Sunday, May 8, 2022

Trinity Continuum: Prometheus Unbound

 It's strange, sometimes, being an old fan. Prometheus Unbound is a perfectly serviceable book. It contains good, useful information to help with running games set around any of the eight psi orders, plus a free-form psionics system that may actually work, and new technological devices that help flesh out the sci-fi future of 2123. Yet I can't help but compare it to the first edition order books. 

I shouldn't. Those old books were strange and problematic. I dropped a lot of words ranting about the disturbing implications of the Huang-Marr plot, or the creepiness of the orders' plans to enslave the teleporters. Second edition is probably better for losing them. However, it really does feel like something is missing. I'm not sure someone coming in fresh would agree, and they almost certainly would not fill whatever gaps they felt with a conflict between the Port-au-Prince and Montressor branches of the Aesculapian Order that would sometimes border on overt racism, but like I said, I'm old now, and things being different is starting to feel like a personal attack on my youth.

Which is definitely a me problem. The closest it gets to being a book problem is with the Upeo Wa Macho chapter. It spends a lot of its time detailing the friction between those teleporters loyal to Bolade Atwan and those who resent their time in exile, implying that the order is on the verge of a major schism, but it kind of forgets to establish a reasonable motive for fleeing in the first place.

I suppose you could walk to meet them halfway. The psi orders, manipulated by the Doyen, engaged in a brutal purge of the quantakinetic order, for the crime of experimenting with aberrant DNA, and so when the Upeo found a colony of friendly novas and kept it secret, that may be a similar crime, meriting similar punishment. However, second edition has been establishing a friendlier, more humanist vibe to its protagonists, making a purge of the Upeo seem like less of a foregone conclusion. Thus Atwan was reacting to a worst case scenario that had not yet manifested. It seems much more cowardly than first edition, where they were fleeing an active attack.

It's probably better that way. Instead of having six sinister psi orders, we now have one that was just a bit too flighty, but the Upeo were my favorite order in first edition, and I kind of wish we got a bit more sympathetic a take here.

My favorite part of the book was the Chitra Bhanu chapter, probably because it is an organization that did not get significant coverage in first edition, and therefor doesn't impinge on my nostalgia for the old lore. I especially like the introduction of SK Bhurano as the Aeonverse's third overpowered immortal NPC. I know it's a controversial character type, but I enjoy the symmetry. Three sources of superhuman abilities, three canon mentors to sponsor young groups of adventurers.

It helps that she's used effectively here, with her trauma at being possessed by an alien telepath and forced to watch as her former friends slaughtered her students is made the driving motive behind her organizational choices with the reborn Chitra Bhanu order. The cell structure isn't just a security measure, it's a repudiation of the Doyen's philosophy of top-down control. 

I do wonder if we'll ever see the psi orders face a reckoning for their actions surrounding the purge. Seeing it from the perspective of the survivors makes it a lot less abstract than it has been in ages past. It's always seemed like a bit of a spat, with the heroic psions "cleaning up" after their naughty coworkers. And even when the presentation leaned away from pretending it was a bloodless affair, it never quite rose to the level of reminding us that the quantakinetics were real people with real relationships . . . until now.

The book seems to be setting up a human vs doyen conflict, but it was human beings who actually carried it out, and with only a few exceptions, they don't appear to be suffering any great deal of dissonance about these events. It's like, "yes, I took a paramilitary force to summarily execute a bunch of my colleagues based on preliminary evidence of vague misdeeds, but that feels exactly like something I would do, so there's no need to go looking for sinister outside influences." Maybe the doyen were micromanaging the events of that day, controlling or deceiving every single individual in the area, but as far as the perpetrators are concerned, they voluntarily committed an atrocity, and at some point they're going to have to confront that.

Also, it's unclear how human beings are supposed to fight the Doyen anyway. Each one is a potent psychic and collectively, they can (and will) destroy entire planets. You can get an interesting campaign out of playing an intricate game of cat and mouse, where you try to probe the aliens' weaknesses while remaining too insignificant to pose a threat, but it's unclear that the mouse actually has any real way of turning the tables on the cat. I'd have liked to see the dilemma addressed more specifically, because "you have definitively established that this foe is far out of your league" seems like a bummer of a way to end a story.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It's more of a workhorse than some of the other Trinity Continuum: Aeon offerings, and it's mostly useful as a means of rounding out other, more dramatic plots with a bunch of order-specific locations and characters, but the Trinity Continuum continues to be one my favorite settings, so more is always appreciated.

Ukss Contribution: Owl Necrostimulant. It's a drug that you inject into a corpse, thereby making it a valid target for telepathy. Aeon's sci-fi has often relied on soft-SF implementation of hard-SF ideas and this is a great example of that tendency done right. You've got the space fantasy trope of psychic powers, but it's engaging with a transhumanist idea of death as a cessation of a material process. So, naturally, you can add something material to that dead body to allow it to link up with your perfectly scientific telepathic abilities. It's creepy, it's weird, and it perfectly captures the best of the Trinity Continuum's voice.

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