Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Spacewings of the 22nd Century

Perhaps you're growing bored of all the futuristic GURPS stuff I'm posting that has to do with my setting, A Killing Wind. Perhaps you're not. I'll never know unless you tell me (or alternately, unless my viewership ratings plummet). Today I have some spaceplanes designed for that setting, primarily used by the wealthy residents of the Earth governments or corporate headquarters due to the dearth of ground transportation available over most of the surface of that planet.

Ford-Boeing Motors is a Prime Two corporation with its headquarters on Earth. Its main construction yards are in low earth orbit, though it maintains offices on and fabrication yards above Luna City as well. Ford-Boeings are the most common type of Spacewing found in private settings. They have effectively captured the individual luxury market.

The Outrider
This is Ford-Boeing's most modest spacewing available for purchase. Clocking in at around J$250,000 (depending on modifications selected), this modestly priced spacewing requires a long landing and takeoff strip, accommodates 2-4 passengers, and carries enough chemical propellant for one super-atmospheric trip at a time. The Outrider makes use of chemical rocket engines (notably, Rolls-Royce Olympus Mons engines) and has a bank of photovoltaic converters along its wingspan to provide cabin electricity as well as reactant power.

The Cloudranger
Ford-Boeing's midrange spacewing costs between J$500,000 and J$800,000 depending on configuration. It has limited VTOL capability and maneuverable retrojets which reduce the necessity for runway length as well as improving overall maneuverability. The Cloudranger can be configured for 2-8 passengers. At the lower levels it makes use of a Rolls-Royce Orion chemical rocket engine, but the fancier Cloudrangers have microwave rocket engines manufactured by Luxing Aerospace (generally, Silent Dragon engines).

The Starstrider
The most luxurious of luxury models designed by Ford-Boeing, the Starstrider costs between J$1.5M and J$35M depending on configuration. All Starstriders start with Silent Dragon engines as a basis. The fanciest have EM impulse engines as well as complete LiFi suites, sensor drone capacity, and VTOL capabilities. Starstriders can carry 2-25 passengers depending on their size.

Originally a privately owned arthouse firm, Carramore went into the spacewing design business in the late 90s and emerged as a major player for corporate contracts in the early 22nd century. Carramore spacewings are all individually designed and cost upwards of J$1M.

Luxing has a number of subsidiary companies producing spacewings, but these are generally used only for recreational, mass transit, or Luxing corp exec. purposes.

Other competition exists, particularly in the form of the BRIC corporation Ad Astra, which produces the Starshot, Wellspring, Damion, and Van Allen spacewings. However, the companies listed above cover nearly 65% of the marketshare.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Authorship Problem

Orson Scott Card is a man I have learned both to revere and despise in equal measure. This topic has come to mind in the wake of the dismal events of the Hugo Awards a few weeks ago, monopolized by equally grotesque people whose personal agendas reflect some barbaric dystopia-that-never-was. Science fiction has been a platform for progressive, liberal, tolerance in the United States since as early as the 40s. The greatest works of sci-fi were pioneered by figures like Asimov and Bradbury. Though Ray may have turned his back on his early, more liberal roots, as expressed in his short stories and his humanity-damning Martian Chronicles.

The question, then, is whether or not an artist's work stands out as its own object, separately from the artist. This is related to the question of Lovecraft that recently plagued the internet, which I will restate here, in this format: Is it ok to enjoy the fruit of an admittedly racist author which is, itself, in some places racist? The answer I've always had to this question is a qualified yes. Obviously the work must be recognized as containing racist elements. The same goes for ANY complicated work produced outside of the reader's "home" culture. Ovid and his Greek predecessors think nothing of rape, for example. Does this mean we throw away Ovid and the Greeks? No.

This corollary to the much-debated Lovecraft Question has the possibility of an interesting twist. On the one hand, it seems simpler to answer a fortiori. If it's ok to enjoy (racist) Lovecraft's (racist) stories, surely it must be ok to enjoy (homophobic) Orson Scott Card's (non-homophobic) stories. But that belies an essential difference between Orson Scott Card and H.P. Lovecraft: Orson Scott Card is still alive.

He is one of the great's in science fiction. Few would dispute that. Yet, he is also a vile human being possessed of vomitous agendas and idiotic religious convictions.

The reason his being alive makes a difference is this: in a direct way, purchasing things written by Orson Scott Card rewards him. Because I despise him, in no way would I want to reward him. Regardless of the art he has created, I personally find him repugnant. Surely, some people will be fine with his personal views, and that is their right. But I will not spend a scent in support of such a man.

