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Meme Machine

2/19/10 01:43 pm - Translating "Kuro", and other news

"My name is Madono Chiyumi. I’m 26 years old. For the past few months I’ve been working in a robotics shop in Akihabara district in Tokyo. I should say 'Shin Edo'. The city’s been renamed...

On the 4th of May 2046 I was in one of the electronic voting booths in my district, like so many others. There was a blinding flash, followed by a howling gale, blowing up neon signs and turning the transparent umbrellas of passers-by inside-out. Then darkness fell.

When the electrics came back on we still didn’t know what had happened. We only learned that later, on the television: an atomic bomb, fired in error by the Panasiatic Federation as a result of an earthquake, had hit us. But there we were: still alive, not burned, not even injured.

The world accused us of having secret weapons, an atomic shield which had stopped the bomb, a signal we were getting ready to make a major attack. Soon an international blockade surrounded Japan, cutting us off from the rest of the world, demanding answers that we didn’t have.

For nearly six months, we’ve been prisoners in our own country, and the Divine Wind shows no sign of stopping. But I know now it's more than just the storm.

Since the Kuro Event that 4th of May, 2046, I see my dead sister caressing the crows on my balcony every night."


The above flashfic is from the Kuro RPG, a game of Japanese futuristic cyberhorror by French RPG publisher Septieme Cercle, which Cubicle 7 are publishing this year and which I'm currently translating.  Despite speaking Japanese and having lived in Japanese for 5 years in the early nineties, Japan as a setting for RPGs or as a source of RPG material is something that's never really been on my radar, except for a brief stint at FGU's Bushido in the early 80s. Perhaps Japanese culture is too "close" to me to appear a sufficiently exotic setting, or most RPG incarnations of it too far off the mark to feel credible; Kuro, however, looks different.  Neko ("cat" in Japanese) is the nom de plume of Septieme Cercle's Valerie, author of Kuro; she's also a Nipponophile and Japanese speaker, and in this game it shows.  There's a real feel for Japanese society "from within", as something real and realistic, rather than something to be gazed at and poked from outside, and I'm hoping the English version of Kuro will get people as excited as I've been reading it.  

I'm not yet up to full speed on the Kuro work; I'm doing some translation in dribs and drabs, but I'm expecting to knuckle down seriously roughly April, once Mindjammer Adventures and Legends of Anglerre are both out of my hands.  I'm hoping what's left of the translation should take no more than a month or two - we'll see!

In other news, Legends of Anglerre (aka "Starblazer Fantasy Adventures") is now in layout, and looking delicious.  I'm really getting quite proudly parental about it; I think we've done a really nice job of transforming the Starblazer rules into the fantasy genre, without just changing the labels.  It's a fully-fledge FATE FRP in its own right, standalone and separate from Starblazer Adventures, yet completely compatible - if you want your starship to touch down on a magic-rich world of wizards and dragons and start blasting the hell out of castles and war galleys while sorcerers try to torch your laser cannons, you can - the rules work seamlessly cross-genre.

For me, the biggest pleasure with Legends of Anglerre has been writing a magic system which can "do" Tolkien to my satisfaction.  The Hither Kingdoms, the high fantasy setting contained in the Anglerre core book, lends itself easily to D&D-style play; but also, with only a little mindshift, is an incarnation of that Middle-earth spirit of mysterious and unfathomable magic.  I'm going to look forwards to taking this further, both in my house campaign and in future Anglerre scenarios and supplements.

Also, "Mindjammer Adventures" continues apace.  The Mindjammer core book appears to be selling very well - review copies have now also been sent out, so I'm looking forwards to seeing some reviews on the Net.  Mindjammer Adventures is the second book in the series - as much toolkit as the core book, meaning everything is detachable for use in your own campaign, but also playable in the New Commonality Era as is as well, which is my focus when writing.  It contains 4 humongous scenarios each with a different take on the transhuman theme, and I'm hoping some pretty unique RPG experiences - some of this stuff gets very weird! - as well as heaps of new rules and goodies. I'm finishing up the first playtest draft in a few days; my target for layout is 21st March.  Onward! 

"The Chronicles of Future Earth", my technofantasy setting for Chaosium's BRP, is underway again, and I'm hearing from Chaosium they're hoping to make an official announcement at the end of the month.  That'll be very gratifying - I wrote the core book over 18 months ago, which sometimes feels like forever: it'll be really nice to see it finally hit the shelves.

