The Praesidium of Archive
The Universal Prey. Jefferson P.
Original Publication: 1986
Current Availability: Print (used)
Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared on RPG.Net in October of 2009, and reprinted here and in the December 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.
The most long-lived series of Traveller fiction is that of Jefferson P. Swycaffer, who envisioned a Traveller universe, but one not set in Charted Space.
This twelfth review covers The Praesidium of Archive, the fourth Traveller-influenced book written by Jefferson P. Swycaffer and the last that was published by his mainstream publisher, Avon Books.
About the Story
The Praesidium of Archive is an all-around unique book for Swycaffer’s Traveller-influenced series and also a nice capstone for his four books published by Avon. Unlike the previous books in the series, it’s a collection of short stories, bound together by a loose frame. The frame story is set during the year-end meeting of the Praesidium—the Council of Six that rules the Concordat of Archive. Each of the six short stories tells the tale of one of its six members.
We’d seen some of the members of the Praesidium—particularly Grand Admiral de la Noue—in previous books. I didn’t always like their previous appearances because their presence often felt forced. Here, instead, we get the members of the Praesidium in their natural element, and it makes all the difference.
The six stories are:
“Case and Cause”, the story of Justicar Solme. It’s about how politics and religion are not allowed to intertwine in the Concordat, and what problems this causes.
“The Damnable Price”, the story of Treasury Secretary Wallace. It’s more of an action-adventure, centering on pirates and the rebellion they're involved with.
“Escalation”, the story of Navy Secretary de la Noue. It’s as you might expect a story of war.
“A Precise, Young Death”, the story of Commerce Secretary Redmond. This one is a story of grief and loss in wartime and is a nice flipside to de la Noue’s tale.
“To Live; To Learn”, the story of Foreign Secretary Visenne. It's the story of negotiations with an alien race who does not understand war.
“Archive Midwinther”, the story of First Secretary Parke. This is a story of leadership under the threat of assassination, of people vs. papers.
None of these stories are particularly big, though war and the threat of war underlie many of them. Instead they’re largely personal stories that help to define these larger than life characters.
Genre & Style
Book by book, I’ve been saying that Swycaffer’s writing has been improving. I think it reaches a well-polished and professional level in this book. The stories that result are science-fiction in the broadest sense of the word, but with the aforementioned emphasis on characters, they could almost be stories in any genre.
Mind you, I still have some minor issues with the writing. Swycaffer still seems too intent on men and women working together falling into obsessive love. I also at times find his stories overly philosophical, which was one of the things that made his earlier books hard to read at times. But overall the stories in The Praesidium of Archive are well told and meaningful shorts (with the exception of “A Precise, Young Death”, which is a touching vignette, but one that goes on for too long).
I also feel like this book does a better job of exploring the depths of the Concordat that any of the preceding novels in the series. We learn more about some of the aliens that it interacts with and at some of the issues that still stretch the social contract that the Concordat embodies. From the Sonallans to the Octigans, from warfare to religion, from space battles to piracy, The Praesidium of Archive shows off a lot of the possibilities of this huge galactic empire.
Though the stories varies somewhat from one to another and though the framing structure is weak, overall The Praesidium of Archive comes across as the best of the four Concordat books published by Avon. As such I've given it a “4” for both Style and Substance.
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
As with the other Concordat books, this one embodies the physics of the Traveller universe, but not its setting. However, I think that this book also really embodies one other aspect of Traveller: its overall “feeling”.
I’d say the same for Dumarest of Terra, which presented the idea of travelling to new and wonderful places. Similarly, The Praesidium of Archive presents the idea of a huge culture spanning the stars, but one that is split internally and at odds externally. I sort of see it as the difference between the pulpish adventures of GDW and the more thoughtful adventures of FASA; they’re both valid and important viewpoints of the Traveller universe. The Praesidium of Archive is your viewport upon the latter.
To give that a bit more specificity, the stories in The Praesidium of Archive are a bit too big for a Traveller adventure, because they deal with people at the utmost echelons of society. However, their general outlines could be used for Traveller adventures of your own: consider how laws might be made in the Imperium against certain uses of religion; write an adventure mashing together pirates and rebels into a confusing whole; investigate the role of war; and introduce an alien species who doesn’t understand conflict at all.
The prime use of The Praesidium of Archive to a Mongoose Traveller GM will thus be as a source of these adventure seeds, a role that it fulfills well thanks to its implicit variety.
The Praesidium of Archive is a well-written and interesting novel of a Traveller-like universe. It should generate story ideas for thoughtful GMs.