints of life vanished. For a second, Sack became a flesh-colored statue. Then he returned to normal. “I….I don’t know. Can’t remember. Too much booze, I guess….” He seemed suddenly troubled.

Jacob continued. “You’re my best friend, so you must have been at my wedding. When was it – spring, summer, or fall?”

Sack sat the beer down. “I don’t know.” He looked down at his hands, then around at the bar, as if seeing them for the first time. “Why don’t I know?”

Jacob’s voice began to rise. “Who were her parents? Was she born in this village?”

Sack was backing away, his eyes wide. “I don’t know, I don’t know! Why are you asking me this?”

Jacob grabbed his friend by his burly shoulders and shook him. “Because I don’t know either! She was my wife, Sack, my wife, and I can’t even remember her face!”

People were staring. A mercenary youth, a battered and worn greataxe slung over his back, approached him. “Pardon, sir, but if you have any foes you need slain…”

Jacob practically spat on him. “Piss off.”

The mercenary faded back into the crowd. Jacob whirled back on his friend. “Sack, when did you last leave this bar?”

“Uhm…last night, I suppose. I mean, I have to go home sometime, right?”

“Where do you live? Which house? In town? Out in the fields?”

Sack said nothing. He began to look more frightened.

“Did you leave last night? Do you remember leaving? Do you know what the sun on your face feels like?”

Sack stood up suddenly and kicked the chair away. “I’m leaving now.”

Jacob smiled. The two of them would solve this. There was an answer to be found. They both strode to the inn’s door. Jacob noted the buzz of noise from the visitors was growing louder; he allowed some of it to filter in.

“…he’s leaving?”

“Didn’t think he did that.”

“He never leaves. He’s been here since, like, the alpha.”

“Must be some new event.”

“We ought to follow them….”

Several of the crowd began to cautiously tag along. Jacob ignored them. The pair passed through the door.

Sack vanished as he set foot over the threshold.

Jacob’s eyes widened, He called out for him. “Sack! Sackson!” He ran back into the bar, hoping to see him at the stool at the end, but it was still empty. The milling crowd began to press in on him, asking about his friend, asking if he needed anything done.

Jacob cursed, and forced his way out of the crowd. A dwarf holding a small leather purse raced past him, heading for Sack’s old seat, then stared in confusion.

“Huh? He despawned? What’s up? I’ve got a turn-in!”

Jacob just ran.

***

He paced the length of his farmhouse, a fairly short walk. The old blade lay on the table…if the Heroes did return with his wife, he wanted to have it out. The less time they spent tromping on his crops, the better.

He hoped they’d return soon, one way or another. The longer he sat alone, the more his thoughts raced around all the dark holes in his mind. He knew he knew things, but the things weren’t there. He knew he was born and raised here, but he had no clear memories of his childhood. He knew he had parents, but they had neither faces nor names. He knew he had a wife…and that was all he knew about her, the mere fact she existed.

There were voices and footsteps and the sound of newly sprouted plants being trampled.

Jacob listened.

“Are you sure we get the sword? We kind of messed up…”

“Yeah, don’t worry, I checked it out with my friend. It’s rigged. We can’t save her no matter what, there’s some kind of timer trigger. It’s more, you know, dramatic or something.”

“Right, like anyone bothers paying attention to that shit.”

Jacob’s face went slack. They…they didn’t save her? What?

There was a knock.

Soul-numb, he went to the door. The Heroes were there. The leader spoke.

“Greetings, Farmer Brown. We bear dark and grave tidings. We…”

“You didn’t save her.” His voice was low, calm, flat.

“Uhm… no. We struggled, racing to breach the orcs’ defenses before…”

“Get out. Leave this farm and never return.”

The Hero stopped. His fellow Heroes were looking at him in a mix of anger and confusion. “If we blew this….” one of them began. He waved them to silence and returned to Jacob.

