Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Sphere: InfoDump

I was working on a concept for a sci-fi RPG setting called Sphere. I posted a few things here, but, in all honesty, I've pretty much lost interest in the project.
So, here's the remainder of the Sphere-related stuff.

The Hermans. These are humans who, post-Singularity, downloaded their minds into android bodies to survive the ecological collapse of Earth. They are named after the first person to successfully make the transition from organic to inorganic life, a man named Herman Wauk. Over the centuries, the Hermans have reproduced by making copies of themselves with various tweaks or by 'merging' their memories/personas into a new body.  Hermans probably have a better understanding of the Singularity than anyone else the Sphere, but they're not interested in interacting with the Singularity. They're smarter than that. Hermans don't get along very well with the other factions/races, especially the Flawless.  

The Zarans. The Zarans are the descendents of the first Martian colonists. When the Singularity occurred and Earth's biosphere collapsed, a lot of people headed to Mars. Most didn't make it. Those that did, probably wished they hadn't. A pandemic broke out among the refugees. Over 95% of Mars's population died. The survivors were the ones who underwent radical genetic modification, splicing animal traits onto their DNA, effectively becoming something other than human. The entire planet was placed in quarantine for a century, to prevent the pandemic from spreading. This gave the survivors a chance to stabilize their physiologies and evolve a curiously spiritual society with an emphasis on tolerance and self-control. Zarans possess simian and felinoid traits, including a prehensive tail they can use as a third hand and superior night vision. Some, also develop psychic talents such as psychometry, telepathy and precognition.

The Wanderers are the faction that most closely resembles 'natural' humans. They are the survivors of Earth who did not settle on other worlds, but rather chose to wander the Sphere in caravans composed of antiquated, jury-rigged spacecraft.  There are dozens of Wanderer tribes, each one preserving a specific cultural heritage, but all of them united by a strong sense of individuality and personal freedom. Wanderers don't subject themselves to needless body-mods and most nation-states and polities consider them a nuisance. If not for their expansive trade network, the biggest and best in the Sphere, the Wanderers might have a much harder time. Historians and sociologists love the Wanderers as each caravan retains a strong oral historical tradition dating back to their Exodus from Earth. The Wanderers were responsible for the preservation of most of human culture and history.

Singularity Cultists.  Commonly referred to as Sings, they abound throughout the Sphere. They
  worship the Singularity as a deity and patron, and there are as many different creeds and beliefs among the Sings as there are asteroids in the Belt.  Most people have disdainful opinions of the Sings, considering them dangerous and deranged.  Many mainstream religions and political alliances actively persecute the Sings, either driving them out of their territories or executing them as vermin. Some Sings fight back, while others submit to the atrocities inflicted upon them. It varies from cult to cult.  Of great concern are the Sings that do seem to have some manner of contact with the Singularity; some of these cults possess advanced technology and access to information that no one else has. These cults, few and far between, are usually treated with more care than their psychophantic counterparts. Sings can come from any racial group or sub-group, but most are self-perpetuating, using the resources of the Ministry of Population to ensure their numbers.

The Wardens.  Depending on who you ask the Wardens are either jailers or guardians of the Singularity.  It is unclear if they are aspects of the Intelligences that created the Sphere, some sort of construct race or an extrasolar species that works in conjunction with the Intelligences.  The only thing known for certain is that they maintain the sanctity of the Sphere. Nothing gets in and nothing gets out. Manifesting as luminous, asexual humanoids, each Warden has a unique temperment. All are ferociously powerful.  Most people try to avoid the Wardens, but some people do interact with them. Some Wardens seem to enjoy social interactions with natives of the Sphere. It's not uncommon to encounter Wardens among the cities of the Jinn, or in Zaran temples.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

