I read 1,400 pages of astrophysics and engineering research papers in order to write a series of articles about putting humans on Mars. I didn’t do it because I thought anyone much would read it, I did it for me and the fact that I’ve dreamed of the stars from the time I was a little boy.
When I saw Empire Strikes Back in the theater as a 7-year-old boy (yes, that was a humble brag), I certainly knew it was fiction, but by golly, a big part of me wished it was real. And when I got into D&D a year later, I mixed my peanut butter and chocolate, having an affinity for science fantasy adventuring like Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.
Nowadays, I play Starfinder – the pencil and paper tabletop roleplaying game from Paizo – with my 7th grade daughter and my 6th, 5th, and 3rd grade nephews.
Paizo makes both Pathfinder and Starfinder, which it pitches as being “science fantasy.” 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-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.
I’ll explain why I love the science fantasy of Starfinder, the new Galaxy Exploration Manual that Paizo just released for the game, 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 behaves as if they are 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 seem 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 bubble bee video drones are real and the Internet has already had time to mobilize a mob against them with 1-star reviews.
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, the great Starfinder god of Technology, we instead spend our time sending complaints to customer service, having the nerve to ask 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, while casually pedal our Peloton as we organize a petition against our company, complaining of the deplorable working conditions and the lack of self-care support in our compensation package.
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 bespoke small batch vegan ice cream, 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. My nephews adore it. 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.
The Galaxy Exploration Manual continues that magic, but not because it leans heavily on the fantasy side of Starfinder. The Galaxy Exploration Manual (GEM) is magic in that it conjures up that 7-year-old feeling of dreaming about the stars while wondering what is out there.
The GEM provides a robust exploration system, an engaging framework for building worlds, and a toolbox for adventuring is far-flung places in the galaxy. And it’s for that reason that I feel the GEM “completes” the Starfinder roleplaying game. Sure, Paizo will create more hardcovers, but the GEM is the cherry on top that gives Uncle Clavey all he needs to adventure with his daughter and nephews for years.
In short, magical stuff.
And that brings us full circle, does it not? Don’t we all need to be reminded of the magic of a wonderful $40 adventuring book or 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.