This Is Not My Future: Gundam Unicorn & Generational Conflicts

For those who didn’t shell out to get the blue-ray OAV releases, Bandai is broadcasting a re-edit of Gundam Unicorn. Mecha addict that I am, even though I’ve seen it before, I’ve been re-watching the series and it’s and finding more depth to it the second time around.

First, the opening theme as a spoiler break:

It’s really rare you open a series with a song trying to convince someone not to keep harming themselves. But in a way, Unicorn Gundam or UC as I’ll call it is the perfect vehicle for this song. Because the entire series is about wounds – old and new, inflicted and self-inflicted – and trying to grow beyond the pain into something better.

First, you’ll want to read up a little on the Unversal Century timeline in Gundam. You can check out wikipedia for some starting points, but ther eis also an amazing timeline here.

The key places to look are the main series (Mobile Suit Gundam, Zeta Gundam, ZZ Gundam, Char’s Counterattack) and the OAV’s 0083 Stardust Memory (which bridges Gundam and Zeta Gundam) & the ongoing Gundam: The Origin. For those in a reading mood, Gundam: The Origin is a beautiful manga retelling of the first series and I really recommend it. The Gundam Unicorn appears at the end of this timeline, 17 years after the start of the first series in Universal Century 0096.

What was to be the start of man’s glorious new future in space has, instead, been a century of war and horrors: environmental damage on Earth lead to forced migration of poor populations to space. A terrorist attack on the Earth Federation’s prime minister created a totalitarian atmosphere over the Earth sphere. Conflicts bloomed between those who remained on Earth (Earthnoids) and those who lived in space(Spacenoids). Exploitation, colonialism, nationalism and greed dominate humankind.

Even the idea of a “new type” of humanity, adapted to space and able to use psi gifts to communicate and increase understanding, is twisted by the rulers of the Dutchy of Zeon into an ubermench style philosophy. Political tensions come to a head in 0079, when the One Year War begins between the forces of Zeon (ostensibly representing spacenoid independence movements) and the Earth Federation.

The One Year War sees the death of billions. Even the hippiesh idea of a “NewType” is turned into a weapon of war, where pilots with these gifts are pitted against each other at the behest of their superiors. The series that follow deal with the aftershocks – entrenchment and pro-Earth fascism (0083 and Zeta), resurgences of Zeon by remnant forces (ZZ Gundam and Char’s Counterattack). Throughout it all, colonies are destroied or dropped on earth, along with several asteroids. When the series starts, there’s been about 3 years of peace.

And then, a mysterious foundation makes an offer to the NeoZeon remnants – a secret which will shake the Federation to the core. The dark heart at the center of the Universal Century.

The main trio of protagonists all grew up during the war years, and they all bear burdens based on legacies their parents & grandparents left.

Banager Links: An engineering student at the Anaheim Electronics school (leading builder of civilian and military mobile suits), Banager discovers he is the illegitimate son of Cardeas Vist, head of the powerful Vist foundation and holder of the LaPlace box – the key to the Federation’s power in the Earth Sphere. He’s given the Unicorn – a mobile suit designed to respond to(and destroy) NewTypes. It’s the map to the location of the LaPlace box.

Mineva Zabi: We first see her as a small baby in the original Mobile Suit Gundam series. Heir to the Zabi family, the ‘royalty’ behind the Dutchy of Zeon, she’s trying to prevent the Vist foundation from giving the box to the Zeon remnants under the command of the terribly named Full Frontal, as this may cause yet another war. Her grandfather, uncle, aunt and father were responsible for the start of the One Year War and all the horrors which ensued. History weighs heavily on her.

Riddhe Merceas: A Federation mobile suit pilot, assigned to the Nahel Aghama, part of the Londo Bell fleet. Their task is to neutralize Zeon remnants. Riddhe’s father is the Chairman of the Federation council and, through the series, he discovers that his family is the dark mirror of the Vist family, helping keep the LaPlace box secret and ensure the Federation remains in power.

The main series antagonists are a former member of the Vist family, now head of Anaheim Electronics and representing the corrupt side of the Earthnoids, and the Zeon remnants lead by Full Frontal. All are fighting for both the Unicorn and the data it’s revealing about the location of the LaPlace box.

