Friday, October 30, 2020

Armageddon Alternatves

Anne from DIY & Dragons reminded me earlier this week of some of the cool stuff from the Buck Rogers comic strip: namely things like the Org gangs and the anti-gravity belts they aware they allow them to make leaps like characters in wuxia films (or the Matrix movies). For the most part, these things are present in the novella that inspired the comic strip: Armageddon 2419 AD by Philip Francis Nowlan. It tells the story of Buck Anthony Rogers who is put in suspended animation by some weird mine gas and awakens in a 25th Century where a Mongol Empire ("the Han") emerged from the Gobi to conquer Europe and North America. Driven from the ruined cities, the Americans formed "gangs" (Orgs in the later comic) to fight a protracted insurgency. 

Yellow Peril racism is an unfortunate relic of the past, but I think it's pretty easy to get rid of that and keep the fun stuff. We can sub out the conquerors. Here are a few options.

Martians: Wells' War of Worlds takes place in the early 20th Century (probably 1907) so it's a bit early to fit the Armageddon 2419 AD timeline, but there have been other invasions like Killraven. Maybe John Christopher's Masters aren't Martians, but they have tripods just like them.

Apes: Maybe Moreau-tech touches off a Planet of the Apes scenario early? Or perhaps the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic is followed by a plague that kills off dogs and cats, leading to apes between adopted as pets, then bred as servants, etc. That's always assuming the apes don't come from Mars.

Robots/Artificial Beings/Cyborgs: Capek's R.U.R. takes place around the year 2000, but discovers the android creating process occurs earlier, so it could work. Of course, cyborgs from a Tenth Planet are always an option, too.


Dick McGee said...

There's also a bit of a "cosmic disaster" theme in Victorian SF involving passing "comets" and "death stars" wiping most life from the Earth. Heliograph Press has a good example (along with some period sociopolitical commentary and really uncomfortable racism) in the two "Tsar Wars" books over here:

Anne said...

What I like about the Buck Rogers I've read so far are the really nice costumes, props, and set design, the fast pace, and the general idea of a person from our time arriving in a far future to find dozens of tiny, weird mini-societies.

It's another variation, I think, on the "island hopping" campaign structure that I like so much.

I like your ideas for replacement conquerors! I also think Dick McGee makes a good point that there don't necessarily need to be surviving conquerors, if you want to focus on the Orgs and Orgzones rather than the imperials.

Based on chatting elsewhere, I think you and I have opposite ideas about how to treat the Orgs. You've suggested that they're superficially different but share a common culture, and conceivably could become a single nation again. Personally, I'm drawn more to the idea of leaning into their futuristic weirdness - of making their differences deep, philosophical, and irreconcilable. Of course, both ideas lend themselves to colorful costumes and lots of shouting in future-slang!

Trey said...

The problem with removing the conquerors for me is that in the versions I am most familiar with (the original novella, later comic book retellings), the Orgs are very much a resistance force. If they aren't resisting anything then you loose the hiding and stuff that makes them different from say the different nations of Mongo, the city-states of Barsoom, or even the work nations of Oz. I feel like that removes what makes Buck Rogers unique.

Anne said...

You make a good point about the Orgs being resistance fighters. They're a bit like a prototype for Star Wars' Rebel Alliance, except in the only story I've read so far, the different Orgzones don't seem to particularly be allies yet.

If you wanted, you could probably borrow some of the trappings of The Empire for the conquerors.

To my mind, what makes a journey between Orgzones different from other "island-hopping" stories is that they're quirky, but not overtly hostile to Buck Rogers. Unlike, say, Jack Vance's corrupt towns that try to swindle everyone who passes through, these places seem friendlier.