Lastly, on the fiction front, I believe "Tales Out of Miskatonic University", the Cthulhu fiction anthology from Mythos Books containing my short story "The Apprentice", is finally at the printers.  This has also struggled to see the light of day; I'm looking forwards to seeing how it goes down.  I still have an edgy modern Cthulhu short story called "Disclosure" doing the rounds; I'm hoping that will find a home in an upcoming anthology soon.  My other fiction writing right now is all Mindjammer-oriented; I'm working on short story #3 (of 8) out of "The Songs of Old Earth", a novel in short stories which I've promised myself will be my big project for the second half of this year, once Mindjammer book 3, "Planeships and Slowboats", is finished.

Looking back on this post, I certainly look busy!  Happily this year so far I'm keeping a grip on my "family time", which lost out somewhat last year.  I'm working an 8-hour day, 5-day week (more or less), which feels a lot more sustainable, and is keeping Chris (the Brown Dirt Cowboy) happy too!

Hugs and good gaming to all!



1/30/10 10:57 am - Solenine - Mindjammer in Mirrorshades

 Here's another teaser from the "Mindjammer Adventures" supplement now approaching playtest - the flash fiction at the head of the scenario "Solenine".  It's due out spring 2010 - approximately April / May.


The Core Worlds are as weird as hell. People live forever, yet lead repressed lives of drugged-out bliss. There are traditions thousands of years old, incomprehensible caste systems, terrifying social intrigue. Religion and democracy are illegal, and you can buy and sell xenomorphs like you would a set of clothes – just don’t try and do it with money, or they’ll treat you like you’re some degenerate hick from the boondocks. The Core is as different from the Fringe as you can imagine; sometimes I have trouble believing we’re even the same species.

Solenine is the only place I’ve found which gives the weirdness of the Core a run for its money...

I got her handshake before I saw her, and then my virtual vision had her pegged as she came through the crowds. There were people everywhere. Monitor band flagged up names on some of them when I focussed, some had privacy up.

“Welcome to Solenine,” she cast at me, as my peripheral awareness scrolled through her profile. “I heard you were trying to confirm my death record was a mistake...”

She was casting some expensive perfume at me as she walked up, scent of violets, taste of purple, even the sound of bells in a forest somewhere. Classy stuff; I let it in, I always liked that stuff. By then she’d walked up to me, and I could see her in the flesh; pupils dilating, nostrils flaring, iridescent lips glowing to deep red – specially for me, I knew – barely parting to show pearly white teeth as she breathed warm all over me. Was that a flash of aftersex she cast, too, as she did? Barely a subliminal – but her slight smile told me she knew I’d got it. I tell you, if this girl was an eidolon, I didn’t care whether she was delusional or just feeding me a line.

“Put it back in your pocket, Max,” cast Lyra from the rooftop. “This girl’s got some weird m-band activity. I can’t get a fix. She’s an eidolon all right – but her m-band looks like an avatar, too.”

Shit. “Not human, then?”

“Not any more.”


1/11/10 05:31 pm - The City People

 Here's a little New Year teaser from the upcoming "Mindjammer Adventures", the second Mindjammer book, scheduled for March 2010 - the opening flash fiction from the adventure "The City People".


We all patched into the probe’s sensorium, picking up the strange sights, sounds, and smells of this alien world. Maggie kept a running commentary: “Okay, this is where my sensors show the stage-2 probe went down. I’m still picking up a residual trace, though it’s not broadcasting any more. Remember we’ve lost 2 probes already this morning doing this, so I’m not wasting any more – this is a recording.”

We were – or rather the probe was – in some kind of forest. Weird over-specialized plants everywhere, no wildlife. Very odd, but fitted with the planetary profile. The probe wove through lianas, tangled undergrowth, ferns bigger than a flyer. The place stank, but it was also deadly quiet. Unsettling. Biodata scrolled down my peripheral vision, then suddenly flashed up an anomaly.

“What the hell is that?” cast Lyra in disgust.

“Okay,” interrupted the ship. “This is where things get weird. Weirder. Whatever. There’s a life form over there – through that dense patch of foliage. Keep watching. It’s only a flash.”

It was. The probe broke cover, and suddenly amidst all the green there was this flash of pink, and a stink like the rankest body odour ever. I got this impression of something huge – monstrous, monolithic, big as a house, but sitting there. Then – and my flesh still crawls – there was a groan. A really human groan. Then the probe went down.

