I've been interested in science since a young age, and in gaming since I first played D&D (the box with a red dragon on it) in junior high. I occasionally dream of going back to school for an astrophysics degree or becoming a professional RPG writer. Neither has happened yet, but I'm still interested...

A quick list of my favorite SF and RPG works includes: Blade Runner (the first movie that really caught my imagination); Philip K. Dick's works; The beautiful and complex Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo; most of William Gibson's work; many of Greg Bear's writings, especially / (Slant); Miyazaki Hayao's works, including Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Laputa, City in the Sky; Maureen McHugh's "anti-science fiction SF"; and some of Iain Banks' books. As for a fuller list... well, this page is it.

This page is divided into sections, as shown in the main menu. Note, though, that this page doesn't include everything related to SF and RPGs. Manga and anime are on my manga page. I lived in Taiwan for a long time, and gaming in Taiwan also gets its own page; if you are in Taiwan and looking for local gaming resources, please go there. A lot of the art I produce is SF-related, but not all, so see my general drawings and writings page for that kind of thing. Finally, my resources about fandom in Minneapolis are on my Minneapolis page.

And, though I wish I didn't have to say it: This page is all my opinion. Take what I say with a grain of salt. This page is big, but that doesn't mean I'm the grand-high poobah of science fiction or RPGs or whatever. Some people have been offended that I didn't include something, or that I stated my opinion. Well, if you disagree, get your own page! Send me a good introduction and I'll probably even link to it.


RPGs in General

So, why RPGs? RPGs are, for me, one of the most interesting and fun activities out there. When you read a book, you are forced to go along with the author's storyline; you can't tell the main character not to open that crypt or hit that big red button. In RPGs, though, you have exactly that kind of control. And RPGs can, in many ways, be more immersive than reading a book; through immediate, face-to-face interaction, you can experience things with an immediacy that books never approach. Even computer games can't approach the infinite possibilities and social depth in face-to-face, pen-and-paper RPGs.

Here are some things of general interest about RPGs:


Hard-science science fiction role-playing games

Hard SF has been one of my main interests in RPGs for many years now. I'm not sure why, but I think it's because I like my SF to specifically concern itself with the ways that technology will change our lives in the future, and because I like fiction that doesn't throw believability out the window.

My favorite SF RPGs, and some sites about them, are listed below.

Blue Planet

This RPG is probably one the better designed backgrounds of anything available -- sort of the Hârn of SFRPGs. The authors' ideas, particularly about biology and ecological issues, are excellent. Their care and consistency in designing Blue Planet is evident everywhere.

Blue Planet has been published in two versions: the first by Biohazard Games, the second under license by Fantasy Flight Games. The main difference is the game system; the first edition was percentile-based, while the second has a D10 dice pool mechanic. To be honest, I don't particularly like either edition's game system, but I do prefer the second edition. If you want to buy the game for its setting, which is by far its biggest selling point, either edition will work.

Some Blue Planet sites:


Created by the now-defunct Game Designers' Workshop, 2300AD has an excellent star-spanning background with a definite hard-SF feel. My own SF background, Spheres, was partially inspired by 2300AD.

Jovian Chronicles

Jovian Chronicles, by Dream Pod 9, is one of the best hard SF games out there. It's set in the year 2212, where humanity has colonized the Solar System but fragmented into large coalitions, largely around a planetary framework: Mercury is its own rich nation, Earth and the Jovian colonies are the main superpowers, etc.

The tech level definitely puts it in the ranks of hard SF: no FTL, no aliens (well, almost), no artificial gravity -- just realistically projected computers, drives, etc. There are mecha, and they don't really make much sense, but they're easy to ignore. The background they've written for the various societies is really excellent and detailed, the vehicle design system is nearly perfect, and the art and feel is great. The game system is also pretty good, both fast and gritty in feel. If I were to run an SF game using a published setting, it would probably be Jovian Chronicles.

Other SFRPGs

Those three RPGs are the main ones. There are several others that I'm strongly interested in, though:


HârnMaster & HârnWorld

HârnMaster is certainly one of the best examples of RPG design I'm aware of. It has atmosphere, elegant and useful principles, vast amounts of depth and very good English. Few other systems even come close to it, in my opinion. The background world for which it was designed is also probably the best around, at least if you're interested in a highly realistic, low-magic setting with excellent detail and atmosphere. Some of the sites devoted to Hârn on the Net are listed below.



