Looking Back at my 60 Years

Four weeks ago, I turned 60. When I celebrated my anniversary with my family, I made an upbeat speech that reflected on some tremendous changes of the world that I have witnessed: the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, the end of communist tyranny in Europe in 1989, the opening and transformation of Asia in the 00’s. When I turned 20 in 1979, I couldn’t have imagined the world of today – it has become an incredibly better place.
I kept my speech short, so I did not address the reflections below, but I think they are as apt, though at the individual level.

When I was 19 years old in 1978, I decided reject what others expected of me. Instead, I chose to pursue the academic subjects that my heart prescribed, even though they included obscure languages (Hebrew, Aramaic) and studying a semester abroad in the troubled Middle East. That decision transformed me by opening up unexpected great vistas. My memories of a numinous afternoon at Lake Galilee, a chill and misty morning in the Golan Heights and a vivid sunrise over the Moab desert as seen from the Masada summit remain sharp 35 years later.

Then, I decided to leave the university despite the offer of a place in graduate school, and instead get to work. No regrets there, because even though I have no formal profession, I have had a mostly rewarding professional life.

In the 1980s, the American author and rabbi Chaim Potok taught me the word entheos: the inner passion for a subject that makes you push on ardently to achieve mastery. Yes, I have let entheos guide me through life; yes, I know that I made the right decision for myself and for others during that decisive solitary bike ride – sanningens ögonblick – next to the sea in August 1978. That way I many years later found a spouse and we got three wonderful children who now are on the verge of adulthood. That way I also found many other unexpected boons, but since they deal with the fortunes of others, those stories are not mine to tell.

Since May 1977, the role-playing games have always been there: my persistent creating and developing magical worlds that others enter for adventures of the mind. Many, many times my heart has been touched by adults telling me what joy and strength they derived from my creations when they were teenagers. I never predicted that during my years as a full-time professional game designer in the 1980s, but apparently the entheos that I poured into my work reached out to and nourished many other minds.

This insight warms and strengthens me here at the gate to my seventh decade. The world may be like a narrow bridge, but I am not afraid – Vis mecum – and I am walking ahead along my chosen path with an intrepid and determined spirit.

A small clarification: I am not retired. I will keep on writing games and stories as long as my mind is sufficiently sharp. Lots of people want it and I love doing it.

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Partisan: portugisiska lärdomar

Summary in English: This blog post deals with the unearthing of the lost unpublished Swedish role-playing game Partisan, which deals with Sweden under a fictional foreign occupation.

För några veckor sedan fick jag den enda existerande manuskopian — åtminstone så vitt jag vet — av det sägenomspunna opublicerade rollspelet Partisan (läs mer om fyndet här — länk >>> ). Nyheten väckte extremt intresse bland svenska gamers: min blogg fick plötsligt tio gånger fler besökare än normalt. Då visade det sig också att Fria Ligan redan för några år sedan hade registrerat varumärket “Partisan” för spel och leksaker, vilket i sin tur gör att mitt urmanus, oavsett omständigheterna i övrigt, inte kan ges ut.

Hursomhelst, när jag granskar de texter jag skrev för trettio år sedan, konstaterar jag att FV för mina färdigheter Världsbyggare och Regelsnickrare är högre idag, konstigt vore det annars. Bland annat har mina vistelser i Indien och Afghanistan ändrat mitt sätt att se på hur krig och ockupation påverkar samhällen på djupet. Min sedan tjugo år bortgångne indiske svärfar deltog i kampen mot det brittiska kolonialväldet på 1940-talet och han hade mycket att förtälja. För tio år sedan levde jag i Kabul i ett land som förötts av inbördeskrig, ockupation och förtryck sedan 1970-talet.

Dessa erfarenheter har lärt mig mycket om hur vardagslivet rullar på som vanligt mitt i allt allt tumult: barn går i skolan, bagaren säljer sitt bröd, medan moskéer och kyrkor kallar de trogna till bön såsom de gjort i över tusen år.

Tyrannen Mao Zedong slog en gång fast att gerillan rör sig mitt i det vanliga folket som fisken i vattnet. I min omtolkning: ockupanten må vara nog så hård och nitisk, men vardagslivets “bakgrundsbrus” stör många gånger ut de små företeelser han spanar efter.

Ett illustrativt exempel: Filmklippet ovan handlar om den oblodiga portugisiska nejlikerevolutionen 1974, vilken jag som femtonåring följde via svensk TV. Movimento das Forças Armadas, en grupp demokratiskt sinnade löjtnanter och kaptener, störtade  den högerdiktatur som styrt sedan 1932. De planerade sin kupp skymda av rutinmässiga militärsysslor, så säkerhetspolisen urskiljde inte vad som var på gång inuti den krigsmakt som så länge varit regimen trogen.

