Thursday, February 16, 2017

Super Scienctists, Sorcerers, & Synthetics - The Curious & Winding History Of The Android on 'Old Mars' & 'Old Venus'

Androids as we know them came about as early as Nineteen Twenty from Czech writer Karel Čapek's play R.U.R. which stands for Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots);"The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people, called roboti (robots), from synthetic organic matter. They are not exactly robots by the current definition of the term; they are living flesh and blood creatures rather than machinery and are closer to the modern idea of clones, they may be mistaken for humans and can think for themselves. They seem happy to work for humans at first but a robot rebellion leads to the extinction of the human race. Čapek later took a different approach to the same theme in War with the Newts, in which non-humans become a servant class in human society"
These are quite literally vat grown androids but R.U.R was hugely influential in Science Romance circles. And yes Mary Shelly's Frankenstein was the catyslist for all of the automatons to follow including R.U.R. but what does all of this have to do with 'Old Mars' & 'Old Venus'? As we shall see everything. In Clark Aston Smith's Zothique, Hyperborea, and Atlantis cycles respectively there is evidence of his wizards & sorcerers dipping their quills into the vat bred automaton issue. So much so that the Golems of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea are called automatons. In Warriors of The Red Planet that we get a PC race that are vat grown androids as a viable option for play.

But its once again Edgar Rice Burroughs who puts these flesh & blood creations in the lime light with his Einstein of Martian medicine Ras_Thavas. From organ transplants to full body conversion this gentlemen does it all in the mad scientist gig. He takes on Ulysses Paxton, as his apprentice because of his distrust of fellow Barsoomians.

You can download & read The Master Mind of Mars here.  from Amazing Stories Annual v01n01 (1927) (d Vaughn), this one is one of my favorite versions. Ras Thavas later on reforms and then pops up in the Synthetic Men of Mars when John Carter needs his help after his wife is gravely injured.  
Its really here that we see the true scope of the android or hormad races on 'Old Mars'.
" Synthetic Men of Mars (1939), by which time he has transferred his base to the dead city of Morbus in the Toonolian Marshes. There he has been experimenting in growing monstrous synthetic human beings called hormads. The most intelligent of these turn on him and force him to grow an army of hormads with which to conquer Barsoom. They also force their captive to transplant their brains into the bodies of imprisoned normal Martians. Ras's chance to turn the tables comes when the earthman John Carter, Warlord of Mars and prince of Helium, seeks his surgical aid for his wife Dejah Thoris, injured in an accident. Imprisoned with Ras, Carter and his companion Vor Daj plot with him against the hormads. Vor Daj is given the body of a hormad to spy on their captors; meanwhile, Carter and Ras escape, returning with a great fleet of airships from Helium. Vor Daj is recovered and Morbus, which has been overrun by a huge mass of cancerously growing hormad flesh, is destroyed with incendiary bombs. Ras then restores Vor Daj to his original body.
One hormad, Ras's pupil Pew Mogel, is later revealed in "John Carter and the Giant of Mars" (1940) to have escaped from Morbus and established a new base in the dead city of Korvas, from which he continues to plot world conquest using the scientific skills he gleaned from his mentor. His scheme is defeated by John Carter."
So there's a good chance that if your playing an android on Mars their an escaped homad, no wonder they might be screwed up. They've been hunted at every turn, and nearly killed by their own creator. But all of this goes back to an earlier work of ERB's called The Monster Men. "Cornell University professor Arthur Maxon, who has been experimenting in the creation of artificial life, travels with his daughter Virginia to one of the remote Pamarung Islands in the East Indies to pursue his project." One of his creations gets a hold of Virginia & runs amuck but how exactly did professor Arthur Maxon get a hold of either Ras_Thavas research or Rossum’s Universal Robots's materials for his experiments? In an interesting side note American naval vessel arrives; it turns out to be seeking von Horn a minor character & a deserter, to arrest him. An American navel vessel to arrest one deserter? No, I don't think so. Despite the 'happy ending' of the Monster Men I think your looking at two homad style androids Virginia & the protagonist Townsend J. Harper, Jr. whom are both prototype androids created by the good doctor whist he was in the employ of the US Navy. Barsoom has been in communication with Earth for decades using the Barsoomian version of Gridley wave FTL devices. Its a very simple matter to connect the plot points between ERB's various creations.

