LAST EDITED ON Mar-12-07 AT 02:34 PM (EDT)
[Changing this to an anchored topic so that it stays at the top of the board; new users/readers shouldn't miss it and I don't want it eventually spanning off the bottom of the front page. --G.]
I should be in bed right now. I have a long drive and a longer interview to conduct tomorrow, the beginning of what will probably be an arduous research process for a nonfiction book. But I'm having trouble getting to sleep, and though what I'm about to say here may or may not have anything to do with that, it's running around in my head and I have to let it out.
That may seem like a weird preamble for a post in the UF Source Material board, but bear with me, it does tie together.
I want to tell you about a friend of mine.
I met Joe Martin in 1987 or '88, I forget exactly. My freshman year of high school, anyway. (Jesus!) He was two years ahead of me, in the Class of 1989 at Stearns High School in Millinocket. I met him through a classmate of mine by the name of Cory Yost, with whom I'd had little contact prior to high school. Cory and I started hanging out together not long after freshman year began. The buzz around school was that he was into weird stuff, that he was Some Kind of Ninja or Something (actually, he was studying Shotokan karate, but in Maine, anybody who knows some karate is Some Kind of Ninja or Something). He already knew Joe and another junior named Mike Shaw; the three of them were a sort of impromptu gaming group/comics club/what have you, trading books and whatnot back and forth and meeting regularly.
Cory was our Dungeon Master and owned most of the gaming books. I had the Marvel Super Heroes set and collected more dice than anybody else in our little group. Mike had a job and usually ended up paying for the pizza. Until Cory and I got our drivers' licenses, he was also the only one of us with a car. And Joe owned every BattleTech map ever printed, had gone to all the trouble of distilling all of FASA's wildly contradictory rules publications for that game into a single coherent system of house rules, and had a garage attic with a giant table suitable for all-night wargaming. We played D&D at Cory's place, BattleTech/MechWarrior at Joe's, and MSH in my living room. (Mike's family had cats, so we never went over there.)
These were stand-up guys, all of them (and a couple more we picked up the following year, as a new class entered the high school). We had a lot - a lot of good times together, and in one way or another they all shaped the creative animal I became. Our Marvel Super Heroes game carried with it a series of stories, my first real attempt at something like serial fanfiction. There were MechWarrior stories, too, but those have been lost to history. Beyond the gaming, they were the first really hardcore friends I ever had. I miss them now that we're no longer in touch... but for various reasons, the one I miss most is Joe.
Joe was the most creative person I'd ever met at the time. The first time we met was actually on the bus during some school trip several years before, and we'd talked for hours about sci-fi stuff we liked and ideas we'd had, but I didn't see him again after that and had almost forgotten the conversation when, years later, we met up again and he started telling me some of the same things. He was the best of us at coming up with game campaign plots that could last a whole summer.
Among other things, he had written his own roleplaying game.
Detians 413 was the story of a group of college students who had survived a nuclear holocaust and discovered, to their amazement, that with most of human civilization destroyed, they could really get a lot done. There were, after all, no pesky regulations, unthinking bureaucrats, or jocks to get in their way. The brightest among them - who became the natural leader in the pure meritocracy that emerged among them after the war stripped away the old order - developed a retroviral treatment that halted the aging process in those treated with it, rendered them immune to any conceivable disease, and granted startling regenerative powers that increased with age. Detians (pronounced with a hard "t", Det-ee-uns) were people who had been, as the catchphrase went, "immunized against death."
There were really two versions of Detians, both with the same basic backstory and both employing Joe's own home-brewed game mechanics, which were under constant revision. We played both as the whim struck him to run sessions. One was set immediately after the apocalypse, in the early 1990s, in which we played members of the fledgling new society struggling to gather together what remained of the technology of Earth's last civilization and use it as raw materials for establishing the future utopia.
The other, Detians 413, was set in the year A.D. 413,000,000 (hence the title), and cast the player characters as members of an awesomely advanced intergalactic society descended from the new order founded by the original 20th-century Detian Patrons, who occasionally appeared as inscrutable, incredibly powerful non-player characters.
In 1989, after graduating from high school, Joe went to WPI. His reports from the field inspired me to sign up for the 1990 WPI Frontiers in Science and Mathematics summer program, after which I decided I wanted to go there myself. By that time, though, Joe had left the Institute, never to return. Like a lot of brilliant people, he was socially awkward and had a hard time warming to new people. Thrown into a completely alien environment like WPI, he'd loved it, but overcompensated on the socialization side. He did, from his own reports and those of others, a good bit of drinking and not a lot of work. By the time I followed him to WPI, he'd returned to Millinocket.
Our group had splintered pretty severely by then. Mike had gone off to Portland to study at Southern Maine Tech after graduating, but he was still around town in the summer and on breaks, so things held together reasonably well until Cory and I graduated, but Joe had changed after his experience at WPI - or so it seemed to us - and was tetchier than he had been before. After my class graduated, the four of us reunited a few times during breaks, but by Christmastime the others had had some kind of falling-out with Joe and he wouldn't take calls from any of us. There were a couple of tentative efforts at rapprochement, but nothing ever really came of them.
Before that happened, I had one last conversation with him, in the fall '91 - I think by phone from Worcester, possibly in person during A-B term break.
