What are two great tastes that taste great together? I don’t know either. You get this instead.
In 1995, Chaosium licensed Call of Cthulhu out to Steve Jackson Games for use in their own GURPS game line. But not for a direct adaptation, no; got to avoid direct competition, you understand. Instead they decided to mash it up with Cyberworld, GURPS’s pet cyberpunk setting, for reasons that remain blessedly obscured to mortals. After conducting foul ceremonies culminating in the ritual sacrifice of a Wizards of the Coast employee, probably, they summoned another GURPS awkward marriage like Zombieland, USA – except this one seems quite a bit better put together. Let’s take a look, shall we?
CthulhuPunk. The Cthulhu Mythos meets cyberpunk. At first glance, it might seem an unlikely combination.
So, uh, let's talk about another setting involving imperialism!
That wasn’t weed.
Setting information! I lied last time, I decided to go through this section setting-technology-culture, all of which are packed together in one fat chapter. Apparently this section just restates stuff from the Cyberworld sourcebook with an emphasis on how it might interact with the Mythos. Given just how much setting information it dumps on you, that sourcebook must be absolutely titanic.
I didn’t enjoy 2017 much either, but it wasn’t THAT bad.
The current year is 2040… something, I couldn’t find an exact date. Cyberworld sure wasn’t shy about kicking its alternate history off; the first event listed in the timeline this book provides (Boris Yeltsin’s assassination) happened one year after this book was published, and the two big factors that shaped Cyberworld should have come and gone by now. The first was a superbug called Tolliver’s Disease (and several nicknames, including my favorite, “the Toller”) that killed over 1 billion people and caused societal collapse in many parts of the world. While first world nations were able to get access to the cure pretty quick once it came out, but much of the Third World couldn’t get their hands on it fast enough to keep their governments from collapsing – meaning we’re back to Darkest Africa (and India) again (we’ll cover what’s messed up about THAT later). The second big event was a massive market crash in 2006, which was… unfortunately prescient, but this one was a lot more severe than the Great Recession – bad enough to kill millions due to its economic and social repercussions. Even decades later, most national currencies have been superseded by their corporate equivalents. What did they call it?
…the Grand Slam. Amazing.
“The Toller” can leave scars so severe they affect your Attractiveness rating.
Geopolitics! The US is firmly in decline, superseded by rising powers elsewhere. After both political parties exploded around the turn of the millennium, an archconservative named Patterson came to power in the wake of his predecessor’s assassination (possibly at his own hand). Patterson blamed it on an “Army of Satanic Order” he probably made up and basically started up the Satanic Panic again. After a few decades the US government’s decayed into a pseudo-theocratic dictatorship under his successor, a former secret police administrator named Hammond. It’s pretty standard dystopian stuff; everyone has a citizenship status, censorship is universal, the secret police has a god-awful nickname, etc. For some reason the US diplomatically annexed both the bulk of Mexico and Cuba, though the latter is going through yet another revolution right now; while now US citizens in theory, they are effectively second-class citizens because, you know, neocons. Canada has broken into independent parts, while Alaska keeps its distance from the central government and remains actually democratic. What about Central America and the Caribbean? What about Central America and the Caribbean?
In South America, Brazil’s been turned into a giant nature preserve by the Russo-Japanese (more on them in a bit) and most other countries are relatively prosperous but struggling with massive drug cartels growing cyber-cocaine and techno-heroin. The big exception is Chile and Argentina, which now, unified as – wait for it – Chiletina, position themselves as the world’s fastest growing economy and “the upstart of the 21st-century international scene”. If it’s cutting-edge and not from the Russo-Japanese, it’s from them. If it’s not from either of those two, it comes from somewhere else in the Pacific Rim; any of the Asian Tigers, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, etc., all of which are growing and prosperous. Singapore is both the region’s unofficial capital and the center of its black market.
The book doesn’t even mention Indonesia . Sorry guys.
Disneyland’s doing better these days.