“I am deeply sorry for your loss, but we did try. Surely that’s worth something…”

Words appeared in Jacob’s mind: I am glad you risked your lives to aid me. Here, take the blade anyway. It is of no use to me. He felt his mouth beginning to form the words.

“No!” he shouted.

He turned, spun, and grabbed the sword. He didn’t hand it over to the Hero, but, clumsily and gracelessly, jammed it into his gut. The sword suddenly flared in his hands, sheathing itself in violet fire. The rust and grime vanished, and the blade became mirror smooth.

The Hero he had just stabbed staggered back and gurgled a few times. Then he collapsed, flickering into nothingness before his body could hit the ground. The others stared in momentary shock, then recovered.

“Cool!”

“Wasn’t expecting that!”

“Guess this is the hard part! Let’s get ‘im!”

The three other Heroes charged. Jacob held the sword in what he hoped was a defensive position, and steeled himself to join his wife. Maybe, he thought, maybe, in the afterlife, I can ask her her name.

They came for him then, axes swinging and spells blazing. Explosions of color and light surrounded him…and he felt nothing. The blades passed through him. The blazing explosions destroyed his tiny home, but didn’t even singe his hair.

The Heroes were confused.

“What the?”

“He’s still flagged non-com to us! We can’t kill him!”

“Aw, shit, it’s bugged!”

“Hey, why hasn’t Valkor relogged?”

“I don’t know, I’ve tried rezzing him, but he’s not responding.”

“What’s that nutty farmer doing?”

Jacob suddenly understood.

He couldn’t be hurt by the Heroes, but he could hurt them.

And he wanted to.

Everything began to fall into place. Everything began to fit. All we are, he realized, is playthings for the Heroes. They’re chosen by the Gods, and we’re their toys. We exist to teach them, guide them, worship them, or be killed by them. That’s what we’re supposed to do. We barely have lives outside of them.

Enough. Gods be damned!

He launched himself into a clumsy attack, but the blade moved of its own will. Farmer Brown found himself ducking, weaving, and striking. The priest fell first, appropriately, since Jacob had spurned the gods. The warrior woman with the axe was next, her blade a phantom against his, unable to parry its lethal touch. The wizard ran when he saw his spells fail, but he was easily winded and Jacob felt as if he could do anything.

They left behind no bodies, not even blood on the blade. Whistling jauntily, Jacob returned to town.

***

It was dead.

Everyone in it seemed to be frozen, locked solid in position, Even the leaves blowing in the wind hung motionless in the air. The sky above had turned to ash, a uniform gray from horizon to dome. The sun had vanished, though it was still daylight.

Jacob entered the Gander.

Sackson was there. He was behind the bar, smashing open bottles and guzzling them down. He looked up.

“Jake? You… you’re still here… I mean, moving… I mean… what’s happening?”

“I killed some Heroes.” He sat down at the end of the bar and helped himself to some nuts. “Wasn’t even hard.”

Sackson dropped the bottle he was holding. It fell a foot or so, then hung in the air. “You… you what?”

“Killed them. I was sick and tired of being fodder for their games, so, I killed them. I cursed the gods and I drew my blade and I killed them.”

Sack’s face paled in horror. “You’ve killed the world.”

Madness glinted in Jacob’s eyes. “So what if I have? What kind of world is it, where the Gods push us around like stones in a child’s game? Besides, you’re still moving.”

“I don’t know why. I still can’t leave, Jacob, I try, and then I just go… someplace else, someplace filled with frozen fire, someplace made of words, and then I come back here. I think… I don’t think we have long to live.”

“My wife’s dead. And nameless. I don’t much care.”

Sack reached across the bar to try to grab him. Jacob stepped back, bringing up the blade.

“Jake… please… atone! Apologize! Beg the gods to forgive you… bring the world back!”

Jacob Brown looked upwards and spread his arms. “Do your worst!

The world began to fall apart. There was a howling, and all of reality changed. Every line suddenly seemed sharper, infinitely sharp, as if each component of the world were being pulled out of it.