For a long time, until I found HârnMaster, this was my sword & sorcery RPG of choice. Never heard of it? Well, here's a review I've written for it:

Dragon magazine reviewed Swordbearer as being like having someone point to the "push" sign on a door after you've been pulling at it with all your strength. That is still an apt description, even now.

Many of the concepts in Swordbearer are novel or completely original. For example, Swordbearer uses no money. Characters have a Social Status (SS) rating. Items have a SS requirement; if your SS is enough, it is assumed that you have the resources to pay for and manage the item. Otherwise, you can't afford it.

Another innovation is also related to equipment. There is no carrying capacity or endurance; every character can just carry ten items, regardless of type. It certainly makes inventory easier, though it is occasionally a bit unrealistic. ("What do you mean I can't carry a candle in addition to my dagger, ring, hat, earrings, walking stick, backpack, magic gem and 3 pieces of leather armor?")

The skill system is also quite innovative. It is percentile-based, and classless. Characters have (on average) two Specializations each, such as Combat, Stealth or Lore. Skills are learned more quickly in these specializations, and characters can double up. Anyone can learn any skill, but some people are more specialized.

I don't remember the magic system much, because I've never really used it. It is based on two kinds of magic, though: Elemental and Spirit. Elemental magic is the slightly more mundane kind, with Fireballs and Bridges of Ice and that sort of thing. Spirit magic includes all the necromancy and deep sorcery.

Swordbearer magic uses a system of Nodes. If you find and attune a Node, you can use it to power your spells. (Finding Nodes can easily be an adventure in itself.) Spirit nodes are usually only found in living creatures -- an in-game reason that necromancers are evil. Complicated spells require multiple Nodes. There are no spell levels; anyone can cast any spell, provided they have the skill and knowledge required. But finding enough Nodes can be quite difficult, so only a rare magician would have very many of the required type. (Hmm, it reminds me of MtG, now that I think of it... I wonder if MtG got this from Swordbearer?) The overall system gives a lot of flavor, and really seems "magical".

It isn't very versatile, though; had Swordbearer continued to get support, it would've been nice to see a magic supplement with lots more spells and variant node rules. As it was, I used Spell Law (the magic supplement for what came to be called Rolemaster) as an addition, but it never felt like a good match.

Swordbearer includes a lot of player-possible races. Selkets (insect-creatures), Moonspiders (intelligent spiders with a technology based on silk), unicorns, minotaurs, Hellborn (demons in all but name) and the usual humans, halflings, orcs, etc. It was tempting to put all of them into a game, but impractical. There is a small section on other monsters and animals (rhinoceroses, pegasi, great cats, etc.), but it isn't really long enough. It feels a bit like the section of the rules on PC races could've been used for more spells or more NPC monsters/encounters. Or for more of the excellent GM advice.

The advice on running a campaign is brilliant. There is a lot of good commentary on spear-carriers vs. main villains, good guidelines rules for generating NPC's on the fly and a very useful travel speed chart. The advice on how to create a game world is also quite good, and offers plenty of ideas for creating variant magic systems, weapons, etc. It gives a lot of very good insight into how a game world can be designed (bottom-up, top-down, etc.) and what kinds of things are needed -- very good advice indeed for (as I was when I first found it) a young GM. I would say that, barring possibly Campaign Law, this was about the best setting-creation advice available when Swordbearer came out.

I only ever played a few games of Swordbearer. For most gamers of the time, it was too exotic. The game was republished by FGU, and everyone who loved it knew that the halcyon days of Swordbearer were yet to come. Everyone would recognize it for the masterpiece it was. But no, it suffered as FGU's neglected child (Chivalry & Sorcery had always been their main fantasy RPG). FGU's demise can't have helped, either. Nowadays, mechanics similar to Swordbearer's are commonplace. It's too bad, because when it came out, Swordbearer had a lot of promise. It could've shaken the world, but instead it waits quietly.

In addition, it has art by Denis Loubet, which makes it even better.


