Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Diary of a Space Age Bureaucrat Pt 1

Captain Oliver of the space fighter Dragon was wishing he'd never left Earth. The loot had been good so far on his interstellar journey but now the pursuing Wraiths had caught up with him and their unworldly technology left him with no chance of escape. A spider craft scraped perilously close to his ship and bombarded the Dragon with another hail of burning, red bolts. A stray shot ricochetted into the Mnemonic sequencer, which had been ineffectually coordinating return fire, and it hissed and crackled before going offline. As the reboot system tried in vain to resurrect it, snatches of his log were played out in a crackling voice that echoed through his disintegrating ship. He tried to zone it out as he struggled into a primitive space suit and made for the escape pod at the rear of the ship.

Year 1 - Reached our first planet today and it looked pleasant and unthreatening. Acadia orbits the hot, orange sun of Merz. I shuttled down to the lushly vegetated planet and was received by a small group of three headed humanoids who called themselves the Threep. In exchange for some unimportant trade goods I'd stashed for just such an occasion one agreed to return to Earth with me as an indentured servant. Made him up a bedding space in the hull.

Year 2 - Cautiously approached a cold, blue sun named Viveka. One minute my scanners were empty but the next there was a crackle of electricity that registered as brief blips on all my sensors and a large ship blurred into the visible universe. I recognised it instantly as a Wraith phantom, notoriously hostile and unpredictable. It opened up with its weapons and ship alarms sounded angrily, reporting I had lost all connections to the chain gun mounted on the front of my fighter. Luckily I managed to outrun the interloper but as I outpaced it I saw tiny and fast Wraith spider craft deploy from its dock tubes to take up the chase. I resolved to lie low from here on.

Year 3 - Shaken by this experience I took refuge on the forest world of Bask. My spirits rose as I discovered some alien ruins that looked as if they had not yet been explored. After returning to my ship for a miniature digger I tunnelled into the nearest submerged chamber and recovered an exotic looking engine that seems to run on Nebular gases. I also removed a Mnemonic sequencer weapons computer that should come in useful. I'm uploading my logs to it now.

That was the last planet Oliver was ever likely to see. Four Wraith spiders had descended on him near the binary suns of Helios and Selene. While they were only weakly armed he lacked the armament to destroy all four ships before they could use their advanced circuitry to regenerate from solar energy. He had desperately turned his ship to flee but the deadly Wraith craft were too swift. Now his only hope lay in the camouflaged emergency pod, to which the servant Threep had already fled in fear, and the tender mercies of the next travellers to enter this isolated patch of space.

(This is a game report taking a certain level of artistic license from the free game 'Strange Adventures in Infinite Space', to which I have added the mod 'Even Stranger Adventures in Infinite Space'. Great game if you like space combat and complexity and don't mind basic graphics. Embarrassingly I was on the easiest settings for this mission. In my defence the mod enemies are tougher than those in the original and I was very unlucky to meet the Wraiths twice before I'd had time to upgrade my ship.)

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

My take on the Wiki Leaks controversy

I've been poring my grubby little fingers over the Wiki leaks cables just like all the other misanthropes on the Internet. I must admit I'm not too fussed about the political implications that are getting the correspondents with the Times letters page hot under the collar. The gentlemen states have been reading each other's mail since at least the Second World War and I doubt that global civilization is going to collapse because a 14 year old from Nigeria can read what the diplomats of the world's most powerful (or at least aggressively obnoxious) nation have to say.

The real gems are the snarky little wise cracks and in jokes of these officials. Most of the political content is dull and familiar. The US distrusts Russia? Israel thinks Hamas is a threat? Khazakstani anti-corruption drive was politically motivated and targeted those out of favour with the government? No shit.

What I enjoy is finding out that American diplomats are just as obsessed with gangster movies as the rest of the nation. It made my week to read a cable deciding whether President Aliyev of Azerbaijan is a Michael or a Sonny Corleone. I had not known until that moment that there was an academic paper (which sadly I can't find anywhere on the web) distinguishing these two fictional characters as paradigms of different types of political leadership.

Similarly it gives me a strangely voyeuristic thrill to read a blow by blow account of the visit to a night club of some central Asian (post-communist) apparatchiks. In what world could the information that there were 50 people on the dance floor that night or that the officials brought their middle aged wives with them be of political significance?

If the agents of the usually deathly serious government of the United States have the same eccentricities and peccadillos as the rest of us it gives me a little more hope for the future of mankind. How can you fear a state that collects information in such a gimmicky and human way. Especially one that can be made to blush in such a public manner by the creepy Assange and his mildly sociopathic, hacker friends.

Ps - If you want a more measured and complex analysis you should read this article by Bruce Sterling. He's a bit too cyberpunk to be surprised by what has happened and takes a very jaded view but also makes some interesting points.