copyright 1987 Steve Marsh

2813 Montgomery Place

Wichita Falls, TX 76308

Book Reviews:

Beyond Heaven's River by Greg Bear.

This novel is "only" 192 pages short and it shows it at every step of the way. In a choppy, and unbelievable fashion, it stutters its way through the story of what happens when the richest young woman in the galaxy meets a man who was kidnaped by "perfidious" aliens and subjected to sociological experiments for a couple hundred years. It features a cameo appearance by a spirit named "Ko" who is never explained (and who exits the same way), various aliens and the plot explanation.

Someone hacked through a plot outline and realized that the work did not justify a rewrite so they sold it "as is." The novel should have carried a warning.

And no, I don't believe that the S.O.B. who had the nerve to defraud the public with this trash has any relationship to the brilliant author of The Serpent Mage et. al.

Swords of the Legion by Harry Turtledove. $3.95 from Ballantine.

Mixed thoughts on the last Videssos novel. For the good we have authentic names, a good plot, realistic sociology, solid history and a good wrap to the whole series. For the bad we have no stop thrust/shield bash, Roman infantry standing up to calvary charges, and characters that strike me as too modern in characterization. For the Gorree is still Edwyr crowd, the author uses anal when intercural applies.

Oh, the Romans uniformly considered single combat by leaders to be an idiotic practice, much to the confusion of the Gauls, Celts and Britons.

Wild Cards III, Jokers Wild, George R.R. Martin, $3.95 by Bantam. 374 pages.

This book is the most "realistic" of the series and the most disjointed. It is a novel, written by many hands, in medley format. In it Fortunato and most of the other characters find resolution. The book makes a good wrap of the series as the Astronomer plans his comeback and his revenge.

I wish I had enjoyed the book more--it was a solid work--but I would have preferred more redemption and less mosaic shards in it.

The Wizard and the War Machine, Lawrence Watt-Evans, $3.50 Ballantine. 291 pages.

The sequel to The Cyborg and the Sorcerers is a cleanly written fun romp. Identical in style, improved in execution, it tells of what happens when a psychotic cyborg and a sane ship (vs the psychotic ship and sane cyborg of the first book) drops in on the hero of the first book many years after he has "retired."

The book avoids plot repetition and the "quest/contest" scenes are used only as the forward the story. My only complaint *spoiler warning* is that Slant murders the sane ship as a part of the conclusion. An intelligent ship seems to be as legitimate a life as anything else, and killing it just for the personal convenience of a character seems as criminal as any other murder. Additionally, what if another ship shows up? *end spoiler warning*

Boycott: George R. R. Martin's Nightflyers. It is not a novel. It is a reprint of an old novella/short story (103 pages, 1978) that most of us have probably already read once or twice. The teaser doesn't say a thing, the cover comes across as a novel and it is an unmitigated rip-off. The newest piece is Nightflyers with a date of 1980.

I should note that the stories are good, though "artsy" over "sf" applies to them. And yes, I'll probably buy George's next "legitimate" novel.


Whether you like to think about it or not, human life can and is often reduced to dollars. The simplest analysis takes the average number of dollars earned by a man in his lifetime and translates that into products. That $300,000.00 sports car cost one and a quarter standard lives, that building cost fifty standard lives, and so forth.

It becomes sobering. When you spend money and buy things, you are buying a portion of the life of every person whose time went into making the item bought. A computer program that took 400,000 man-hours of time to put together actually ate 1,000 weeks or almost 20 years.

With modern statistics it is possible to further figure the cost in lives. In addition to the man-hours consumed, there are an average number of deaths attributable to various kinds of things. For example, a dam will cost an average of 4 or 5 deaths. Buildings cost fractions of deaths by the floor.

You can count the human lives consumed by anyone by adding up the dollars spent with the risk factors. The emotion starts when you take the next step and start comparing the cost in human lives for various societal alternatives.

For example. If the government pays for a PAP test every other year for every woman, it will find (and cure) a certain number of lives. The number of people saved will go up with every shortened interval until the government is testing everyone once a month.

Two questions. First, when does it consume more lives to pay for the tests than lives are saved by the early warning from the tests?

