Gamma World

At first, there was Dungeons & Dragons. My initial exposure to it was a short game at church camp, played in the cabin one rainy day with a small group of kids. The concept of playing a “role” and creating a “character” to act out was immediately recognizable. It fit in my brain like a key in a lock. This was something I could do, but I didn’t want to play the characters – I wanted to run the game. More than that, I wanted to create the environment.

At its heart, a role playing game is collaborative storytelling. One person creates the environment and all the other people living in it. They create the culture. They create the technology. They create the society. Everyone else (the players) are actors within that story, playing a part that they want to play by creating a “character” to act out. Before online computer games, desktop pencil and paper RPGs were the only type of outlet for this type of collaborative storytelling. The only thing close would be impromptu theatre. RPGs were an evolution in storytelling. They still exist in the likes of computer games like SkyRim, Fallout, and many others.

GammaWorld2As a creative writer, my goal wasn’t so much to play a character in someone else’s world. The true fun for me was creating the world itself. And while I enjoy fantasy of the medieval type with lots of magic and wizards and such, the concepts of science fiction are nearer and dearer to my heart. In particular, the  post-holocaust environments of the type written about by Andre Norton, Pat Frank, David Brin and many other authors. Movies like Logan’s Run inspired me to create worlds similar to that – a society in the ashes. After all, I grew up in a time when nuclear annihilation was a daily concern and the cold war was still quit chilly.

This brings me to the first RPG (and the last) that really influenced my writing. It was called Gamma World, and it was about as weird and hokey as you can get. But, by the standards of the time, it was fascinating and new. I mean, the idea that radiation could result in bizarre and extreme genetic mutations within one generation isn’t something we’d buy nowadays. We know better. Yes, radiation causes an increase in mutation rate, but it’s not likely to result in X-ray vision, or the ability to move objects telekinetically. But that’s what Gamma World did. It took the capabilities of magic users in Dungeons and Dragons and converted them into mental abilities or mutations. I ran with it.

GammaWorldExtrapolating from the original game set, I redesigned Gamma World and reconfigured it to suit what I wanted in a post-holocaust environment. I did away with most of the mental mutations. I created alternative origins for specific species – genetic experiments performed by the government or by rogue biologists acting on their own or in small groups. I designed societies based around survival in extreme environments and gave them cultures that enabled their survival. I created pockets of civilization living underground. It was a lot more like Fallout than true Gamma World.

Eventually, I went further, and created post-holocaust colony worlds, an entire collection of colonized planets left to their own devices after the corporate empires that spawned them fell to interstellar war. At this point, I redesigned the system entirely to be much faster and not to rely on charts and tables – they only slowed the game down. I created dozens of worlds, new technology based on research into the fantastical concepts of the day. I’d read Scientific American and extrapolate, taking everything to the next level. It became a major project of its own. Eventually I even published it online as a free RPG. It was a hobby. And one that I abandoned in favor of writing. But the influence is still there, and it started with Gamma World. So I salute Gamma World for the influence it had on me, and probably still has on some level. Its artwork was beautiful for its time. Its crazy story lines and weird concepts have a place in science fiction history as much as any good novel.

Worldbuilding is a common task for writers now. There is a massive amount of material written about it, and a massive amount of it that takes place in fantasy and SF. It’s not required, of course, but it’s such an enjoyable task that it’s a hobby of its own. My greatest experience with it comes from table-top RPGs and Play-By-Post forums. Others, perhaps, cut their teeth on the process via exposure to it from other writers and creative writing classes. But once upon a time, it was RPGs – pencil and paper. For me that started with Gamma World. And so I remember the game, a forgotten relic. Now you will remember it too – unless you didn’t read this far. In which case you can just read about it on wikipedia: Gamma World. Have fun!

Bartenders Beware


You want some more?

There’s a new mixologist in town, and his name is Bartendro. He doesn’t gossip, drink his bosses booze, flirt with the girls, steal money from the register, take tips, or hook his friends up with free drinks. Why? Because he’s a robot, that’s why, and like all robots, he doesn’t give a crap about your problems. So if you’re in the mood to drown your sorrows and have a quick therapy session with your local bartender, you can forget about it.

