Saturday, August 24, 2019

Trinity Technology Manual

The Trinity Technology Manual is a useful supplement to the Trinity core that has the same fundamental flaw as most rpg sci-fi worldbuilding - it presents the amazing world of the 22nd century almost exclusively through the lens of the occupational needs of small-unit paramilitary operations. Which is fair enough, really. Who is going to sign up for a campaign pitch of "it is the 2220's, humanity has made amazing developments in energy production, biotechnology, and space travel. Verifiable psychic powers exist within approximately 1% of the human species and mutated space monstrosities threaten the fledgling extrasolar colonies. The former United States of America, still reeling from nearly losing a war with power-mad superhumans, has descended into a fascist corporatocracy where motorcycle gangs prowl the desolate wastes of the radiation-scourged midwest in running battles with the remnants of the US army for dwindling supplies . . . and you and your friends are the staff of a struggling bed and breakfast in rural Maine who have to deal with the deleterious effects all of the above has had on the seasonal tourist trade."

So, you know, a supplement that focused on the tools and equipment a group of 3-6 people can use to have thrilling space adventures was probably the right call. I'm just going to have to make my peace with the fact that it is not the in-depth exploration of the setting's sci-fi conceits that I was hoping for.

Although, if I'm being completely frank, I'm not sure how much sci-fi exploration is really possible in rpg form. Think about writing about our world as if it were an 1890s sci-fi novel. What would be the most pertinent detail to your 19th century audience? Was it "and there are light bulbs fucking everywhere and we keep them lit all the time." The biggest cultural gulf between the 18th and the 20th centuries lies in the way widespread mechanical clocks and electric lights fundamentally changed humanity's relationship to the concept of time, and in 1890, they were right in the middle of this process whose full implications would only be obvious in retrospect. So as much as you might want to impress the 1890s guy with nuclear bombs and trips to the moon, if you leave out the thing about the light bulbs, you're depriving them of a key part of our current cultural vocabulary, one so ubiquitous as to be nearly invisible.

But try putting that in an rpg book. People in the 1890s knew the light bulb was going to be huge, but their intuitions about how it was going to be used could be a little off. I think if you were going to ask someone in the 1890s about 2019's electric lights, they'd make some whimsical guess about how elaborate our moontowers must be. Sometimes, contemporary science fiction can feel the same way. Extrapolation from the current cutting edge, and the compromises necessary to deploy it in the real world, leads to a kind of blinkered view of the future. It's like today, but bigger and faster.

The part of the Trinity Technology Manual that leaps to mind is where they talk about high-powered people wearing holographic contact lenses and how "contact wearers can be distinguished by their speech patterns - which include quotes by famous people and a great deal of unusual trivia - and by blank, distant stares." It doesn't occur to them that they've basically reinvented the teleprompter, and that politicians, journalists, and business leaders might value creating personal connections more than showing off their mastery of obscure trivia, and that even if you've got a sci-fi computer agent doing in an instant what speechwriters previously took hours or days to accomplish, the job is still going to remain functionally the same.

If you really want to know how access to limitless information is going to change how people communicate, consider the case of an rpg blogger who once read an Atlantic article about moontowers a couple of years back, and thought it was a really apt metaphor for the way people can have trouble envisioning sweeping technological changes, and thus diverted about 15 minutes of effort double-checking that it fit correctly in the timeline he was creating to illustrate his point. He wouldn't have been able to do that in 1998, but then, nobody would have been able to imagine that he'd want to.

I'm being a little too hard on Trinity, though. It never really pretended to be the sort of thoughtful literary sci-fi that speculates about the metaphysical questioning that human civilizations are going to be confronted with. It's more about the big spectacle cinematic sci-fi. Psychics in bioengineered power armor fighting tentacle monsters on the moon instead of "how does the possibility of ubiquitous, portable fusion power change an individual's relationship to nature and their overall patterns of consumption?"

And within that framework, Trinity is actually very clever. Its backstory includes a berserk ex-superhero with technology-controlling powers blowing up the entire internet in one destructive burst of energy, and it only being rebuilt under a series of paranoid security measures that ensures it doesn't work very well . . . thus neatly explaining why the information technology of the early 22nd century has a late 90s feel to it.

The funny thing is, writing about this book 21 years after the fact, it's obvious that they could have had no way of knowing that the people of the future would be extremely interested in their thoughts on sci-fi battery technology, but would not be able to get much use out of their listed benchmarks because we now have high-efficiency light bulbs and nobody wears a watch. Twenty minutes to recharge an electric car was a pretty good guess, however.

My summary - this is a good book because it has lasers, giant death robots, and spaceships. Those things are cool and good. And I am a dork for wanting to know more about the social implications of cheap commercial fusion power. Also, it's a mistake that only psions can get full use out of bioapps, because it closes off a lot of weird sci-fi speculation, but on the other hand, I will concede that it makes the worldbuilding a lot easier.

UKSS Contribution: Reforestation Prowlers. Giant, bioengineered beetle-slugs which dig ancient DNA from deep below the soil of the Amazon and reconstitute it into synthetic seeds, which it then plants in the trail of fertilizing slime that it leaves behind it. Given current events, I can agree that this seems like the simplest and most likely solution to our current ecological short-sightedness.

1 comment:

  1. Your comment here about what analogous tech we're now forecasting inaccurately left me spiraling off on an internal mental tangent. Nice work. Of course, I also watched *Strange Days* yesterday, so...