Friday, October 28, 2005

Signal the Fearless: Best Speed to Basilisk Station

Back when I was in college, I read a lot of David Weber's space opera novels centering on the adventures of one H.S. Harrington, a commander in the "Royal Manticoran Navy". Put very simply, the RMN is defending its political sponsor, the Star Kingdom of Manticore, against the People's Republic of Haven, in a world that (very) roughly approximates the world of the early nineteenth century, only shifted forward a few dozen centuries or so. Horatio Hornblower in deep space, if you will. The novels got overly formulaic as they went on---right up there with Bernard Cornwell's Richard Sharpe novels---and I grew tired of the attitude Weber took towards the lead character.1 However, I greatly enjoyed the early novels---usually the ones with the golden covers in paperback, except for the one about dueling---and often wondered if anyone would ever make a game for the kinds of starship combat seen there. The short answer is, "Yes, Virginia; there is a Weber-based wargame." Ad Astra Games have produced The Saganami Island Tactical Simulator, and it's been on the market for a few months. I was really hoping that the thing was for a Windows-based platform, until I read it closely and saw that it was, horrors of horrors, a tabletop game. Don't get me wrong: Tabletop gaming is something that has a long pedigree, with good games from the likes of Avalon Hill, Steve Jackson Games, and the odd TSR release. Heck, even the United Federation of Planets got in on the tabletop wargaming action with the Star Fleet Battles product line. Lots of fun with friends for hours as you move little metal things around on a board, yar. Herein lies the rub: I've never managed to talk any of my friends into anything like this. One batch of friends I had was close, but they wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons. I managed to sit through one session of that, all the while wanting to scream something on the order of "SAVE VERSUS THIS, YOU SOB!"2 Every other pack of friends has been more interested in the football game on the TV, drinking themselves into oblivion, conspicuous consumption, or political power. Meanwhile, your friendly neighborhood frustrated Reinhard Scheer never got to refight Jutland, save the Bismarck, or annihilate a Yamato-class battleship with a Montana-class battleship. Bother! All that aside, I wish I could con someone around here into playing this with me, 'cause this game sure looks fun. Buckets o'dice and a bloodbath in deep space; what more can you ask for? (Well, other than a "Harrington Eyepatch +5 and Telepathic Hexapedal Cat which make one's rolls virtually invincible...) Maybe someone'll put it to pixels someday, like the Harpoon series of games. (And maybe I'll again cringe like I used to when I'd hear the call of "Vampire! Vampire!") My route to discover all this information was long and circuitous, kinda like the route of the New York, Ontario & Western Railway. However, here it goes in order to give proper credit: JohnL of TexasBestGrok had a post on a new pipe organ in France. I readily admit being a sucker for pipe organs, despite the fact that I'm hideously untrained in anything like their use or a sophisticated appreciation of their music. It goes without saying that Pipedreams is one of the reasons I like the public radio genre. From there, it was off to A Sweet, Familiar Dissonance. I scanned down from the article on the organ to read this, which caught my eye for the same reason that the mentioned site caught hers. (This was before I knew it referred to something by Joss Whedon...) Anyways, I wind up at last at The Eternal Golden Braid, and a read down the page gives me notice of a new Harrington book. Not that I'll buy it, but I must say that it's sparked an interest in going back and reading about the Horrible Hemphill---who I always figured must've been a bit of a babe---and the other goings on out Manticore way. Oddly enough, I wound up being more interested in a bunch of PRH officers, namely Thomas Theisman, Lester Tourville, and probably the only literary crush I've ever had, Citizen Commander Shannon Foraker. "Oops", indeed. --- 1 See here for earlier remarks by me regarding Mr. Cornwell's formula. With regards to Mr. Weber's handling of the character, it started to sound like a John McCain press release: "Those who agree with me on the correct war action march with the titans of history as the greatest warriors ever to take to space. Those who oppose me, regardless of the merits of their case, are craven pigs who are obviously out to destroy H.S. Harrington..." 2 This was, of course, long before I knew that "Jesus saves; all others take damage".

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