One: Harmony vs. Uniformity

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(Since it seems that only a handful of us are participating this month, I'm experimenting with fewer, broader questions, rather than more, narrower ones. If anyone wants to add more questions, as always, feel free!)

The societies of the Galactic Commons cultivate difference in perspective toward common goals. The Toremi, the main non-GC species featured in the book, enforce uniformity of beliefs at all costs.

  • How does the crew of the Wayfarer reflect the ethos of the GC? How do the crewmembers differences enable them to survive and thrive?
  • Did you find the Toremi to be a compelling antagonist? Why or why not?

Comments

  • 1

    I'm not sure I got enough out of the book to answer the first question. As for the second, though, teamwork was definitely a factor, as is usually the case when there's an ensemble cast. This is pretty much stock TV fodder - look at Star Trek (all versions), Lexx, Farscape, Firefly, and so on. Only BSG did interesting things my making so many of the cast infiltrators.

  • 1

    I think you got first and second mixed up, @Apocryphal! :wink:

    Being the simple-minded fellow I am, I liked the book a lot. so I will answer both questions! >:)

    The crew of the Wayfarer are multi-species, but able to work around differences. They can cooperate in the interest of the ship. As for the Toremi, they are pretty much the current state of popular music, fractioning itself into ever smaller and ever more distinct pieces. :p

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    edited August 6

    One of the things I loved about this book was its presentation of an optimistic future (yes, it shares a place with Star Trek in my heart). Not just the idea that tomorrow can be better than yesterday, but also that certain things we are doing today can actively bring about that better tomorrow. Maybe it’s just flattering my own personal politics, but in the dystopian present we live in, it’s great to see a story that not only champions the values of tolerance, diversity and social harmony, but also displays that value through the plot so well. Here’s just one example I saw (I didn’t see how these all fit together the first time I read it):

    • Corbin saves Ohan’s life at the end. This is a major plot point, but only happens because of the different skills and viewpoints of many of the other characters.
    • The cure is only available because Kizzy finds the rogue planet and Ashby’s human compassion drives him to accept the cure
    • Plus, on a societal level, the fact that Siniat culture banishes its heretics rather than kill them is an act of tolerance that allows the cure to be created.
    • Corbin only knows that the cure is needed because Doctor Chef, driven by the desire to care for Ohan, blurts out that Ohan is dying during the pirate raid.
    • Corbin is motivated by the desire to help the rest of the crew avoid the pain of Ohan’s death, saying “but this crew isn’t going to lose anyone else. Not today.”
    • The crew has been through an ordeal, but the only one they’ve “lost” that day is Lovey.
    • Most people in the GC do not consider AIs to be people. But Jenks does, and is devastated by the loss.
    • Because of Jenks reaction, the rest of the crew feels the loss even more acutely than they might have otherwise.
    • Corbin desire to spare his crewmates pain is certainly colored by his treatment at the pincers of the Quelin.
    • Corbin only survives being taken by the Quelin because of the GC’s legal institutions that aim to foster peaceful coexistence between its many member species; and also:
    • Rosemary’s ability to navigate that legal system and its gray areas quickly (enhanced by her own backstory and checkered past).
    • Sissix’s willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty to help Corbin. It seems likely that decision was because of her culture’s concept of feather family.
    • Corbin feel empowered to defy the captain’s orders because that bureaucratic requirement shielded him from being fired.

    In short, it takes a village to save a Siniat.

  • 1

    Oh, and the Toremi. I like them as antagonists, mainly for thematic reasons. For a setting where difference is commonplace, like the GC, a species that insists on uniformity-or-death, is the perfect counterpoint. But I also like that their insistence on uniformity is not shown as a strength. To call back to Star Trek again, these aren’t the Borg. Their single-mindedness pits them against one another, each clan against the whole galaxy, essentially.