When I saw the first trailer for Luc Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, I was excited. I loved The Fifth Element and have watched that movie so many times its ridiculous. I was really looking forward to seeing Valerian.
All that said, when I walked out of Valerian a while ago, I was left feeling vaguely cheated.
The movie is visually stunning. The previews, amazingly enough, do NOT give away the plot. Rihanna's performance is amazing.
All that said, the movie has some things working against it: its plot, its actors and their characters.
The plot in Valerian isn't convoluted, it's barely there. A large portion of the movie is taken up by a sidequest where Valerian has to save Laureline from cannibalistic aliens.  That bit was interesting, but not really essential to the main story. It didn't really add anything, but window dressing.
As for the actors? I have no idea who Dane Dehann is or what other films he's appeared in. He seems serviceable enough in this film, as done Cara Delevigne, but neither of their performances was stellar. Clive Owens simply plays his in-stock character. At this point, you could drop the man into any film and he would be playing the exact same character. Rihanna's performance was quite nice, although her character was essentially pointless.
And that is where this movie fails so utterly. The characters of Valerian and Laureline, our protagonists, the people we're supposed to relate to and cheer for, are a couple of dicks.
Valerian comes across as a smugly arrogant little bastard while Laureline is just bitter. We're supposed to believe these people are in the military? Neither displays anything approaching military discipline or decorum.  You know you've got a problem when the most likeable characters in the film either (a) die or (b) are a cannibal-chef.
I've read that Luc Beson had been plotting to make this movie for years. Well, I hope he enjoyed what he made because I'm not sure how many other people will.
On a scale of 1 to 5, I'd give Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets a 2. Although its visual spectacle might shine on the big screen, the unlikability of its central characters forces me to consign this film to the on-demand queue or DVD bin.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sphere: Cities of the Jinn

Sphere: The Jinn

"I can appreciate their scientific accomplishments. No other culture in the Sphere comes close to their mastery of the biological sciences, not even my own. What I find objectionable about them is how they use that expertise."
- Chilaili Ja-Verge, Flawless Mercenary

"Our encounters with the Jinn have been . . . problematic. We do not think they see us as a people, but, rather, as a work of art. For us, interaction with them can be dehumanizing."
- Verrina Seinaldos, Zarran scholar

"They have the potential to be so much more than they are, if only they will put aside their ridiculous sentimentality."
- Krejci Bo 2.4, Herman trader

"I dated a Jinn once. She was a lot of fun and I thought we had something special, but then I found out she was dating other people. It wouldn't have been so bad, if one of them hadn't been my sister."
- Bit Kwyndahm, Wanderer

"Other cultures treat us as if we are vapid, empty-headed children. We are not. We are simply a people who enjoy the pleasures that surround us, the pleasures we have earned. If that means changing ourselves to better embrace those pleasures, to embrace what the universe can offer, why not?"
- Temple Avisaid, Jinn bio-mancer

