To Dream of Chaos
To Dream of Chaos. Paul Brunette
Original Publication: 1995
Current Availability: eBook only
Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared on RPG.Net in October of 2007, and is reprinted here and in Freelance Traveller’s December 2011 issue with the author’s permission.
Author’s Note: 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.
In 1995, GDW put out two-thirds of a trilogy set in the New Era. Within I describe the second of those books.
This eleventh review covers To Dream of Chaos, a Traveller: The New Era novel by Paul Brunette, and the second of an (unfinished) trilogy.
About the Story
To Dream of Chaos is set a bit after The Death of Wisdom. Following the success of the RCS Hornet’s first mission, the crew was split up (obviously). But now, because a new problem has arisen that no other RCS ship is equipped to take care of, the band must be put back together again.
The problem this time is that a black globe generator has been discovered out in the Wilds, on the planet of Mexit. Unfortunately, the ship that uncovered it has gone missing. So the crew of the Hornet must travel far beyond the RCS’ safe zone and deal with a potentially hostile government, all while juggling the differing goals of Aubaine and Oriflamme within the RCS.
Genre & Style
Like The Death of Wisdom, To Dream of Chaos falls right into the category of “gaming fiction”. It’s a long, picaresque journey followed by a long, multi-step problem that appears on Mexit.
In my last review, I said that most gaming fiction is also poorly characterized—I think because plot is usually put in front of character. Though that was the case in The Death of Wisdom, it’s obvious that Paul Brunette is really growing as a writer in this new book, because he spends extensive time showing us his characters at work and at play, so that we know them better.
And when I say extensive, I mean very extensive. Mind-numbingly extensive even. Though technically I think that Brunette tells a more mature and more nuanced story in this second book, viscerally it’s very boring. At 352 pages in a microscopic 6 or 8 point type, I can’t even guess how many words are in this book, other than way too many.
I also did have one major issue with characterization in this book, which is that almost everyone gets really chummy with a mass murderer from the last book who was one of the main movers in the Hiver genocide plot. That one character note rang very false.
Based on the fact that book was a slog to read, I barely let To Dream of Chaos eke in a “2” out of “5” for Style; it almost dropped to a “1”. However, I think the actually story was fair, particularly in its depiction of very standard TNE tropes, which is my next topic. As such it got a “3” out of “5” for Substance.
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
Though this is clearly a Traveller novel, it doesn't spend much time on things that I think would be of interest to a Mongoose Traveller GM, like the way technology works and the nature of species like the Hivers. I can’t recommend it for a Mongoose GM, even if I weren't to consider the stylistic issues.
However, for a gamemaster running in the TNE era, it’s (somewhat burnished) gold.
The Death of Wisdom dealt with what I feel was a somewhat atypical TNE adventure, where another pocket empire actually tried to destroy (or cripple) the RCS by genociding the Hivers.
Conversely, To Dream of Chaos feels much more like a typical TNE adventure. There’s a last-war weapons cache, and the RCS needs to recover and/or destroy it. In the process, the crew runs into problems with Virus, with a TEDdie, and with a ground hog.
(That’s runaway computers, a tyrant who rules by controlling technology, and someone from the last war who went into stasis, for those of you not up on your TNE terminology.)
Beyond that, there’s a great focus on Aubaine, the RCS, and Oriflamme, which would be a really nice foundation for someone running games in the era.
About the Missing Book
Before I close up, I should probably address what happened to the third book in the trilogy, The Backwards Mask. GDW went out of business shortly after the publication of To Dream of Chaos, and so the third book in this trilogy was never published.
In interviews Marc Miller has said that as far as he knew the third book was never written by Brunette. However, I’ve heard tell that Paul Brunette has made the third book available in manuscript version via eBay and via an online fan fiction site (though if the latter is true, the book has since been removed). So, I’d say there’s a decent chance that the original conclusion for the trilogy exists.
A couple of years ago, Marc Miller commissioned someone else to write a third book in the series. It’s been two or three years since, however, and nothing seems to have come of it.
I don’t think it really matters. Both extant books are fine standalones and it’s not like the series was revealing any TNE metaplot. There’s at least one dangling plot—what happens to the mass murderer, who we’re apparently supposed to like now—but I don’t really care enough to be disappointed by not seeing that revelation. Frankly, I’m relieved I don't have to read another book in this series.
(Though if either version turns up, I’ll probably loyally review it for this review series.)
To Dream of Chaos was a slow slog that I would not have made it through if I weren’t reviewing the book. Given that it also doesn’t offer much of interest for the Golden Age era of play, I can’t recommend it for a Mongoose GM, though anyone running a game out in The New Era might give it a try.