There was silence. Dr Clay looked up.

“We’re gonna have to go down there.”


Mindjammer Adventures is a collection of 4 Starblazer Adventures scenarios for the Mindjammer setting, really taking the whole transhuman concept to town and having a space opera blast with it. I've always thought scifi gaming should be able to preserve the transformative, intellectually challenging aspects of good scifi writing, while at the same time marrying it with a cracking action-packed gaming experience, full of gung-ho heroism, Science! and blazing blasters.  It's great to have the opportunity to test the theory! ;)


12/31/09 01:00 pm - Janus with Two-heads

 Here it is again... the end of a year.  A completely arbitrary division of time, ignored by pretty much the entire of creation except for a handful of monkey boys and monkey girls on this small blob of mud in the backwaters of the Orion arm...  But still somehow it matters.

2009 was an excellent year.  The world didn't end - again - which is always a plus, and we made another 12 months in our experimental, drop-out, primitive, pseudo-Mediaeval communistic existence in a Normandy field.  This year I spent mostly writing - a hard-earned privilege - and Chris, the Brown-Dirt Cowboy, did pretty much everything else, which meant growing enough food (both plant and animal) to keep us going for a year, acquiring and chopping enough firewood to get us through the winter, and supervising (and doing!) the ongoing renovation of our wee old farmhouse. 

For me, the main theme of the year was Cubicle-7 and Starblazer Adventures.  Thanks to chrisbirchangusabranson, and Dom McDowall-Thomas, I moved into a mode of pretty constant writing activity.  2007 and 2008 had been a gradual build-up to a full-time writing existence - 2009 was when it finally happened.  I wrote Mindjammer by mid-July, the transhuman supplement for Starblazer, due on the shelves pretty much any minute now; I ended up lead writer on Legends of Anglerre, the fantasy version of Starblazer, working with a cool bunch of gamer-writers on producing what I hope is going to be a great new FATE product for 2010; I wrote several short stories for an upcoming Mindjammer novel and also some for a Cthulhoid collection; got solidly behind the next Mindjammer book, already half-written, and began work on translating 7th Circle's "Kuro" cyber-horror RPG set in a near-future Japan, again for Cubicle-7, to be handed in sometime this coming spring.  Wonderful fun, and good concentrated work - and I'm never happier than when I've got my head down scribbling something! :)

Publication of my "Chronicles of Future Earth" setting for Chaosium stalled this year, despite almost getting there mid-year.  It's been waiting for 18 months now, which has been frustrating at times.  However, Dustin assures me things are still on target, so we'll keep fingers crossed and hope for 2010!

I also went to RPG conventions, for the first time in my life!  First was Concrete Cow back in March, followed by Salon du Jeu de Societe in Paris in April, UK Games Expo in Birmingham in June, IndieCon in Bournemouth in November, and then finally Dragonmeet at the end of November.  It's been such a cool experience getting to meet and greet the great and the good of the RPG world, who I shan't even begin to name here for fear of missing someone out!  Suffice it to say it's been amazing getting to know such a cool bunch of friendly fellow-gamers; I don't think there's a cabal like us anywhere else out there, not that I've come across.  That combination of enthusiasm, sense of fun, friendliness, obsessiveness, and burning creativity is completely addictive.

A good year, despite the gathering clouds of economic gloom; one to look back on fondly.
So, looking forwards to 2010...  I hope again it's a good year for everyone, that everyone stays healthy and happy, that the world keeps ticking along and we bend in the wind.  This coming year we should get the house a notch closer to where we want it, finishing the second (and larger) bedroom upstairs, and getting the land a bit more rationalised - more pasture, less veg - and generally holding our own against the burgeoning and fertile nature which surrounds us on all sides.  With regard to writing, I'd like to see Anglerre hit the shelves shortly and be well-received, put out another couple of Mindjammer books, complete the first Kuro translation and start on the second, and - here's a big hope - write most if not all of the Mindjammer novel-in-short-stories I've been working on.  That last one is ambitious, but it's always good to *aim*.

I wish everyone out there a peaceful New Year, and a happy, healthy, and fulfilling 2010, wherever you are and whatever you're doing.

