Sharp Blue: Per ardua ad astra


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Almost ten years ago, my friend Dave and I began to write what we hoped would become the definitive hard-sf role-playing game. None of the available game settings felt quite right to us, and we knew we could do better. Over the summer of 1994, we slowly outlined a future history. Eventually that history would expand into the Ad Astra game setting. After a while, Dave gave up working on Ad Astra but I continued developing the setting for several more years. Finally, my writing ground to a halt in 1999. The background was far from finished, but I was much too busy with other aspects of my life to work on it.

I’ve never stopped thinking about Ad Astra though. In the years since I stopped writing it, it’s never gone away. Even while I’ve been thinking about other future histories, Ad Astra has always been there. For reasons I can’t articulate, it just feels right. I know that in various ways it’s been compromised as a future history by the requirement that it also be a playable game, but the parts just fit together perfectly in my mind. More so than with anything else I’ve written, I’ve had a feeling of discovery rather than invention. I’ve always felt that I should do something with all this material. For a while, I toyed with the idea of cannibalising it for details of my Solar Nebula future, but that seemed disrespectful - our dream worlds are not things to be lightly torn apart and glued together. What resulted would have been neither the Solar Nebula future or the Ad Astra future, but some horrible hybrid. The two internal logics would’ve been distorted by the splicing.

Finally, I’ve realised that it’s about time I decide once and for all what to do with the game. I’d like to start working on it again, but only if I think I can sell it (in which case, I have some interesting thoughts on publishing models, about which I’ll say more in future). With this in mind, I’ve set up a survey to try to gauge interest in the Ad Astra setting. If I get a big enough positive response, I’ll restart serious work on Ad Astra. If not, I think I’ll try to put aside the setting forever and work on other things. This is a fork in the road: one trail leads to closure, the other to an unfolding of wonders. This choice of futures is yours!

Rich, do you see Gurps Transhuman Space as a rival to your own setting? It seems to cover very similar ground to Ad Astra (both Near Future Hard SF).

GURPS Transhuman Space is certainly one of my closest rivals. The others are the 2300AD reprints and Blue Planet. I think Ad Astra is considerably harder sf than any of those though, and it has a much larger scope in terms of time and space: as its title promises, it's really the story of the transformation of humanity from a Solar civilisation to a galactic civilisation. By the end of the Ad Astra story, the setting will be utterly changed!

It's funny, when I first came across Blue Planet*, it reminded me of (he checks spelling) Elysium. Even though I only managed to give it a cursory glance, it struck me as a setting with an impressively deep background, sufficient variety to suit many playing styles and an interesting perspective on the development of transhuman culture after separation from the home system. (All features of Ad Astra, certainly the latter which struck me as an important theme) It doesn't have any Beluga Whales though. ;-) (apologies: VERY old in-joke)

2300AD was, if I remember correctly, an inspiration for the first push to produce Ad Astra - even if it was only the date - to see what _could_ be achieved in the next 300 years. 2300AD was, of course, hampered by being set after Twilight: 2000. Not in terms of T:2K being rubbish, but the partial nuclear conflict described in that fine role-playing game. Ad Astra's global disaster happens at a point in history where it doesn't slow down humanity's development, much.

All Rich says is true... I Know, I have been a privileged insider (double entendres notwithstanding) there is so much more to come. It's like when it was rumoured that the war with the Shadows would be over by the end of season three of Bablyon 5. "No", we cried. "Surely that's all there can be of the story? To go on _must_ result in anticlimax." Incidentally, how was that? I missed season five entirely. Four was pretty good though.

I'm not sure if there's much mileage to be had in comparing harnesses (except in the entirely puissant way I'm desperately trying to stop myself from... Willies!). Couple of deep breaths (Brethsts!)

Right it's _definitely_ out of my system now. However hard the science there's always scope for things as fickle as fashions in funding to affect how different future histories envision our development. Unless we come up with some new genre, Well-'ard SF.

*Upstairs, in a comic book shop in Toronto, when I was visiting a friend for new year 2002.

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