You see, by that point, I'd met ReRob and MegaZone, and we'd started work on Undocumented Features. After its jokey beginnings, UF was showing signs of evolving into something bigger and more serious, and to make a few of the things I was thinking about doing work, I needed a way to extend the protagonists' lifespans considerably - perhaps indefinitely. I mentioned this to Joe and asked him if it would be OK if I used the Detians background. I had in mind introducing a version of my Patron character, the one I'd played in the non-413 setting, as a dimensional traveler from the 413 universe, and having him pass on the secret of Detian immortality to a select few in my own story's universe. I explained that the story was kind of a running anime-derived gag on Usenet that some pals of mine and I, including a few people he'd known in his time at WPI, were doing, and that it would probably never amount to much of anything. He said sure, OK, whatever, just don't do any stories set in the Detians worlds I created - I might still want to publish this game sometime.
So I did exactly as I'd planned, and the core UF characters became Detians. My long timeline was assured - I could now do the Exile as I'd envisioned it, as a hundred-year time of struggle after several centuries of relative peace and prosperity, followed by a triumphant return to glory, all for the same now-timeless characters.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Except that UF took off, in its way. It became, while not huge by any stretch of the imagination, at least bigger than I'd blithely assured Joe it would ever be.
The result is that there are quite a few people out there who know about Detians, indirectly, but - unless they looked carefully at the acknowledgments in the original Core UF stories - have probably never heard of the concept's creator.
The hell of it is, I saw Joe the other day. He's still living in town, in the same place he lived when we were all here together and oh, so very much younger. He even looks the same... but he's not.
Understand, Joe never had a hell of a lot of friends - he was always a prickly guy, hard to get next to, hard to keep up with - but those he had were the kind you could spend a lot of hours in the garage attic with, blowing stuff up in the 31st century. We could never really fathom all his complexities, but we understood him in a way that mainstream society never really could.
But somewhere along the way, in the course of our post-high-school changes and our evolving personal politics and our inevitable, regrettable early-20s thinking-of-nothing-but-ourselves phases, we all drifted away from him, and he from us. We never - or at least I never, to my retrospective shame - really seemed to realize that we were the only connections he had outside his immediate family, and that we were ceasing to be same. It's not all on us - I never really learned the details of the blowup that happened while I was away at WPI that year, but whatever it was, he pushed us the rest of the way away after that.
But we - or at least I - never really tried to stop him, and now...
Joe's around, and I see him now and then, but he's gone to some very dark place, mentally or spiritually, however you want to evaluate these things. I've pulled up by him when he's out roaming the streets of town and offered him a ride, and he's ignored me entirely. Once I came unexpectedly face-to-face with him - he was entering the local Subway as I was leaving - and when I said, "Hey, Joe," and gave him a wave, he flinched as if he expected me to hit him and beelined for the bathroom. I don't know if he recognized me. If he did, he didn't acknowledge it.
I ran into Cory's grandparents, who raised him and put up with us invading their quiet house at least three times a week for those four and a half years, at the supermarket a while ago. When they asked if I ever saw any of the guys any more, I related that story, and they nodded sadly. Apparently Joe's been a fixture in town for years while I've been gone, always roaming around on foot like that, never acknowledging greetings, avoiding contact with anyone who crosses his path. I'm no expert in these matters, but all the evidence suggests that something broke inside my old friend Joe sometime while I was gone... and I can't help but wonder how much I contributed to that with my own late-teens/early-20s self-centeredness and what was at the time my burning drive to get out of Millinocket forever and never look back. I don't know if he really needed me, but I do know that if he did, I wasn't there for him... and now there doesn't seem to be any way to reconnect.
And I owe him so much, too. All those hours in the garage; all those computer games shared; all those stories swapped. He listened to WTOS, at the time Maine's only decent rock radio station, and hooked me up with my first recordings of three of my favorite bands - most prominent among them the Scottish rock band Big Country, which is still somewhere in my top three and arguably number one overall in my rock pantheon. And, of course, he gave me Detians, and let me use their backstory in a little Internet gag I was doing - gave his permission under what he could be forgiven now for thinking were false pretenses.
Is there a point or a moral to this story? No, not really, I suppose. I don't know what went wrong or how responsible I was; I only have a vague, undefined feeling that I should've done more, known more, been able to help more than I did. I know I owe a great debt to an old and dear friend who, though he lives not more than two miles away from me, is now - whether by choice or by some sad circumstance - effectively a stranger to me. I know that, thanks to that, the chances are very slim that I'll ever be able to even try to repay that debt.
So I thought you should know. I've never tried to cover up the source of the Detians material, and I've mentioned it a few times here and there, but I've never said it as loudly as I should have. I did not create the Detians concept. It was loaned to me by its true creator, who never foresaw that I would put it to such extensive use over such a long period of time, and who now, for reasons beyond my full understanding, I can't thank or apologize to.
So this little essay, and in a sense all of the great body of UF, is dedicated to my friend and colleague Mr. Joseph H. Martin, Jr., creator of Detians-413.
If there was more I could or should have done, Joe, I'm sorry. I was young and stupid and if there were signs, I couldn't read them.
I miss you.
Benjamin D. Hutchins
August 17, 2006