Be well, and may your god or guiding principle of choice go with you,

Sarah xx


12/17/09 07:37 am - The Unbearable Awesomeness of Exoplanets

It's been an amazing year for homo sapiens. At the beginning of the year, NASA announced they had "probably" found life on Mars - an announcement casually ignored by pretty much all the mainstream media - and since then the discoveries of exoplanets has come thick and fast, with telescopes like Kepler hunting down and speccing out an amazing phenomenon: the realization that there are planets everywhere we look.

This week we discovered possibly the best candidate yet: a planet roughly three times the size of earth, a mere 40 or so light years away - right in our backyard - composed almost entirely of water and with its own atmosphere. It's orbiting a red dwarf - one of the oldest and most numerous stellar classes - and while it may not be the most promising candidate for life (it's probably not in the star's habitable zone, though with red dwarfs and the exotic nature of the planetary conditions that may be a moot point), it's DAMN close, so much so that the discovery of an earthlike planet in the habitable zone is pretty much now just a matter of time.

It's worth thinking about that for a moment. Sometime in the next few years, we are going to discover planets which are "earthlike", ie with oxygen-rich atmospheres, water, in the habitable zone of their stars. Given stellar density and the frequency with which we're finding this planets, it's conceivable that such a planet might be found very close to us. That's an awesome concept. Almost unbearably so: to have a whole other *world*, just out there, almost within reach. For the first time since we evolved, in our lifetimes we're going to have found a place other than our own planet where we can probably live. It's also ironic: just at the moment when we could realistically look towards the stars and say, "we belong out there", Western society and government appears to have succumbed to an almost criminal loss of imagination and confidence, and utterly lost its sense of the grandeur and ambition of human destiny. Instead we're pootling around with the tittle-tattle of mass consumer culture, obsessing about the minutiae of faux-celebrity indiscretions, ransacking our economies and cultural heritage like some child pulling a tantrum.

Perhaps it was ever thus. The announcement of life on Mars was swallowed by the great swamp beast of mass culture without so much as a belch, so the revelation of a nearby earthlike world may go the same way. But then again, America wasn't colonized by corporates and couch potatoes, but by misfits, dreamers, and those looking for a new life and an escape from the stifling repression, poverty, and endless warmongering of post-renaissance Europe. Maybe the soon-to-be discovered New World will eventually be colonized in the same way?

If so, reserve me a seat ;)


12/13/09 02:51 pm - Cthulhoid Gaming

Over the past 18 months or so I've been toying with an idea for a pseudo-Cthulhu horror game, loosely set in the modern day, very gritty and with a strong realistic vein. Today we played the first session, and had a blast.

I decided to use the Unknown Armies rules for the first session, both because I wanted to understand how UA played, because I thought its grittiness and psychological approach would be cool, and perhaps mostly because as it's not a "Cthulhu game" per se, it would give me a lot of creative freedom and not require me to have an overarching Cthulhu explanation for everything from day one. For me one of the secrets of a good horror game is a real sense of the unknown, of the mystery being truly unfathomable, the evil truly unmentionable, and sometimes following the Cthulhu mythos too closely tends to impose a straitjacket on the ultimate explanation behind all the plot machinations. UA posits an alternate cosmology, but at the gritty level we were playing, that cosmology was largely irrelevant: none of us (including me as GM!) really know *absolutely* what's going on, which left everything feeling vague, unsettling, potentially horrific.

I liked the gritty feel of the UA rules - very bare, almost austere, no little twiddles and fluffs to get you out of trouble. I totally loved the depth of the madness meters: that's a grand bit of crunch which really builds on the fragility of the modern psyche in a very playable way. I thought the Minor / Significant / Major skill checks system was pretty cool, too, providing a good mechanism for investigative play, and also a bit of elbow room for interpretation in an otherwise very binary ruleset.

I wasn't quite so sure about the combat system, though. It's happily very lethal, which is perfect for the genre - we had one single car crash all but kill a character, which was excellent - but it did fall a little flat when both sides failed their rolls, meaning we were all aware we were skirting around (and trying to avoid!) a potential "slog it out dicefest". It did mean we had to get inventive with tactics and goals, which was very good: the goal of combat wasn't "kill the other guy", but rather "get the bag off him", "kick him in the balls and leg it", etc. But I need to build my scenarios so combat *failure* doesn't necessarily spell game over.

All in all though it was a cool session, letting me work through the ideas I've been playing with, and hopefully leading to a more multi-faceted scenario / campaign writeup when I get to it. I'm still not completely sure which set of rules I'll end up going with, but I want to play around with the UA rules a bit more yet and work out what they can do.


