Saturday, August 27, 2016

Vonnegut's Thanasphere and its implications. (Jammed into your current RPG)

One of Vonneguts lesser known stories, Thanasphere is a short story of cold-war era space race madness.
It is so creepy I could really see telling this around a campfire as a ghost story (then watching for sattelittes! woooOOoooOO )

Here is an abridged version followed by what I would do to it if it was an RPG.
**scroll to bottom for actual content**


One of the first cosmonauts to spend appreciable time in space is reporting weather patterns over enemy territory for the military, a pilot flight if you excuse the pun.

His capsule passes over local airspace periodically, every 6 hours or something limiting radio contact to minuites long bursts.

First round he seems fine, a little hesitant and carefully phrased. He is selected from thousands for his emotional and logical stability. The weather is indeed reported.
When pressed he admits to hearing what sounded like a crying child and an old man. Suddenly he declares they are getting louder, none of these are carrying through the transmitter and the radio window ends the conversation abruptly.

As the second envelope of time approaches, Dr Groszinger mulls over the fact that this human error, insanity has ruined a promising military mission. 
Contrary to expectations the next contact starts wit a coherent weather report. He continues that the voices are now clearer than those on the radio. He attempts to call one voices bluff, asking Groszinger to confirm the death of an Andrew Tobin of Evansville, Indiana on February 17, 1927 a voice claiming that his brother had murdered him.
Dr G is sure this is a joke and falls asleep.

Upon waking, leading into the next window, Dr G. is still furious but is told that some of the voices have been confirmed. 
The weather report is delivered, but the cosmonaut is preoccupied with asking weather the facts had been confirmed. Cruelly Dr G. holds out until connection is severed.

Next window, the cosmonaut reports an old womans voice calling in German the name Grosziner, he repeats verbatim the german he is hearing from her, Dr G's mothers favourite Goethe quote in a language the 'prankster' did not understand.

At this point it diverts from ghost story to apocalyptic cold war comedy-horror shenannigans as Vonnegut is want to do.
Dr G. is a believer but is told that his government cannot admit its spycraft or technological advances to the world. It is also stated that secret studies would not be supported by the Airforce or military as space ghosts are not tactical options.

Tuning into the chanel once more they are shocked to hear the unfamiliar voices, however it turns out the frequency has merely been discovered by radio ametures who are chatting idly.
The Cosmonaut interrupts, reports hearing only a womans voice calling his name. In a panic Dr G. jams the signal to protect the state secrets.

The next days newspaper features a man heard rambling about hearing voices and a last will and testament on a high frequency band, persumably from radio operaters in a slightly different envelope of sky. It is not clear if this is Cosmonauts last testament or that of a space ghost that died too soon.
Regardless, the frequencey is out. G is having serious moral issues.
Meanwhile his companion the radio operator has discovered the voice is the cosmonauts dead wife. The General visits and tries to shut it all down and jam the frequency, but is called away for a moment.
Operator admits that the cosmonaut wants to join the ghosts and will probably burn the shuttle rather than land, and they unjam the signal for a moment- he is euphorically describing shimmering lights around him and his ghostly wife. 
The General returns and they jam the signal again.

The shuttle crashes into the sea killing the Cosmonaut, Dr G. is confronted by the media regarding the mysterious flying object but claims it was a metor. 
When asked about the space above the stratosphere he claims it is merely "Dead space" or a Thanasphere, from the greek Thanatos: death.


Thats right, these are not simple spoopy ghosts, but the sad ghosts of lost opportunies, or maybe the hopeful grandsires of the past observing their creation?
Probably just boring ol Space Oddessy "we wish you to evolve and join us as a spacetime fetus" type ghosts.

Remember this is set and written before spaceflight, or the moonlanding.
Its all sputnik era low earth orbit, unmanned.

Imagine the public's pent up apprehension during the burgeoning space-race, and its implications both existential and spiritual.

There are some interesting articles about the writing and conceptualisation 2001: Space Odyssey, which inhabited a similar time and space- a space movie predicting space faring humanity and its technological, social and spiritual future. No hindsight there!

What effect does a one-world space graveyard have on the development of the Cold War, sattelite communication technology, ICBMissiles and religion?