  • 0

    I didn't feel that I had any real sense of what motivated the Toremi, and they remained for me an inconsistent and unfathomable group (which maybe was the point?). So the earlier passages suggested that within a clan group then total uniformity was enforced, by execution - or maybe suicide? - if need be. But then they incomprehensibly fire on the Wayfarer, and we are, so far as I recall, given no understanding of why this happened. Yes, there was the bit about super-sensitive hearing allowing them to overhear conversation that the crew thought was just private chatter, but I don't quite see the connection.
    I'll expand further on my thoughts about the book itself either here or in one of the other discussion starters, depending where it fits best, but like @Michael_S_Miller I enjoyed and appreciated the optimistic stance, for very similar reasons to his.

  • 1

    I personally LIKED that the Toremi were inconsistent and unfathomable! There SHOULD be aliens who are so very alien that it is difficult to communicate with BEYOND the language barrier. Why did they fire on the ship? I don't know, but it made sense to them! :p

  • 1

    My sense of the Toremi was that they were obsessed with agreement and integrity. They speak about whose thoughts are stronger, and it seems that those with different opinions over major issues break off and form new clans of their own. And their drive for integrity pushes them to act on their thoughts, not just keep them to themselves.

    My take on why they fired on the ship was that Toum disagreed with his New Mother about joining the GC. The diplomats that negotiated the treaty were able to put on the appearance of uniformity. When Rosemary's whispers revealed that the GC was not of one mind. The New Mother valued the GC's help in her war against the other clans more than she was repulsed by their internal disagreements. Toum felt the exact opposite. He left his clan (likely finding others that agreed with him, rather than the New Mother) and fired on the Wayfarerer before it could create the tunnel that would bring even more squabbling members of the GC to Toremi space.

  • 1

    I think that, from the 'plot-point' perspective, the whole 'takes a village to save a Siniat' is a pretty cool idea. I get the sense that @Michael_S_Miller 's appreciation for the novel is coming mainly from the 'writing' angle, but this is certainly an interesting takeaway for someone who wants to structure a published RPG scenario, too. At least, one where you know who the characters are. When you don't know who the characters are, you have to pull this sort of thing off on the fly, i think, which is less of a challenge for a writer and more of a challenge for a host.

    I admit, having mostly run sandbox type campaigns for many years, I'm fascinated with the idea of the tightly plotted one-shot, in which pre-gen characters are provided, and their skills are keyed to the adventure to be played. I like the challenge of bringing off some amazing story without railroading the players.

    The way the example is phrased above, though, if seems like it would be hard to pull off in an RPG. Would it still work if some of those plot points were missed? What percentage of plot points need to hit for it to work - 70%? 50%? - if order for the final story to come off as successful?

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    @Michael_S_Miller said:
    My take on why they fired on the ship was that Toum disagreed with his New Mother about joining the GC. The diplomats that negotiated the treaty were able to put on the appearance of uniformity. When Rosemary's whispers revealed that the GC was not of one mind. The New Mother valued the GC's help in her war against the other clans more than she was repulsed by their internal disagreements. Toum felt the exact opposite. He left his clan (likely finding others that agreed with him, rather than the New Mother) and fired on the Wayfarerer before it could create the tunnel that would bring even more squabbling members of the GC to Toremi space.

    I must have missed something :smile: I could not work out whether Toum had fired on his own initiative, whether he had persuaded his New Mother and/or others, or what. It felt to me like a random event. Surely the Toremi would at least have said something like "take that you vile and disorganised scum: that's what you get for not all agreeing with each other"... except that they clearly had their own internal disagreements as well so how does it even make sense?

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    Surely the Toremi would at least have said something like "take that you vile and disorganised scum: that's what you get for not all agreeing with each other"... except that they clearly had their own internal disagreements as well so how does it even make sense?

    My impression of the Toremi was that they are so focused on uniformity that they can't even see non-Toremi as people. Even the New Mother looks at the GC as a tool or weapon to aid her in her struggle against the other clans. And those who agree with Toum would view them as a potentially dangerous vermin. A person doesn't give warning or a speech to the rats they're about to poison, they just kill them. (As I've said elsewhere, maybe I'm just projecting my view of American cultural politics onto the book.)