Swordbearer got one expansion during its FGU days: Dwarven Halls. This is actually a very good book, describing an entire valley of dwarves, orcs, merchants, etc. It's designed so that it can be plugged into pretty much any decently-sized mountain valley in your campaign world. There's one entire dwarven hold described, with most of the major personalities and lots of good ideas for adventure with the dwarves. Actually, there are tons of adventure hooks throughout the book, but it's also got lots of nice areas you can detail as you wish. A lot of the ideas are quite good. I particularly like the dumb hobgoblin who works as a basket-bridge pulleyman and the ideas for planting nodes. As always, I don't see much ecological possibility for dwarves, but it's still a very thought-provoking expansion.

There are indications (designer notes and a piece of art) that they were planning an expansion to cover the world of Conan. I think Swordbearer would be well-suited to do this, from what I know of Conan. But that expansion never happened.

I've long since lost my original copy of Swordbearer, but since returning to the US, I've managed to buy copies of both the Heritage and FGU versions. The game still turns up from time to time on eBay, or you can buy it from Noble Knight Games. (I've linked to both the FGU and the Heritage versions.)

Differences between editions

People have occasionally asked me what the differences are between the Heritage and FGU versions. The short version is, Not Much. They have nearly identical art, the rules are the same and they're entirely compatible with each other. But there are a few differences, which I summarized on Swordbearer's Wikipedia page:

The Heritage and FGU games are almost exactly alike in terms of content. Game art, text, etc. are the same save for a larger number of typos in the FGU edition.

The physical form of the two editions is the largest difference. The Heritage edition comes in a 7x8" box, containing three rule volumes plus a character sheet. Each volume contains two books:

1. Characters

2. Fighting

3. Elemental Magic

4. Spirit Magic

5. Racial Index

6. Gamemasters Guide

In the FGU edition, the rules are presented in two books, with smaller sections (Introduction; Creating a Character; Skills, Experience and Activity Spheres; etc.). Books I-IV of the Heritage edition are contained in Book One of the FGU version; books V-VI of the Heritage edition make up Book Two of the FGU edition.


Doing a little research about Swordbearer, I was reminded that it was designed by B. Dennis Sustare and Arnold Hendrick. When I think back on the games I loved in the 80's, a lot of them were by Hendrick. He designed most of the Dwarfstar minigames, such as Star Viking and Star Smuggler. I recently found out that these games are actually available for download! Cool again! I wish I had known they were available for download while I was in Taiwan -- several of them look like excellent solo games. Then, I also found out that Hendrick designed one of my all-time favorite computer games, Darklands. Triply cool! Hendrick is, therefore, one of my heroes.

There isn't much about Swordbearer on the net (other than this webpage, really), but there is an e-mail list. And B. Dennis Sustare is on it! Whee!


Other RPGs

While Hârnmaster, Swordbearer and hard SF games are my first loves, they're not my only loves. Here are some of the other RPGs I've played or owned.

Finally, there are some great gaming-related sites out there that deserve to be linked to somehow.


Other Games

I don't spend all my time playing RPGs. In fact, a large part of my time gaming has been with other things: board games, card games, things with fiddly bits, minis, computer games and others. Here are some notable ones.

The biggest, coolest site for board games in general has to be BoardGameGeek. They have pretty much everything there. A great site for starship minis and other kinds of SF combat games is Starship Combat News. If you're into old games, you might want to check out The Underdogs or Abandonia.


Finding Players

I've had a hard time over the years finding players. Living in Taiwan, I was unable to find any gamers at all for long stretches of time, much less people who wanted to play the kinds of games I play. In my search for fellow gamers, I found a lot of resources that are worth checking out.

And, by the way, if you happen to be in Taiwan and looking for gamers, check out my page about gaming in Taiwan.

If you can't find any players at all, you should probably a) look harder -- don't give up hope! b) try MMORPGs and then if all else fails c) get some solo adventures. Read on in the next section...


Solo Games

When you want the experience of playing a tabletop, pen-and-paper RPG but you don't have time, energy or resources to get a crowd of friends together, solo games can come to your rescue.