12/7/09 03:07 pm - Creative Piles

In the post-Dragonmeet Sunday lunch last week,corone , gbsteve , Graham Walmsley, and I were discussing the enormous piles of papers and books which litter the floors of our houses and apartments in a stubborn refusal to bow to the commonsense simplicity of shelves.

Piles seem to be where it's at. They're an organic, living thing, unlike the stagnant stasis of a bookshelf - they move about the floor, incestuously swapping genetic code with other piles, budding off new micropiles, coalescing with other piles to form awesome megapiles, and all the time creeping, creeping, across the floors and psyches of our lives.

My piles all have one single Abhothic point of origin, a pool of primal paper pile protoplasm from which they creep and flollop through my house (some have even made it outdoors, and now infest my barn, hanging around like delinquent swallows' nests with sinister agendas). It's the left hand side of the sofa, just by my feet, where I sit. I have a habit of plonking things down just there. Even after my desperate and frequent attempts at self-rehabilitation ("Hi. My name's Sarah, and I'm a pileaholic..."), when the floors are swept clean in some puritanical broomstick frenzy, it's barely a matter of hours before the first paper or book is now there again. Just a singleton, to start with - innocent, bright-eyed, virginal, like butter wouldn't melt. Blinky-eyed with "I'm not a pile... I'm just a book which Sarah put down for a minute. I'll be gone in no time at all". Until you look again, of course - within a day or two that book has gathered to itself wind-blown accreta like dry leaves in a gutter - a variform clutter of character sheets, inspired notes, sketchmaps, and "must keep for later" scrawls of incomprehensible legerdemain. Within a week, it needs dusting. The cat starts to accept it. It gets hoovered around. Yup, it's a pile.

I long for the future of cerebral implants and brainjacks, when I can distribute my memory storage in elegant cyber-towers in glistening black and green virtualities. For now, my personal braindump is actually that - the labyrinthine curlicues of my mind, towering in uncertain parchment skyscrapers and manuscript mesas prefiguring a marvellous interlinked future.

Distributed computing? That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. I've even got an idea for a story about it... hang on, it's here in this pile of paper somewhere. Just a minute...

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12/4/09 10:41 am - Mindjammer at the Printers!

It's happened at last: the whole of Mindjammer has been signed off, layout done, proofed, print proof signed off, and we're now printing, all being well for a release well before Christmas! Some last-minute delays with layout pushed us from October, through November, and finally into December - that's been a heckuva learning experience and *wont* happen again! :D But basically we're done - the book looks lovely, the guys at Cubicle 7 have let me put in pretty much everything I wanted to, and the New Commonality Era is open for Starblazer business!

It's been quite a genesis. Mindjammer evolved from the backstory of a campaign setting I've written for Chaosium, entitled "The Chronicles of Future Earth" (due out "soon"), and rapidly grabbed me by the throat and demanded I write it down. From the very beginning I was completely fascinated by trying to model cultural conflict in a roleplaying game in a way which was exciting and playable - a way where PCs trashing the setting (as they do) would actually have a quantifiable effect on that setting. A big part of Mindjammer tries to do that.

But more than that, I wanted to create a scifi setting which was gung-ho, exciting, as immensely fun and enjoyable as your best rollicking RPG sessions; one that didn't get bogged down in gearhead-dilemmas and all the problems of trying to second-guess the nitty gritty of far future hardware. I spent the best part of 2008 toying with various game systems trying to do just that: and then, almost exactly 12 months ago, I received the Starblazer PDF preorder from Angus, Chris, and Dom at Cubicle-7, and it was my "Eureka!" moment - THIS was a ruleset which would allow the New Commonality Era to fly!

Technology in Mindjammer is *very* advanced: the society of the NCE is *completely* alien to anything 21st century hom sap has ever experienced. Hopefully the "suspension of disbelief" premium which many scifi settings require you to pay is relatively limited in Mindjammer: I wanted a setting even *I* (cynical old bat that I am) could believe in, and the New Commonality Era is my best attempt.

At the same time as all the weird, super-advanced, highly-evolved, transhuman and posthuman stuff which the campaign *reeks* of, though, Mindjammer also had to be PLAYABLE. I've had countless scifi sessions in the past where everyone's banging their heads on the table trying to work out the vectors and trajectories of fighting starships, discussing the relative penetration of slug thrower rounds, and debating the functions of gauss weapons in electromagnetic fields, while all the while the campaign *fun* meekly staggers into a corner and dies. So - playable. Accessible. Fun.