Second, how can you justify spending the money on something else until that break-even point is reached (e.g. in a recent debate on increasing an art endowment, women's' rights leaders argued that the art was being paid for with the lives of women who would be saved on a once a year testing schedule)?

You can begin to appreciate the problems when you enter an emotional field like nuclear energy. Compare the radioactive output of a coal-fired generating plant with that of a nuclear plant that melts down after 20 years in service. Add in the expected deaths per metric ton of coal vs the deaths per kilo of fissionables. Don't forget the energy cost to mine coal (small) with the energy cost to refine fissionables (large). Factor back in various subsidies and hidden costs.

Think you've come away looking reasonable and unbiased? Well, lets look at abortion and involuntary euthanasia next. At the rate of spread of AIDS and the aging of our society, not to mention the new Reagan pro-adoption rules (and the pending reversal of Roe v. Wade) there is alot of thinking to do.

With abortion you first compare the costs. Next, you compare (a) the benefit to society from the forced re-allocation of resources from the mother (and others) to the child with (b) the statistically probable benefit to society (positive or negative) of the child's being born. Note that you are probably going to start measuring everything in terms of tax revenues and "lives" consumed. And a real problem is that individual "happiness" and "rights" don't get any numbers (with those you are talking religion and law, not economics).

(And don't think that isn't important. When you don't give religion numbers, you are basically legislating across it.)

Result: the government will abort some babies and will insist that others be born--a rather traditional government position. The government will also probably not successfully tax the parties benefiting to pay the parties paying for the benefit (when was the last time you saw a woman paid not to have an abortion?).

(Note, in our current society the government pays those whose children are statistically least likely to benefit the government and gives nothing to those who are statistically most likely to benefit the government. It is having the predictable results).

Worse, is what medical care should you be allowed to receive if you are ill? At some point your life will cost more in lives consumed to save than you have life left to live. Should the government pay for a net loss of life if you can't pay for it? Heck, should the government allow you to create a net loss of life even if you can pay for it? What gives anyone the right to increase the amount of death in the world?

And while this currently means the penniless AIDS patient who irresponsibly passed the virus on to 20 or 30 others, it also means your parents, wife, children and friends. Medical care possible is now limited only by money available. If you have the money you can treat cancer with Interferon (often with only marginal benefit), the common cold and even baldness.

These are hard questions that every technological society must answer. They can be faced intelligently or by default (failure to decide is a decision, failure to answer is an answer).

(Yes, this is an oblique answer to some of you who requested more on economics and on law. Your choices here will affect your laws. How does the government handle anagathics, resurrections and the like? The way it answers these questions will determine laws it must chose.)

Think about these questions the next time the player characters get shot up in a bar and someone tries to find an autodoc to plug them into.

A Skill Based Superhero

Yes, I've done one. His secret ID is "the old man," the FBI division head in charge of the Federal superhero team Strikeforce. He co-ordinates assignments and directs the agents (operatives) (competent normals) assigned with Strikeforce. He also joins in to bail them out in times of dire need.

STR 2 (d3 damage) OAF (uses Staff) Martial Arts 30 (60) points

INT 15 30d3 "punch" 31d3 "kick" (equivalent w' staff)

COM 16 Missile deflect 15 (30)


END 30 Acrobatics 11 or less

STN 18 Stealth 11 or less

Overall levels: 9 Security Systems 12 or less Climbing 8 or less (base chance)

secret id Detective 8 or less (base chance)

overcautious Disguise 8 or less (base chance)

nusual looks (15)

hatred of criminals OAF (line) Swinging 5 (10)

distrust of orientals

honorable OAF (medallion) Instant Change 5 (10)

hunted 7 fingered hand Regeneration 10 (20)

hatred of magicians

2d6 unluck

Appearing as a corpse rotted away to the bones, the Bone Man is the victim of a hideous curse by a sorcerer that Strikeforce put away. An evil power wasted away his body while he trained diligently with the staff to attempt to overcome the damage to his body. Finally he obtained a medallion that cured the curse -- sort of. In his superhero guise (his real appearance) he is a disturbingly attractive rotted skeleton. The combination of disgust and physical attraction repels most people in spite of any "better side" they might have.