In this series, the sins of the past weigh heavily on the plot and the characters. Each one starts off trying to free themselves from their legacies. Banager is our POV into this conflict, and the Unicorn is a literal representation of his legacy both negative (it’s designed to destroy NewTypes and the propaganda they represent for the Zeons) and positive (it literally responds to his will – a beast of possibility that grows with him).

And that thought of legacy, of paying for the sins of our parents and grandparents, is key to this show. At every turn, our protagonists are sincerely trying to avoid starting another war – Minevea’s whole character arc is about trying to fight against the Zabi’s genocidal legacy – but decisions they had no part in block the way. Riddhe eventually drowns because of his poison legacy, turning against his former friends and crew until the very end.

The show takes a lot of time to show the people getting caught up in this conflict. Between showing you good pilots on both side, as well as callous ones, you start to see the dividing lines are less about Earthnoid vs. Spacenoid, or Feddie vs. Zeek. It’s about power and control. Who has it? What do they want to do with it? Full Frontal is a (literal) Char Aznable clone but his plan for the LaPlace box is actually more terrifying than any colony drop – it literally involves isolating Earth and dooming it to economic irrelevance and impoverishment.

Cycles of violence are also a big part of this – do we choose to continue supporting the same cycle of violence? Mineva counters that Frontal’s plan by saying it will just flip elites, and we’ll have a generation of Earthnoids howling for blood against their oppressive Spacenoid masters. It won’t lead to a better world for anyone, just create fertile ground for the next war.

If any character represents poisoned legacies and cycles of violence, it’s Loni Garvey. Pilot of a massive Mobile Armor, it uses a psionic control system to direct fire through dozens of ‘funnels.’ It’s a system her family built, her father in specific, to tap into her Newtype capabilities and make her a weapon of mass destruction.

She and Banager connected, briefly, and on the battlefield he tries to use the Unicorn and their connection to get her to stop the slaughter. Innocent civilians are dying under the pent up rage of every Zeon remnant trapped on Earth for over a decade. And at one point they do connect. The system disarms – until the ghostly red hands of her father pushes Banager away. Literally possessed by her parent’s agenda, embodied in the war machine she pilots, she cannot stop the generational hate.

In the end Riddhe is forced to kill her while Banager watches a legacy of hate overcome the possibility of escape. It’s not the first, nor the last, tragic death in this story. But it illustrates the theme perfectly.

Given my family history, and the circumstances of my birth (GenX’er living under the shadow of the all powerful Baby Boom generation) this theme resonates with me. In the show, the Unicorn represents the ‘beast of possibility’ where we do not have to be trapped by past mistakes, and can make amends before going into the future. The show is about trying to find a better way than enforcing the same power structures and fighting the same wars over and over.

In the end, you do get a sense of hope that these kids – and they are all young kids – will be able to end the wars, escaping from their poisoned legacies and making something new. I like that idea and I do hope that our next generation can do the same.

I just despair that we won’t be able to do it – to escape, to stop the cycle, to reconcile and look for a better way – because we don’t have a Unicorn Gundam on our side. Where is our beast of possibility, or have they all been hunted down?

Our Map is Not The Territory

I originally wrote this before the events in Dallas, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge unfolded on our screens. It’s leading me to rethink a lot of things, especially what is happening in Baton Rouge, where a good chunk of Metaphysical Graffiti takes place. Will I have to revise the book so what happens to Ieshia Evans becomes commonplace? Should I be telling this particular story, seeing as I’m a traveler to this world and not one who has to live in this reality every day? –

Protestor Ieshia Evans is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Protestor Ieshia Evans is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Thinking about how to process these events, my need to tell a story about them, and how they could be seen had me reflecting on an article I’d read earlier on about the novel Underground Airlines. Go ahead and visit, I’ll wait.

For a good summation of the response amongst many, I recommend this article from the Daily Dot. This quote in particular stood out:

Some found this positive coverage galling for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s demonstrably harder for authors of color to receive equal media attention alongside white writers. Secondly, the Times story plays into a long tradition of white artists being celebrated for tackling topics others have already covered with more personal expertise.

Now, from all accounts, this is a < href=”http://www.tor.com/2016/07/07/book-reviews-ben-h-winters-underground-airlines/”>good book. But as the reviewer says, “Movies, TV, and books have repeatedly sidelined PoC-penned narratives in favor of white creators.” And all the while, these white creators get heaped praise for work build on the backs of other authors, who never get the credit or voice they deserve.