Hence the Expansionary Era in Mindjammer, where the Commonality is discovering lost colony worlds, some with ancient, semi-fossilized cultures, some strangely similar to our own. Star Trek did it: Al Capone alternate evolution, but it was always absolute hokum how and why that could happen. Not in Mindjammer: the setting actually explains *just how* some of those worlds mirror or refract ancient Earth cultures - and how the Commonality is taking advantage of that, or sometimes suffering culture shock itself. The upshot is that if you want to play a gung-ho 21st century mindset in Mindjammer (or even a 28th century neo-Japanese Technoninja!), there's a homeworld for you somewhere out there!

We'll see how it goes. I've posted colour maps and images of some of the Darradine Rim worlds on the Mindjammer website (www.mindjammer.com) for free download; there's lots more to follow. Also, I'm working on a second book, entitled Mindjammer Adventures, which contains new rules (specially for the "interstellar brainjack internet thing" called the Mindscape and "Technopsi", technological psionics, and also four humongous scenarios which really push the transhuman thing to the max (one adventure is set aboard an enormous sentient living organic spaceship... venting waste gases... whew...).

And mere days to go till the core book hits the shelves :)




11/9/09 09:24 am - Twenty Years After The Wall

 In November 1989 I was a mere slip of a lass, still an undergraduate, fresh back from a year studying in the Soviet Union.  I'd just spent 7 days interpreting in Peterborough with fellow student and chum Jamie Coomarasamy (now of BBC fame) for a group of Ukrainians from Vinnitsa.  It had been a bittersweet week - we were impoverished students, they were impoverished citizens of the Eastern Bloc, unable to understand why (if the streets of the West ran with gold) we couldn't afford to buy them all they wanted.  In those days, trying to explain the niceties of capitalism to communists was a complete paradox - yes, it's possible to be poor in a world where the shops are full of treasure.

Bittersweet too 'cos we all knew Perestroika was doing major things to the Soviet Union.  During my time in Moscow, I'd attended concerts, get-togethers, parties, where the fresh air of change was blindingly clear, sweeping through all the old Soviet certainties.  We'd listened to Viktor Tsoy and felt the fire of freedom kindle; we'd read Master and Margarita in the first ever Soviet edition; we'd talked freely, and even the KGB guy in our Ukrainian group smiled that he found himself with less and less to do.  Everyone was aching with hope, waiting for something to happen.

Then, the 9th of November.  It was a Wednesday, I think, or maybe a Thursday - that bit's hazy.  The day the Ukrainians were due to go home - back behind The Curtain.  The night before, we'd been to a funfair in Peterborough.  I'd shared a big wheel chair with Boris (yes, unbelievably...) the KGB guy - he was there alone, and a bit shunned by the others.  I felt sorry for him.  He smoked Belomorkanal papirosy constantly, and I bummed a couple off him for old time's sake.  As we wheeled high above Peterborough in the darkness, tears suddenly came to his eyes.  He looked out at the (his words) "thousands of golden street lights, like golden stars... They always said the West was paved with gold, but I never knew it would be so beautiful.  That people would be so kind."  I'd experienced the warmth and kindness of strangers when I'd been in the Soviet Union - people with nothing sharing everything they had - and I felt choked, inadequate.  What could you say...?

The next day we stood by the coach, diesel fumes, unhappy faces.  Jamie and I had pooled our student pennies and bought little souvenirs for all the kids - pencils, rubbers, keyrings.  Cheap tat, but bright and gaudy stuff for the kiddies to take home.

Outside, we stood awkwardly, smoking, waiting for the time for the Ukrainians to board the coach and go.  Dragging out the last few minutes.

Then, suddenly, it came over the radio: The Wall was down!!!  Everyone stood, stunned.  Overnight, the borders had fallen.  People were flooding West, then flooding back again.  Not an exodus - not a refugee crisis - but a collapse of the entire Iron Curtain.  In our group, people began to laugh, uncertain.  Elena Nikolaevna began to cry.  I felt I daren't talk or I'd burst into tears.

Boris the KGB guy came up to me, tears on his cheeks.  "Now I'm definitely out of a job," he said, suddenly laughing.  A huge, Russian hug - not just him, but everyone.  It felt like a new world - and suddenly, the Ukrainians wanted to go home.  Excitement - change.  After 40 years of stagnation, history - for good or bad - had started its inexorable march again.

