Kickstarting the Mindjammer Universe: A Far Future Transhuman Utopia?

Kickstarting the Mindjammer Universe: A Far Future Transhuman Utopia?


Yesterday Mindjammer Press launched a Kickstarter for my far future transhuman science-fiction roleplaying game and fiction setting Mindjammer, to fund a series of RPG supplements and fiction for the game, including sourcebooks, adventures, and even a version for the Traveller rules. It made its initial funding goal this morning in a little less than 24 hours, and John very kindly invited me to Black Gate to speak about the Kickstarter and the Mindjammer setting.

You may know something about Mindjammer already — John O’Neill and Howard Andrew Jones have both written about it before, and I’ve blogged about it here too. It’s set in Earth’s far, far future — approximately 17,000AD — during the Expansionary Era, when a formerly stagnant civilization on Old Earth has reinvented itself as a “New Commonality of Humankind” following the discovery of “planing” — faster-than-light travel. Now, two centuries on, the Commonality is journeying to the stars, rediscovering lost colonies settled from Old Earth by slower-than-light generation and stasis ships millennia before. Cultural conflict is everywhere, between this vibrant, optimistic, yet overwhelmingly strong interstellar civilization, and the disunited, often highly divergent lost colony cultures which are facing “integration” at the Commonality’s hands.

The Commonality considers itself the brightest and greatest civilization of humankind. The Mindscape, a vast interstellar shared consciousness and data storage medium to which all Commonality citizens are linked by neural implant, gifts its citizens with technological telepathy and the awesome powers of technopsi. It also lets them upload their memories, and download the memories of other people — even dead people. Artificial life forms with synthetic personalities based on the memory engrams of dead heroes abound: even the starships are sentient beings, the eponymous “Mindjammers”, faster-than-light vessels which travel between the stars, updating the Mindscape and knitting transhumanity’s interstellar civilization together.

Slowboat cover_small

One of the great delights about writing about the Commonality is seeing people’s reactions to it. There’s a Mindjammer novel (and hopefully, if the Kickstarter permits, a second and third novel, too), and also a Mindjammer roleplaying game and currently one published adventure, with a whole series of new supplements now in the process of being funded. But whether by fiction or communal storytelling around the table, people have strong reactions to the Commonality. It’s a civilization that considers itself the best there is to offer; a strong culture at peace with itself, and yet one which bans religion on its Core Worlds and outlaws the uncontrolled dissemination of “news”. It’s both idealistic, and ruthlessly pragmatic; it will go out of its way to manipulate a rediscovered world’s culture until it considers it to be ready for “integration”, yet it will coldly “sanction” whole cultures it considers inimical to its own stability. Memetic engineers and culture wars are features of life on the Commonality frontier.

Some people react with horror when they read about the ruthless pragmatism of the Commonality; its desire for control, coupled with its belief in its own rightness. Others see it as the utopia it thinks it is, and the sacrifices in privacy, personal freedom, and “liberty” required of its citizens a price worth paying for a viable and stable interstellar civilization. I think many people are upset by the Commonality’s honesty; its refusal to hide the darker side of the actions it considers necessary from view. As though that somehow illuminates the hypocrisy of our own culture’s self-appointed guardianship of the light of truth…

Personally I don’t come down on either side of the fence. As a writer, I’m coming from the starting point that the Commonality exists: a vast, transhuman, hyperadvanced civilization in which individual humans nevertheless still matter, and haven’t been superseded by superintelligent sentiences regulating the affairs of entire solar systems. My job is to work out how it exists, and to depict the stresses and strains its existence subjects it to. As a gamer, I want a setting filled with the potential for action and conflict; one where everything might still fall apart, and yet where there is something truly precious worth fighting for. Not a simple good or evil, but an idea — the idea that humanity has a real, vital future, out there among the stars.

And, as a citizen of 21st century Earth, I want a setting that isn’t “grimdark,” that isn’t beset by unrealistic science or childish notions of galactic bugbears. I want a setting that is believably optimistic, and where we can take on the forces of control, oppression, and stagnation, and defeat them, and create the future we think should be ours.

In the Mindjammer Kickstarter, that’s what I’m hoping you’ll give me and my team at Mindjammer Press the opportunity to write about, both in fiction and in roleplaying game supplements, so you can game out the Commonality’s “big ideas” and human struggles at your table. If you’re interested, please stop by at our Kickstarter page and check out what we’re proposing. I hope you’ll like what you see, and that you’ll join us as we describe this future age of action, peril, exploration and wonder we’d all like to think will one day be ours.

The Commonality salutes you!

Sarah Newton

Normandy, November 2015

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Mindjammer is wonderful. The hard-sf astronomy and travel between believeable solar systems is what I wanted from Traveller, the transhuman stuff is what I wanted from Orion’s Arm, the Mindjammer ships are like sophists moving between Greek city-states. Thanks for writing it.

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