Sunday, January 26, 2020

(M: tAs)Sons of Ether

Mage: the Ascension has a reputation for being anti-science. Whether it is truly deserved or not is a difficult and contentious debate, and certainly not something that will be solved in a single blog post (now, 75 blog posts . . .). In some ways, though, the very existence of this debate serves to amplify and exaggerate the game's sins. Verbena, for example, quite explicitly points out that the titular Verbena believe in vaccines (though perhaps with not quite enough forcefulness for a modern audience - it's still 4 years before Wakefield will publish his monstrous academic fraud).

Then you have a book like Sons of Ether.

It is, perhaps, the most anti-scientific thing you're going to read in the entire line.

I'm not sure if the authors entirely understood that. The Sons of Ether believe in science the way Satanists believe in the Christian God. Everything about them is a parodic inversion of what is beautiful and good in science. It's best summed up by a line that could well serve as a faction motto, "Nothing is ever discovered - it is created."

Excuse me for a moment while the red mist clears from my vision and I stop wanting to bite the walls. . .

Okay, all better now. The point is that the Sons of Ether's whole deal is . . . anathema. There's no mystic Tradition that's worse. Discovery. The pursuit of true knowledge of the world outside oneself. Having the humility to not create, but rather observe, and thus learn things that you could never imagine. That's the highest ideal of science. Discarding an old theory can be painful, yes, and may require a period of adjustment, but having the ability to do so, that is Arete.

Of course, in the Sons' defense, they're right, at least within the context of the Mage: the Ascension universe. I'm not sure that anything like science is even possible when the ontology of the world states that belief precedes truth. To seek to have true beliefs then is merely an exercise in having intense beliefs. The magnitude of your faith is far more important than what it's specifically about. And so, to embrace that, as the Sons of Ether do, with their "Science" that is about "the aesthetics and ingenuity of the questing spirit" is perhaps the most empirically justifiable position.

It's just a bitter pill to swallow. "Materialism" is not a dirty word, people. It's a serious and prestigious school of metaphysics that is every bit as able to create a dignified and humane worldview as the various schools of idealism (and I'd point out that 9 out of 10 of the worst people you've ever heard about were one variety of idealist or another).

But it doesn't really have a place in Mage. The way the Technocracy is portrayed evokes the aesthetics and seriousness of the scientific spirit, but they don't actually do science either, and are super-evil besides. I don't think that last part is a coincidence. It's not a sin unique to Mage to conflate philosophical materialism with consumerism, but it certainly leans into it at times, and I get the feeling that it's because they only rarely employed people who could appreciate and respect it as a philosophy.

In any event, Sons of Ether is probably the best Mage book since the original core (actually, I went back and checked and Book of Chantries is better, so it's the second-best).  It has the pop-culture fluency that to me characterizes the best of White Wolf. And make no mistake, as much as I'm annoyed by the "if you want to play a good scientist, just pick an Etherite" discourse in the fandom, they are actually a ton of fun. The opening fiction had Doc Eon exploring the Hollow Earth. It's also the faction you choose if you want play a Nazi-fighting kid named Jet Boy. And Frankenstein's monster is there. His name is Elias and he's a pretty chill dude these days (according to Mage: the Ascension lore, Frankenstein is a fictional account, in-setting, of real events, but it's Dr Waldman who was responsible for everything and Mary Shelly only demoted him to a minor character because she hated his sexist guts - oh, and Lord Byron hunted vampires in the Alps).

One last thing, for those who've been following the saga. It's official that "The Sons of Ether" naming controversy is just supposed to be part of Their Thing. It gets a fairly long section here and they make a direct point of saying that the Tradition is still mired in outdated sexism. It's an interesting idea, and makes the world feel more lived in, sure, but I wonder why they were singled out. We've got a few more Traditions coming up that seem like they might be male-dominated, so we'll see how the line as a whole wants to handle institutional sexism.

Ukss Contribution: Victoria Station. It's a wood and brass space station. It orbits the Moon and serves as a sort of way station for Mages who want to deal with the faeries who live on the Lunar surface.

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