Many of the functions of a GM can be done by some sort of oracle: ask it a question, and it gives you an answer that you then interpret according to the situation that already exists. There are at least a couple examples of this:

Many traditional RPGs have solo scenarios, often as instructional tools to help new players learn the game:

There are also some good pseudo-RPGs out there that combine elements of board games with roleplaying elements.

Next, we come to the realm of gamebooks. Gamebooks are like Choose Your Own Adventure books, but they have rules and mechanics that make the possibilities more complex than "choose door A or door B". There have been many gamebook series:

HTML and hypertext links seem perfect for choose-your-own-adventure type games, but I haven't found many:

There's a blog devoted to solo tabletop gaming called the Solo Nexus. It looks about 50/50 RPGs and boardgames, and they host the nifty 9Qs solo RPG engine mentioned above.

From there, we get into MUDs, crowd-sourced multi-branching ficlets and even stranger things that I can't hope to go into here.


Cheap Minis

I'm one of those people who likes to use minis for combat. Pencil and paper work, but they're not as evocative. But I have neither the time, nor the money, nor the skill to use actual lead/pewter/plastic minis. What to do instead?

One great alternative is paper minis. There are some really amazing designs out there. Many are free, meaning you can download and print them to your heart's content. Others are at least cheap compared to the price of 3D minis, paint, etc.


Lego minis

They aren't all that cheap, but the idea of using Legos as minis is incredibly cool. (So cool, I'm sure, that every young geek probably thinks of it.) They're my primary kind of mini these days; they're just so fun, and versatile, and durable, and...



Creating worlds is really a lot of fun. Some people do it to have a setting for their fiction; others use their worlds as settings for RPGs; some create worlds to give their conlangs; others use their worlds to develop fictional biologies; others just like worldbuilding for its own sake.

Someday. I'm going to put a big compendium of my own ideas about worldbuilding here. Someday.


Real science

Below are some pages that contain -- gasp! -- actual scientific information, much of it very useful to SF writers and developers.



I have a personal love of starships and spaceships, which I suppose comes from my viewing of Star Wars (the original one, of course) at an impressionably young age. Since then, my interests have gone more towards realistic designs and even plausible ones -- that means spin habitats, shielding from the interstellar medium, etc. I like design speculations and I love detailed drawings. Below are some sources for this kind of starship stuff.


SF Visual Art.

I've been thinking for a while of putting up a section with my favorite SF visual art links. It's not very easy to do, though. Some of what I like is manga and comics; some of what I like is specifically about starships, and belongs in that section. Some of the stuff I like isn't strictly SF. And of course, my own drawings have their own page on this site.

So, what's left? Well, the stuff below, for starters...


Science fiction Literature -- Authors and books

Jump to:


I'm a rather slow reader (roughly one book every few months, usually), so the actual amount of high-quality SF I'm able to intake is unfortunately low. Add to that the fact that I've been living in Taiwan for three years, and you quickly get the picture: the number of decent SF books I've been able to read recently is dreadfully low. Nonetheless, I have managed. Visa trips to Hong Kong, occasional lucky finds at bookstores here, what I brought with me from the US, what I got a couple years ago when I went back -- they get me through.

I am, as you will discover if you actually read what I've read below, a very finicky reader as well (maybe because I my slow reading ability doesn't allow for a flamboyantly long reading list). I tend to read books that give me ideas, mainly, about the future, and what kind of place it will be to live in. Not necessarily guaranteed predictions, but realistic possibilities. I love books that evoke a completely plausible projections of the present, and then place completely plausible people within those landscapes. I also prefer books that are morally responsible, which in science fiction would mean trying to figure out the moral implications of what they project, rather than leaving "philosophy to the philosophers." I don't like books that feel cloyingly creative, just spinning out possibilities for their own sake; or books that wallow in science, without considering its impacts on and from society; or books that are blatant or simplistic in their messages. Obviously, these are my tastes, and you have yours. I provide them only as explanation for why I've presented what I've presented below; if your tastes are close to mine, you may want to look into the books I've mentioned. If not, okay.

Actually, I guess that part of the reason for listing my preferences here is just to give you, whoever you are reading this, an insight into me. In a way, that's why people talk about books, right? To understand each other?