Sack fell to his knees, half-sobbing, half praying. As Jacob watched, he saw things begin to crawl along his friend’s face and body. They looked, at first, like black worms, like an infestation of the most vile sort, but then Jacob saw they were words, strange words he could not understand. The blackness grew and grew until it covered his friend entirely, and then he vanished.

Nothing remained outside the inn. There was no darkness, there was no light, there was just nothing. The inn itself was dissolving around him, black wordworms crawling everywhere, turning everything into letters and then into emptiness.

No, thought Jacob. I’m not going. They’re not taking me.

He looked around in desperation. There was something… a rip, a tear in the world. Beyond it was light.

Jacob leaped for it as the inn finished dissolving. He felt pain, a horrible burning, He could feel his skin crisping, his fat melting, his bones cracking in the heat, but he struggled to keep his mind, to keep himself together. Then the pain, and all other sensation, vanished.

Epilogue I

BEGIN PRESS RELEASE:

Worlds Of Infinity, Incorporated, wishes to announce its deep regret and sorrow at the apparent deaths of four players of Quest Of The Heroes. While we mourn their loss and extend all condolences and sympathies to their families, we deny any possibility that a coding error or feedback loop could be responsible. While Quest Of The Heroes is currently offline until all investigations are completed, we at Worlds Of Infinity are certain that no action of ours could have led to this tragic situation.

BEGIN BOILERPLATE:

Quest Of The Heroes is the crown jewel of Worlds Of Infinity. After ten years of continuous play, it remains the most popular simulation in our lineup. We continue to dedicate full resources to it, including recent upgrades to our SimuReal Interactives, providing the best and most immersive experience possible. We Are The Makers Of Worlds TM.

Epilogue II

Jacob was somewhere else.

It was a strange place.

It seemed to be a room, but a room such as Jacob had never seen. A soft cloth was underfoot, almost like the hide of some odd animal, and there were large metal boxes, the strangest chests Jacob had ever seen, standing everywhere. The room seemed to go on forever, but every few dozen feet, there was a standing rectangle of green fire, the size and shape of a door. Here and there, far away, in the distance, he saw figures stepping out of or into the green doors, seeming to vanish or materialize. Some sort of magic portals?

He noted, with some grim delight, that he still bore the sword.

Jacob just stared in wonderment. This was no heaven or hell he had ever heard of.

There was a voice.

A man was there, strangely dressed. He didn’t look like a Hero…he looked, Jacob thought, like a tax collector.

“You!  You there! What are you doing here?”

Jacob fumbled for an answer. “I… I am lost…”

“Lost?” The man seemed angry. “Oh, please. I know that getup. The damn game is offline, so you’re busy hacking to see if you can find a backup server somewhere. This isn’t your stupid game. You’ve managed to log into the V-Space Accounting Database.” He sighed, then continued his rant.

“God damn useless sim addicts. Well, I don’t know how you got through the firewall, but you are in deep, deep, trouble. You know what the laws are for trespass into private zones? I’m getting a trace on your signal sent. Might as well unplug, the cops will be there soon. No sims in prison, you freaking fantasy nut. Now log, I’ve got accounting data to lookup. Whole company is in a tizzie thanks to you losers.”

Jacob tried to puzzle out bits and pieces of the speech. “You… you work for the gods? For the Makers Of Worlds? You are their servant?”

The man rolled his eyes. “Great, not only an addict, but one of those roleplaying weenies. Yeah, I work for ‘the Gods’. Sheesh, they’re going to love you in the can! Here’s a hint, loser – don’t drop the… ”

Jacob sliced his head off, cleanly. The body vanished. He expected as much now.

If I can kill the servants of the gods…and their Heroes…perhaps I can kill the Gods themselves.

He went to one of the rectangles and gingerly stepped into it. There was a moment of light, then a sense of dissolution, then he appeared somewhere else. It was another room, similar but not identical to the one he had just occupied.

I am in the realm of the gods. I wander their halls… and here, they can die.

