I finished reading Marc MIller’s Agent of the Imperium this week.
I know, I know; game fiction by a game designer, WTF Mark don’t you have better things to do? Maybe not. But! I downloaded the sample chapters from Amazon out of curiosity, and I was so hooked that I went ahead and bought the novel.
The book is about Jonathan Bland, a “Decider” for the Imperium who is, at the time of the novel, a personality stored on a “wafer” that can be plugged into anyone with a jack built into the back of their neck. Essentially, bureaucracy is his superpower, he speaks with the full authority of the Emperor/Empress, and he is one of a handful of expert personalities carried on capital ships and activated when a given situation’s threat level reaches a certain point. He doesn’t fight battles or warp space or anything. He makes decisions. Big decisions. Decisions that determine the fate of entire planetary systems — event he whole Imperium — and thus billions, even trillions, of lives. In Traveller-speak, he’s the one who decides when a system is declared a Red Zone.
The novel follows him throughout a few centuries of Imperial history, focusing on his various activations, as well as some personal endeavors, not to mention his time in “heaven”, or at least where his consciousness exists while he’s not active.
The novel is full of Traveller goodies, including UPPs for every system he encounters. Thankfully, you don’t need to learn how to decode them, as the gist of each is presented in plain language. And we get to see various species like Vargr and Hivers, and common ships, and even some psionics.
Miller’s prose style is very no-frills and matter-of-fact, which befits Bland’s essential nature, and lends gravitas to some of the events described; the contrast between the description and the described is chilling at times. It’s part of what hooked me at first.
It’s also a side of Traveller I’ve never really seen. This is the top of the Imperial food chain; no scruffy free traders or military grunts. The tech is beyond anything I’ve seen commonly described in the RPG, and the scope is so high-level that it’d probably be better suited to a baordgame than roleplaying — or meta-level games like Microscope.
The downside is that the book, despite being a page-turner for me, does meander a bit. It also just kind of ends, and various threads and plot-lines I thought were building up to something never seem to pay off. There quality of the writing seems to degrade a bit as the novel progresses, inclusive of some typos that increase in frequency as you near the end.
That said, I enjoyed the hell out of the book and would love to see more from Miller. It could be that I’m just not familiar enough with Traveller’s sources to see how derivative the setting might be, but I found it fascinating. Much like M.A.R. Barker’s Man of Gold, it made me want to grab my Traveller sourcebooks off the shelf and, you know, read them.