Podcasten Bortom: Jag blickar tillbaks på mina 40+ år i branschen

Summary in English: I have been interviewed in a Swedish podcast about my 40+ yaers in the RPG business.

Robert Jonsson har intervjuat mig för sin podcast Bortom Bortom. I avsnitt 62, inbäddat nedan, berättar jag om hur jag började med hobbyn och tar er med på en resa igenom min karriär där världsskapandet är den röda tråden. Jag berör bland annat rollspelen Drakar och Demoner, Mutant 2, Partisan, Gondica och Wastelands.

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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.

Space 1889: Fighting Leopold’s Tyranny

Our group has been playing one continuous Space 1889 campaign on and off since 1990. Now we have reached 1898, though only two PCs have been along for the whole ride. We have played a group of Swedish and Russian aristocrats with retinues, serving Monarch and Motherland in distant dangerous places.

Leopold II, probably the most evil man in the Victorian world.


However, I have recently decided to make a mood reboot. In 2019, I will start a new story arch that focuses on fighting the rapacious regime of Leopold II, king of the Belgians and of the Congo Free State in the Coprates. His activities have so far not figured in our campaign, because its adventures have mainly been located in the Parhoon/Syrtis/Gorklimsk region.

The players will create new characters that come from the middle and lower classes, and who are working for a Martian equivalent of the Congo Reform Association, though with more guts and glory. I have decided that in our timeline, the Coprates Colony is owned by the Congo Free State government in order to make it a more fearsome and despicable antagonist. The PCs are financed by American philanthropists who wish to see an end to Leopold’s abominable exploitation of the natives. The PCs have a fairly free hand to achieve this, since their faraway benefactors are shielded by a plausible deniability setup. More old-school Mission Impossible and Indiana Jones than Edmund Dene Morel punching Congostaters is a good and righteous deed.

Space 1889: Martian Gun Towers

These drawings by Jeffrey Chew of 19th-century colonial fortifications, so called Martellos, are easily adapted to the peculiarities of Martian warfare, primarily by the addition of machine guns or pompoms that are supposed to engage airborne foes. After all, raids by High Martians are uncomfortably common at outlying garrisons that guard mountain passes or caravan routes.

On Venus, one would find these towers next to trading posts and ports.

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

Dusk and Dawn, v 1.2

My second revision of the Patchwork World novella Dusk and Dawn is progressing nicely thanks to my buddies in the Mellonath Hirgon writers’ group. Their input is improving my text week by week. However, I make no prediction about when the story will be complete. Anyhow, here is a teaser: the first page. In medias res — that’s my preferred way of starting a tale.


At the first glimmer of dawn, thunderclaps shattered Fennec’s sleep – the customary reveille by the enemy’s siege guns since nineteen days. The androgyne rolled out of bed and grabbed xer trousers and pistol belt. Moments later xe dashed through the citadel corridors towards the observatory staircase while servants backed into nooks and crannies to protect their breakfast trays.

When Fennec reached the top of the spiral stair, xer legs ached from exertion. The circular observatory topped by a copper hemisphere was warm and soon the rising sun would make it baking hot. There six soldiers monitored the siege with tripod-mounted telescopes that peeked through slits in the cupola. The men’s black torsos already glistened with sweat.

Towering above Fennec, the soldiers saluted perfunctorily with right fist on left collarbone: “Good morning, my domi!”

“Good morning, troopers. Any signs of a relief force?”

“No, my domi,” said the corporal in charge.

Crap, yet another lost day, Fennec thought while exhaling sharply between tense lips. Vanzan Shor’s allies apparently kept on dawdling, thereby forcing the city state to stand alone against the Commonwealth’s armed might. “As you were, men,” xe ordered.

The soldiers bent over their tubes and resumed spying at the enemies. Fennec approached the man who gazed along the outward canal going to the invaders’ realm. Nervous tingles flittered along xer spine. Have they set up any new heavy guns?