Call it “Literary Colonialism” if you will, but you can apply it any number of cultural aspects, like music or history or just ideas. For now, we’ll focus on literature itself.

Imagine an author striding upon what he (and it’s usually a he) feels is virgin country. Chin out, he braves the “perils” of this untouched land of storytelling, mining it for golden ideas or tilling it until his crop of tales grows to harvest. He then returns to his native lands, arms overflowing with plunder, and is praised for his “bravery” in bringing civility to this barbarous new world.

Of course, our bold explorer never bothers to notice there are already people living in this “dark country.” They’ve been mining and growing and creating for ages before he stepped foot on their shores. But if they are acknowledged, it’s either as inferiors who didn’t realize what they had or obstacles to conquer.

In the end, the work of the original inhabitants were not worth noticing. That is, until the anger builds up and someone screams out “Enough!” That’s when revolutions begin.

Literary fiction often treats fiction by marginalized groups (or genre fiction) as little more than new grist for their mills.

There are exceptions, of course. I like to call them trading partners – people with a genuine love of the genre, or understanding of the culture – that wish to share that love, and facilitate travel between these lands. They use their inherent privilege to say, “We were not here first – you need to see and understand.”

But they’re few, and don’t have the influence of the grand conquerors. The establishments don’t support anyone trying to counter the grand default narratives.

So these literary colonizers take the stories of minority authors and recast them (figuratively and literally). They plunge into genres and literary traditions, rip loose stories told within and yell, “Look what I’ve created! ME! I’m the God! I’M THE GOD!”

What can we do? First, speak out when we see it. Don’t let it go unrecognized. But when speaking out the second thing we can do – and the most important – is to point out the others who have been there before us and were ignored. In the case of Underground Airlines, many are pointing out Octavia E. Butler’s groundbreaking novel Kindred as an alternate. But they’ve also mentioned Derrick Bell, Robert O’Hara, Sigrid Gilmer and others.

But most importantly we have to realize we need to step aside, to listen and to amplify the voices for whom these stories have deep, personal resonance. And if the people who should be, and are, telling these stories cannot be heard then it is incumbent upon us to help them be heard.

Co-opting a story is, in a lot of ways, worse than silencing it. It shuts down any real conversation and exchange. It demeans the original tellers and their experiences. And it makes it easier for us to not question uncomfortable narratives, or confront ugly truths about ourselves.

I’m still going to write about Baton Rouge, but I will do it with care. And I’ll likely write about everything that’s happened in the last few weeks as well. But I will try very hard not to pretend I’m the first, or best, voice on this subject. And when better voices need to speak up, I will step down and insist the mic be passed to them. That’s the least I can do.

And if I allow myself to be called “brave” or “daring” for it, may Huey Freeman strike me down with a folding chair.

HueyFreemanChair

Narratives in Echo Chambers

Warning! The following article will have a discussion of events in Orlando, as well as spoilers for The 100 and Penny Dreadful. Please proceed at your own risk. To act as a buffer, please enjoy this artwork of Chirico Cuvie from Armored Trooper VOTOMS…shirtless:

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(a.k.a Fitness Goals)

Humans build narratives. We have a need to understand, and to do so we create stories. The scale can change from “Why is he wearing that shirt?” to “Why did the universe form?” but we look at the world and dream structures around its elements. This is both a good thing, and a bad thing. The ability to create narratives, to build stories, allows us to explore and dream. The scientific method is storytelling with fact-checking and testing.

The danger comes when we create stories in echo chambers. Not vacuums – no one operates in a vacuum – but echo chambers. Writing is often thought of as a lonely endeavor and, yes, the mechanics are very solitary. You need to focus to get words down on the page and it’s difficult to do that with other folks hovering around. Even collaborations require separation. Listen to the “Making Of…” for Cabin in the Woods and you’ll hear the writers talk about working on different floors in the same house.

But once the mechanics are done, you need to get the work out there. Other thoughts, other perspectives, and other voices are vital to honing any creative work. This is magnified when you start on very collaborative forms, like television, film-making or writing partnerships. It’s very easy for the echo chamber to expand and create an atmosphere of groupthink. Decisions are made which, when looked at from outside the chamber, now seem questionable.

