Hardcore New World: The Works of Karl Hansen

Michael O. Varhola

Back in the early '80s, probably 1982, my friend Paul Knorr handed me a novel and said something like, "Read this. You'll like it." I perused the cover, emblazoned with some fairly typical sci-fi soldier, and, humoring him, asked what it was about.

"It's about soldiers," he said. "They fight, then they have sex, then they do drugs, then they fight some more." Encouraging. Nonetheless, I accepted the book and read it. In short, War Games, by Karl Hansen is one of the most lurid, powerful works of science fiction I have ever read, a mutant cross between Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and Robert Heinlein'sStarship Troopers, with a solid dose of S&M and narcotics abuse thrown in for good measure.

The 1981 novel was followed four years later by Dream GamesWar Games is far superior toDream Games as a military science fiction novel. However, the latter book explores the workings of Hansen's universe in greater depth and provides answers to questions posed in the earlier work. Dream Games ends with a separatist invasion armada ringing Earth and preparing to launch a crushing attack -- bleak yes, but also inviting a sequel. A sequel that to date has not been forthcoming.

From a gaming point of view, especially that of role-playing, Hansen's books are ideal in that throughout them they describe a broad variety of weapons, armor, equipment, augmentations, and genetically manufactured races, and clearly delineate the socio-political and military environments his protagonists inhabit. Of course, the books are damned from a role-playing point of view, in that many parents would undoubtedly become upset if they knew just what sort of books their kid's new game was based on. Remember all the flak D&D has gotten, especially in the '80s? And it is a system initially inspired, if not largely based on, the works of strongly Christian (but anti-fascist) writer J.R.R. Tolkien! Nonetheless, those of us who have both read Hansen and played the former TSR's Star Frontiers cannot fail to notice uncanny similarities between the arsenals of the books and the game.

Since reading War Games and Dream Games, I have continued to search for other works by Karl Hansen, but from what I can tell he only wrote those two. I have always wondered what happened to him, and sometimes entertain the notion that the righteous citizens of whatever town he lived in, many of them undoubtedly right-wing Christian fundamentalists, decided that burning him in effigy just wouldn't be good enough ...