Sure, automatic drink machines have been around for a while. They’re big expensive devices, and they require a trained operator. I don’t think Bartendro is probably much different in that regard. (And it still can’t handle carbonated liquids yet). But let’s assume for the sake of assuming stuff that someday in the near future, mass production of these devices makes them relatively cheap in comparison to human bartenders. Make them simple enough, and anyone can use them. I mean, all you really need is a touch-screen displaying drinks, right? Push a button, get a drink. Even a monkey can do that, although I sure as Hell wouldn’t want to get into a fight with a drunk monkey. But will this remove the bartender from the equation? Probably not. You’ll still need someone to replace the bottles, maintain the machine, put the drinks on the table, clean up the empty glasses, and run a tab for the customers.

But, there may be some places where you can go where there aren’t any humans at all. Can you imagine an Automat-style drinking establishment with nothing but steel tables and drink machines? I can imagine it. That’s the wonderful thing about imagination. So let’s imagine it!

You wander in, and there’s row after row of stainless steel tables. The walls are lined with machines that can take debit and credit card purchases. You come with your closest friends – assuming you have any. Or maybe they’re just people you work with. Or maybe they’re people you play soccer with on Tuesday nights. Or maybe it’s your brother’s family visiting from out of town. You all take a seat at one of the stainless steel tables, and they elect YOU to buy the first round. What an honor this is. They think that you can figure out how to do this! They must have a high opinion of you, and your self-esteem increases. You begin to feel okay about yourself again.

Heading for the machines, you punch in the orders and take the drinks back to the table. That wasn’t hard at all! You must be of average intelligence or higher. They stare at you, impressed with your technological prowess. At this point, you do the usual social stuff, whatever that is. Maybe you talk about work, or politics, or religion, or any of those other topics you’re not supposed to discuss. Or maybe you play it safe and talk about the weather. That’s kind of boring, but what the Hell. After the first round, it’s someone else’s turn to buy, and you tell them what you’d like. Make mine a dirty vodka martini with an extra olive. Make it a double! The drinks arrive in disposable cups designed for recycling. When you’re done, you just throw them in a receptacle at the back of the table. Eventually, you’re all too wasted to operate the machines, and you summon your self-driving car to take you home.

After last call, a paid security guard drops by to lock the doors and make sure everyone’s out. Not in that order, of course. Once the shop is shut down, the machines retract, and metal shutters drop down over them, sealing them in air-tight lockers. Then the sprayer nozzles drop down from the ceiling, and the entire area gets hosed. All the cigarette butts, spilled alcohol, vomit, and blood, goes straight down the drain. The next morning, all the janitor has to do is mop up anything left over and wipe the tables and chairs. Around 4PM, the doors open, and the machines come out again. There’s a juke box, of course, complete with a mirkin ball. There might even be retractable black lights and waterproof surround sound speakers.

If you’re the owner, you don’t have much to worry about except maintaining the machines and paying the rent. Every once in a while, you refill the vats of whiskey, vodka, Schnapps, tequila, and mixers, but that’s about it. If something goes wrong, you call a repair man. And if you want to know what’s going on in your bar, you just pull up the web cams from your house. You might even have an app for that, allowing you to watch your bar from any location on your phone. You might even sell paid subscriptions to the feed.

The Phantom Buzz

PhantomBuzzI’m sitting at my desk and feel a buzz in my pocket. Without thinking, I reach down to get my cell phone, and IT’S NOT THERE!

Has this ever happened to you? Your phone is sitting somewhere else, and you feel its buzz in your pocket? No, the phone isn’t actually buzzing. Mine was in front of me, and I’d have heard it vibrate on the desk. It’s not an actual call or a notification, it’s a PHANTOM BUZZ!

Oddly, this happens all the time. I’ve tried to identify the cause. Did I have too much coffee? Was I thinking about something specific? Was I tilted in the wrong direction? Was a shaking my leg? So far I have found no correlation between any of the potential triggers and the actual physical sensation. In short, I have a phantom buzz in my pocket.

Before owning a cell phone, this never happened to me, so I tend to think there’s a relationship. I can’t help but wonder if my mind is generating the sensation as some kind of mental replay triggered by some unknown spontaneous association that could be completely random – a kind of sensory epilepsy. A misfiring of sensory neurons. It could actually be originating from the nerves in my leg, or it could be strictly in my sensory cortex. I have no idea.

It’s not highly disturbing. I’m not motivated to seek medical attention or psychiatry. It doesn’t really bother me, except that it makes me reach for my phone. The solution is to keep the phone in-pocket at all times. That way, I can actually tell. The phantom buzz isn’t quite as strong as the real buzz.

