Traveller Chronicle Short Fiction
Traveller Chronicle. Various Authors
Original Publication: 1993-1997
Current Availability: Out of Print
Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared on RPG.Net in October of 2009, and is reprinted here and in Freelance Traveller’s January 2010 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.
Before GDW ever put out its New Era novels, there was a magazine that hit the ground running with Traveller short fiction. Between 1993 and 1997 this ’zine showed how much more important fiction was becoming for the whole roleplaying industry.
This thirteenth review covers the short, standalone fiction that was published in Traveller Chronicle magazine.
An Overview of the Magazine
Traveller Chronicle was a fanzine that covered a wide spectrum of Traveller material. Besides material for Classic Traveller, MegaTraveller, and Traveller: The New Era, Traveller Chronicle was also the first mainstream Traveller fanzine to publish any notable amount of Traveller fiction. There were five standalone stories published over the magazine’s existence, in issues #1, #2, #3, #8, and #12.
I’ll be covering these five pieces in this article.
“The Trap of Triton”, Gary A. Kalin (Traveller Chronicle #1). This first piece of fiction appeared in the first issue of the magazine. It’s the story of a Sol System SDB, the Intrepid, which receives an emergency distress signal from a ship that’s crashed on the surface of Triton and is in danger of sinking into a lake of liquid methane.
Unfortunately, the writing in “The Trap of Triton” is altogether bad. It’s stilted and juvenile. Here’s an example:
Suddenly the hatch opened. A small form in a yellow spacesuit peeked out. Ridpath felt an icy chill run down his back. “A child!” He stepped through the hatch and switched off his grav belt.
Terror was on the face of the ten year old boy. “Help me, please!”
Beyond that, the situation isn’t particularly original, nor is it told in a particularly interesting way. I give “The Trap of Triton” a “1” for Style and a “1” for Substance; it’s not worth reading for its storytelling alone.
Applicability. “The Trap of Triton” makes use of Traveller technology. It mentions SDB, Seeker-class ships, grav belts, and laser rifles. The situation could be used as an encounter in the game. But there’s nothing about the background that screams “Solomani Sphere”, and the tech alone isn’t enough to make reading this dreadful piece worthwhile.
“Mercury Quest”, Gary A. Kalin (Traveller Chronicle #2). This is another story of the Intrepid. While visiting Earth, Orson Ridpath, the commander of the Intrepid, gets involved with the assassination of an Admiral of the Solomani fleet. Ridpath soon realizes that the Imperium has infiltrated Terra and is searching for the wreckage of an ancient Imperial carrier that might have crashed on Mercury. The story ends with a “to be concluded in issue 3.”
The writing is perhaps a bit better, with the sentences being a bit less monotonous. The situation is considerably more interesting, as politics, conspiracy, and history all come to a head, presumably against the background of the Rebellion (though that isn’t entirely clear). I still give it a Style rating of “1”, but that’s trending upward, and the Substance is more like a “3”.
Applicability. This interactions between the Solomani and the Imperium would probably be of interest to a Traveller GM running on the rimward side of Charted Space. Similarly, the quest for a crashed ship from a previous war would make a fine adventure, especially with other forces trying to get to the ship simultaneously. Despite the poor style, “Mercury Quest” is probably worth reading for inspiration--though it’s not worth paying $50 or $100 for this early, small-press issue of Traveller Chronicle.
“Mercury Quest, Part Two”, Gary A. Kalin (Traveller Chronicle #3). Gary Kalin concluded his story of a lost Imperial ship in the third issue of Traveller Chronicle. It’s an issue that I don’t have, but I think it’s fair to guess that it was largely the same as the first half of the story.
“Test Flight”, Jo Jaquinta (Traveller Chronicle #8). By its eighth issue, Traveller Chronicle was a slick, full-sized magazine, and the quality of its content had increased correspondingly. Thus we got “Test Flight”, the story of an early space flight of an atmospheric ship of some sort.
Technically, the writing is pretty good. However, it doesn’t really gel as a whole. It’s all dialogue, which doesn’t end up really describing the action (or the circumstances) of the story. There’s also a lot of flippancy that doesn’t feel authentic. Finally, the situation is so entirely uninteresting that I don’t know why the story was written. I give it a Style of “2” and a Substance of “1”.
Applicability. If this story is set in the Traveller universe, it’s too subtle for me. The ship doesn’t have grav compensators, which most Traveller ships would. Since it mentions “January”, I suppose this could be an early story of Terran exploration, but then so could a lot of other science-fiction that’s not Traveller. This vapid story isn’t really worth digging up.
“An Offer You Can't Refuse …”, Mark Urbin (Traveller Chronicle #12). The last standalone piece of fiction in Traveller Chronicle was another short little snippet, this time a two-page piece by Mark Urbin. It tells the story of Garek Sung of the March Hare accepting his position on that ship shortly after the end of the Fifth Frontier War.
It’s another high-brow piece, like “Test Flight” was intended to be. Again, I’d say that the writing is all technically quite good. Urbin gives us a first-person point of view and tries hard to make it obvious that his character is someone with a long history. If anything, he overdoes it, so that in two short pages we’re deluged with a constant stream of old history, some of which makes sense, some of which doesn’t.
After he takes the job, Sung learns a little about the people hiring him ... and then the story abruptly stops. I looked around a bit to make sure there was no continuation. Apparently, I just didn’t get it, because nothing in the story gave me any closure ... but then barely anything happened either. I give it a Style of “3” and a Substance of “1”.
Applicability. Urbin certainly uses tons of Traveller buzz words in this piece, like Regina, Imperial Navy, Vargr, and Bwap. However, they all feel totally flat; there’s nothing behind them, and they probably won’t make any sense unless you’re already familiar with Traveller, which is pretty much how I’d describe the whole story (and maybe the problem with the story is that I’m just not familiar enough with something in the Traveller universe to “get it”). In any case, repetition of buzzwords doesn’t do a lot to help me get into the feel of a universe, thus this is another story that doesn’t help out Traveller GMs much, in my opinion.
Summary Thoughts on The Stories
Having read through my reviews of the individual stories, you can probably already see that I’m not particularly impressed by them. They generally aren’t good stories, and I don’t think they’re worth the time to read (though at least the latter two are so short that they’re mostly harmless). The writing fluctuates from poor in the first stories to overwritten in the last ones; none of the content is particularly notable. Thus I’ve given the short fiction of Traveller Chronicle a “2” for Style and a “1” for Substance.
Note that I didn’t include A Long Way Home in this rating. That’s a New Era novel that had 16 chapters serialized in Traveller Chronicle #11-13 and was later published in its complete 34-chapter form by Avenger Enterprises and Comstar in 2007. I’ll be covering that longer work in a separate review.
Traveller Chronicle is one of the more difficult Traveller magazines to collect. It just doesn’t show up a lot and the early issues are particularly rare. (For some reason, issue #3, one of the two I’m missing, seems to be the rarest.) I’ve thus seen early issues go for $50-$100 and later issues for $15-30.
From my comments here, it should be no surprise to you when I say that I don’t think the magazine is worth picking up for the five pieces of fiction reviewed herein. However, there was other good stuff in the magazine, including descriptions of a few different sectors (such as Far Frontiers and Diaspora) by some of the original authors (e.g., Dale L. Kemper and Charles E. Gannon). There’s also some nice material on Earth during the New Era in later issues. Take a look at RPGnet’s listing of Traveller Chronicle contents to see if there’s anything else that might interest you.
Traveller Chronicle was the first mainstream magazine to publish any notable amount of Traveller fiction; unfortunately its short fiction wasn’t very good.