Become the Hunted
Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared on RPG.Net in August 2009, and was reprinted here and in the October 2011 issue of Freelance Traveller magazine 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.
Become the Hunted. Jefferson P. Swycaffer
Original Publication: 1985
Current Availability: Print (used)
Among the Traveller-influenced books were seven by Jefferson P. Swycaffer that were published in the 1980s. Though these books didn’t take place in the Traveller universe, the physics, technology, and feeling of the stories were all straight Traveller.
This eighth review covers Become the Hunted, the second story of the Concordat by Jefferson P. Swycaffer.
About the Story
Set in the same universe as Swycaffer’s earlier novel, Not in Our Stars, Become the Hunted actually occurs some time previous to the earlier volume. It centers upon a minor character from that novel, Captain Athalos Steldan and tells the tale of how he helped to created the state of the Concordat as seen in Not in Our Stars.
Become the Hunted is a story that is at once very small and very large. On the one hand, it’s set on a single planet and centered on a single person, Steldan. He is on the run from the navy of the Concordat, and although we don’t really understand the reasons at first, it’s pretty obvious to the reader that he’s been set up. On the other hand, it’s a very big story, because Steldan is being hunted for something that he’s learned, something that could change the whole Concordat.
(And, for those of us who have read Not in Our Stars, we very quickly come to see that Steldan is wrapped up in the very conspiracy that leads Admiral Devon of the earlier novel to see a conspiracy in his own time as well.)
Genre and Style
Though Become the Hunted is definitely a step up from Not in Our Stars, it’s still not a well-written novel. My biggest problem is the railroading. It feels like Steldan is supposed to be free for a certain amount of time, so he remains in the clear, then when the hunter forces start to close in on him, this result seems equally inevitable.
Part of this is due to Swycaffer telling rather than showing what’s going on. One of the people hunting after Steldan comments that no one has ever evaded her for as long as him, then later congratulates him for a great chase ... but we never see Steldan really shining in this regard. He has some criminals make him some false identity papers, and for much of the book, that’s the extent of his amazing evasion abilities.
Beyond that, I could offer a number of minor critiques. The characters’ emotions feel stilted and somewhat artificial. I also never feel like I have a handle on most of them, with the possible exception of Steldan himself. Finally, the book gets a bit dull toward the middle when we spend 30 or 40 pages away from the main character.
Despite all of that, I did find the book interesting. There were sections in the first and third parts of the book which I even found gripping. They kept me reading. I also found the plot original and relatively believable, as various conspirators fight to keep everything that they’ve fought for from unraveling. Finally, I think it’s neat that this book elucidates some of the backstory of Not in Our Stars, and I like the coherent vision of a universe that Swycaffer is creating.
I should also comment here that I’m pretty surprised that Swycaffer changed the genre that he was writing to so much. Whereas his first novel was pure naval military SF, this one is much more action-adventure. I’ll talk about that more momentarily.
Putting together the good and the bad, I found Become the Hunter to be pretty average. I’ve given it a “3” out of “5” for both Style and Substance, while also noting that it’s a step up for Swycaffer, which is a good trend, even if it only has two data points.
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
As with the last book, this one notes that it draws on some of the concepts and ideas from Traveller. While this is certainly true, the connection is much weaker here.
I think that’s because when you strip away the actual Imperium, much of what makes the universe of Traveller unique is the physics of its space travel. Since we’re deep in the gravity well of a single planet until the very end of this book, we see very little of that.
However, the Traveller universe does have one other strong characteristic: an ability to include not just many different stories, but also many different genres. In just the first several weeks of my own Traveller campaign, I’ve run mystery, disaster, action-adventure, intrigue, and science-fiction. Similarly, as I’ve already noted, Swycaffer has jumped from a military SF novel to a fugitive story. I think that’s a lesson worth learning for any Traveller GM.
But is this book worth tracking down just for its faint ties to Traveller? I’d probably say no, unless you’ve read other Concordat novels and want to learn more about the universe, or unless you happen to stumble upon a copy of this novel that you could pick up without effort.
Become the Hunted is a fair book with pretty weak ties to the Traveller universe, despite its root in that very game. It’s a fugitive novel by a somewhat inexperienced writer, all resulting it in being of only minor interest to its Traveller GM.