I just ran a search and found that I’m not the only one this happens to. For more info, see ‘Phantom’ Cell Phone Sensations: Mind Over Matter and Phantom Cell Phone Vibrations. Apparently I care too much about information coming out of my phone. I can assure you, this is NOT the case. I use my phone for testing applications, taking pictures, and occasionally making a phone call. Maybe I should just turn the buzzer off.

Golden Asteroids

MeteorCraterAs you may be aware, there’s a big fricken asteroid coming our way. It’s about half the size of a football field, and it’s going to miss Earth by about 17,100 miles. (Or so NASA assures us).

“No Earth impact is possible,” said Donald Yeomans, an astronomer with the US space agency.

Smile and wave. If it did hit us, and it landed on the dirt somewhere, it would make a hole about the size of meteor crater in Arizona. BOOM! Which wouldn’t be a horrible problem. It might even block some sunlight for a while and cool us down a bit, who knows?

What I’d like to know is – where are the solid gold asteroids? What’s with all the nickel and iron? Yeah, sure, iron is formed during the last cycle of a supernova, and therefore it’s much more plentiful than gold which is formed during the supernova explosion itself, but there must be some big ass chunks of gold out there somewhere.

If the asteroid were solid gold, would the governments of Earth be more interested in probing it? Maybe even want to try and stop it or mine it somehow? Think of all that gold! If that asteroid were solid gold, it would be more gold than we have access to now on the entire planet!

GoldAsteroidBut then, we’d probably fight over it wouldn’t we? I mean, if a giant gold asteroid crashed into say… Kansas or something, imagine all the people rushing out there looking for chunks of it. It would be a war zone. People would be staking claims. The government would cordon off the area and call out the national guard to force back the crowds of desperate treasure seekers.

Anyway, I suspect that for a long time, the only gold we’re going to be getting out of asteroids is investment money obtained by companies saying they’re going to mine gold out of asteroids. That’s what I’d call a “long-term” investment.

An Evolutionary Irony

Football scholarship, or Army?

Should I take the Football scholarship, or the Army contract with the bonus?

What it Neanderthals did not die out due to competition with humans, or lack of resources, or change of climate? What if they died out because of a disease they couldn’t cope with? A virus that just happened to crop up at the right time, and that humans had immunity to – or at least relative resistance – and Neanderthals did not.

I suggest this thought only for the love of irony, as a molecular geneticist named Professor George Church at Harvard seeks to find a woman willing to give birth to a Neanderthal. No, this isn’t a joke. Yes, he can probably do it – to an extent. I’m not sure if we have all the pieces of the Neanderthal genome, but the Professor thinks we do, and it’s his technology.  He developed MAGE – Multiplex automated genomic engineering – a method for using broken DNA as a template for reconstructing a complete genome from pieces. See the link above for a description of the process if you’re interested.

If he finds a willing woman – which seems quite likely given the number of individuals on the planet and the diversity of personalities should statistically give rise to one willing to take this risk – then it’s quite possible he shall succeed in his attempt. And, as he points out, if Neanderthals are healthy, strong and smart, then many people may want to have them. Who knows, it could start a trend.

But what if they’re smarter and stronger than us, and they’re also far more aggressive? How ironic would it be that a quirk of nature at the wrong time wiped them out, only to have them reconstituted by their weaker counterparts – humans – and then they supplant us, coming to dominate the world once more? It is a delicious irony, worthy of a science fiction novel similar to Jurassic Park, but instead of dinosaurs, it would be Neanderthals. And there would be no park. Too bad Michael Crichton isn’t still alive. This would be a perfect project for him.

Neanderthal2Given the bioethical ramifications of what Professor Church is proposing, I’m surprised there isn’t more push-back in regards to this concept. I would think germ-line genetic modifications of this nature would be illegal, and fall under human experimentation. But, perhaps there is no law restricting him from attempting this. Or perhaps he has chosen to ignore it. I can’t say. Moreover, I doubt such a project would lead to Neanderthals dominating humanity. It is highly unlikely given the number of us that currently exist on the planet. But I can’t help but think of the irony, simply because it makes such a wonderful story. Destroyed by nature and reborn by their successors, how would Neanderthals perceive themselves in our world? Could they compete with us? Would they come to dominate the world of sports? Would the NFL restrict them from football? Would the military seek to recruit them for use as infantry? Would religious organizations label them abominations? Would they seek to band together in racial segregation, or integrate happily with their fellow sapiens?

