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The Invisible Library and its perilous Christmas obsessions

My protagonist Irene spies for the Invisible Library: a secretive inter-dimensional organisation. Its purpose is to acquire books (by any means...) from thousands of alternate worlds. And this helps supply balance to the multiverse. This also lets the Librarians pursue their private literary obsessions - but that's just icing on the cake.

The Library doesn't actually observe Christmas as a holiday. (In fact, they don't observe any specific holidays, and personal leave is handed out strictly at the discretion of a Librarian's own supervisor.) To the surprise of junior Librarians, giving and receiving Christmas presents between Librarians is tends to be discouraged. This often causes confusion. Surely giving presents is a sign of cooperation, of friendship, of sisterhood or brotherhood or whatever family relationship you like to idolise? How could this possibly go wrong?

The key point here is that these Librarians tend to be obsessive. They wouldn't spend their entire lives hunting books if they weren't. Experience has shown that finding the ideal present for another Librarian can be subverted all too easily. It can turn into a fervent and extremely dangerous hunt for a long-lost novel - possibly dragging along other Librarians and friends.

Even Librarians who couldn't care less about their colleagues can get drawn into extreme situations, just to prove that they can find a specific book when others fail to do so. Said book would then be handed over in a conveniently public place and in front of an audience, wrapped up with a bow on top, with a pleasant smile and happy Christmas wishes.

This story may be apocryphal, but it's still held up as a warning . . . It all started so innocently. Librarian A found out that her friend, Librarian B, had wanted The Confession of Father Brown for some time now. But this particular G K Chesterton edition could only be found in a specific alternate world. She resolved to surprise him with a copy of it for Christmas. She begged her supervisor for some personal leave, and went to the world in question - which happened to be in the middle of a raging war between a united fascist Europe and all the other world nations. Arriving in Oxford during an air-raid, she found herself having to penetrate the Bodleian Library. Challenging night-time roof-climbing was necessary, as was penetrating painted-shut skylights. The situation was further complicated by the fact that the place was being used as a secret testing site for training bats. They were being primed to attack enemy airplanes. When she finally escaped, book in hand, she could only hope that Librarian B would appreciate her hard work. It would be so depressing if he opened his present on Christmas morning, looked unimpressed, and then explained that he already had a copy. In better condition.

However, this isn't even as bad as the situation where a Librarian (Librarian C, to introduce another letter to the mix) delivers a present purely out of malice. The aim here is to give something which showcases the skill of Librarian C, and the lack of skill, or poor taste, of Librarian A. With dedication worthy of a much better cause, Librarian C will spend time and effort finding a copy of, for instance, an incredibly rare Sherlock Holmes variant. They will then hand it over on Christmas day with casual comments about how easy it was for them to find, and how they personally prefer more interesting books. Librarian A will have to sit there and take it with a smile. Outright rudeness would be unprofessional.

This sort of behaviour demands retaliation. Next Christmas, Librarian A will feel motivated to spend time and effort in making a similar gesture to Librarian C. As you can probably imagine, the situation escalates.

Senior Librarians have seen it all before, hundreds of times. It's easier just to avoid giving Christmas presents in the first place. Much less trouble in the long term.



Halfway through Invisible Library right now. Reminds me a lot of the Castle Falkenstein RPG. Was that an influence? (Or do they share a common influence?)


I don't think that Castle Falkenstein was a specific influence, though I remember reading the RPG a while back. I think it may be more that they both draw on similar background material.


OK. Just wondering. When Kai was introduced my first thought was Shadowrun :-)


I see where you're coming from there.


Genevieve, this isn't a comment on The Invisible Library (novel) but rather on your blog posting. It's sort of put me in mind of the plot of Italo Calvino's "If On A Winter's Night A Traveller". Is this at all deliberate?


I havnt read your book yet (Im in the US), but the mere idea itself is enough to make me insanely jealous. Can I be a librarian? Pretty please?


Hi and welcome!

Just read a bit of your bio and was wondering whether you've also published any short stories and whether any of your day-job figures in your fiction.


Shadowrun was definitely an influence when visualising where Kai had been hanging out, I admit it. ;)


Paws4thot - not deliberately, though I have read that.


I'm afraid it's invitation only, DeMarquis. Sorry...


SFReader, I did have this one in Strange Horizons some while back - - and various bits of short fiction in my rpg writing, but that's all so far.