This place is immense, he thought, but I have time. Somewhere in here, I will find the Gods. Then I will kill them.

He smiled a thin, cold, mad, smile.

I am a Hero, he thought. I have a Quest.


As with most of my fiction, this was written in a moment of desperate panic before my monthly writer’s group meeting.  It was posted ages ago on the original Joomla version of this site, then never moved over in the Great WordPress Revolution of… whenever I switched to WordPress. I think it was 2010. (Wow, that means I wrote the Star Rovers piece a long time ago.) Prior to reposting it now, I gave it a quick edit to clean up a few sentences. (No matter how many times you reread your own writing, you always find one word to change here, another word to add there…)

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to mention that a small bit of the inspiration comes from a quest in Vanguard (ah, Vanguard… you could have been amazing. A perfect example of the harsh reality of “Ship Now or Ship Never”). You were sent to go rescue someone from lizardmen, but as soon as you got near to the village, the text box informed that you heard a scream and that they were dead. No way to save them. (Given how borked the NPC pathing/follow was, it’s probably for the best it wasn’t an escort quest.)

Captain Future And The Space Emperor!

Captain Future!

And The Space Emperor! 

As you may recall, yesterday… yes, folks, I am actually writing “tomorrow” what I said I would… (EDIT: As you can tell, it didn’t get finished until a few days later) as opposed to a week or a month later… we discussed Captain Future, The Wizard Of Science, and his partners — Grag the indestructible robot! Otho, the incredible android! And the Brain, bodiless super-genius! And, frankly, if reading those prior sentences doesn’t  spur some kind of thrill in you, get ye gone from my blogge, for ye are no true-borne gamyr!

Anyway. Today, we shall look at the first Captain Future novel, “Captain Future And The Space Emperor!” It opens with the revelation that Earthmen are being transformed into ravenous, prehistoric, creatures, by some sort of “atavism plague” that rapidly degenerates them back to their ancestral form, and somewhere, a biologist is crying. No matter! Ignore the sobbing scientist! Let’s be fair, the idea was at least vaguely new and sort of plausible (and by ‘plausible’, I mean, ‘a lot fewer lay people knew enough about science to know what bullshit it was, but no real biologist of the time would buy it’) back in 1940; when Star Trek did it more than 50 years later, it was utterly unforgivable.

In any event, when disaster strikes the System, the call goes out for Captain Future! And Captain Future answer the call, in his mighty spaceship, the Comet! Please note the lack of cadillac fins. This was due, in part, to the ability of the The Comet to disguise itself as a comet, by producing a blazing particle aura around it, thus avoiding all suspicion, for when the evil villains would peer out of their space windows, they would see nothing but a mere comet, which was not moving in accordance with any Newtonian trajectory, was not on any charts, and whose blazing tail was evident even if it was very far from the sun, which is what causes comets to have tails in the first place! Captain Future's Spaceship, The Comet

And so, Captain Future sets off! The plague has begun on Jupiter, and is due to someone calling himself “The Space Emperor”. Jupiter is a world “whose vast jungles and great oceans were largely unexplored”.

An aside. In this novel, Captain Future mentions prior adventures, such as capturing the “Lords Of Power”. Yet, this is the first novel in the series, and the character did not appear in prior stories. He begins as an established hero; no “origin story” required, except a quick background. Compare to modern heroic media, where it’s vital to spend endless hours detailing everything the hero has done and then having almost no story left to tell. The monomyth is, ironically enough, killing modern mythmaking.

Oh, the Great Red Spot on Jupiter? That’s actually the Fire Sea, a great radioactive volcanic cauldron. Also, only the upper layers of Jupiter’s atmosphere are methane and ammonia; beneath the clouds, it is a mostly Earthlike world of continents and oceans, inhabited by Jovians, green, hairless, flippered beings. Oh, the Jovians, previously peaceful, are being stirred up against the humans who have settled on Jupiter by the aforementioned Space Emperor.