And if we could do this, would we stop at Neanderthals? What about other hominids? What about other creatures? The Professor has proposed bringing back mammoths, and is ready to do so using elephant DNA as a template in the MAGE process. Any extinct critter we’ve got at least some DNA remnants for is a suitable subject. How about the Quagga, a half zebra half horse extinct since 1883? How about the Tasmanian Tiger, extinct since 1936? How about Stellar’s Sea Cow, extinct since 1768? How about the largest deer, the Irish Deer, that vanished 7,700 years ago? How about the Caspian Tiger, extinct since 1970? Or Aurochs, a type of large cattle extinct since 1627? The Dodo, the Cave Lion, the Great Auk, all of which vanished while humans walked the earth. If we can reconstitute Neanderthals via humans, then why not these? We have zebras, horses, tigers, manatees, deer, all of which could be used to gestate the modified germ cells, so why even start with humans?


Thanks for reconstituting my genome, biotches.

Quantum Communications Again


I feel all tingly.

In my daily surfing of Science Daily, one of my regular haunts on the intertubes, I came across an article titled, “Mathematical Breakthrough Sets out Rules for More Effective Teleportation.” At first, you might think, “yeah… right,” with a great dose of sarcasm and a hearty helping of skepticism. But I knew what to expect from this site. They don’t post bizarre wide-angle concepts from the minds of laymen and wandering spiritualists. This is a science site, and unless the source comes from people with actual doctorates or references from reliable sources, it doesn’t go up. Plus, knowing this was likely about quantum entanglement, I expected it to be theoretical. I was not incorrect.

Now, if you’re not into science fiction, and don’t care much for science in general (other than using the wonderful things that science gives us) then you might not know about quantum entanglement, so let me explain it in dood language. Our universe isn’t really composed of matter and vacuum as we think of it. It’s really composed of dimensional knots, and when you get down far enough in matter, that’s what’s left, dimensional knots. Lord Kelvin proposed something similar to this back in the 1800s. His theories were more along the lines that matter, at its lowest form, was really a swirling of space-time – energy. He wasn’t actually that far off. (The dude was obviously a genius). Quantum physics is the science of these dimensional knots – a definition of the mathematical rules by which they play. And it’s complicated. Too complicated for me to understand with my limited US mathematical education. So let’s skip the math and get down to this business of teleportation.

Einstein famously loathed the theory of quantum entanglement, dismissing it as “spooky action at a distance.” But entanglement has since been proven to be a very real feature of our universe, and one that has extraordinary potential to advance all manner of scientific endeavor.

Quantum teleportation isn’t the teleportation of matter, it’s the teleportation of information. You might say, so what? How is teleportation of information of any use? Well, it’s like this. If you “teleport” information, it means you don’t have to worry about light speed. The information transfer is instantaneous, meaning that if you send a robot probe to another planet, and it takes 400 years to get there, your descendants won’t need to wait fifty years for the robot to send back its information. Instead, they get it right away. This works in-system too (as in within our own solar system). Probes sent to Mars, for example, have a 28 minute round trip latency. That means it takes about fourteen minutes for instructions to reach a probe, and about fourteen minutes for us to receive confirmation that the orders were received. Try operating a remote controlled vehicle like that. It’s why the probe’s computers have to be programmed to operate autonomously. Now, imagine you could send information instantly. With that capability, you could design virtual probes that you could operate from any distance with no latency, and people could explore the universe from Earth.

It’s a BIG deal.

The article I referenced talks about a way to do this.  Physicists from Cambridge, University College London, and the University of Gdansk have worked out a theoretical protocol that would “recycle” quantum entanglement. Previous ideas about teleporting information required that the particle states would be destroyed once a “qubit” of information was transferred. Using that concept, we’d have to ship out our probes with a large amount of entangled particles on one end and an equally large number on our end. As we transferred information, we’d use them up. Eventually they’d be gone, and our probe would be operating on its own again. But, if we could recycle the quantum entanglement states, we’d need fewer particles, and they’d never stop working for us. Our probe would have a much higher bandwidth of transfer, and it would never stop being able to transmit and receive.

Previous teleportation protocols, have fallen into one of two camps, those that could only send scrambled information requiring correction by the receiver, or more recently, “port-based” teleportation that doesn’t require a correction, but needed an impractical amount of entanglement — each object sent would destroy the entangled state.

