This portfolio originally appeared in Jump Point 5.11.
Whether you’re perusing one of the extravagant ship showrooms in Prime, or bargaining in the back room of a secondhand dealer in Hadrian, there’s one thing that is almost universal no matter where you’re shopping in the Empire — Whitley’s Guide. Considered by many to be the ultimate source for impartial and accurate information and reviews for the thousands of various ships, weapons and components that can be found throughout the UEE, it is often the first stop many make when trying to decide if a particular item is right for them. With the guide’s ratings near ubiquitous today, it can be surprising to remember that it was less than a hundred years ago that Sal Whitley first started publishing his guide.
A Guide to Whitley
Darby Keilich was once quoted as saying that if you were to spend a day hanging around the repair shop that he and Sal Whitley used to own together, your first impression might be that Sal hated ships. The mechanic was well known for cussing at broken parts and ranting about “idiotically” designed spacecraft, but as Darby explains it, “If Sal always seemed angry, it was only because of how much he loved the things. After working as a mechanic for close to forty years, he understood how ships worked better than almost anyone else, so it really pained him to see cut corners or shoddy craftsmanship.”
The vessels that the pair serviced in their shop, located in Odin, were hard flown since the rough local conditions meant that parts were prone to extreme wear and tear. After ten years working as a mechanic and seeing certain brands and models fail again and again, Whitley cultivated very strong opinions about which ships and components their clients should buy and use. Often, customers would consult with Whitley before buying a new piece of equipment, to see if it met his standards. It wasn’t long before word got out and people he had never met were filling his comms with requests for recommendations. It got so bad that Sal threatened to close up shop and move away just to get people to leave him alone, but Darby had a different idea. If people wanted to know what Sal thought so badly, why not write it all down and charge them for it?
A Word to the Wise
The first version took three months for Whitley to compile, in between shifts at the repair shop; it covered spacecraft, power plants and cooling systems. Released on June 21, 2856, it didn’t have any images or even a formal title, but gearheads across the ’verse were drawn to Whitley’s matter-of-fact writing style. Methodical and detailed orientated, Whitley not only meticulously broke down all the stats of each item, but concisely summarized the ship or part’s overall performance. To the surprise of both Sal and Darby, the first month of sales outperformed the repair shop itself.
By the time 2859 rolled around, Whitley had published two more versions and had begun to focus full time on writing and reviewing. The popularity of “Whitley’s Guide” had grown to the point where manufacturers had begun to offer Sal free items with the hopes of being included, but without fail, he would refuse them all. It was important to him that he stay as independent as possible so that nobody could accuse him of being a shill. Instead, he sought out secondhand items, preferring to evaluate well used versions over fresh-from-the-factory models. “Who cares what something is like when it’s brand new? What’s important is how it’s going to be running six months, a year, five years down the way,” explained Whitley in a 2876 interview with Long Haul Quarterly.
As the guide continued to grow, manufacturers weren’t the only businesses to come knocking on Darby and Sal’s door. In 2860, Svetlana Gallivan of Gallivan Publishing approached the pair with an offer to buy the publishing rights to the guide, envisioning a bound volume with pictures, layouts and diagrams. Whitley agreed to sign a five-volume contract under the condition that he would have editorial control over all the content. Darby however, decided that the time had come for him to move on and chose instead to accept a buyout. “I had really started to miss just being a mechanic,” explained Darby. “But it does feel pretty nice to know I helped create something special.”
The Future’s in Store
The relationship with Gallivan Publishing has lasted well more than five volumes. By the end of his career, Whitley had overseen close to a hundred editions of the Guide that bore his name. Not only would the core guide expand to cover pretty much every part of a ship, including weapons and missiles, Gallivan began to produce special editions that focused on just one individual part in extreme detail. The 2865 Whitley’s Guide: Energy Weapons was the highest selling publication that year. In order to keep up with the volume, Whitley hired a staff of writers, though he reviewed all their work personally to ensure he agreed with the results. “If I’m going to have my name on something, you can be sure I’m going to read every single thing that goes in it,” said Whitley in an interview.
Though Svetlana supported Sal in his insistence on overseeing each edition personally, even though it limited the number of guides they could publish, there was another topic that almost drove a divide between the two. Companies approached Gallivan Publishing wanting to use the Whitley’s Guide rating that their product received in advertisements. Sal opposed the move, worried that the marketing would make it look like the guide favored that product. However, Svetlana stood her ground, arguing that the companies would only be sharing information that the public could find in the guide anyway. The first ad to specifically reference Whitley’s Guide was in 2867 for a Tarsus Expedition Quantum Drive. From there, the practice expanded. In 2872, component resale chain Dumper’s Depot began including the Whitley’s Guide rating for every item they sold, with one store owner stating, “Might as well save everyone some time, since they’re all standing there looking it up anyway.” By 2880, Whitley’s Guide had confirmed its place in the public’s mind as the impartial trusted resource for all things spaceships.
A Change in the Ratings
Even with the passing of Sal Whitley in 2886, the guide has continued to be an integral resource for people across the Empire — though without its creator at the helm, there have been some bumps along the way. With Sal gone, the guide for the first time began to accept test samples from manufacturers, as well as to review items before they were released publicly. While the new editors tried to maintain the standards put in place by the publication’s founder, an exposé in 2895 that analyzed the ratings of the past decade showed a trend that favored items and ships manufactured by Terran companies. This lead to accusations of impropriety, since Gallivan Publishing is also located on Terra. Whitley’s Guide claimed that it was just a case of correlation without causation, but to make it clear that they were truly independent, they reverted to Sal’s original policies.
However, despite this hiccup, trust has remained high in the publication and some of the recent changes made to the guide have met with even more success. It has continued to expand in new directions and in 2910, Whitley’s Guide released their first personal armor and weapons volume. They’ve even experimented briefly with reviewing restaurants, though that was limited to only a single special edition. The addition of a monthly magazine as a supplement to the larger guides has also been quite popular. For nearly a century, Whitley’s Guide has continued to be an instrumental resource for consumers, thanks to the wealth of information they provide. It is hard to imagine what shopping would be like in the UEE today without their guidance.