Here you have the stored knowlege of millions, but it is not searchable and is definately hung up on wishy washy emotions, this is nicely summed up by the storyline in which the epic ramifications are ignored in favour of national security and fucking with the Ruskis.

The ghosts can seek you out with great accuracy. Or is it only that he was the only spark of life? Could the Cold War spread to the heavens as nations vie for the attentions of dead genius', commanders and philosophers. Space is definately paywalled, and spiritual emanations do not pick up on microphones apparently.

Religion is either super wrong, or really specific about heaven. Correct about souls though? Its gonna get heated thats for sure.

So are these spirits 'revenents' with business to attend to or is all of space packed with detatched souls?
Is it a timed purgatory for closure purposes? Watch your legacy for a generation or two, then fade away?

Imagine the funding NASA could get for manned space flights if you could visit your dead wife?
Whats on the moon then? Dead ancient alien ghosts?

Heaven is a place on earth?! as above so below?? is the molten planetary core a gravity well for angry souls? Is that what rock oil is?

Is this pacman? More existential dread here

Alien blockade, a sham? In Marvels comic universe the Gaurdians of the Galaxy (and 'dead' Nick Fury I think) are basically there to quarantine the pre-cosmic Earth from the Cosmic community.
This is because our island home has a baffling but unbroken history of KO'ing every sun eating, civilisation destroying culture or super-being that goes anywhere near them.
The Cosmic govt is scared of that track record and the Gaurdians dont want people to keep trying to eat Earth, so they hide and protect the planet... for now. I dont think anyone but Iron Man really knows about Cosmic level stuff, and GoG make fun of his tech.
This would have been a pretty horrific smokescreen if you are trying to keep Earthfolk grounded!

DCC Anonamous Subsurface Environments and Crawling Under A Broken Moon uses space god sattelites that are accessable only at certain time envelopes in their orbit, which I really like. I could see this being similar.
Maybe communications sattelites get mobbed or influenced by space ghosts. 
Maybe necromancers (there is nanite space magic AND eldrich lovecraftian horror magic!) throw ghosts at sattelites?

Any game that allowed for space flight or travel would get wierd fast in this setting, a bit o Spelljammers or Stars Without Number? Wrecked on a coral reef of ghooooooooosts.

Gamma World has a cool airport setting that ends up accidentally transporting you to a doomed infested space station that you have very little chance to escape from... unless you have a spirit guide maybe. 
Mayhaps the Warden of Barrier Peaks crashed because in a realm full of Dungeons and also Dragons such spirits in space probably DO exist and who knows how your average Autopilot would deal with that.

Its fairly Lovecraftian wot with the eldrich space horrors, Call of Cthulu is set in pre space-mad era so you could get some astronomy/astrology or ungodly device to reveal this dark truth to players. I dont see why you couldnt do a cold war CoC setting, like Indianna Jones and the Arc in WW2.

Sidenote: Mormans invented a religion after astronomy was pretty mapped out so they had to put their god on a planet instead of falling back to Heavin us UP and Hell is DOWN. Here is the mad cool scifi that follows!! Oh and some more. Wonder what kinda ghosts pilgrimage to hang arount Kolob?

Mostly, I think, I like the idea of throwing world breaking minor details into a game so players get the sudden epiphany that they are not in Kansas anymore, you can't assume the world is round and the oceans have bottoms and tectonics work the same way. 

In one game (Carbon Observatory ) we found some abandoned artefacts, amongst them evidence of entire strata in the crust of the world made from bent and compacted swords. Also there was crystal hearts of vampires, suspicious Aboleth shaped things, arcane devices &etc. 
Basically bla bla wierd fantasy loot but the whole sediment-of-swords really threw me because it proved we were not on Earth in another time, there is no way to make that many swords to compress them ... there is no way to have that thing exist, and then to have it forgotten, absorbed by milennia and just there now as a haphazard sidenote. 
That gave my existential angst, I couldnt even confirm I was on a planet. I wanted my character to become a divine polymath asking the DM if the horizon curved, if trees had growth rings, if Pi existed yet and how many decimal places it had and can demons still climb through the phasespace of complex equations when compressed rendering algorithms mentally visualised?

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