The Plot by Will Eisner

The Plot is an explanation of the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It traces their historical development, from an unrelated book published in 1848 [The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu], copied with slight renaming into the first “Protocols” by just changing the dialogue to a “report”, and mutant descendants from there.

It’s a thorough and largely scholarly look, told as a comic book. It works, particularly given Eisner’s strengths… but for me, it would have worked as well as a long prose pamphlet.

The Great Depression: A Diary by Benjamin Rath

An interesting, personal look at economics and the long depression of the 1930s, written by a contemporary who has no idea that it’s all going to work out. His perspective is interesting; like many of us, he believes himself more independent than he proves to be, but he carefully explains his thoughts and thinking.

Interestingly, very little of the social comes through– you hear about his business continuing to be slow, but not how that affects what’s served at dinner. He sounds like a great public speaker, and proved a good student. The “tips” about investing are solid and conventional– but the growing awareness that you can’t predict the market or time things well is lived and very convincing.

In the end, it’s a very local look at national events… and a fascinating look at Youngstown, during the 1930s.

More on compels

From the mailing list Xarlen asks

The way I conceptualize Compels, it’s really easy to toss in complications in the middle and the end of the various stories. That’s when there’s clear conflict and the player has to make their choices.

But it’s also important to get the PCs some juice before things are ratcheted up to that point. In DF, players WILL start with low refresh.

So, how do you really toss compels and make complications at the beginning? Aside from the old “You have an Arch Nemesis As an Aspect, here’s a fate point for them to pop up later.”

Fred answers,

Compels are a tool for how I add pressure to the early events of the story.

My basic storyline might be “okay, so there’s been a murder, and you’ve got to solve it”, but compels would be how I add, “while trying to keep your marriage from falling apart” and “before the police catch up with you, since you’ve been framed for it”. Pressure becomes the motive that drives things forward.

Jan gives his own example,

“You’re a ‘Hot-Headed Kinetomancer’? Okay. So: You’ve been enjoyed a quiet evening in your local haunt when this group of low-level talents walk in, laughing among themselves about some in-joke. As they sidle up to the bar, you hear one of them crack a joke at the expense of your mentor, and that _really_ gets your bile up. Go ahead.”

In effect, start with the compels on generic things — temper, financial (“In Debt to a Loan Shark”) or social situation (“My GF hates what I do”). FATE is spent, action is had, and all things are good.

Alfred Bester Redemolished

An interesting book; it’s much less an autobiography than most, but it’s not a normal collection of short stories either. It’s more “you already know most of his sci-fi, here’s his rare stuff”.

He sounds annoying to deal with, particularly during his lashing out as sci-fi phase– but I enjoy his stories and articles. His lucrative time writing for holiday resulted in some interesting interview with sci-fi authors– which might help explain how they sci-fi authors penetrated the mainstream.

If you already love him, this is interesting further reading. If you’re not familiar with him already, start with his novels The Demolished man or The Stars My Destination.

You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to the Coffee Shop

This book is a collection of John Scalzi’s essays on writing and the writing life. It concentrates on the practical level behind writing: how you make the finances work, how you structure your life to get work done. There are essays about authors being catty, and a discussion of science fiction (and sci-fi publishing) in the current era.

I like the whole thing, though little of it is directly applicable to me. I had already read several of the essays on Whatever, his site, but appreciated seeing some from the era before I found it.

One particularly good point is his story about leaving the bee and catapulting to the new world: big changes can be scary, but get you out of comfortable ruts. Good to keep in mind now…

Your Next Move by Michael D. Watkins

While the book was interesting, it isn’t written for me (or a typical worker) at all. I thought it might give me a good perspective on getting my mind settled and ready for a new company. Instead, it concentrated on what people being promoted to run large divisions/companies should concentrate on.

The conditions covered are stressful, and the advice looks sound, but this was pure voyeurism for me– the advice is not directed at me at all. [Well, other than to note that even under his system, even though bringing people on board is the core of his consulting, he still doesn’t expect HR to do much for bringing people in and acclimating them to local culture at lower than the manager of supervisors level.]

After this I reread Cube Farm. I enjoyed it again, but doubt it will develop into a frequent reread. [Though some parts, like his indictment of people who put their heads in the sand and ignore looming layoffs stung a bit more this time.]