I've been trying to decide whether it would be more appropriate to group my thoughts here by author or by book. I tend to like specific books more than specific authors -- but there's so many books! I guess I'll go with authors. I've listed them below in semi-order of preference.


Maureen McHugh

I really can't recommend her work highly enough. Unlike many SF authors who seem to get caught up in the complexities of nifty technology, McHugh works out real societies in fleshy detail, then draws very understandable characters into those situations. I'm a very finicky reader, and perhaps because of this, many authors seem to me to vary widely in writing quality. This is not true of Maureen McHugh.

Web sites about Maureen McHugh

The main web site that I've found is Maureen McHugh's own site. It gives descriptions of her life (past and present) and some very interesting ruminations about many aspects of her life: depression, being a stepmom, and living in China, among other things.

Her works that I've read include:


Greg Bear

What I've read of his earlier stuff seems too stuck in the stereotypes of hard-SF: really alien aliens who nonetheless are militantly aggressive against humanity, super-advanced gosh-wow cultures and of course a fascination with technology -- but not its actual effects, only with its applications or even just simple research itself -- which grows very thin, very quickly. It often feels as though dialogue and even plot in Bear's early works are just vehicles for expounding one of his theories about about space-time, or a model of alien intelligence, or something.

The more recent of his work, though, seems much more socially conscious, and also (perhaps as a result of this) much more conscious of people as people, rather than just as operators of machines or discoverers of ideas. He seems to be waking up to the amazingly interesting possibilities that come out of people's and culture's interaction with technology. I've heard that his really early writings are much more socially conscious, but I cannot comment, not having read them.

Web sites about Greg Bear

Probably the best place to go is Greg Bear's own site. It gives quite an accurate picture of his writings: it's beautiful, somewhat socially awkward, occasionally self-indulgent (like any home pages aren't!), but definitely a good source of information about him.

Books by Greg Bear which I've read:


Philip K. Dick

He was, for a long time, my favorite author, bar none. His excellent weaving of technology, religion, philosophy (in many, many forms) and a basic understanding of the human condition still make me cry. And I agree very much with many of his messages (or at least what I perceive as being his messages): the most important aspect of being human is humaneness, and kindness, and caritas, and all the other synonyms you can think of for the concept; and that reality, on a fundamental level, is mutable and stretchy, and in no way is it a simple matter of objectivity.

However, as many fans of PKD will say, I find his writing to be occasionally poor (almost as bad as mine, at times). He also sometimes swerved into views that I find rather objectionable, such as a diatribe he wrote (as a short story) deriding abortion/reproductive choice. Not that he didn't have a right to say such things, just that I don't have time to read it if that's going to be the message.

Also, to be fair, I should note that my philosophical quandaries have changed from when I was reading Dick heavily. I have come to my own personal answers -- for now -- about the questions Dick raises, and I feel that his writings don't have a lot to offer to me in my current philosophical mode. Also, to be fair, I should note that many of the answers I've come to are very close to the ones Dick gives. Maybe I've just used him, and now moved on?

Web sites about Philip K. Dick

The http://www.philipkdick.com/ phillipKdickFans.com site has a lot of very good Philip K. Dick information, although the idea of a PKD commercial page (I guess they must make money from advertisers?) does seem a little weird. Their links page and Ubik page are especially good -- the Ubik page is hilarious, though of course also twisted (twisting?). Philipkdick.com is the official webpage of the author -- now that he's dead, he gets true literary representation. Oh well.

Books by Philip K. Dick that I've read and brought to Taiwan:

I've read something like 30 of his books; someday I'll get around to adding them all here.


Iain M. Banks

I'm so torn about Banks (he uses the M. when he writes SF)... His ideas are excellent, and the things he projects have such an elegant internal consistency that I must admire his mind. He is a very moral author, and in fact I find myself agreeing with almost every moral statement he makes, either outright or when inferred by me.

