Sci-fi novels paired with appropriate RPGs

In a follow-up on to Linda Codega's matching fantasy novels with roleplaying game rules so that you can "game the book" if you desire, she now has a sci-fi pairing. As with the fantasy round-up, there are a lot of fascinating, unique, and somewhat obscure indie rules systems to consider.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Arkady Martine's staggering debut takes us to the far reaches of space, and this is a story that does not just glance across colonialism, but deeply and meaningfully wrestles with it. The main character fights to be herself in a world intent on literally, taking her and her culture apart. Diving into the nuances of a native language, learning, and what authority means at home or in an independent state, A Memory Called Empire challenges what it means to both admire and despise the dominant culture.

If you love words, and loved the way that their meaning developed and changed in this novel, you'll want to pick up Dialect, by Thorny Games. It's an award-winning game where players use a card system to create a culture through language and symbols, written in part by Beth LaPensee, a Native author who has a unique perspective that makes Dialect a perfect (anti)colonial match with Martine's work. Mix it with War in the Year 3000, by designer Ben Roswell, and judge your warmongering ability based on two things: Cool and Doubt. This rules-lite system focuses on your ability to spin at high speed on the high-stakes battleground of public opinion. With the expansive Dialect and the focused storygaming of War in the Year 3000 you have the perfect groundwork for a system-spanning war on the hearts, minds, and social media feeds of the populace.

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

This is a book that ricochets across a battlefield, never stopping unless it's trying to make you cry. Full of emotion, mechs, and war, War Girls is action-packed and deeply rooted in Nigerian culture, even in the far, extreme futurism it embodies. While mecha-fiction might be a rare find, mecha games are laid out in the veritable feast that is the Sad Mecha Jam Collection, full of lyrical pieces on the nature of war, mechas, pilots, and legacies. Jams are game design communities that coalesce around a theme or idea, and the Sad Mecha Jam has become almost legendary in the little niche world of indie game design. I cut out a lot of my favorites from the submissions to offer a few really incredible games to compare to War Girls.

One of the best pieces that mix a robust set of rules for action and fighting with deep emotional moments between pilots is Hilt // Blade, by Darren Brokes, perfect for the world of War Girls and Onyebuchi's grounded sense of the future. If you want something dedicated to the larger world of grime and grease, try Lancer, out of Massif Press, which is full of exceptional worldbuilding and has a veritable ton of specialty Evangelion-style mechs (I mean, just check out the art on The White Witch, which uses a ferrofluid as a manipulative armor source), or Beam Saber, by Austin Ramsay which plays on the dominating politics of war and creates characters out of the mechas themselves.

Image: Promotional photo