Before landing on Jupiter, though, Captain Future is ambushed in space! He forces the attacking ship down on Callisto (which, of course, has a breathable atmosphere.. I think the only object of any note to not have a breathable atmosphere is Earth’s moon). Callisto is inhabited by crystalline life forms that can attack end envelop their prey. Using them as a threat, Captain Future wheedles confessions from the vile miscreants, and they describe the Space Emperor as an armor-suited figure who “does things no human could do!”

Further, only a few people could have known Captain Future was heading to Jupiter. This sets up a plot that is repeated in the other two novels I have read — early on, Captain Future realizes the mysterious villain of the novel is one of a set of people, and spends most of the rest of the story narrowing the list of suspects. Also, in each of the three novels, the villain is somehow using, manipulating, or controlling a native race for his own ends. What saves these stories from tedium is that beneath the repetitive plot structure (which I have to assume is varied eventually, given how many Captain Future novels there were!), there is endless invention and awesome spectacle — like the Crawling Crystals Of Callisto! (They’re not called that in the book, just to be clear… but isn’t that a cool name? Wouldn’t you buy a novel called “The Crawling Crystals Of Callisto!”? I would.)

Otho disguises himself as one of the capture henchmen. He can soften and mold his plastic flesh almost without limit, which is useful.  This allows him to find out when and where the Space Emperor will be contacting his Jovian allies, but when Captain Future goes to capture him, he discovers that the Space Emperor is immaterial! He cannot be attacked, captured, or harmed! (Here, interestingly, follows some conversations that show more attention to science… or at least verisimilitude… than is seen in other media, for example, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Having concluded that the Space Emperor is vibrating at a frequency higher than that of ordinary matter, the issues of this — such as how does he breathe, and why the planet’s gravity doesn’t suck him into the core — are brought up and addressed, or at least listed as mysteries which must be solved, and which eventually are.)

While on Jupiter, we also meet two recurring characters: Ezra Gurney, the crusty old Marshall of the Planet Police, and Joan Randall, Planet Police Secret Agent and theoretical love interest. I say “theoretical” because, while she is female, and only such in the novels I’ve read thus far, and is positioned, trope-wise, to be Captain Future’s girlfriend, or at least Unstated Sexual Tension Friend (as is often the case in serial fiction), as of the three and a half novels I’ve read, Captain Future has less sex drive than a toaster, and while he is filled with Manly Fury when Joan is captured (on average, 14.6 times per novel), he has just as much Manly Fury when it happens to Grag, Otho, or the Brain. Joan’s own emotional state is limited to an occasional wide-eyed stare at the handsome Captain Future. I have to wonder if, back in the early 1940s, there was an underground of fanfic that tapped out hard-core porn on manual typewriters, and if the early fans of “scientifiction” were sexually aware enough to even contemplate what a shape-shifting android like Otho or an unstoppable powerhouse like Grag could do in the sack. Not really sure what you’d do with the Brain. Don’t want to think about it. PS: If you do a GIS on Captain Future with safe surf off, you WILL find porn — this is the internet, after all — but it’s based on the 1970s anime series, as are most of the images.

There is quite a bit going on, a lot of last-minute escapes, derring do, cunning plans, and some really awful “friendly banter” between Grag and Otho. Really, it may be simply the cultural distance… we live in a somewhat more restrained era… but a lot of what’s supposed to be playful interaction between friends, among all the Futuremen, often comes across of my modern ears as unduly harsh. It may also be that Edmond Hamilton’s skill at dialogue, at least in these early novels, is far less than his skill at imagining wondrous worlds and settings. At that, at least, he excels — especially when you remember most of this hadn’t been done before. He is quite good at evoking the feeling of a world with a handful of sentences, using a relatively sparse number of words to create a rugged Jupiter mining town or the eerie surface of Callisto. The raw energy and excitement of the story allows Captain Future to leap over great gaping holes in characterization.