    Y'know, I just realized that Toum firing on the Wayfarer and destroying the tunnel wasn't just a political statement about the New Mother's alliance with the GC, but a strategic strike. Since he disagrees with his New Mother so fundamentally that he cannot follow her any more, then it is the Toremi custom that he forms a rival clan and goes to war with the New Mother's clan. And, knowing that the New Mother is in an alliance with these powerful aliens (the GC), the strategic thing for Toum to do is destroy the bridge that would allow more GC resources to show up and help her in the fight.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    The way the example is phrased above, though, if seems like it would be hard to pull off in an RPG. Would it still work if some of those plot points were missed? What percentage of plot points need to hit for it to work - 70%? 50%? - if order for the final story to come off as successful?

    While I agree that a writer has an easier time with that sort of thing than a GM, it's still possible. To me, the key is not to plan how the pieces will fit together, just lay down that a number of pieces will need to be brought together and let the players figure out the rest.

    What leaped to my mind is a variant on the classic A-B-C quest adventure framework. While it would certainly be easier if you know that PCs beforehand, you can set up something like this if you have an idea of the setting and the general types of characters / skill clusters that PCs tend to have. I'll use fantasy as an example because it's on my mind (FWIW, I'm still tinkering with my game design inspired by the LotR slow read).

    The Queen is Dying

    Motivation: This can be as simple as asking each player "How would you be worse off if the Queen died?" and then running with the answers.

    The Cure: Requires multiple factors to succeed:

    • Medical Knowledge: Obviously the royal healers have already tried their best, and failed. Someone with medical skills could visit little-know sages. Someone with magical skills could access spirit knowledge. Someone with social skills could break the rivalry between the two healing guilds that are preventing them from helping.
    • Special Herbs: They are rare, expensive, and not native to the area. Someone with wilderness skills could go on a quest to find them. Someone with social / negotiating skills could arrange to purchase them. Someone with stealthy skills could steal them. Someone with magical skills could bind a demon to fetch them.
    • Political Cover: The question of succession is open and others in the royal family (and beyond) are hungry for the throne. Someone with stealthy skills can defend the Queen from assassins. Someone with fighting skills can keep the neighboring kingdoms from attacking while the Queen is ill. Someone with religious skills could keep the wolves at bay with appeals to their faith. Someone with social skills could do all of that and more.

    That's just something off the top of my head. The GM doesn't need to plan out the players' moves, they just need to be clear about the problem, and open to the players finding their own solution.

  • 0

    @Michael_S_Miller said:
    My impression of the Toremi was that they are so focused on uniformity that they can't even see non-Toremi as people. Even the New Mother looks at the GC as a tool or weapon to aid her in her struggle against the other clans. And those who agree with Toum would view them as a potentially dangerous vermin. A person doesn't give warning or a speech to the rats they're about to poison, they just kill them. (As I've said elsewhere, maybe I'm just projecting my view of American cultural politics onto the book.)

    That's an interesting point - can a rational people be so focused on uniformity that they end up dividing into multiple units each of which fundamentally disagrees with each other to the point of all-out war? I was thinking of EE (Doc) Smith's Eddorians, who fought each other to almost-mutual annihilation, but emerged with a social structure that allowed for intense competitivity whilst not precluding cooperation under the right circumstances. It seems from your (rather plausible) suggestion that the Toremi have gone a step further and cannot really cooperate at all, except with those whose views are identical. I guess I find it hard to believe that such a species would have managed to reach space flight at all!

  • 1

    I agree! That is a prime ingredient for bombing each other back to Stonehenge

  • 0

    @clash_bowley said:
    I agree! That is a prime ingredient for bombing each other back to Stonehenge

    They'd never have been able to build Stonehenge! Can you imagine the endless arguments:
    "That stone should mark the midsummer solstice sunrise."
    "No!! Sunset!"
    "Don't be stupid, it's obviously a lunar marker for the major southern moon."

    And in short order each Toremi shot the one to its right, leaving nothing but a disorganised heap of stones...

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    It seems from your (rather plausible) suggestion that the Toremi have gone a step further and cannot really cooperate at all, except with those whose views are identical. I guess I find it hard to believe that such a species would have managed to reach space flight at all!

    You have a point. We do know that the Toremi's biology changes from time to time. It's possible that they were not always a species of zealots. Maybe that is a post spaceflight development. It's inaccurate to project present day status quo into the past, or the future.

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