Om jag skulle göra Partisan idag, skulle jag lägga ut texten ordentligt om just detta: hur underjordens folk gömmer sig mitt i överjordens vardag.

Steampunk and the Dark Man’s Burden

Colonialism is a frequent backdrop to my stories, regardless whether I write dieselpunk or fantasy, stories or role-playing games. Since I have one foot in Europe and one in India, I have had the unusual experience of seeing that phenomenon from both sides. Some of the elders of my Indian clan, all of them sadly departed by now, participated in the liberation struggles in the 1930s and 1940s, whereas others served in the British Indian army and fought the Japanese. All had much to tell me and I cherish those memories. And here in Europe it is hard to avoid the “white man’s burden” narrative of colonialism; it appears in all kinds of popular culture.

So I write about characters from both sides of the fence and let them explain by themselves how they relate to an authoritarian colonial order − make no mistake about it: colonialism is getting a stranger’s fist punched in your face, even though the force of the blow may vary depending on what nation does the colonizing and when.

“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” − From The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

Scene from the US conquest of the Philippines circa 1900. Artist: Vasili Vereshchagin

Colonialism often gets soft-pedalled in steampunk. SM Stirling’s alt-history Indian Raj in Peshawar Lancers is an illustrating example: the author unsuccessfully strives for a Kipling-ish mood in a tall tale (featuring airships, evil cults, etc) in which romanticized British and French adventurers save a colonial regime, and incidentally its native subjects, from Russian machinations, while Indian nationalists appear as terrorists and Afghan tribesmen resemble pseudo-Orcs. Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine approaches the same issues in a less rose-tinted manner, for example by an unflattering portrayal of the English protagonists’ harsh attitudes toward First Nation Americans.

So this is the above-mentioned burden of colonized peoples: to be amusing sidekicks, expendable femmes fatales, and devious adversaries to white protagonists, or to be background witnesses to the plot-shaking actions of Americo-European heroes. It reminds me of Arthur Conan Doyle’s use of foreign characters in his fiction, for example devious or temperamental Italians and South Americans, or the predatorial savage in The Sign of Four. Such aliens are strange to behold and difficult to comprehend, thus becoming menacing outsiders to white insiders − them versus us, the psychological curse afflicting colonial settlements everywhere.

However, all is not gloom. In Steve Turnbull’s novellas about Anglo-Indian sleuth Maliha Anderson, Indians are full-fledged protagonists in his steampunk Raj and Ceylon. And I approach colonialism with a critical mindset in my dieselpunk novel The Ice War, in which, for example, Eurasian spy Johnny Bornewald faces widespread racism, and is at times able to exploit that sentiment, because those contemptuous Europeans presume that he is an ignorant yokel.

Podcast: Funderingar kring ång- och dieselpunk

Summary in English: A Swedish podcast about what is steam- and dieselpunk. My debut in podcasting.

Den gångna helgen var min dotter Elin och jag på Silwersteam, en steampunkkongress i Eskilstuna. Där blev vi ombedda att delta i Fandompodden #49 som tar en titt på företeelserna ångpunk och dieselpunk. Bland annat använder jag Miyazaki-filmerna Howl’s Moving Castle och Laputa som exempel på vad de två genrerna kan erbjuda, och förklarar varför jag gillar att författa dieseläventyr. Länk till podcasten >>>

Artist: Ian McQue

Walking the winding path of creativity

Already in third grade, I was a day-dreaming science fiction enthusiast, who made up my own fantastic stories. Forty-five years later, I am still like that: the dreams, the story-telling, the urge to go into the unknown to discover what lurks there.

Well, a Huffington Post article (link >>>) explains that these are common traits among highly creative individuals. So according to its list of eighteen characteristics, I am a fairly normal kind of SF/fantasy/RPG author.

And I have recently seen how one of my children has decided to join me along that winding path as a companion in arms. Together we explore the mountains and plateaus of the World’s Rimlands. Are we a jedi knight and a padawan on the path to self-realization? Bagheera and Mowgli? Lurgan Sahib and Kim? Regardless, I have found one of fatherhood’s unforeseen blessings.

Scroungetech Vehicle

In a post-apocalyptic environment, the ability to scrounge technology will be essential for survival. Some people do that already today. They will therefore fare well after the collapse of civilization, be it by war (as in Twilight 2000), by an alien invasion (as in Wastelands) or by a climate disaster.

A jugaadu, an Indian scrounge-tech vehicle based on a Maruti frame. (Click on picture for a bigger version.)