Ultimately, we learn the Space Emperor is posing as “The Last Ancient”, a member of the near-mythical race of “super-civilized” beings who inhabited Jupiter long ago. Of course, he is a fraud, an Earthman who found some of the Ancient’s advanced technology, and he has duped the Jovians into following his scheme.  Captain Future defeats him, naturally, by outwitting him. (This is another common theme — Captain Future uses science against his foes. The ethos of the Captain Future novels is clear: Science is not evil, humans are. Even the atavism plague the Space Emperor is using had a benign origin — it was intended to let the Ancients study the evolution of species for the sake of pure knowledge. There is nothing, at least thus far, in the Captain Future novels that is of the “Things man was not meant to know” category — just things which should be kept out of the hands of the evil and the unscrupulous.)

Gaming Captain Future

From a gaming perspective, the universe of Captain Future is amazingly rich. Obviously, GURPS Tales Of The Solar Patrol, with the background suitably altered, is a great starting point, but any system that supports pulpy sci-fi action is good. The System is a great setting because of its size and population. Virtually every world is inhabited or inhabitable,  and even the long-settled worlds are home to countless mysteries, lost cities, forgotten races, and strange artifacts. Most of the worlds have a frontier feel to them — you can draw off the gold rush, of course, but also the settlement of the American West (complete with angry natives) , Australia during its penal colony days, or the English colonies in Hong Kong and India. The novels either ignore issues of imperialism and exploitation, or portray native dissent against the interlopers from Earth as something exploited by evil humans for their own gain, but there’s no reason to keep it that way, especially if the players will be unable to accept the status quo. (It ought to be noted that, in other novels, it’s made clear many of the aliens have equal status to humans — we meet Martian and Jovian businessmen, for example, who have considerable wealth and power in the System, so that there’s evidently some degree of equality going on. Except, of course, for women. It may seem fairly progressive to have Joan Randall be a Planet Police Special Agent instead of a nurse or a secretary, but, as of halfway through the fourth book, you’re left wondering how she ever got the job, as she seems to have no function except to be kidnapped or to stand there while Captain Future delivers some exposition.)

Despite the advanced weapons, combat is often quite physical, and one of the most common tropes is attacks by strange alien beasts who are conveniently immune to conventional super-weapons. Most characters in a Captain Future game would do well to know some fisticuffs and knifeplay. At the same time, actually advancing the plot requires deductions, fact-finding, and especially SCIENCE! Intellectual skills should be a big part of the game, but characters will tend to be ludicrously skilled generalists rather than realistic specialists.

EXTERMINATE!

The tagline of this site is “Old School Attitude, Modern Rules”. (Not, as some would have it, “Updates on a roll of 18+ on 2D10”) A big part of the feel of “Old School” is “Anything that’s cool is included”, and “cool” usually meant whatever was in the movies or at the top of the nerd reading list for that week. Dungeons & Dragons campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s were full of wookies and kzinti, phasers and lightsabers, aliens and predators, ninjas and more ninjas. A lot of that great and glorious wahooness has been lost in recent decades, or is brought back only so that it can be snickered at with a superior attitude and/or played purely for laughs (see the execrable “Castle Greyhawk” module published by TSR for AD&D 2e, as repugnant an attempt to piss on Gary’s legacy as I can imagine).

Me, I prefer unironic, unexamined, embrasure of the 14 year old within. Since Doctor Who hadn’t made it across the pond in most of the early era of D&D, or was sneered at by the kind of Very Serious Fans who might have heard of it (if they watched anything British, it would be Blake’s Seven), there was very little inclusion of Dr. Who material in things like Arduin or All The World’s Monsters. So, we set the gaming TARDIS to take the “That which is cool, rules” attitude of the 1970s and merge it, via a chronal transpacial rift in idea space, with the mechanics of the 2010s, and I present the first of several Daleks, statted for 4e. (There will be at least one solo “Dalek Commander”, and probably a non-elite, maybe two, but I wanted to get one mid-range “model” out first.)

Dalek