Tag Archives: steam

Interactive Fiction: The Novelist

The Novelist is the fifth piece of interaction fiction I’ve played, after Dear Esther, The Stanley Parable, Gone Home, and Depression Quest.

The game is not as beautiful as Esther, not as subversive as Stanley, not as political as Home, and not as spartan as Depression. Rather, it strives for realism and universality. In The Novelist you play a disembodied spirit capable of reading the minds, and impacting the choices of three characters: a novelist, his wife, and their child.

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The entire game takes place within a house. Additionally, information is limited. For instance, is the novelist’s goal of writing the novel simply self-actualization nonsense (which implies one set of choices) or the only hope of a family for income (which implies a dramatically different set). How accurate is your ability t read minds, and how much veracity do the thoughts of the family have? These questions are unanswered and, largely, unaddressed.

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Many reviewers noted they cried during the game (See Rock, Paper, Shotgun‘s review). Perhaps I’ve listened to many hours of Dave Ramsey, but I interpreted the opening scenario as a looming economic and relationship disaster, and proceeded accordingly. Without spoiling the ending, if you consider the advise of Penelope Trunk, I achieved a happy outcome for all involved.

I played The Novelist in the Steam Edition on my Surface Pro.

Science and Steam

Reactions to two of my recent posts — Mark Safranki‘s excerpt of my review of America 3.0. and Phil Arena‘s comment on my post on antiscience, plus some twitter conversations with Colin Wight — got me thinking.

What is the relationship of Science to the great economic systems we’ve had — hydrological, steam-powered, and now whatever-comes-next.

Well, in a hydrological system you’re either at the Malthusian limit or quite good at killing people off through war of disease.

Science is too risky (might not work, might have bad consequences if it does work) to spend much resources on in a pre-steam, pre-industrial society. So you get a few intellectual giants shouting to each other across time — like the nameless Chinese inventors or named European ones — with relatively little utility within a human lifetime.

But once you have steam-power, and the economic system it enables, society becomes incredibly wealthy. So you get science, institution science, whether in the form of corporate labs, or academic science, or the Department of Agriculture. The methods of advancement are so different, and the pace of change is so much quicker, this Science in a modern science is a different beast from pre-steam science — natural philosoph– which was basically bored men every once in a while discovering something.

What comes after the reign of steam, and the industrial society? What does Science look like after the next transformation?

It will be exciting to find out!

Behold! A World Powered by Steam!

Obviously, I’m in favor of any references to steampunk appearing in the New York Times, but the article never mentions “steam” once! The entire alternative-universe vision of steampunk assumes that the electrical industrial revolution never happened, and steam still being the motive power behind the economy. Now, granted, much of the article is interesting:

Steampunk Moves Between Two Worlds – New York Times
She takes her emotional cues from scientists and inventors like Nikola Tesla, magicians like Harry Houdini and soulful spies like Mata Hari, each of whom injected a spirit of enterprise, intrigue and discovery into their age. Contemporary fictional parallels in film include the wildly ingenious scientist played by Robert Downey Jr. in “Iron Man,” who hopes to save the world by retooling himself as a flame-throwing robot made of unwieldy scrap metal parts.

If steampunk has a mission, it is, in part, to restore a sense of wonder to a technology-jaded world. “Today satellite photos make the planet seem so small,” Mr. Brown lamented. “Where is the adventure it that?” In contrast, steampunk, with its airships, test tubes and time machines, is, he said, “sort of a dream , the way we used to daydream. It’s like part of your childhood’s just bursting forward again.”

But without steam, what’s the point?

An example (I believe) of actual steampunk is The Difference Engine, which describes an Industrial-age Britain in which an actually designed (but not implemented) steam-operated computer sparks a steamcyber revolution.