Added to his problems is the fact that he fits a necessary character type for a 7 fingered hand ritual test. He is constantly beset by 7 fingered hand operatives who attack him just long enough to reduce his body to < 0. Then they leave. The Hand has no ill will toward him (in fact, they are rather fond of him) but they are a constant pain and problem. They've led him to distrust all orientals (since he constantly gets surprised by Hand operatives).

When his body is > 0 his appearance worsens and he appears to dissolve into slimy puddles which pull themselves together when he arises again. He joins in only when Strikeforce is badly pressed and then fades back out again. They are grateful--though a little unnerved--for his help.

Skill based (no armor) for sure. 225 pts. At 250 pts would probably buy more speed and more skill. Sure he goes down, but he comes back and his Hunted has to be unique ("oh, we don't want to hurt him, just kill him again. So sorry we have to free your prisoner just long enough to kill him").


First, I really do comment more than it looks like from my zines. I tend to write people letters if I don't have time/space to comment on them in TWH. It is a compromise, but the best I can do.

In addition, my recent zines have been comments upon peoples zines/letters and arguments.

Mark Swanson: My feelings about GMs who introduce life's little glitches is mixed. I've played characters who were starving to death and who couldn't do anything about it as the GM diced them to death. I've also played where the little glitches added to the game's texture, flavor and challenge.

R & R Clifford: I always thought it was interesting that more Japanese go to law school than Americans, but that far fewer become litigators (attorneys who go to trial).

Timothy Byrd: Welcome! Do you think a game can survive without providing a built in background? I prefer "white bread" systems with good examples of how to adapt them to various uses (I loved RQ III's Vikings and such).

Bill Ricker: I was just reading about a Swamp Castle (Szigetvar) that held off the entire Ottoman empire for over a month with only 2,500 men. // The character development was not the "main" character's--though he found resolution.

I'd like a review of TriTac FTL:2448 and a little more definite request on ML.

I am going to do a "neosuperhero" "halfway house" write-up, including notes for introductory lectures & such (the whys and wherefores of costumes, secret identities, trust accounts and how to make a living). I'll send you a copy.

Thomas Harlan: I'm really enjoying the write-ups. Please continue!

Brian McCue: I just read (and really enjoyed) The Leopard's Daughter a Popular Library/Questar book by Lee Killough. While the publisher would make you think "trash," the book is a brightly done novel set in tribal Africa. I've a weakness for well-done "authentic melieu" works and this one hit the spot. Vernor Vinge also has another work out, a collection of short stories called True Names and Other Dangers, by Baen Books.

And Walter Jon Williams, author of Hardwired did a Villiers novel (at least it reads like an old Alexi Panshin). Called The Crown Jewels, TOR, it is set under the title of "Divertimenti" (unlike his other books which he lists as novels). He hit it on the nose. Nice light diversion.

Strikeforce Operatives

Strikeforce Packaged Disadvantages: 90 points. (minus 5 -- these are the dpcs of SF)

Operative Level Individual: 50 points.

Total available for powers: 135 points.

Powers: 15PD 15ED Boron/Mylar composit armor OIF.

Autofire, multifire, area attack, piercing, penetrating 2d6 ranged killing attack. Activate on 14 or less, END battery (x 6), OAF

Misc. 1) Jetpack flying

2) Medpack and darkness bombs

3) Stim tabs: extra SPD, 3 charges, OAF

4) Stim tabs: extra DEX, 3 charges, OAF

5) martial arts

6) scope (IR, UV, N-Ray, X-Ray, Sonar, etc.)

Consider how many supertypes can take being hit by more than two or three operatives opening fire. Three "team leaders" (superheros), nine operatives, and "the old man" is enough to bounce most supervillian 5 to 6 person teams.

John T. Sapienza, Jr.: I enjoyed your RQ rule suggestions.

David Dunham: I'm not sure that commenting to you is of any use since you ignored my essays aimed at points you'ld discussed, but, one more time: Some people make a fairly good living as trainers. Law Professors average ~$40,000.00 a year. Lawyers average ~$20,000.00 a year. Of course some "adventurers" make more each year (my boss, for example) and some make less (legal services attorneys) than the averages. However, the trainer average is twice the "adventurer" average.

Query: How long did you wait after you started play before you got the D&D rules?

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