The Jinn are the largest, most biologically diverse culture within the Sphere. Although the bulk of the race lives on Venus, representatives of the Jinn can be found almost everywhere in the Sphere. Including some places that you would never expect to encounter them.
Friendly and gregarious, the Jinn are one of the most open cultures within the Sphere. Although famous for their mastery of the biological sciences, they are almost as well-known for their pleasure centers. Thousands of people flock to Jinn resorts to relax, revitalize themselves and indulge in their carnal appetites. A popular saying in the Sphere is, "Where there's Jinn, there's a party."
Although more conservative cultures consider them morally questionable, the majority of the Jinn adhere to a strict ethical code. They abhor violence and will not use their skills on anyone below a legal age of majority, even if the parents/guardians give permission. The Jinn believe that only the individual has the right to alter themselves.
As noted, the Jinn are masters of the biological sciences. Their medical skills are second to none, their ability to manipulate the human genome is legendary, and they routinely use these skills to alter themselves and others.  Altering ones gender is nothing to a Jinn, it's practically child's play for their bio-mancers. It is far more interesting to change one's DNA, to sport prehensile hair or skin with bio-luminescent qualities. More practical changes are also possible, with some Jinn possessing superhuman strength, enhanced senses or amazing regenerative abilities.
As evidence of their ability, the Jinn terraformed Venus, transforming it into a fecund paradise where it is possible for humans to survive without life support gear. They have created a ragtag biosphere full of wondrous, impossible creatures (both animal and vegetable). New species do not so much evolve on Venus as simply appear, released into the wild by Jinn bio-mancers.
The Jinn themselves live in beautiful domed cities. They live in large, extended families where polygamy and polyamory are common practices. A Jinn child will grow up with a dozen sibling-cousins, not to mention foster-siblings and various 'aunties' and 'uncles' who share no biological connection to them, but are members of the extended family group. Visitors to a Jinn home can expect a warm welcome, which will include being swarmed by children of various ages.
When a Jinn child reaches their age of majority, they are allowed to alter their bodies as they see fit.  Some indulge minor cosmetic whims, altering pigmentation of hair, eyes and skin, while others embrace more radical transformations, implanting gills or having their bodies adjusted for a zero-g environment.  Eventually this phase in their development will come to an end and most Jinn choose a standard form with minor superficial differences to showcase their individuality. Of course, there are fashions among the Jinn, and right now the trend is for white hair, a modified nasal cavity and brow-antennae that improve spatial awareness.
Jinn live long lives. They fully embrace longevity enhancements and it isn't odd to encounter Jinn who are into their second and third centuries. Eventually, though, even the Jinn's biological expertise reaches its limit and they succumb to death.
As noted above, the Jinn get along well with most of the Sphere's races. They admire the Flawless' desire for perfection and the free-wheeling individuality of the Wanderers. They are fascinated by the Zarrans, whom they inevitably compare to their own creations, much to Zarran exasperation. The Jinn are one of the few races to find the Hermans intriguing, viewing them as a kind of dark reflection of themselves. Interestingly enough, the Jinn have even established relationships with some of the Wardens who preserve the integrity of the Sphere itself.  More than one offworlder has been shocked to witness a Jinn and a Warden enjoying a pleasant conversation as they stroll down the avenue of a domed city.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Sphere: The Ministry of Population

The Ministry of Population is one of the oldest and most revered organizations in the Sphere. Started millennia ago, the Ministry's purpose is simple: to ensure the survival of the human race.  They accomplish this goal through the continual creation of human infants.
Although the Ministry has administrative offices in most nations, the bulk of their operations occur in space, on their gigantic nursery-ships. These ships are provided with the most advanced defensive systems that money can buy, to better protect their precious cargo: human infants.  Nurseries are jam-packed with exo-wombs and gene-labs where infants are produced in large numbers. Most of these infants are transported to the various nations and cultures that use the Ministry to ensure their population numbers. However, not all the infants generated aboard Nurseries are earmarked for other nations; the Ministry always produces more children than requested. These surplus infants are placed in cryo-stasis and stored in fortified bunkers, scattered throughout the Sphere, as insurance against a Sphere-wide calamity.

Members of the Ministry of Population

It should be noted that the Ministry does not work for individuals. Rather, they contract with nation-states and planetary cultures. They have a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the Flawless, providing them with children in exchange for various goods and services. To a lesser degree, they provide their services to some Jinn communities, where radiation damage is a concern to reproduction.  They have no business dealings with the Hermans, as they do not reproduce in a biological fashion. The Zarrans do not use the Ministry's services either, preferring to produce children the old-fashioned way.  Some Wanderer communes use the Ministry to maintain their numbers, but most prefer to follow the Zarran example.
The Ministry of Population is viewed with almost religious reverence by the Sphere. They have maintained cultures and nations that would have died out centuries ago if not for their assistance. The Ministry does not ask for payment, although donations of goods, expertise or materials are happily accepted.  They also do not pass judgement on their clients; the Ministry will provide infants to anyone, regardless of perceived moral or philosophic faults. That said, they do not provide infants to groups if they believe the infants will be killed.  That would contravene the Ministry's population goals.
The Ministry of Population is recognized as a sovereign state by most of the Sphere. Its citizens/employees are easily recognized by their distinctive garb, and can usually walk without fear through some of the most dangerous cities in the Sphere.