Dust-jacket illustration of The Monster Men
J. Allen St. John

When we get into Leigh Brackett's Old Solar System then things get really interesting, I mentioned Ras_Thavas's brain transfers? Well in 1946 Brackett wrote; "Lorelei of the Red Mist, in which the protagonist is a thief called Hugh Starke. Brackett finished the first half before turning it over to Ray Bradbury, so that she could leave to work on The Big Sleep." Hugh Starke has his brain transferred into the body of a warrior called Conan to be used as the cat's paw for a blue breasted sorceress. Yeah, that didn't work out the way she was expecting it. The interesting sword & sorcery bits are the giant Himalayan like mountains in the story, the super science aspects, & the hints of deeper android style technology laying just out of sight of the protagonist.  The novella is still very popular and remains one of the mainstays of Brackett's work. But there's a lot of OSR ground to cover here, for one thing the androids of WoRP are perfect additions as owners of lost kingdoms, guarders of hordes, & guardians of forbidden knowledge. This means that for Adventurer, Conqueror, King they're a nice addition to the roaster possible planetary NPC dangers & they make excellent opponents. 

But there's more here then simply guardians of forbidden secrets angle. Dealing with vat grown or even mechanical monster PC's are not the only player options. There are lots of angles that can be used. One of the other odd little corners of the cybernetic that came out in 1931 is the Jameson Satellite series about a human Professor Jameson whose body is cryopreserved & resurrected by the Zoromes  benevolent full conversion cybernetic aliens. So why mention this series? Because these entities are truly alien & yet fully capable of having all kinds of adventures across the cosmos. These are the type of alien being who would confront the horrors of the Mythos head on. These are not Mythos related stories but they are some old favorites of mine.
You can download the "The Jameson Satellite' here

But what about using androids and sythetics within OSR games is there a readily available PC class that can be used in other OSR games such as OSRIC or Advanced Labyrinth Lord? Well actually yes there is! PC6 - The OSR Android From  Jeremy Reaban
is perfect for adding an android PC class to your old school games, its designed with other retroclone D&D  versions: original edition, basic and expert edition, and the cyclopedia edition. Its pay what you want and its perfect for adding in a bit of that old ultra cybernetic to your old school games!
But where are the vat grown Andies originate? There are two very Lovecraftian possibilities, one is the Great Race of Yith whose hi jinks with time & space might have them building androids as time probes. The second Lovecrafian race is the Elder Things, think about it. If they can create shoggoths & other bio organic organisms this might be the origin point for all of the vat grown android technology we've discussed so far.
"Formless protoplasm able to mock and reflect all forms and organs and processes - viscous agglutinations of bubbling cells - rubbery fifteen-foot spheroids infinitely plastic and ductile - slaves of suggestion, builders of cities - more and more sullen, more and more intelligent, more and more amphibious, more and more imitative! Great God! What madness made even those blasphemous Old Ones willing to use and carve such things?"
-H.P. Lovecraft, "At the Mountains of Madness"

So once again this begs the question, are there hidden caches of lost Lovecraftian technology just waiting for PC's in the high mountains of  Old Mars & Venus? I think so & now suddenly the Star Trek Episode, What Little Girls Are Made of makes a bit more sense. There are reasons for this; "Given that the episode in which they appeared was written by horror author Robert Bloch, a fan of horror author H. P. Lovecraft (and wrote frequently for the Cthulhu Mythos), the Old Ones here were based on the Old Ones of Lovecraft's writings. (The Star Trek Compendium, 4th ed., pp. 40-41) Bloch also wrote "Catspaw", which makes reference to another "Old Ones"."  So there could be a number of androids running around your Star Ships & Space Men Second edition games with some very Lovecraftian origin points.

But who are these 'Old Ones'? Well I think that the Great Race of Yith is a good contender for these folks.
Could androids be found in other venues such as Hyperborea or even Earth? The quick & easy answer is yes. Given the isolated communities, the lone adventurers, & wizard's passion for relic technology. Such a relic as an independent technician android would be invaluable. The Logan's Run television show's Rem was a good example of this sort of an NPC.

Playing an android can be one of the most rewarding but challenging things that a player can do. But there is far more to the synthetics of classic science fantasy then many players realize & that's your in dungeon masters! Happy Rpging! More to come!

This post is not an attempt to violate the copyrights or trademarks of any 
of the films nor properties named in this post. All ideas are for a 
private table top rpg campaign. None of the ideas or opinions expressed 
in this post are meant to violate the trademarks nor copy rights of any 
of the table top rpgs discussed nor are they in away responsible for the
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