20 years ago today.


10/31/09 09:29 am - Surfing the Chaos Wave

As a computer spod since the year dot, an active web user since 1992, and a former web developer, architect and business manager, I've been watching Google Wave with some interest. It's the first much-touted "killer app" since live messaging which actually looks like it will fulfil its promise of being the Next Big Thing.

One of the early tropes of the cyberpunk genre was the encroaching alienation people begin to feel when the pace of technological change begins to outstrip the ability of people to keep up with it.  Call in "innovation fatigue".  You can see that with some of the early adopters of Wave; a pervasive "ok, bored now..." switch-off from engaging with the new tech. That's fair enough; we're playing with what's effectively a beta release, here, and anyone who's not prepared for a steep learning curve and heaps of gremlins should just switch off and wait a couple of years till the technology matures.  By then, of course, the *next* big thing will be on the horizon, and the next big wave of innovation fatigue.  Anyone who's been around a while already knows that this technology will *never* mature - surfing the crest of the ever-crashing techno-wave is the best we can expect, and there's some who like surfing, and some who don't...

For those of us who can cope with the crashes, glitches, clunky interface, lack of functions, and all-round frustrating "why didn't they do *that* yet?" rawness of Google Wave, it's an astounding piece of technology.  It's very amorphousness takes 2nd gen web tech to a new level - Web 2, like the internet, is becoming a *medium*, not an application, and Wave is leading us in that direction giggling and stumbling all the way. The question to ask is not "what can I do with Wave?", but "what can I do IN Wave?"  No point criticising the telephone if you've nothing to say...

So, here are a few thoughts about where Wave is leading us, with a slant towards the RPG business (as that's where I'm currently at):
  • hyperlinked collaborations: the ability to group-produce documents, images, systems, narratives, in real-time with multiple contributors.  Kind of a multiway conversation where everyone's utterance is not only recorded, but available for sequential playback.  
  • non-time-restricted conversation: up to now, joining a human conversation (virtual or not) has been a question of trying to work out what everyone's saying and maybe asking for a summary.  No longer: conversations are no longer fixed in time; new participants can come and "replay" the whole conversation before joining in.  Most amazingly from the human cognitive standpoint, participants in conversations can actually *go back in time* and thread off new topics and conversations from previous utterances.  A conversation becomes a 4-dimensional object shared between an unlimited number of participants - the full implications of that are yet to dawn on us.
  • increased cyborging: many of us webheads (and I include portable iHeads and txtHds in that too :-) ) are already accustomed to being cyborgs to one degree or another. We go through life dimly aware that in the back of our minds there's this virtual socket into the Web where almost unlimited knowledge waits. Few of us say or think "bugger, I don't know the answer" any more - we say "I don't know - hang on, I'll find out", and look it up.  We're cyborgs already.  With Wave, the cyborging goes to a new level: it's become ACTIVE.  Passive connection to knowledge is one thing: active connection to a infosphere of multidimensional (and multidimensionally *connected*) constantly changing conversational exchange and *creation* with ceaselessly regenerating content and changing participants is something our primate brains have NEVER had to cope with before.  No wonder we're getting some instinctive kickback; this is a WEIRD experience which no human being has ever had before.  Again - full implications a few years down the line.
  • privacy concepts challenged: this is one I experienced pretty quickly in Wave.  I'd been having a conversation with someone, one-to-one, and suddenly a bunch of other people got invited. Fine, but the unexpected corollary was that everything I'd said *up to that point* was also available for them to "listen to", not just everything we were going to say after.  Talking via Wave, you have to assume that *anybody*, any where, any time, may be able to replay your words *and interact with them*.  It's not just a Forum: it's like having your email open for everyone to read, anytime, anywhere.  
  • embed fun and games: here's the coolness right now for me, immediate future.  Imagine an RPG Wave demoing a particular game or scenario.  You've got participants, etc, even lurkers watching it unfold.  All good.  Now, you can EMBED that Wave directly in your game's product page on the net, next to demo docs, download links, purchase buttons, videos, promos, graphics, the whole thing.  And the Wave will update in real time.  Imagine that: all of your PAST AND PRESENT gaming experience and convos about a system become part of your marketing material.  Transparency is always a challenge - but the potential is awesome.

That's it for now - thoughts and impressions after a week of Waving.  I may post a follow-up with more if anyone's interested :-)




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