Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home

by Andrew Plotkin profile

Science Fiction

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Number of Reviews: 13
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Evocative, distanced, unmoving, February 17, 2011
by Victor Gijsbers (The Netherlands)

Andrew Plotkin's basic aesthetic mode is that of distance and emptiness. From So Far to Dreamhold and Delightful Wallpaper, he has given us large empty worlds seen from a distance by an almost abstract protagonist. This is the poetry of objects and spaces, not of persons and ideas.

In my opinion, Plotkin's strongest works are those where he moves away from this aesthetics and puts more emphasis on the human: Spider and Web comes to mind, but especially Shade. The simple fact that something is at stake for the protagonists of these games serves to give life to what can otherwise be a very abstract experience.

Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home falls into the former, less personal and more distant, category. Indeed, it takes the aesthetics of distance and emptiness to the extreme as Plotkin transports us into outer space. Relying mostly on commands that involve movement and rigging the sails of our solar-wind-powered craft, we explore a variety of astronomical objects and find mysterious natural phenomena and alien artifacts.

All of this works very well: if you want to see how to do a travel-based game, playing Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home is required homework. The descriptions of the galaxy are evocative and inspire some of the wonder that can be generated by popular accounts of astronomy. But is is all very abstract, very distant. One does not feel involved: certainly not on an emotional or intellectual level, but not even on the more basic level of being in control of a protagonist. We do not feel in control, since the protagonist is exploring but we are not. We have no freedom. We are just along for the ride.

The final sequence of moves is deftly done, as it suddenly transports the story to a different genre. But the admiration it inspires is the admiration with which we look at a perfectly spherical marble ball, not that with which we look at a statue; the pleasure it brings is that of contemplating Peano arithmetic rather than that of contemplating Macbeth.

I love spherical marbles, Peano arithmetic, and Hubble Space Telescope pictures as much as the next guy, but I doubt whether they are a good model for fiction, interactive or otherwise. Count me among those who hope that Hadean Lands will involve human beings with thoughts and emotions and desires that remain unfulfilled. (Although I will probably never get to play that game, given the platforms for which it will be released.)