What does that mean? Does it mean I am more than willing to rob certain authors of their livelihood based on personally held beliefs? It may. I yearn for good artwork, but I yearn for good people more. I love Orson Scott Card's stories. I would never want them censored, removed, or destroyed. Yet, in my loathing for the man behind the pen, I simply do not wish to enable him to write any further, nor do will I make any effort to ease his place in life.

Perhaps that makes me a dick. But such is life.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ripples in the Pond

The destruction of the Imperial Schola ushers in a new day for the Third Empire of Miles. One of the chiefest and foremost branches of the imperial civil service, the absence of the Schola has forced the Emperor to fall back on feudal obligation. This means a great transformation for the empire is underway, and the continued resistance of the Temple of Miles to the imperial project as a whole spells a slow winding down of the civil service.

The effect of the sudden removal of a number of imperial scribes and functionaries foremost has had an effect on the sustainability of the standing guard known as the tagmata. Their numbers have been greatly reduced, lessening their burden on the administration. The same goes for the escurae varani, who have now been cut back to a force of 800.

The Knight's Watch, long a semi-autonomous force in the city, is in the throws of major crisis. The Emperor will no longer allocate funding for its operation... but the Watch has historically drawn its money from the coffers of the city itself. Whether or not Ogus Ledirke will weather the storm facing his knightly order remains to be seen. He has appealed to Delenda Saxa and other imperial functionaries with little success so far.

Further, the haven of second sons and rebellious children from the entire nobility, the Knights of Miles, have seen a sudden and immediate reform. Their ancient immunities and powers are still extended, but the Emperor has made clear that a shift in policy will continue henceforth: they are capable of holding property in their own name and passing that property to their children. Indeed, Knights of Miles may now be raised to the status of Magnas if the Emperor so desires, making them lords.

These lordships are to come with attendant lands. Of particular interest to the Emperor are the vast unsettled wastes of the Lonely Lands and the Byrnish March. Of course, Knights are still subject to instant revocation of all territories, gifts, and bounties by the Emperor at his whim, as are their children. Further, Knights of Miles granted lands must now pay a poll-tax to the Emperor based on their assessed value once yearly, nor may they keep in their possession or the possessions of their retainers any of the ancient relics of the Empire.

Central authority fades. Within five years both the Conclave and the Schola were destroyed. Perhaps the Shield Age is not so safe a time after all.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Respirocyte and You

ORIGINAL PUBLICATION: Titan University Biomedical Journal
AUTHOR: Abascal, Javier
COST: J$5 w. IntelliWeb subscription

PrimeCare, Star Care, Auragen, Vocalin, and Meditek all share one thing in common with the Kartikeya Industries BattleSurgeon, and that is the use of the respirocyte. What exactly is this oddly named little device? Why, dear reader, the respirocyte is a short-lived blood borne nanite. A mechanical replacement for a red blood cell, capable of everything a red blood cell can do and so much more.

Function. Respirocytes are what make the BattleSurgeon possible. While many lesser forms of in-combat medical care rely merely on adrenaline, blood transfusion, platelete release, and other mundane forms of medicine, the BattleSurgeon actually has all of these and more. Whether its boosting neuro-response time with myelin enhancers or actually closing wounds as they occur, the BattleSurgeon relies on one simple tool for delivery. PrimeCare and Auragen have both been developing their own hospital grade of this mysterious device, which was perfected by Meditek eight years ago. That is, the respirocyte.

The function of a respirocyte is to deliver clotting factor, skinweave, and myelin enhancers directly to the site of damage. These nanomachines can act from within the body and reach anywhere that blood or cerebrospinal fluid is capable of reaching. Damaged areas can be walled off while new organs or lobes are repaired. The only limit to the nanomachines are their power supply, their essentially electrical nature, and the supply of raw organics for reconstruction.

Respirocyte organics, mostly supplied by the Prime One LSI, come in the form of living protocellular matter. These undifferentiated cells (stem-cells) can be given instructions by the respirocyte to mimic any form of cell in the subject's body. This means fast-repairing wounds even while new ones are being sustained. A person with respirocytes in their bloodstream would be able to repair damage even from depleted uranium rounds almost as fast as it could be dished out. Of course, under a sustained hail of fire even someone with respirocytes in their blood will go down.

Fuel. Apart form biomass, respirocytes require power. This is one of their limitations. They must be outfitted with microcells. These cells are only good for a short period, and respirocytes are notorious energy hogs. They must communicate with the BattleSurgeon (though autonomous mesh-computing respirocytes have been possible for some time, I've yet to see them on the market) and constantly relay a stream of data to the central system for direction.

Electricity. Their reliance on power cells and electrical energy for motivation makes respirocytes prone to EMP pulse. Though they are outfitted with a thin biological skin to cause white blood cells to ignore them, this skin is unable to properly replicate the antigen forms when the power is off. Therefore, any sustained EMP pulse will not only disable the respirocytes, but severely weaken the subject's immune system as their white blood cells fight the disabled nanites.