So what's not to like? He just seems at times to be, well, almost playing with the reader. Like he's making fun of SF, or SF readers, or something. Now, don't get me wrong, SF is plenty stuffy and deserves to have a few holes poked in it. The readership of SF, myself included, certainly doesn't reward true quality often enough. But the way Banks goes about his jestering just gets to me. Many of his innovations seem to be innovations in a vacuum; the core of the stories are always quite serious and excellent in their way, but hanging on the margins of every story seem to be toys laying about. Toys that some brilliant child has experimented with, mangled, thrashed, thought about, stomped on, painted and then left laying out for someone else to trip on. Case in point: the basic structure of the world in one of his non-Culture novels, Feersum Endjinn. The world in Feersum Endjinn is shaped like a giant house, with rooms as continents, couches as mountain ranges, etc. Why? Unless there's some deeper significance that goes over my head (a very likely possibility, I must note), it simply seems to be that way because Banks thought it interesting.

Whenever I think about my feelings about Banks, it feels like flaming someone on a newsgroup -- an activity I would really rather not get proficient at. It's not that I don't like his works -- Against a Dark Background has to be one of my favorite novels, and The Player of Games is close behind. It's just that there are flaws that stick up out of Banks' storytelling landscape and make it hard to see the scenery behind.

Web sites about Iain [M.] Banks

Actually, there seems to be very little out there, and most of what there is largely consists of fan-babble and worship. Banks' own, official site is pretty brief, but okay. Adrian Hon has some good book reviews up, as well as an article by Banks explaining the Culture. Although there are several of them floating about, one of the best list of Culture ship names seems to be on Things of Interest. (I love his drinking game based on the movie Titanic.) There's also a good list on Wikipedia.

Books by Banks that I've read:


Carl Sagan

He certainly wasn't defined as an SF author. But one of his SF books, Contact, is truly one of the most moving novels I've ever read. I was moved to tears of beauty several times when I read it. His science is naturally dead-on; more important, though, is that his moral and existential insight is sparkling and sharp. He also had a gift for writing poetically, and, well, his writing is just plain beautiful. Meaningful, insightful, elegant, moving.

Web sites about Carl Sagan

Many of the web sites out there seem to be devoted to memorializing him, which is quite understandable; his death in 1996 was a great loss.

Contact sitesOne very nice site with a pretty lengthy, and high quality, meditation on the movie Contact is a review by Larry Klaes. Another good place to look is the official movie site for Contact .

What I've read by him:


William Gibson

Reading William Gibson is, for me, very much like getting my hair styled or seeing a Keanu Reeves movie -- a guilty pleasure, an exercise in pure hedonism that I nonetheless do because it just feels so damn good, so cool, so stylin'. (Yes, my grasp of current colloquial English is poor.) In fact, I think the "s" in SF, when referring to Gibson, should probably mean style. However, he does actually give show a remarkably good understanding of society and its interactions with technology. He just doesn't really seem to care, usually. Perhaps not so much post-modern as just generation X. Hedonism upon hedonism?

Web sites about William Gibson

William Gibson finally has a web presence. Or I've just finally found it. Whatever. His site is simply called williamgibsonbooks.com. It's pretty good -- his thoughts, a message board, snippets from upcoming books, etc.

Gibson books that I have in Taiwan:


Kim Stanley Robinson

Another of the 'hard SF' authors I've been reading lately. I haven't had time to put up any more here yet, but I will soon.

Web sites about Kim Stanley Robinson

One excellent site I've found is The Red, Green & Blue Mars Site, which is mostly about Robinson's Mars trilogy (logically enough).

Robinson books that I've read:


C.J. Cherryh

She's one of the better hard-SF authors out there, although the hardness often extends only as far as the actual physics of the story, not the psychology. In other words, I often feel that her stories are soap operas with hard-SF mechanics. However, even if that is all they are, that makes them quite good.

Web sites about C.J. Cherryh

Probably the most important is the author's own site, C.J. Cherryh's World. Another very nice thing to check out is a great 3D star viwer, designed originally to show Cherryh's universe, called CHView.

Cherryh books that I've read:


Neal Stephenson

He's one of the current hot-shot SF writers. However, his stuff is actually fairly good, and I've read two of his novels, so i might as well put something here about him.

Web sites about Neal Stephenson

Again, there's a page that at least purports to be the page of Stephenson himself. It's very short on content, or anything else, for that matter.

