The Death of Wisdom
The Death of Wisdom. Paul Brunette.
Original Publication: 1995
Current Availability: eBook
Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared on RPG.Net in September of 2009, and in the November 2011 issue of the downloadable magazine and reprinted here with the author’s permission.
I think that one of the best ways to prepare yourself to run a game is to immerse yourself in its fiction, and thus get a real sense of its milieu. Thus, this series of reviews, which looks at some of the fiction that influenced Traveller, was influenced by Traveller, or is actually set in the Traveller universe.
It was in 1995—almost 20 years since the release of Traveller and well after the first appearance of gaming fiction in the mid-1980s—that GDW finally decided to enter the field with its own stories about the Traveller universe.
This ninth review covers The Death of Wisdom, a Traveller: The New Era novel by Paul Brunette, and the first of a trilogy.
About the Story
The Death of Wisdom starts off aboard the ship of Coeur d’Espirit, in the middle of a desperate battle during the MegaTraveller Rebellion. Perhaps the introduction is meant to bridge the timespan between the Rebellion and The New Era in the Traveller universe; whatever the case, d’Espirit soon finds herself misjumped to far between the stars and thus forced to take a one-way low-berth trip to the New Era.
The actual story of The Death of Wisdom is about d’Espirit (or “Red Sun”, to use her New Era callsign) returning to the stars aboard a merchant trader newly built by the Reformation Coalition. As she jumps from world to world, we learn a bit about the New Era.
However, it’s on the planet of Ra that everything truly changes. That’s where Red Sun discovers a plague that’s annihilating the Hivers of the area. Her ship may be the only hope for the survival of the species within the Coalition ...
Genre & Style
Unlike any of the earlier Traveller-related books that I’ve reviewed, The Death of Wisdom falls very squarely into the category of “gaming fiction”. By this I mean not fiction set in the world of an RPG (for which Force of Destiny would have met that criteria), but instead fiction that could have been drawn straight from a roleplaying game.
I’m not convinced it’s a particularly appealing genre. Among other things, it tends to have two pretty notable flaws. First of all, it tends to be pretty rambling, with the group of adventurers randomly bouncing from one location to another rather than a solid plot driving the book. Second, characters tend to be pretty cardboard.
The Death of Wisdom definitely matches up with these expectations. The book is a travelogue, and though there is a tiny bit of differentiation between characters, they’re still quite shallow, and any personality they might have isn’t taken advantage of. Though I don’t see it as often in gaming fiction, this book had one other weakness: an insistence on using in-game jargon, a topic I’ll return to.
Despite this weak start, The Death of Wisdom is still a fair book. Brunette’s plotting is as strong as the structure allows and if his writing doesn’t shine, it doesn’t detract either. Comparing it to something like the first two Swycaffer books, I find it better polished, but less compelling.
Overall, I feel some ambivalence toward this book. I doubt I’ll ever read it again, but other than the book being a bit longer (and/or slower) than the story supported, I enjoyed reading most of it. I’ve thus given The Death of Wisdom an ambivalent “3” out of “5” for both Style and Substance, with Substance edging out Style by just a bit.
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
The Death of Wisdom was arguably the first-ever Traveller novel. In fact, it offers a pretty good argument because the book says Traveller: The New Era right on the cover (and the spine and the back cover and the second page and the third page and the fourth page ...). Unlike Not in Our Stars, it’s set square in the Traveller universe. Unlike Force of Destiny it was published shortly after it was written, and it was set in an area actively undergoing development from GDW. Of course some folks might not really consider “The New Era” Traveller ... but the Classic Traveller era still hasn’t attracted much writing today, let alone back in 1995.
I think The Death of Wisdom does quite a good job of portraying the New Era world of the Reformation Coalition. It’s perhaps not as desperate as the RPG made things out, but you get a good feel for a group rebuilding the universe and the troubles that they face. This novel made me much more interested in gaming in The New Era universe than the RPG ever did.
So how does that translate to Mongoose Traveller players?
I think The Death of Wisdom is just about as useful as anything else I’ve reviewed for giving a feeling for the Traveller setting. It’s pretty enmeshed in the society and technology of the Traveller RPG. If anything, it’s a little too enmeshed, as Brunette’s decision to throw around terms like “TL” (Tech Level) and “Law Level” as in-world concepts set my teeth on edge. Even beyond that we get a good feeling for the different sorts of ships, for the vastness of space, and for the way the one interacts with the other (though I still don’t know how Red Sun’s merchant ship manages a few jumps to empty space en route to other locations; I guess it must have been fitted out with extra fuel space to allow two jumps).
The Hivers are the Traveller element which shines the best in The Death of Wisdom. You get quite a good impression of their nature—of their twinned cowardice and need to control. Even moreso, you really understand how people can be suspicious of them. There’s some dialogue near the end of the book that suggests that the whole Reformation Coalition might be a “manipulation” intended to drive humanity to its death against the Vampire Fleets. Though I have more faith in the good will of the Hivers than that, it makes one wonder what their purpose is, and makes it easy to understand why they could be distrusted.
Generally, I think a Mongoose GM would get something out of The Death of Wisdom. However, it’s not a good enough book to be worth a whole lot of effort to find ... unless you’re particularly wanting to read about the hivers.
The Death of Wisdom—the first novel to actually carry the Traveller logo—is an adequate book that offers an interesting look at both the New Era and the Hivers race.