Gorham’s Folly

Last episode I was challenged to imagine the Three World Empire’s Northern Ireland. It was my own stupid fault – I made the case in the last episode that the Three World Empire should be a reflection of Britain in the last seventies and early eighties. It should probably also reflect Japan and India in that period too, but I know nothing about the political situation there at that time, so lets leave that aside for the moment and concentrate on The Troubles.

©️Fria Ligan/Martin Grip

And as I type that, I am immediately aware that as an English man, I actually, really, know next to nothing about that conflict, even though it was something I grew up with, and even though I had friend on both sides of the conflict in the 90’s. But for the sake of context I am going to attempt the stupidest thing in the world and try to summarise the conflict, in as non-partisan a way as I can.

The Troubles refers to a specific period starting in the late sixties and ending with the Good-Friday agreement in 1998, in Northern Ireland, the corner of the island of Ireland which, since the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, remained part of the United Kingdom. I am not going to get into the detail of why, which would take us into the realms of being an entirely different sort of podcast. Instead I am going to oversimplify the situation by saying that there was, and is a significantly large population of protestants in some of those north eastern counties, and those people considered themselves Unionists.
In the early sixties around the world, civil rights movements began to make headway. Just as Martin Luther King spoke and organised in the Southern US, so too in Northern Ireland people spoke out against inequalities between Catholics and Protestants. Though I promised I would not go into detail, I think its important to list some of these inequalities, as they have resonance with the situation in other parts of the world at the time and even now, and with potential situations in the future Alien universe…

For example there was gerrymandering of electoral boundaries, to ensure that the poterstant Unionists retained political power even in places with Catholic majorities. The gerrymandering was made easier because there was not universal suffrage, – only “householders” could vote (remember this is the early sixties I was shocked when I found out). The police force was 90% Protestant, and had Special Powers of search without warrant and arrest and imprisonment without trial, which of course were pretty much exclusively used on Catholics. And of course there were plenty of examples of “softer” discrimination – preference given to protestants for jobs and housing.

This isn’t meant to be a history lesson, but long story short, some small concession were made to the catholics, protestants protested, tensions were raised, clashes became more violent. From south of the border, the Irish Taoiseach called for a UN peacekeeping force but instead the British Army was deployed to build a barrier between the most violent communities. Militants on both sides formed militia units. Things got worse. The rest, as they say, is history.

So, how am I going to reflect that in Alien? And why, even?
The why is the easy bit. Because conflict is messy, and Alien is a messy world. Because two communities clashing over a long and complex history is exactly the sort of conflict your space marines would be dropped into, not knowing which side has justice on their side, or who might be trusted, or whether your assigned targets are the “right” ones. There is only one certain enemy in Alien… and that’s the Xenomorphs, everything else should be a moral maze.

So the how. And the where. Last episode I said Corona. I have no idea where that is, its not mentioned on the map, just in text on page 224. That gives us the opportunity to put it anywhere, but thinking about it, it should be pretty close to the solar core, both to mirror the nature of Northern Ireland’s proximity to Britain, and to imagine a relatively long history on the colony itself so that deep-seated historical differences can be found on both sides. Perhaps it is in the cluster of stars known as Proxima Centuri. But there are lots of mentions of USCM bases there. So perhaps I should switch it to the named colony that IS mentioned on the map, Gorham’s Folly…

But who lives there, what is that central conflict between two communities? Now my first thought was to better reflect the more international nature of the Three World Empire. But this is a quagmire I am not going to step into. Who am I, a European to start creating strife between two interpretations of Buddism, or between Muslims and Hindus, or between Hindus and Buddists? So my future conflict will at least be a based in the Judeo-Christian culture that I know a little about. But it won’t be between Catholics and Protestants. I will create two new space-denominations to clash on Gorham’s Folly. And we have already got inspiration for one of those. Arceon, the wooden space station dreamed up for an unused Alien 3 script, and given new life on page 157 of the RPG. All we know about the “monks” who inhabit Arceon is that they were and named :”back to nature” movement who released the New Plague (no – not corona virus, but a computer virus that wiped out “an inordinate amount od data on Earth” and it seems handily for our aesthetics, all displays more advanced that green-screen CRTs). Well I have a name for them. It the name of an order I created for a Firefly RPG – actually it was Shepherd Book’s order back then but it fits even better for the inhabitants of a wooden space station: The Carpenters.

So a significant proportion of the population of Gorham’s Folly are Carpenters. They are not as radical as the followers of Saint Tomas, but they are tainted with his reputation. The New Plague was considered an act of terrorism, and Carpenter citizens on Gorham’s Folly suffer from various forms of discrimination – poor housing, persecution by non-representative police force, gerrymandering, poor employment opportunities etc. For example, perhaps Gorham’s Folly is famous for its shipyards, perhaps the new Royal Navy joint flagship, HMS Yamato is being built there. But none of the skilled jobs go to the Carpenter population. Note, they are not direct analogues of Catholics in Northern Ireland – the Carpenters as their name and “back to nature” philosophy suggests they are more protestant in their worship and organisation, and I would be inclined to draw influences for their way of life from Quakers and Amish.

Which means that the oppressive established church on Gorham’s Folly is a more colourful catholic (with a small c) faith. In my old Firefly the Carpenters were going to eventually face off against the Intercessionists. So I might as well port that name over for the “majority” faith on Gorham’s Folly. Though be aware that gerrymandering may be keeping them as a electoral majority, while they could in fact be outnumbered statistically by the Carpenter Population. Of course 70 percent of the colony’s police force are Intercessionists and perhaps most of the rest are made up of other faiths, Sikhs, Muslins, Buddists etc as befits the nature of the Empire.
There are no good guys and bad guys here. Neither the Intercessionists nor the Carpenters are “evil,” even though a “Carpenter Terrorist” did wipe out most of humanities computers that time… and forced us all to use green screens. But there are radicals in both populations, who perhaps value human life less than their ideals.

In the playtest of Destroyer of Worlds we tried a character I enjoyed having on the team but who didn’t make the cut for the publish version – local marshal having to work with the marines. I am already revisiting that situation in my head – a local Constable from the minority Carpenter population, trusted by neither side, who has to work with a squad of Royal Marines to uncover a plot by an Intercessionist militia, who plan to blame something more horrific than a bomb on the Carpenters.

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