Stephenson books I've read:

Other authors

Other SF authors I like to read are (in semi-order of preference): Norman Spinrad, John Varley, Ursula K. Leguin, David Brin and Frank Herbert. I'll probably write more about them at some point in the future. And again, let me mention that many great authors of SF choose to write in manga form.


Science fiction literature -- Movies and TV

The thing I like most about movies is their ability to evoke -- a moving picture is naturally worth millions of words, if executed properly. I don't think movies have the ability to challenge or bring insight that books do, but I have often been moved to the heights of imagination, or even inspiration, by movies. (I think comics combine the best of both worlds, but they deserve a page of their own...) Movies serve as excellent spurs for further thought -- good places to start, if you will.

Some of my favorite movies (and sites, where I've found them) are listed below.

Blade Runner

Blade Runner is my favorite movie of all time. The art direction, easily the most influential of any movie ever save possibly 2001: A Space Odyssey, is excellent; Ridley Scott excels at this. It's hard to find a cyberpunk-ish movie or book that hasn't been influenced by Blade Runner's design. The story... Well, actually, I've begun to sour on it a little. I still think the theme of "What is human?" is extremely important and interesting, but I've begun to get a little tired of the whole "Is Deckard a replicant?" debate/debacle. I think it's extremely clear that he is, at least in the Director's Cut (the original theater release leaves it slightly more ambiguous). The real problem, though, is: Does it matter that Deckard is a replicant? Very few people who've seen the movie seem to have thought about this very important issue. I think the answer is clearly that it does not matter; the whole question of whether Deckard is a replicant or not is either a red herring meant to expose people's prejudices (that a human-looking thing that has human emotions and acts human is still not human unless it has a human mother and father), or simply an error in writing (there were quite a few cooks in the Blade Runner kitchen, after all). Perhaps I'm just bored with Blade Runner fandom?

Or perhaps I'm bored with Ridley Scott. Since seeing Blade Runner for the first time, I've seen many of his movies -- G.I. Jane, Gladiator, Black Rain, Thelma and Louise, 1492: Conquest of Paradise and of course Alien. They've all got excellent art direction, but they have a strong thread of being dependent on their writers for depth. Scott seems not to be terribly intelligent at times, to me. Many of the comments he's given about Blade Runner indicate to me that he never really thought through the implications of (for example) Deckard being a replicant; he just filmed what the writers had written. Maybe he's being intentionally obscuritan -- that is completely possible -- but it really feels to me like the genius behind Blade Runner wasn't such a genius after all.

Web sites about Blade Runner


2001: A Space Odyssey

This movie is still unbeaten in many respects, especially in its depth of story and symbol. I'm still not sure if I agree with Kubrick's pessimism, but the special effects are definitely excellent, and still more realistic than about half the drek Hollywood pumps out.

What's that you say? 2001 was a positive, uplifting voyage from man's primitive origins to our bright, promising future? Au contraire:

All the same, the film has some of the best-ever hard SF special effects, something I am very interested in. I sometimes wonder why Kubrick put so much into the techy bits of his movie, when he was taking such an anti-technology stance. The thing is, though, maybe he wasn't taking an anti-technology stance. Maybe he was just showing the Catch-22 we are getting ever further into -- the more powerful technology makes us, the more unable we become to function without it. The more we have of it, the more it makes us, rather than the other way around. Ask me to live without my computer and you'll see how addicted one can become.

Some further notes on 2001: I recently heard on an internet radio show, "Hour of the Wolf," that 2001: A Space Odyssey was not based on Clarke's The Sentinel but on Jorge Luis Borge's The Aleph. I can see the resemblance, especially in terms of cynicism, and the importance. The Sentinel clearly had some influences, though, on Kubrick's design.


The Matrix

A while ago, I saw The Matrix, which was actually a very good movie. It was an excellent combination of science fiction tropes (what if we are all just brains inside a machine, and what we experience as reality really isn't?), beautiful cinematography, excellent special effects, Zen philosophy and graceful Hong Kong action sequences, with a huge dose of style. It was, among other things, almost everything Johnny Mnemonic should've been but wasn't, complete with an excellently badass woman (Trinity) to make up for the toned down Molly of Mnemonic. Thanks go to my friend Jen for recommending it to me!