A note on myelin enhancement. This obviously requires the respirocyte to cross the blood-brain barrier. In order for this feature to be enabled, the BattleSurgeon needs a cerebro-spinal plug, which risks infection as well as dangerous feedback if the Surgeon is damaged or removed. However, Kartikeya believes the enhancements provided are well worth the risk. Increased reaction time, attentiveness, and improved decision-making allow subjects with BattleSurgeon Spinejacks to move as fast as mechanically possible. With the introduction of bioweave muscle enhancements, this can be very very fast indeed.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fees and Services in the 22nd Century

Thank you for choosing IntelliWeb Services. Fee listings begin following the buffer.

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These services may be purchased as licenses at character creation, in which case they are considered paid for permanently. Else, they must be refreshed at the beginning of each fiscal period (generally each quarter). All of the following prices represent individual seats. Corporate seats generally cost ten times the listed amount in Junkets [or +5 build points].

IntelliWeb and Foreign Relations (INTLI, J$12.05, +0.001)

A subscription to IntelliWeb runs J$1,000/quarter. It costs 5 build points at character creation. IntelliWeb is a Prime Three Corporation that operates under the radar of most major corps. Mechanical Turks often resort to IntelliWeb for lookups, as do certain branches of corporate espionage and sabotage. IntelliWeb provides analytical essays on most subjects, equivalent to the research produced by Titan University in scope, but geared toward an Intrasystem Security audience, detailing conflicts and potential weaknesses as well as detailed corporate information in the security sector.

IntelliWeb access can provide a bonus on knowledge rolls and information gathering rolls when dealing with specifically intersystem relations and security topics.

University of Titan (UOT, J$21.11, -0.07)

Access to the vast University of Titan archives is expensive; J$5,000/quarter or 15 build points. However, the U of T has a vast array of data at its command. A true research university, Titan provides fact sheets on every major corp, scientific advancement, historical event, legal case, etc. All knowledge-based rolls are made with a +5 bonus when using U of T information.

The University is a Prime Two corporation, hovering on the edge of being demoted down to Prime Three because of its current association with the anarchist activities on Titan.

PrimeCare (PCARE, J$500.08, +1.09)

PrimeCare is the most expensive and most well-known medical group in the system. A subscription costs J$50,000/quarter or 25 build points. PrimeCare operates a number of Turing-monitored hospitals, complete with Autosurgeons and top quality care facilities. PrimeCare subscriptions include implantation of a tracker chip to monitor the subscribee's life signs and vitals; if they register trouble, the subscribee is contacted immediately. Failure to connect results in a PrimeCare Recovery Team, dispatched immediately to bring the subject to the nearest medical facility.

PrimeCare is one of the only Prime One corporations that is not a subsidiary of any member of the Permanent Six. Most of its technology is rented from Auragen and Sol Telecomm.

Star Care (SCARE, J$102.00, +0.0001)

Star Care is a rung down from PrimeCare; a Prime Two corporation, Star Care covers most of the system when it comes to health. A subscription to Star Care costs J$9,000/quarter or 10 build points. Star Care charges for ambo dispatches and recovery teams at some pretty high rates, and subscriptions only cover basic procedures and non-electives.

NewsNet Live! (NNL, J$80.88, +2.50)

This news service is commonly paid for by whatever corporation grants citizenship. However, there are enough mercenaries, freeboters, and low-level partners of Prime Five corps out there in the system that it's possible this service will have to be purchased privately. Newsnet access costs J$200/quarter for an individual seat, J$1,000/quarter for a ten seat package, and J$15,000/quarter for a five hundred seat package. Enterprise-facing deals beyond that range must be worked out privately with NNL. A subscription costs 5 build points.

Sol Package (STC, J$10.20, +1.03)

The Sol Package is a service offered by Sol Telecomm for those without telecomm access. This J$150/quarter service provides wireless network access to the Sol routers and datastreams anywhere that wireless can be had. While this is unimportant in major settlements or highly settled planets where the corps absorb the cost of wireless, this can be a massive boon in space where there is no Meshwork to ride off of. This costs 2 build points.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Why Wet Hot American Summer (First Day of Camp) is better than The Brink

Note: This was written before I saw last Sunday's episode of The Brink. I think that, while this argument still holds true for earlier episodes of the show, starting two weeks ago it finally began to hit its stride and find a place where it was comfortable with itself. This past week's episode was actually directed quite well and the transformation of the show from a sitcom romp into something more, which has been underway for several episodes, is finally complete with the tension surrounding Alex Talbot and Zaman.

Essentially, the Brink is manifesting into the thing I knew it could be. I can only hope it continues to improve from here.