For me, two recent examples of this were the death of Lexa in The 100 (and the whole Bellamy storyline) and the ending of Penny Dreadful. In both cases, I see the seeds of echo chamber narratives. I’ve written about The 100 before, but in the case of Penny Dreadful it’s the head writer, John Logan, and the man in charge at Showtime thinking this sudden ending was thematically and dramatically appropriate.

Had they a engaged in a conversation with someone outside the office, I think they would have gotten a distinct, “Yeah, that’s BS” response most watchers of the show are now evincing. Genevieve Valentine said it better than I could. But this decision, down to the “no announcement that this is The End” smacks of one made in an echo chamber, with no outside views or dissenting voices. Just the show runner’s voice reflected back on him and amplified.

Now, the showrunners of Penny Dreadful and The 100 have every right to take their shows wherever they wish. That’s their project, their job, etc. And it can be said that these are ephemeral narratives. But these narratives have more of an impact than we like to admit. They enforce larger societal narratives which color the way we see the world, and interact with other people.

It creates lazy, self-justifying narratives one doesn’t have to question or examine. You can simply say, “I feel this completes her journey back to God and a retaking of agency” without actually demonstrating it. In the echo chamber, everything reflects back and says, “Yes, it does.”

Where this becomes terrifying are in cases like Orlando. The story of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub is a complicated and horrifying one, which touches on threads of gun violence, terrorism, toxic masculinity, and homophobia. It is not a simple one-note narrative, but a tapestry.

Echo chambers unweave the tapestry. We like simple narratives. If you believe this is a terrorism issue, then your echo chamber amplifies those aspects of the narrative – drowning out questions about gun access, abusive machismo and hatred of LGBTQ individuals. It works the other ways as well. You filter out all which doesn’t fit your narrative, and surround yourself with a protective, re-enforcing shell.

Traveling

Two posts this time around, mostly to cover a long silence. On May 21st I married.

Andrija and Lisa

And about a week later, we went on our honeymoon to Dubrovnik, Croatia; Vienna, Austria; and Prague, Czech Republic. I’m still working on processing the 1.5K photos I took of all three cities. Aside from giving me time with my wife to explore new places (and, in the case of Dubrovnik, introduce her to a city which dominated my psyche since I first saw it thirty years ago) it reminded me of the importance of travel.

Let me illustrate:

 

This is one (one!) of the lounges in the Grand Alchymist hotel in Prague. Created from two residences and a convent, it is absolutely unique. I’m still at a lost to describe the wide variety of Baroque decorations. Even one of the simple rooms (which we had) was a marvel. This place was unique, from the first time we stepped in to the last moments there, we marveled at every little detail.

I never would have experienced it had I not traveled. I never would have had a conversation with Michael, one of our porters, on coming to Roosevelt Island or walking along the George Washington Parkway in DC, were I not there. I never would have seen an old, battered android seated in the Alchymist’s courtyard with a cup of tea in its hand.

We cannot stay static. I’m lucky; I’ve gotten to get well away from my home and see different parts of the world. Not everyone has that chance, but there are other ways to travel, even if it’s just hopping the bus into a different neighborhood.

Talk to people. Look outside your world. Go places where you can hear different languages being spoken. Explore. Experience is the best way to feed the creative part of you.

What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Negotiated Strategic Arms Reductions

“Ah, we come in peace!/shoot to kill, shoot to kill, shoot to kill, men!”

If one believes a good chunk of the science fiction literary canon, diplomacy is the refuge of fools and cowards. Problems can’t be solved by “talking.” Negotiating a “peace treaty” is a fool’s errand. In the end, all problems are solved through the deployment of military forces.

After all – diplomats are vain, stupid creatures who think more about their precious negotiations than getting real things done. That’s left up to the (men) of the armed forces, who do the real work to bring peace into the world. There’s no room for niceties. Talks will get you no-where. The bombings will begin shortly. Violence Really Is the Answer.

Unless I’m really under-read, and I admit this could be an issue, SF seems to have a diplomacy aversion. There’s no action. No great clash of fleets. No brave armored marines standing against implacable alien foes. A negotiated solution doesn’t allow our hero, Slab Bulkhead, to toss a bad guy over a railing in cathartic excess.

