“Call it speculative nonfiction, or cryptojournalism, or historico-literary ranting, or guided daydreaming or collective-unconscious channeling, or edutainment disinformation, or fabulaic mimesis, or polymorphously perverse media-jamming, or any other semi-oxymoronic term you care to employ, so long as the new phrase conveys the proper sense of daring, erudition, obstinate refusal to accept consensus reality, playfulness, willingness to go out on a limb then saw the limb away, and all the other qualities traditionally associated with humanity’s greatest rebels, outcasts, eccentrics, visionaries, saints, madmen and plain old bullgoose loonies.”
That’s just the start of a glowing introduction from Paul di Filippo to Matthew Rossi’s Things That Never Were, a collection of short essays that range across the fields of history, science and their pseudo-counterparts. In one, he cobbles together an expedition team including Ehrich Weiss, H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard among others who delve into the caverns of Pellucidar and Atvatabari to stop the dero threat once and for all. In another, he posits a war of espionage between Roger Bacon and Kubilai Khan, the greatest minds of the west and east, respectively.
Every essay is a freewheeling mish-mash of ideas ranging from the ultimate fate of the Library of Alexandria — hidden in a dimensional fold by genius mathematician Hypatia — to a bevvy of potential causes of the Tunguska blast of 1908 — too numerous to sum up. Rossi pulls from a wide variety of esoteric source of information without much discernment. The writing of Theosophists are as much fair game as The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. In short, it’s a smorgasbord of ideas ripe for the picking for a role-playing campaign.
As fun as Rossi’s rapid-fire, scattershot mingling of fact, fiction and supposition is to read and feel your brain prickle at the madness of it all, it can be daunting to pick out the one or two things one wants from an essay while the author pinwheels around, invoking as many geek touchstones as possible, particularly Lovecraft’s mythos. Rossi usually cites his sources, particularly with extensive quotes to set the stage, but I often found myself wishing for annotations expanding on a throwaway namecheck, references to other essays in the book — he often brings a name or topic up “as I’ve mentioned before” when they appear later in the book — and footnotes of further books to research.
It’s fun, it’s readable and it’s so similar to some of the plot seeds I’ve written here that I think we’ve both drawn from the same inspirational well, the Suppressed Transmission column by Kenneth Hite. But that’s fine. There’s more than enough weirdness in the world for everyone to write about. And I appreciated being reminded about this book on a recent RPG.net thread lamenting the unavailability of unpublished transmissions; it was a lot like stumbling onto Suppressed Transmission‘s cousin and being just as enraptured.
Things That Never Were is published by Monkeybrain Books and can be purchased on Amazon — and possibly conventional retailers; I didn’t check.