The other Matrix movies -- The Animatrix, the Matrix Reloaded and the Matrix Revolutions -- expanded on the universe quite a bit. A lot of people despise them for diluting the incredible coolness of the first movie, and for not living up to their expectations. Well, I suppose I might be a bit of a Wachowski apologist, but I think people's expectations were just too high. The coolness of the first movie was X2, where X equals the coolness of most Hollywood movies; people expected the other movies to be X22, but that's just not possible. I think the Wachowskis did a very good job with the follow-ups, even though they let a few things dangle unexplained, and there was a bit too much babbledygook with the Architect.

I especially like the Animatrix, both for its excellent animation and for its world-building. It's also extremely important to the series, as it makes clear how the Machines were no more evil than humanity. Humanity created the machines as slaves, and like many slaves, they felt their only recourse was violent revolt. And, as often happens in reality, the slaves became the oppressors in turn. Neo's purpose was to stop this cycle. Not by being such a badass human that the machines would be utterly crushed, but by truly being a "uniter, not a divider". I thought the ending was ultimately a very moral one.

Web sites about The Matrix


My other favorite SF movies and TV series


SF & Gaming Fandom -- cons n' such

When I was living in Taiwan, I often felt a need to connect with like-minded geeks but had no way to do so. It was mostly my desire to find an RPG in Taiwan, but I also missed face-to-face interaction with SF fen. There just aren't very many people in Taiwan who're willing to discuss how exactly the Net of William Gibson's books would look, or critique my 3D starship illustrations in an intelligent fashion, or understand jokes about Daleks and stairs. (There are, naturally enough, many other sorts of fandom in Taiwan -- cosplay being one of the biggest -- but I'm really not into that scene. In fact, I'm not into most of the manifestations of Taiwanese fandom.)

It's important to hang out with people who understand my jokes ("Confuse-a-Cat," anyone?) and my interests. It's similar to teaching English in a way. When I was in Taiwan, it was hard for me to fully open up about my geekdom, because few people -- even fewer than in the US -- could understand it. Much like with my use of English -- I couldn't use my full array of colloquial English, because a lot of people just wouldn't understand what I was saying.

Now, I'm back in Minnesota. I'm finding my way into the local fandom communities. I've got an almost-regular game together, and gone to a couple cons. Still, I could always do with more friends. If you are one of those people who likes rehashing jokes from Life of Brian or discussing ways to radiate excess heat in a vacuum, please write to me.

My continuing hunger for fandom and gaminghood have meant trying to find representations of them on the Web. That means that most of what you're going to find here are vicarious ways to enjoy Cons. Here are some of the gems I've gleaned.

Here are a few other miscellaneous (and probably non-official) game and SF con reports I've found on the web:

And here are some directories of con reports:

Kevin G. Austin maintains a very good SF Convention Page, with links to all sorts of cons and con reports, including cons from the Midwest and south-middle Canada.

One of the best guides to cons and whatnot is Convention Listings by Jenga. It includes tons of cons, of all different sorts, and the whole thing is actually still being kept current.

The Cthulhu Coffee Homepage. This is probably about the best out there. Melissa (the main minion behind the site) has put up reviews and reports and (perhaps most importantly for me) photos of lots of different cons she and Cthulhu Coffee (her traveling room party) have been to. As a bonus, at least for me, she's from Minneapolis, meaning that most of the cons she goes to are cons I've either heard of or dreamt about in my previous life in the US. It's great to read what she's written, though I personally would prefer more coverage of gaming and more photos. But beggars can't be choosers.


SF & Gaming Sounds

When I lived in Taiwan, my involvement in fandom was often vicarious at best. In addition to reading con reports and such on the Net, I listened to a lot of SF & gaming internet radio. In the absence of adequate local stimulus, internet radio provided me with a 'fix' of geekdom.

Here are some good sources for geekery in the form of internet radio:


My writings

Here are some of the things I've produced for SF and RPGs, and which I've put up on the Web.

There's a lot of other stuff, but it ain't worth no nevermind.

This page (http://www.jiawen.net/ sfrpg.html) and all contents (except the Blade Runner spinner graphics) designed and ©2003-2012 by Rachel Kronick. All rights reserved. Last updated October 29, 2012.