So, in conclusion, none of this really matters right now. It’s all theory and speculation. You can go back to your salad. But, for science fiction, it’s another great leap. Have you been developing a fantasy-based FTL communication method for your SF novel? Now you’ve got continuous quantum entanglement in your arsenal. And, if you throw in matter transmutation, technically you’ve got matter teleportation too. You just scan the exact molecular state of a person into the transmuter, send it over your quantum communication system to another transmuter, and make an exact duplicate of the subject on the other end – across the galaxy or across the universe! Of course, you’ll still have to deal with the fact that there are two of the subject now, but that’s already been done in a variety of SF novels, so I recommend blowing it off. I mean, so what if there’s a copy of you on the other side of the universe?


Oh, BTW, there’s another interesting one you might want to read. Major Step Toward an Alzheimer’s Vaccine. I like to follow this, seeing as I’m diabetic and my odds of getting Alzheimer’s are, well… higher than normal, I suspect, due to my body’s issues with processing carbs correctly. Also, I have relatives with this disease, and I’d REALLY like to see a cure.

Forgetting Where You’ve Been

PixelReefHave you ever forgotten where you’ve been? On the web, I mean. Surely over the course of your lifetime, you’ve visited thousands of websites, participated in forums, created social media accounts, given feedback on various topics, commented on blogs, and saved links to sites you liked.

Then you switched computers and lost your links, or you deleted them, or you just forgot all about them.

Newer cloud-based services allow you to store links on the web, and newer browsers operate by account rather than storing bookmarks and references locally, but that wasn’t always the case. All of us have probably lost touch with people over the years. Microsoft’s Messenger service is one example. It’s been dying a slow death for years, and now they’re going to kill it. I logged into Messenger the other day after reading an article about Microsoft shutting it down. The old references can be moved to Skype, apparently, by logging into Skype with your previous Messenger account. The Messenger service itself is soon to be defunct.

After logging in to Messenger for the first time in many years, I looked at the list of contacts. How long had it been since I’d talked to these people? Nearly a decade? Perusing the list, I realized I didn’t recognize a good number of the names. Why were they there? I don’t think I’ve even talked to many of them – ever. They must have requested a contact with me, and perhaps I approved them at some point, but never chatted with them.

It reminded me of my old computer, the one with all my FireFox links. It reminded me of the slew of accounts I used to have at a variety of different services. I thought of my old FreeYellow account and the first website I’d ever setup. It reminded me of my old MySpace pages and web plugin experiments for podcasting. I reminisced about the BigFoot email service I used to use, and the old Play-by-Post RPGs I used to frequent. Then I thought of the stuff I had in boxes in my closet, and all the old crap that was still stored in my father’s garage.

If you don’t use something for decades, then you’ll probably never use it. You probably don’t think about it much. You probably don’t even remember what it was. In which case, it’s mostly junk – at least from a usability perspective. You don’t need it and aren’t going to use it. So why not get rid of it?

Old web references are like that. The internet is a massive ocean. That reef you swam through six years ago may have been interesting. It may have had beautiful corals and bright fish. But if you haven’t gone back there in six years, do you really care about swimming there again?

I realized that I didn’t care that much. In fact, I cared so little, that I had no incentive to backtrack. I don’t really care if those sites are up anymore. They don’t help me work. They don’t provide value to my life anymore – if they ever did. Whatever I gained from them before has already been gained. It’s a part of me now, locked somewhere in the internal seas below my thoughts, where an unseen ecosystem bubbles concepts and abstractions into my daily perceptions and fleeting opinions.

There is, I now realize, no need to backtrack. I hardly ever visit the sites I have bookmarked, even on my new system. And I haven’t lost anything. A simple search retrieves more relevant results than a return to my links. What is important of them has remained within me. The pursuit of the new interests me more than revisiting the past. Therefore the old links can die. The old contacts can be deleted. The old sites can fade to black. It matters not. What counts is not where I have been, but where I am going.

As for old friends, those that matter already have alternative contacts. Those that care know where I am now. The others, those barely remembered people in Messenger, they can find me again if they need to, and I can find them as well. Do they remember me, I wonder? I suppose it doesn’t matter.

I have been many places in this web ocean. Many reefs and shoals have I forgotten. In the deepness of time, they sink and darken. A detritus of pixelated deletion falls upon them, burying their memory, but I remain. Ambivalent to their demise, I swim on.

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