I love everything that The Brink wants to be. It's a smart, well-written show with well-developed characters that spool out over a very tightly plotted arc. It's doing everything right... right?

Contrast Netflix's new Wet Hot American Summer (First Day of Camp). The writing is tight in terms of plot, but the show plays for low gags, basic humor, and sequences that occur completely outside of narrative time (just like its successor, the Movie). Character development is ridiculous.

Yet Wet Hot American Summer is a better television show. It's more affective than The Brink. Where I wonder why I'm supposed to care about the characters in The Brink, outside of the excellent manner in which they're written, I wonder why I do care so much about the characters in WHAS.

The answer, I think, has to do less with the writing and more with the cinematography, acting, and direction. That's right. David Wain, the voice of Superjail's the Warden, is a better director than... The Brink's showrunner and writer, Benabib? Well, whoever is responsible for its style. Because it has none.

WHAS is oozing with style. Cinematography is great, imparting monumental importance to the most mundane activities. That's the real difference: the Brink is filmed like a modern comedy. Everything is irreverent, and very little has any weight. The comic timing is thin, even from Jack Black. Tim Robbins is carrying that show, and that's a shame because there is golden writing lurking in there. The American head-of-mission? He's written like one of Salman Rushdie's darkest lunatics, but he's portrayed (through no fault of John Larroquette, who is great) like a complete ham.

Where is the sense of gravity that makes this work? Where is the comic timing of Dr. Strangelove? It can be seen in flashes and flits, but even when Jack Black turns on his friend and refuses to allow him to leave the embassy, it still "feels" like a comedy.

I have very high hopes for this show. Even if it never matures into what I want it to be, its writing is great. But I want it to live up to the potential of its scripts.

ADDENDUM: I watched the end of True Detective Season 2. Episode 7 surpassed it by far. With all the endings accounted for, its just a failed film noire. Very interesting in that they made the femme fatale a man, but all in all? A failure for Pizzolatto.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

News from Arunia: The Fall of the Schola

Hark, ye friends! Surely you heard the great thunder upon the hill this week last? Aye, up where the wizards hide in their enclaves. That was no mere storm among the stones. I have the true tale, if you'll sit and listen. And mayhaps you'll slake a thirst or two? Kind of ye, goodman, too kind! I know the story from the lips of the folk who saw it, so you should take my word!

A great and unwholesome movement there's been in the Black College of late. That jumble a' ruins upon the hill has given the city fair fright for several generations, I dare say. Old King Roland the Wise cleared it of its most vile offenders when he slew the Black Order in his heyday, but the place has sat there like an evil spider upon the hillside ever since. I suppose it must've offended adventurers since the very day Roland drove out the sorcerers. There have been legend and rumor about it since afore then, with popular whispers having it that the College was the residence for ghosts, or demons from the Seven Hells, or worse. And folks seemed, for a long time, to fall ill mysteriously and die and oft they'd live within a few blocks of that cursed verge.

So it was with some keenness to the ear, sharpened hearing as it were, and softness on the soles that I spent my nights spying out the mysteries of that place. For I saw a shining band of folk go in and ne'er return. And then there came another troupe of adventuring folk. They changed their number and attacked the place a few times. They must've disturbed something within; something dark.

For this week past, a cloud of shadow gorged forth from the College. Men of jet stone, two in number, walked from beneath its archway. They rumbled up the Wizard's Hill to the walls of the Schola herself where they set to work tearing out the golden sigils upon the Imperial Wizards' curtain wall. When mages came to investigate, the things went to work on them. Within short order, a handful of mighty wizards were felled by stony fist and jet-black strength. Sorcery rolled off their shoulders like water on the slate, dear friends! If you can believe it, they felled mage after mage, none doing so much as a hurt to the beasts!

Lightning bolts there were, and mighty rivers of fire. But nothing could stop the onslaught. At last the secret council of the wizards emerged from the depths of their School to confront the visitors at their gates. There was shouting, and blasts of power the likes of which the city has not seen in two Ages past. At last the stony wardens fell, their skin of flint and jet cracking little by little until it gave.

But the greater bulk of the Schola was destroyed. I saw 'em fall! Four old men emerged as the victors, and they made haste to the ruins of the old College. Another magical battle ensued, though between whom and what I couldn't say. When I returned the following morning, they were hustling out of there with donkeys laden with books, chests, ink, parchment, scrolls, and wood. The Schola and the College... all abandoned. Can ye believe it?

Game Effects: The Imperial Wizard kit is effectively closed. All imperial wizards with the kit lose access to the Schola's resources and are no longer required to report to it. Future wizards with Schola background are assumed either to have survived the massacre or to have been out of the city when it was committed.