Europe’s done pretty well for itself – it’s formed
the European Union United Europe as a coherent, united political entity. Unlike the EU, its members seem to have some internal independence but operate as a single political unit abroad; the UE has accepted its status as a secondary power compared to rising stars elsewhere and European companies pop up frequently whenever the book dips into technology. The Middle East is in worse shape. Israel has… somehow… unwittingly taken over huge swathes of neighboring territory and is struggling not to turn into a hellstate or explode, while most Muslim countries (especially Iran, which absorbed Iraq) spend their time squabbling and jockeying for influence. Everybody’s nervously watching the closest thing the region has to a rising power: the Central Asian Federation, a militaristic dictatorship eyeing its neighbors for territory. This will be the first and last time the book mentions Central Asia.
How jaded do you have to be to look that bored firing a submachine gun?
But as much as the US, Europe, Chiletina, and various other powers around the world might try, they can’t compare to the Russo-Japanese Economic Union. Originating in an agreement between the CIS and Japan that was supposed to relieve the economic troubles and disorder of the former and of the overpopulation (hah!) and resource shortages of the second, it’s morphed into the planet’s economic, industrial, and even cultural center. Like, a good half the setting's most powerful corporations have Russian or Japanese names. Of course, there’s a brewing power struggle between the wealthier Japanese part and the resentful rest of the Union, but that has yet to boil over.
Australia just kind of… got depopulated. Everyone on the Australian mainland got killed by a mysterious disease in just six months a few ways back, so the island’s been quarantined for the next few decades just in case (its neighbors and Tasmania are just fine). Best guess to what happened is a Chinese bioweapon gone off prematurely, but no one knows for sure. Right now, anyone who heads into the Outback (mostly disposables sent in in secret by various powers) disappears after about a week, but satellites still pick up some low-tech activity deep in the interior. Can you say “Mythos activity”? I can’t!
Speaking of which… oh boy, it’s time to cover Africa, India, and China.
We’re covering THIS now.
I’ll cover the book’s approach to issues of race and Lovecraft (and its successes and failures) in detail when it comes up later on, but it boils down to this: if one postulates a universe full of forces completely beyond humanity’s power to grasp or struggle with, the artificial definitions of race and culture look ridiculous. Lovecraft was so obsessed with race () he had an identity crisis when he discovered he might be part Irish; his concept of racial hierarchies ran so deep he felt he had to organize the universe along those lines. The author believes that undermines the point. A fear of incomprehensible outside forces runs through all of us, so portraying those forces as inherently unknowable foils any attempts to come to terms with and control them – a solid basis for a horror story. Sorting humans by appearance categories defeats the point. Racism is so mundane and social that, for anyone who isn’t Lovecraft or thinks like him, it just dilutes the cosmic horror and makes it look petty. Instead, the author chose to mix cosmic horror with cyberpunk, a genre also characterized by incomprehensible forces crushing people, but one where Lovecraft’s perfect Anglo-Saxon society has collapsed under its own rotten bulk and cultures from other parts of the world are calmly taking its place. It flips that script – societal change shaped by impersonal economic and cultural forces becomes another aspect of an incomprehensible universe. If so, no section of humanity is inherently better or worse than another; all of us are attempting to survive in a reality that barely acknowledges the differences between us before it runs us over.
And then they pull shit like this.
It isn’t that the author brings up racist themes when covering Africa, India, and China; he barely brings up anything. The description of India and Africa essentially reads ‘screwed over by the Grand Slam and not visited much’, while China just shut itself off from the outside world a couple decades back and nobody knows what’s going on inside there. But it’s no accident that the author declares the African continent and Indian subcontinent disorganized and, well, he actually describes those regions as being without civilization. Sound familiar? He’s just returned he extremely complex and sophisticated peoples and cultures to a uniform low so your characters can head out and be scared of natives in the jungle. And China? It’s no mistake that he’s had China seal itself off from the outside world. It neatly invokes Qing isolationism and the way Communist China sealed its borders to create The Mysterious East once again, ripe for GMs to insert Orientalist themes theoretically debunked the better part of a century ago. And let’s not forget, the non-Anglo-Saxon cultures that are rising to fill the gap? A union of two former colonial powers and one of the successors to another. You can’t do this in half measures, guy.
I really do believe there’s something to be said for cosmic horror and that this book has entertainment value, but you gotta untangle it from its roots first. Half-assing it doesn’t do anybody any favors.
Have a picture including no human beings.
Typo of the Day: Rurro-Japanere
Next Time: how can most members of a culture that spends all day on the Internet be only semiliterate?