Designer's Notes: Transhuman Space: Deep Beyond
Into the Deep Beyond
by David L. Pulver
"These bodies which now wear belong to the lower animals; our minds have already outgrown them; already we look upon them with contempt. A time will come when Science will transform them by means which we cannot conjecture, and which, even if explained to us, we could not now understand, just as the savage cannot understand electricity, magnetism, steam. Disease will be extirpated; the causes of decay will be removed; immortality will be invented. And then, the earth being small, mankind will migrate into space, and will cross the airless Saharas which separate planet from planet, and sun from sun. The earth will become a Holy Land which will be visited by pilgrims from all the quarters of the universe. Finally, men will master the forces of Nature; they will become themselves architects of systems, manufacturers of worlds."
-- Winwood Reade, The Martyrdom of Man (1872)
One of the last things I did for Deep Beyond was coming up with a suitable set of quotes for the book. I wanted to use the above passage, but it would not quite fit anywhere -- but I think Reade's words from over a century ago nicely sums up some transhumanist ideologies, and in a rather prescient fashion.
Deep Beyond is the Transhuman Space worldbook for the outer solar system -- that vast region that encompass the asteroid belt, the giant planets and their moons, and the icy bodies of the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud. This is the final frontier, the actual and symbolic promised land for adventurous pilgrims willing to push the envelope of science, society, and humanity. It's a place for transhumanists, criminals, corporate visionaries, and folks who just want to be left alone. And since America gets most of its vital energy from Saturn, there's also plenty of soldiers.
I also wanted to see if I could convey a sense of the wonder of the outer solar system -- not just cratered rocks, but worlds with erupting volcanoes and subsurface oceans, with continent-sized storms and geysers of ice. It seemed a shame not to make some use out of all that scenery, so I spent some time coming up with reasons why it might be economically feasible to put people there. Fortunately, a lot of much cleverer people had already thought up many of them, and I drew ideas from dozens of different books and articles on asteroid mining, Helium-3 extraction, and space colonization. Even though you won't find the standard trope of an asteroid belt full of hardy miners, there's plenty of things for people to see, do, and get in trouble with.
One of the biggest resources the belt and outer system offers is freedom -- places where people can get away, to escape the rules, memes, and regulations of Earth and Mars. That makes the belt and beyond home to everyone from experimental research labs of transnational corporations to bizarre posthuman societies. The inhabitants of the Deep Beyond are small in number and their profitable activities represent only a tiny fraction of the 2100 economy (aside from the huge He-3 mining operation). However, as a harbinger of a posthuman future, they can be seen as either the canary in the memetic mineshaft whose excesses serve as a warning to Earth, or as brave pioneers of mankind's expansion into the cosmos. Or both.
Deep Beyond was the second Transhuman Space book that I wrote, but it was the first one I began. In fact, it was originally intended to be the opening book in the line, until Steve Jackson and Sean Punch rightly pointed out that an introductory core book was needed to set the scene. So Deep Beyond ended up coming out later in the series. (Fortunately, it still beat the Cassini space probe, which will hopefully change our understanding of some of the places visited.) A lot of material that was intended for it had already appeared in the core book -- such as the outlines of the Exogenesis struggle -- but of course, this gave me more room to add new things . . . not all of which ended up being used.
Welcome to the Deep Beyond
"Imagine what it's like to risk death every time you go to work. You walk unshielded through an environment filled with bacteria and cancer-causing radiation. You navigate to work down a narrow channel, dodging a stream of multi-ton projectiles moving at ever-varying speeds. A single slip on a patch of ice or slippery vegetation, and gravity will suck you down with a force that can wrench ligaments or break bones.
"That was life on Earth. For many in the Third Wave, that's what it's like today.
"Luckily, you're growing up in space, where the laws of physics behave the way your physics text says they should. You can see someone coming a million miles away. You live in a clean, sterile environment, and if anything's wrong, you've always got your suit. If your craft's engine fails, it's not like you'll fall from the sky and die, like you would on Earth or Mars! If you don't panic, you can even live a minute in hard vacuum!
"Sure, microgravity, vacc and radiation kill a few careless groundhogs -- if you grew up on Earth, stay focused and learn quick. But not you kids -- space is in your blood.
"So stay away from planets -- they're not safe! And remember: it's not the environment you have to worry about. It's the competition. We got here first, but we're no longer alone."
-- Karen Pfil, Green Duncanite
The Duncanites are the libertarian pantropist group that initiated the illegal terraforming of Mars and chose exile to the asteroid belt over punishment. Much of Deep Beyond is concerned with their viewpoint, and working out some of the details of how they might live and work on Ceres and their other colonies. I wrote that section from a Duncanite viewpoint in reaction to all those books and RPGs that portrayed life in space as a never-ending struggle where one wrong move meant death, and so ended up as neurotic obsessive-compulsives. I figured the people who actually live there might have other ideas, at least after a generation or two.
Of course, that's if fairly stable, smart, well adjusted people get into deep space. One of the other assumptions of Deep Beyond is that after the orbital, Lagrange and Mars colonies have been around for a couple of decades, these societies will produce various misfits, dreamers, misanthropes, and the like, and being already in space, they'll find it easier to head out into the frontier than go back to Earth. This led to the creation of a number of religious and other isolate colonies. But a few were too odd to include.
