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What Would Sci-Fi Look Like in the 1920s?

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For many years I’ve thought about how to design believable aliens. When we’ve only seen life on Earth, how can we even begin to imagine the otherworldly? Aren’t we predicted to just come up with variations on existing species?
 
I realised a new approach was needed. I wanted to break my ingrained views of what an alien looks like.
 
Around the same time, I explored the concept of science fiction in the 1920s. I dreamed of propelling humanity to the stars, decades earlier than in the real world. 
 
I wanted to combine these ideas – so I created something new. My next game – called Odd Soot – takes place on an alternate Earth in the 1920s and explores what might have happened if space travel had existed back then. And specifically, what aliens would look like in the 1920s.
 
Here’s a sneak preview of the cover - and I'll be back with more soon.
 
1211395642_DTRPGPDFCoverSmall.jpg.e07818e911430fc9f6002dbe2851db7c.jpg
 
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Being from an older generation, my reading habits were more concerned with writers like Edgar rice Burroughs, Otis Adelbert Kline, Lin Carter, H. Beam Piper, Gardner Fox, Ray Cummings, ETC. All of whom were contemporaries of each other ib the early 1900's. As such they tended to use a lot of the same ideas for alien and creatures similiar to what we have on earth. Insects were quite common, because they are the least understood of earth life.

However there are two Alien species that I use for my Universe. A Race of Dinosaurs who matured and developed a civilization millions of years prior to our own rise. They went into space and due to wars with other aliens lost the location of Earth. They are a deadly enemy of humans and consider humans thieves. And Food. Going to the Ancient past for Aliens might be a good alternative.

The other Alien Species came from a species I developed years ago from a play-by-mail game called 'Starmaster' By Schubel & Son. There was little booklet that gave you various stat lists. I called them Garravachi. Not Necessarily a good name, yet a good premise for creating aliens. Vaguely Feline, they had Poison fangs and a poison tail. And a individualistic social order whereby females not only birthed young, but supervised the young until adulthood in creating nessecities for their civilization. Including Spaceships, Warships, etc. The adult males competed with each other for female privileges and were considered soldiers/cannon fodder.

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Looks fun, can't wait to see it. Per the title, I thought automatically of Zamyatin's "We": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_%28novel%29 written in 1921. The question of what aliens look like is interesting, my views tend more to the engineering aspect of body mechanics, I have talked to biologists here also. I look forward to future installments.

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I haven’t read We, but as 1984 is one of my favourite books, I probably should. HG Wells is part of the inspiration for Odd Soot but with a bigger focus on mystery and the weird. I have the original French cover of L’arrivée des Marsiens on my kitchen wall. 

Intelligent dinosaurs sound cool. It only seems logical that they would have developed intelligence eventually. 

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Check out Forgotten Futures, a game covering several genres based on Victorian fiction.  Good for inspiration and original sources.  Vacuum tubes, giant bus bars, slide rules but no computers.  With the tech level, bigger really is better, more capacity and power.

http://www.forgottenfutures.com/

 

Edited by seneschal
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I've seen Forgotten Futures before but I've never read/played it. I always enjoyed Marcus Rowland's articles in White Dwarf, so I'll give it a shot. Have you read any of it @seneschal?

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A little bit.  Its approach is to present several full samples of vintage science fiction in a given sub-genre (usually short stories) and extrapolate rules and campaign guidelines from there.  So far there are eleven sub-genres fleshed out.  It is all HTML, so no physical book, just electronic pages to download or print out as best you can.

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Don’t neglect the adventures of Anthony “Buck” Rogers (novels and newspaper strip) in the 25th Century.  It began as a post-apocalyptic war saga with ancient Han invaders living forever in a few domed cities while defeated Americans skulked in a North America returned to primeval forest.  Only after a second invasion by the Tiger Men of Mars (!) did it gradually morph into an outer space story.

Both Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Beyond Thirty” and H.G. Wells’ “Things to Come” had the Great War dragging on for decades and civilization restored by airmen bringing law and order back to a post-apocalyptic society.  “Things” featured a moon rocket but “Buck Rgers” and “Beyond Thirty” and “The Skylark of Space” and other novels assumed you’d need some sort of antigravity technology to escape Earth’s gravity well.  Rocketry was in its infancy and few people imagined yet that you could shove a payload into space by brute force.  Burroughs and Buck Rogers had rockets to push their ships around in an atmosphere because it was cool, not because they thought it could get their heroes off planet.  Rocketships for interplanetary travel become a thing in thr Thirties.

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1 hour ago, seneschal said:

Don’t neglect the adventures of Anthony “Buck” Rogers (novels and newspaper strip) in the 25th Century.  It began as a post-apocalyptic war saga with ancient Han invaders living forever in a few domed cities while defeated Americans skulked in a North America returned to primeval forest.  Only after a second invasion by the Tiger Men of Mars (!) did it gradually morph into an outer space story.

Both Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Beyond Thirty” and H.G. Wells’ “Things to Come” had the Great War dragging on for decades and civilization restored by airmen bringing law and order back to a post-apocalyptic society.  “Things” featured a moon rocket but “Buck Rgers” and “Beyond Thirty” and “The Skylark of Space” and other novels assumed you’d need some sort of antigravity technology to escape Earth’s gravity well.  Rocketry was in its infancy and few people imagined yet that you could shove a payload into space by brute force.  Burroughs and Buck Rogers had rockets to push their ships around in an atmosphere because it was cool, not because they thought it could get their heroes off planet.  Rocketships for interplanetary travel become a thing in thr Thirties.

Good point about the anti-gravity. Science in the 1920's in many ways contradicts much of what we know now. Even today we still have conflicting theories of Gravity. Dark Matter vs. MOND vs. (Tesla) Dynamic Theory of Gravity vs. Ether (Rene Descartes: The World and Other Writings). Of the 4 of them only Descartes theory was available prior to 1930.

 

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Metropolis is a fantastic movie. I haven’t seen it in many years but I have very fond memories of it. 

In Odd Soot, I have gone for a realistic rocket-powered exploration of the solar system. Humanity managed - with the help of difference engines - to reach Earth orbit by the mid 19th century. 

Years later, human space explorers discovered two alien probes (orbiting Mars and Venus) and successfully extracted their Unfolding Devices - FTL engines utilising folded-up dimensions to travel without moving. In the 1920s, humanity has travel to the nearby stars for about 40 years, met five intelligent species and settled on several exoplanets. 

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Just a quick note that I’ve launched the Odd Soot website where you can see more of the game and the setting. There’s also sample artwork of the aliens, starships and characters. I hope you'll enjoy it.

www.frostbytebooks.com/odd-soot

And while you’re there, don’t miss the newish M-SPACE page. M-SPACE continues to be a popular alternative for sci-fi gaming. And the positive comments keep coming in. Like this, from Åsa Roos, RPG writer: 

'One of the best uses of modular rules that I’ve seen.'

Or this, from Stephanie McAlea, Stygian Fox:

'It's a fantastic book and exactly the bridge I needed between good sci-fi and BRP/D100 systems.'

Regarding the rules, Odd Soot uses Mythras Imperative, just like M-SPACE. But as Odd Soot grew, I realised it needed to stand on its own. Which means M-SPACE is not required to run Odd Soot. And just as in M-SPACE, there are modular parts to handle the setting and nudge gameplay in the right direction. More about that later.

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That was a really well done take on a slightly later Martian invasion.  Of course, they don't have to be actual Martians, just an invading force that used Mars as a staging area for the attack on Earth.  The Martian name, once used, would never go away. 

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