I remember reading an anthology of powered armor related short stories and one, in particular, seemed almost archetypal in its handling of diplomats. The key diplomat and main staff of this embassy on an alien world were oblivious blowhards, unable to see that the assurances they received from the aliens that the embassy would not be attacked didn’t match with the near riot taking place outside.

It took the brave action of the marines, who not only read the sociologists report on the alien behaviors but also found a way round heavy arms restriction placed by the near-sighted civilians, to save the day.

Now, I could believe appointed diplomats being rather oblivious. I could even believe he hadn’t read the sociologist’s report on the alien’s culture, maybe skimmed the executive briefing instead. What I couldn’t believe was the rest of the diplomatic staff did nothing, said nothing and hadn’t even looked at the report. No one. No one even thought to say, “Hey, who’s our local expert? They think these guys are blowing smoke up our ass?”

I could see everyone I knew who worked for an embassy or the State Department sighing, and shrugging. Why the shrugs? Because this is typical of how they’re portrayed in popular media, much less in SF. Civil servants make great targets,apparently, but terrible heroes.

A while back, I asked around for positive examples of diplomats in science fiction and fantasy. The first one I received was Keith Laumer’s Retief – a character who, by nature, is designed to satirize the hide-bound upper echelons of the diplomatic service. Not exactly a shining example of the merits of statecraft.

Another person lauded Babylon 5. I love the show dearly, but as the show itself said – Babylon 5 was intended to be a place of diplomacy and commerce, so the powers of the galaxy could work out their differences in peace. It failed, and instead became a center-point for three different wars. But this is a step up – it does deal with more than just the big battles. And in the end, the great galactic conflict was solved not by force of arms, but by exposing the real motivations behind the fight.

The closest example I’ve found to a positive portrayal of a diplomat was in C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series. Jo Walton has a great re-read on Tor.com. You can check it out here. The central character is Bren Cameron. He is the phadi or translator/negotiator/diplomat between the technologically advanced humans who arrived on the world of Mosphera and the native Atevi. While he has two bodyguards, he is forbidden to carry a gun. Even when he breaks this rule, using it is his last resort. Through though all of the books the art of diplomacy – of understanding, negotiating, and seeing mutual benefit – is his chief weapon.

In one key part in the series, both the humans and the atevi are confronted with an immensely powerful race of beings compared to their own strength. It is Bren’s diplomacy, along with a well placed spot of tea, that prevents a massacre. And it is his efforts, along with Illisidi, one of the single most powerful atevi women on the planet, which time and again turn chaos and bloodshead into a hope for something better.

The book series is deep, but I’ve never seen or experienced any books where understanding – talking, learning, becoming proficient in a language – is the key to survival.

Another series which was recommended, and one I have barely touched, is James White’s Sector General books. Tor.com, once again, has a great write-up here. The series started in 1962, yet it’s still very unique as far as I’ve seen. There’s no medical SF genre, for example. I don’t see any stories about the interplanetary equivalent of the Red Cross, for example. And if they are out there, they’re hidden away.

How does this touch on diplomacy? Health missions – helping others at the expense of yourself – are prime examples of soft power, and one of the key tools of diplomacy. In White’s universe, Sector General was created to help build peace and understanding between races – it exists to save lives, not take them. It’s a shame the idea didn’t take wing.

But I’d like this to cease being a rarity. Where are the tales of diplomacy and intrigue? Where are the stories of dedicated professionals looking to build bridges, to understand and communicate? Where are the doctors without (galactic) borders?

I’d like to see more futures where the answer isn’t a quick tactical nuclear strike followed by Miller Time…

Suggestions welcome!

Mecha Games, Where For Art Thou?

This is a general lament and a confession. For those who haven’t guessed, I am a fan of the mecha genre. If one needs proof, I’m happy to supply photos of my case full of Gundam and VOTOMS kits, as well as the book which started it all for me – a battered copy of the Decision at Thunder Rift which I picked up to read on a family vacation. Moves and floods forced me to purge my copies of Wolves at the Border and Heir to the Dragon by Robert N. Charrette, which I still regret. (I’m getting them back, though).

