Monday, December 25, 2023

(Eclipse Phase) Rimward

Well, shit, I'm going to have to talk about ideology, aren't I? Rimward is the Eclipse Phase book dedicated to transhuman settlements in the asteroid belt and beyond and the defining characteristic of those settlements is that they are all, to one degree or another, driven by ideology. And that led to a rollercoaster of a reading experience:

Whoa: Extropia is a twisting maze of caverns excavated from a large asteroid, filled with hackers, body-sculptors, and strange AIs.

Oh, no: "Their experiment proved even more successful than anticipated as libertarians flocked to the station to participate in their free market utopia."

Of course, the thing about ideology is that it is often ubiquitous and invisible, so it's not like these D&D books I've been reading are less ideological. And depiction is not the same thing as endorsement. But even so, "our form of political organization is working exactly as intended, the ancaps are thrilled" is a hell of a thing to read in an rpg.

If you're anything like me, you're going to start getting difficult questions stuck in your head. Chief of which: What, exactly, is Eclipse Phase's point of view? I've been operating under the assumption that is atheist, given the way it's relentlessly dismissive of religion, and anarchist, given the way its anarchists are always right about everything, but then it will talk about the Jovian Junta and in one breath call it explicitly fascist ("nobody minds shooting space Nazis, right?") and in another it will be inviting us to empathize with them ("presenting the positive and sympathetic elements of the Jovian cause, alongside the negative and terrifying.")

The conclusion I'm forced to come to is that the book is anarchist, but 2012 was a simpler time. The "let's go to fascist country and really vibe with why they hate us" genre of journo-tourism had not yet been invented. It was still considered a best practice to write an antagonist as if their point of view was arrived at for understandable reasons.

But then you get an Extropian explaining anarcho-capitalism, in-character, as "left-wing on economics and government" and it's absolutely surreal.  You've got indentured servitude and debt peonage and oh, "other autonomists - particularly anarchists - are highly critical of these forms of voluntary slavery" - like, no shit, "voluntary" is probably the most weaselly word in politics. You're "voluntarily" entering a labor relationship, because you want money for the debts you "voluntarily" racked up by "voluntarily" opting out of a "voluntary" subscription-based private legal system to protect yourself from "tort claims and legal damages, which is usually the largest expense - spurious micro-torts are a common and notorious hazard in Extropian spaces."

Like, I'm not the only one to see this, right? That it would be profoundly reckless to ever set foot in an Extropian habitat. Capitalism is intrinsically hierarchal and basic inequalities in starting position can lead to unequal "voluntary" agreements that benefit those higher in the hierarchy at the expense of the desperate, exacerbating the inequality and leading to ever-increasing amounts of hierarchy. And because you gain more of a competitive benefit from inequality the more inequality there is, this entire cycle is self-reinforcing. So much so that even if everyone started from the exact same position, it would inevitably devolve into a hierarchy, just from the natural fluctuations of chance. 

All of which is to say, there are absolutely guys like Mizor "I guess they missed that whole voluntary part" Alcor in real life, but you absolutely can't trust them to narrate a travel guide, and an anarchist should know better.

And here is the part of the post where I stare thoughtfully at the ceiling and contemplate whether or not the fact that Rimward has a eugenicist faction that calls outsiders "genestrash" makes the book too uncomfortable to read. 

If I'm being honest, I think I want a sci-fi setting that has Space Nazis, and Space Objectivists, and the Space Chamber of Commerce, because who you choose as your antagonists has a lot to say about your fundamental values. And I think that the urge to meet them on their own ground and give them a complex characterization with understandable motives, even as you set them up as the opposition, is a humane and generous instinct. Unfortunately, it also reeks of privilege - you are able to empathize with these villains because you are not one of their targets, and thus the threat is largely abstract. It's something Eclipse Phase as a line has struggled with since the core.  It's clear that their hearts are in the right place, but often their execution is lacking.

Oh, and Rimward also has a bunch of cool sci-fi worldbuilding in it. It was definitely worth the read.

Ukss Contribution: When I read the Eclipse Phase core, my choice was the bacon-based space habitat called "Turn Yourself Into a Giant Mass of Space Meat for Art!" To me, it represented the best part of Eclipse Phase's worldbuilding - its willingness to tug on the thinnest threads of scientific possibility to suggest something culturally and artistically improbable. 

Now, I'm making the unusual decision to choose the same thing for a second time, because, in the GM secrets section, we learn something surprising and kind of uncomfortable about our friend, Meathab. It is home to an uploaded human consciousness who is "a very humane soul who happens to enjoy having his insides full of a lot of other transhumans."

I don't know what to say to this. I hate it. But it's the kind of hate that inspires me.

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