Science is fully distinguishable from magic…mostly.
Let me explain. Starfinder is the new pencil and paper tabletop roleplaying game from Paizo, the makers of Pathfinder, the crunchy rules- and math-heavy wonderful book of amazing awesomeness that is the Pathfinder RPG.
Whereas Pathfinder is very much the Tolkien-Gygaxian D&D fantasy that we all love, Starfinder is set in the vast of space, inspired by the Lucas-Whedon-Bradburian science fiction that we all love. And just like Star Wars–which mixes hard science fiction hyperdrives with Force-wielding space wizard fantasy–Starfinder is also a mixture of science fiction with a little magic sprinkled in. In fact, Paizo pitches Starfinder as being “science fantasy.”
I’ll explain why I love the science fantasy of Starfinder and why I think you will too. To do this, we’re going to use the analogy of Alexa, the Amazonian AI voice assistant from the future that is hardly futuristic because we all know that that scamp has just weaseled her way into your home in order to root through your pantry so she could pitch you on buying more fabric softener direct from Amazon. Sure, Alexa acts like she’s your friend, but we all know she has one hand in your wallet.
See? Try as I might, I wasn’t able to avoid being a little snarky when it came to my description of a technology product. Indeed, if you read the Amazon reviews of technology products, you’ll quickly notice that I’m not alone–110% of humanity comports themselves as entitled and petty.
For example, let’s talk about the reviews of another technology product, a $50 bumble bee-shaped drone with a built in video camera. Twenty percent of reviews are 1 star and the biggest gripe from those passionate Amazon customers about this adorable and affordable video drone seems to be with the fly time, which runs about 6 minutes. Sure, that’s not a lot of flight time, but it’s not bad for a drone that size, particularly one that is that cheap and very well may be an Autobot in disguise.
Put into perspective, we’re talking about a tiny flying machine with a built-in camera that wirelessly transmits video to your phone’s screen in real time. Some might call this “pretty cool” while others might call it “amazing.” Time travelers from 2007 would call it impossible. But tiny video drones are real and the Internet has already had time to mobilize a mob against them.
Which goes to show you that technological advances don’t necessarily make people happier, they just present more opportunities for folks to verbalize their disappointment. While we all should pour out ourselves in supplication before Triune the All-Code, great god of Technology, we instead spend our time sending complaints to customer service, asking Alexa to dial it up for us.
But imagine what we’ll have 10 years in the future! A phalanx of tiny bumble bee drones will make our bed for us, while huge wasp drones will use their six legs to grab us and fly us to work. Or will we even work? I don’t know, we might simply merge form with Alexa, where we’ll telepathically ask her to mobilize her all-reaching fleet of delivery drones to bring us Dippin’ Dots, the ice cream of the future.
But will we be satisfied with these technological marvels?
Of course not. Those bed-making drones will be too loud, generating too much “buzz.”. Our personal Wasp-Lyft drone won’t come equipped with a cup holders. Our Dippin’ Dots should have been froyo, which is fair, because Dippin’ Dots is awful.
Of course, this petty, trifling disappointment is the engine of advancement and is what drives these new things toward us. If everybody had been satisfied with propellor planes we would never have invented jets. As soon as we decide our machines our “good enough,” our great technological achievements will grind to a halt.
So I applaud those nit-picking Amazon customers who start their reviews with “I would have given this 5 stars, but…” Perhaps we have them to thank for the constant march of progress. Were it not for their seemingly trivial concerns, we would have never received smart phones, self parking cars, or those little plastic things that fit between chop sticks to make them usable for morons like me.
This brings me back to my point: Starfinder is awesome. Paizo–in a constant march of progress–has given the RPG community a 4-star science fantasy game. (I would have given it 5 stars, but…) But the best thing about Starfinder is that it is a science fantasy game, not just a straight science fiction product.
By leaving in that little dollop of fantasy in an otherwise classic science fiction RPG–that features sweet laser rifles, soaring starships, and alien species galore–Paizo has added a dollop of magic to a largely technological setting.
And that brings us full circle, does it not? Don’t we all need to be reminded of the magic that is a $50 bubble bee drone? So what if we only get stare wide-eyed for 6 minutes before the battery dies. I’ll take 6 minutes of magic any day of the week.