So, I’m acquainted with the joys of the genre and I still defend it to this day. And, yes, it does require defense. When a writer you quite admire looks at a show and says, “Did you trick me into watching a mecha show? Don’t let this be a mecha show!” then your favorite genre may have some issues. Especially since, to me, the key things which attract me to a lot of post Gundam mecha shows are the drama and the relationships and, shock, the characters. I’ve got friends who are still angry over Gundam 0083 and Lt. Burning…

Most mecha shows have much in common with action dramas. To the point where you can take their tropes, add them to another series, and get a “new” and popular show. (Flamewar start: Attack on Titan is just a mecha show with the numbers filed off! Fan fight!) And I admit, I get a kick out of seeing young folk discover old mecha shows for the first time and fall for them. Or get gatewayed in through new ones. One of my favorite memories of the last month involved a quick stopover at a hobby shop.

This shop carried a very nice selection of Gundam kits, along with gunpla supplies and other model kits. If you believe the stereotype, I should have only found a bunch of neckbeards roaming the isles complaining about how their moms wouldn’t let them go to the ReturnOfKings gathering. (No, this is not a joke. Apparently to some, enjoying mecha shows and modeling is a straight-line path to rampant sociopathic misogyny).

Instead I found two ladies trying to convince themselves they didn’t want to buy the Perfect Grade Gundam Unicorn on display, and distracting themselves from that intensely beautiful model by re-ordering the kits on the shelves based on series. It honestly made me smile. Ladies like this kept the first Gundam series going when the ratings were low, after all, and were responsible for a lot of Garma/Char manga.

Sometimes, though, just watching feels a bit distant. I would like to actually immerse myself in a mecha based story. Or, as a few friends have asked, maybe I could actually run a mecha game for my tabletop crew. I am the guy who takes photos of his Gundam Heavyarms model.

This, though, leads me to a problem. There are very few mecha games (tabletop and digital) which fit my needs, and probably the needs of others.

The Digital Divide

While visiting my friends at Little Fish Comics I talked about mecha games. Mike, the proprietor and one of the best poets I know, mentioned how a good mecha game was hard to find. The few which existed were split.

You would either get very Mechwarrior style FPS games like Hawken or a storyline-based flight sim like Strike Suit Zero.

I’m choosing these two in particular because they are newer examples. And they’re the only newer ones I’ve found so far which weren’t imports or based on an existing franchise. Even those games are a few years old by comparison. But hey don’t fit the niche I was hoping to fill.

Strike Suit Zero is a beautiful looking game. But it makes two bad assumptions: First, that’d you ever want to play anything other than the Zeta Gundam knock-off off in the title. You’re apparently forced into other fighters – as if this is Star Citizen and the flying is the important bit.

Second, the designers assume the storyline would let you overlook the endless waves of overlong missions. If spending hour after hour fighting is more important than actually accomplishing anything, we may have an issue. Or you should dig up a Galaga sim. If a mission interferes with the story, people stop playing. I don’t have six hours a night to spend playing through one mission anymore, in the hopes there will be a decent story revelation.

(You ever want a guide to making interesting, plot driven missions and side quests you want to do just ’cause – Play Borderlands 2. I mean Face McShooty!)

On the other side of the spectrum is Hawken, the latest in the in-cockpit style games where you can build up your own mech, customize it based on your play style, and then head out to rain SRM death on folks (if that’s your thing). Everything about this looks very nice, especially for an open beta, and general reviews are good. But it has these strikes against it:

First and foremost, there is no story mode at all. Or, if there is one, they’re not promoting it. The FPS MMO aspects emphasize death matches, team shootouts, and going against other players for prizes. There’s a basic background on why you’re doing all of this, but none of fights or the grinding seems to have a purpose beyond endless PVP. I like to think I’m actually going somewhere with my games.

I’ve never had fun with PVP, much less PVP in FPS games which rely on me getting dumped into a pick-up group with a bunch of strangers. I can’t assure the relative maturity level of the players. Listening to some of the YouTube videos, it seems like most anyone who’s 15 and has a twitch stream is playing this game. They’re also reviewers…

And that’s another concern. It was bad enough when I had to deal with griefers in my MMO days, but on competitive games like this I do not want to burn time fending off some rabid GamerGater threatening to SWAT me because my connection died at an inopportune moment. I play to get away from insane politics.

This may be an unkind view of the Hawken community, but my time – and frankly my job – are precious to me. It it highlights the big divide in games.