Space Nazis Must Die
"The End Times are coming, and the Kingdom of Yahweh is at hand! We must purify ourselves before the final battle. Just as the 10 Lost Tribes separated themselves from the spawn of Cain to walk in the untainted north, we shall leave the muck of Earth behind us, embarking on a new Folk Wandering. We seek a new eyrie in which we may purge the taint of the serpent from our genes , and restore the line of Adam: fair of skin, long-limbed and long-lived, with straw-colored hair and clear blue eyes. Our Nordic ancestors grew strong in ice and snow; to dwell among the Cosmic Ice is the natural heritage of Nordic Man."
-- Richard Armstrong, 2074
I was originally thinking of including a fairly sizable bunch of space nazis in the Kuiper Belt, mostly to give the Duncanites something to worry about besides the Chinese and each other. My thought was that some suitably obsessed neo-Nazi racists would latch onto the semi-mystical ideas of Hanns Hoerbigar's "cosmic ice theory" and Nordic "folk wandering," and somehow fit that into a mythology that led them to head out to the icy Kuiper Belt or Oort Cloud and settle a comet or whatever . . . except their own ineptitude and racism would get into all sorts of unfortunate situations, which their leader would try to spin into some sort of epic tale, with pseudo-scientific ramblings of this sort:
"I knew we were in trouble when I saw the shape of the pilot's skull. Unlike a true Nordic, he was brachycephalic. Aderic, my trusty VI, performed a quick laser scan and confirmed my instinctive judgement. The greatest breadth of the pilot's heads divided by the greatest length and multiplied by 100 gave a cephalic index of 85. From that moment on, I was certain he could not be trusted, and would try to cheat us during our passage."
-- Our Folkwandering, Book VI: Columbia Station to Lagrange 5 by Richard Armstrong
I read a bunch of racist tracts as research to try and get the style right, but in the end, I decided they didn't really fit (if I kept getting the urge to make fun of them, they couldn't be taken that seriously as bad guys) so I reduced the Space Nazi Menace from the Kupier Belt to a single asteroid colony inhabited by a more media-savvy if no less toxic group, one that exported "eidelon" mind-clones of famous icons of the politically incorrect.
Dragons in Space
A more whimsical fringe group I had thought of including was inspired by reading a news account of the "Otherkin," a real-life movement of individuals who believe themselves to be spiritually or physically other than human -- incarnations of centaurs, dragons, sylphs, and so on. I figured that sort of meme could continue in more literal form:
Fafnir and Tien Lung
Fafnir is a group of immortal xenokin transhumanists attempting to transform themselves into celestial dragons. Most were heavily influenced by the dracofantasy infodreams of Shiina Aki, such as the award-winning "King with Wings" (2073) and the needlebrain past lives movement of the 2080s. The needlebrains attempted to use early psychosurgery and mind emulation technology to recover (critics said "manufacture") supposed past lives as dragons during the age of dinosaurs, which they envisioned (following Shiina Aki) as a Jurassic-age civilization ruled by Leviathan, king of the Tien Lung, which survived until destroyed by cosmic catastrophe. The group split in the 2080s, one segment being content to live in virtual reality on Earth, the other, a small faction led by millionaire guru Shinji "Tien Lung" Yamamoto, preferring a physical realization of their destiny. The means the group have finally achieved is their own deliberate transformation into the modern incarnation of draconism: enormous draconic cybershell spacecraft.
Alas, I got hung up on how they would actually pay for this sort of thing (the big spaceships, I mean), and in the end, decided it was all a bit much -- it never even hit the first draft. Perhaps turning themselves into cybershell dragons and flitting about Titan would have been more practical, and better for the tourist trade as well!
An element I did hope to explore was xoxing, and I wrote this short section:
A xox is a replicated sapient infomorph. On Earth, sapient xoxes are feared by the authorities, as they represent the potential for a non-human population explosion. In the Deep Beyond, humans are in short supply, and there's plenty of room. Xoxing appears to offer a way to increase productivity without worrying about population. The situation in regard to xoxes is quite similar to many old attitudes toward illegal migrant labor -- it's not suppose to exist, but the economy often depends on it.
I then had a weird idea that perhaps there was a group in Earth orbit that ran some "amateur radio astronomy" dishes that were actually used to beam ghosts out from Earth to receivers secretly installed in the Belt or whatever -- they'd offer passage for dissidents, criminals, xoxes, etc. These folks would be reconstructed by the Trojan Mafia or another criminal group. But it sounded a bit far-fetched, and there probably weren't enough people who would need such a service -- actually it would work better as a way to illegal emigrate to, say, Mars.
I plan to explore xoxing in more detail, but decided to leave that to a hoped-for TS: America or TS: Pacific Rim Alliance sourcebook that could it look at the rising influence of ghosts in Japan and the United States.
Deep Beyond is available now. I'd like to thank everyone who made it possible, especially those Pyramidians who selflessly contributed ideas, material, and reality checking during the playtest. Bon voyage!
Article publication date: July 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to email@example.com.