Transhuman Space Playtest Review by Mark Galeotti on 21/12/02
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
The best hard sci-fi setting yet, with a richly developed understanding of the technological, social and politics trends shaping this future.
Product: Transhuman Space
Author: David L Pulver
Company/Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Page count: 208
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: no
Playtest Review by Mark Galeotti on 21/12/02
Genre tags: Science Fiction Space
In a perverse way, I deeply resent SJG and the GURPS line in particular. Why? Often, their books are, in my opinion, the best in their particular field. GURPS Russia is a truly first-rate setting in medieval Russia. GURPS Technomancer is, for my money, the most intelligent and interesting technology-plus-magic games. GURPS Conan and GURPS Lensman do great jobs of capturing not just the detail but the flavour of their respective literary inspirations. GURPS Imperial Rome doesn't quite take the laurel wreath (that goes unquestionably to Fvlminata), but it's impressive nonetheless. And so it goes. The trouble is that I don't much like the GURPS system itself - I find it competent but ininspiring, fiddly and prone to too many rules, special cases and adrenaline-deadening 'hang on, I need to check something in the book' moments.
But by god, SJG definitely come close to seducng me with Transhuman Space. I have a fondness for space opera, but it is hard, near(ish) future sci-fi like 2300AD that appeals to me more. In part it is because these mileau tend to involve much more serious consideration of just what the technology means and how it changes people and societies. Go for space opera and you can just decree that this gizmo flies you through space at warp 9 while cleaning your teeth and playing a medley of your favourite christmas carols just because it does, and somehow so many hyper-tech societies end up looking very much like our own, just in spandex. But with hard SF, there is a more pressing need to consider 'why' and 'how' as well as that perennial 'so what'...
THE WORLD OF TRANSHUMAN SPACE
It's 2100. Just a hundred years into the future, but consider how much has changed in the course of the 20th century, and how the pace of change is increasing. No nuclear war, no FTL drives, no humanoid mecha, no world government, no aliens - except your neighbours, who might have been genetically engineered or wired into the net.
It's a world in which humanity has not conquered the solar system, but is definitely an interplanetary species. Not has age been vanquished entirely, but nanotechnology, genetic engineering and the growing capability to duplicate memories and personalities and load them into artificial bodies offers some prospect of that. It is a world in which the USA is still powerful, but no longer dominant, with the higher-tech European Union and mighty China more than its equals. A world in which the new dilemmas are whether uplifted and intelligent animals or sentient Artificial Intelligences are human.
Author David Pulver has done a truly wonderful job of extrapolating present trends, throwing in lots of imaginative possibilities and creating a future which is different but not so alien as to be intimidating. You don't need to know the ins and outs of quantum computing or memetic engineering to use them, but if you do, it's here. The book is also well written, clear and chock pull of potential adventure seeds.
The book is solid and meaty, with little white space. Just to give a quick run through:
Chapter 1: Transhuman Space.
An overview, with a timeline of the 21st century, general issues and some campaign themes.
Chapter 2: The Solar System
An interesting survey of the solar system and what humanity has done and plans to do with it, from the population of the asteroid belt to the terraforming of Mars.
Chapter 3: Encyclopedia of Transhuman Space
The heart of the background: technologies such as AIs, genetic engineering, nanotechnology and spacecraft; a survey of the main nations on Earth and beyond; and all sorts of information on life and society, from armed forces and law enforcement to education and treaties.
Chapter 4: Characters
Rules for creating characters in the GURPS system. Fancy being an infomorph in a cybershell, or getting a job as a memetic hacker? Just read this chapter and you'll know just what I;m talking about!
Chapter 5: Technology
In part, the usual shopping list, but this is much more than just a list of cool guns (in fact, it is overwhelmingly non-military) but a survey of technology of every kind, from consumer goods ('Top Six Fun Foods, as of January 1, 2100') to medical advances. The idea of uneashing a 'Gremlin' microbot swarm on the players, a cloud of weeny little robots with drills and cutters, ready to do mischief to their prized technology, fills my withered heart with glee...
Appendix A: Spacecraft Design
This, admittedly, is where I really couldn't keep pretending I wasn't reading a GURPS book. Loads of great ideas, but we're into 'multiply this by that factor to get the so-and-so rating' territory. Ideal for mathematicians with no social life, I suppose.
Appendix B: Vehicles
That's better, pregens.
Appendix C: Space Combat
As with Appendix A, great ideas but I just skim over some of the rules and math.
Overall, it's a handsome and well presented book. The reason I only give it an Average rating is the art, by Christopher Shy. It's all atmospheric stuff, often very dark and relying on textures and lights. However it is just eye candy - nothing relates to the text and in many cases it may look cool, but it is impossible to be sure what it is meant to be. As far as am concerned, this is a waste of space and opportunity.
Buy this book. Buy it even if just to read, marvel at some of the ideas (and then steal them fpr whatever other SF game you may be playing). If you like GURPS as well, then you are in veritable heaven. Me, I want to run Transhuman Space, but with a much lighter system. I can't help wondering about Transhuman Space meets Hero Wars. Hm. Gremlin Microbot Swarm 15 vs Powered Armour 20, certainly saves on a lot of that rules stuff...
Seriously, though: this is GREAT.