You either play Wing Commander in a mech with endless missions, or you play Call to Duty in a mech, with no storyline and a kid born when you got out of college threatening to call ICE on your family because you missed a rail-gun shot. There’s no neutral ground, and not a lot of choices if you want to play something built in the last decade.

But, wait, what about tabletop? Surely with everything out there.

Machines of Imagination

Alas, the pen & paper game is feeing just as thin as the digital game these days. There was a brief time when the shelves did have quite a few games out there, but it was never able to compete with fantasy based RPGs. But, for a while, we had Mekton Z and its spin-offs, Heavy Gear, Jovian Chronicles and Big Eyes, Small Mouth. Add to that the venerable RPG wing of Battletech and you had materials out there.

But as time went on, the pickings got thinner and the games struggled to maintain an identity. Dream Pod 9’s games were very tied to miniature rules, like Battletech’s Mechwarrior. They also forced the games to be tied to a general RPG system after a while, which just made things more complex. I now folks who prefer the ease of use of the 2nd edition to the 3rd. That’s also true with Jovian Chronicles.

These games show my first issue: dependencies. You want to play the game? You’re dependent on the setting, or on another game. A good example of this is a game called Remnants. The setting is an intrinsic part of the story: a post apocalyptic game where characters find remnants of a lost age via their self-sustaining war machines. If you want to play in this world, or one of the set worlds of other games, you’re good. If not, you’ve got a lot of rewiring to do.

That brings me to my second issue: bolt-on generics. There are a lot of “generic” systems out there these days – FATE, AGE, BRPS, Cypher, Cortex+, even the anime-based BESM, they usually offer some kind of option to play a mecha game. And while they’re worthy systems, to me it’s sometimes obvious they were built to do other things and the mecha game is an add-on for folks asking, “Hey, can I play this.” I’ve yet to see a well-developed system, one that really addresses the genre on its own, and not as 3 pages in a larger book.

Are there any generic mecha games out there? Right now, there’s the aptly titled Mecha game by Chris Perrin. It’s gone through two editions, has some supplements and a few fans out there. Honestly, I’m still digging through it to see how it feels. But so far, he’s come closest.

What about Mekton? Well, I’m one of the folks who’ve gotten burned on the Mekton Zero kickstarter. As for Zeta, while I do love the book in a lot of ways, the time it takes to build a mecha in it. Frankly, the calculation time involved would be better used designing the real thing. Which is a shame, because some of the supplements put out for it really did a great job of catching the feeling of a mecha show.

So, if there ever was room for a good system out there which lets you build the mech show you want, with just the right amount of crunch, that doesn’t force you to buy mini’s for combat, we could use one now.  The same holds true for the video games. I’d love to see a combination of the sleekness that Strike Suit Zero showed in its background, and the emphasis on storyline, but with the first-person controls of Hawken available. But I’m guessing until there is more demand… I’ll have to find some way to make do.

Which, in my long-winded way, is how I arrive at two asks. If you see a project which really catches the feel of a mecha show -either on paper, or in digital format- feel free to post it in the comments. We speak VOTOMS, Escaflowne and Gundam here, along with more obscure dialects. And ask the creators out there: speak up for mecha. It’s got a lot to offer, there are fans out there, and we’re eager for a chance to weep like children as we realize our best friends have betrayed us…

Publication Announcement – Alien Artifacts

 alien artifacts cover Contracts have been signed. Words and edits exchanged. And, I’ve got an announcement.

My short story, “The Captain’s Throne” has been selected for publication in the Alien Artifacts anthology edited by Patricia Bray and Joshua Palmatier,

The anthology will include short stories by: Jacey Bedford, David Farland/DaveWolverton, C.S. Friedman, Walter H. Hunt, Gini Koch, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Gail Z. Martin & Larry N. Martin, Seanan McGuire, and Juliet E. McKenna.

I’m very excited about this opportunity and I hope folks will enjoy the story. If you are interested in pre-ordering, visit the Zombies Need Brains order page:

https://squareup.com/market/zombies-need-brains-llc

You can order EBook or paperback (or both!), and you can also get a print of the amazing cover. I also heartily recommend ZNB’s other anthologies as well. It’s a great way to support an independent press producing quality work.

Please, circulate the link around. Encourage folks to order. And do let me know what you think.

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