My day job can be helpful with respect to medical terminology. Or writing procedural manuals...


How I remember where I've seen your name. You wrote a supplement for BESM. Hearts, Swords, Flowers if memory serves.


Thanks. As I say, it was this specific posting that had me in mind of the search for a very specific book without knowing the author or title. And well since we've both read the Calvino we know where I got the idea of a link from.


MUST BUY THIS. I am laughing already.


Excellent. The hypnotic triggers have been implanted and are functioning.


We are all Librarians here.


When I was reading The Invisible Library, one of my co-workers happened to ask what I was reading, so I showed him. At that point he said "Oh, I remember Genevieve, I used to go to school with her".

Sadly, I now have finished The Masked City and get to wait until the next Invisible Library book is out (there will be more, I hope?). Maybe I should re-read both, next week or so? I guess the rest of Dread Empire's Fall can wait.


Wasn't there an additional requirement, i.e. that deMarquis' relatives and friends all have to be dead?


So what you're saying is, gift-giving in the Invisible Library is exactly the same as in real life.


Well, that is the usual policy, but they tend to recruit from people who are already in that situation rather than actually go and kill their families. Librarians have read enough books to know where that course of action ends up.


There will definitely be a third book, vatine. I can't make any promises about more than that - we'll see how it goes. And thank you!

I do indeed have living people with whom I went to school. Rumours that I was constructed in an underground laboratory are grossly exaggerated. Hi to whoever your friend is. :)


Though possibly with fewer pairs of socks.


"Balance to the multiverse."

Just curious, is there an upper limit on how much stuff you can transfer from one alternate world to another without causing some kind of metaphysical imbalance?

Suppose some Librarian decided to branch out and thought a herd of sauropod dinosaurs would be a nice addition? Or a life-bearing version of the planet Mars?

(Feel free to tell me to RTFB, I haven't located copies for sale here yet.)


And "Christmas ties"? ;-)


If your intention, by posting this, was to get us to go out and buy your novels, well, in this case at least, it worked. I was happy to discover I could get the Invisible Library DRM free, so well done Tor for that. (I refuse to buy DRM infected crap. And so I would have had to ask where the tip jar was.)

Your post was quite funny, and I've enjoyed the first few pages of the novel so far. :)

(Also, anyone wanting to work in a library because they love books: don't bother, you won't have any time to actually read, and in many libraries they don't actually buy real books any more, only e-titles.)


"Just curious, is there an upper limit on how much stuff you can transfer from one alternate world to another without causing some kind of metaphysical imbalance?"

Roger Penrose suggests it kicks in at the one graviton level, but that doesn't make for a good story.


Any Librarian moving stuff around has to take it through the Library. The suggestion of moving herds of sauropod dinosaurs through the Library generally fails to meet with approval from senior Librarians.

(So, basically - personal suitcase of stuff, no problem. Herd of dinosaurs, problem.)


Library clothing varies, given all the cultures it draws from. Assume the standard principle of "bland or tasteless article of clothing I didn't particularly want to receive" holds universally.


Cheers; I've never actually been given socks I wouldn't wear... OTOH I rarely to never wear a tie anyway.


Thank you very much!

(Librarians do have that problem too. The only ones who really have the leisure to sit down and read as much as they want are the elderly or injured ones who've retired to the Library itself full-time...)


You know that you are getting old when you are actually grateful for socks as a present


I would have commented earlier but in fact I’ve been immersed in Irene’s adventures. Superb stuff! I don’t know whether the following influenced their development, but I was reminded of Asimov’s eternals, Eco’s library in the Name of the Rose, and Susanna Clarke’s gentleman with the thistledown hair.

But, here is my question: how did the library evolve from the pre-literate alternate worlds, where oral history predated written testament?


I was reminded of Asimov’s eternals As in "The End of Eternity", or have I got the wrong series?


Yes, the End of Eternity. A trans-dimensional organization influencing multiple alternate epochs. And, in Asimov's view (as I'm sure you remember), constraining the overall development of humanity.


Thanks. I didn't see that here, although I wondered if that was where OGH was going with Palimpcest.


This is a strange moment.

We can either assume that our OP has a serious case of Nominative determinism or she is from another dimension (as is their want the heavy name reference is usual, and as meta-Librarians you can expect it to be cleverer than usual).

GENEVIÈVE: From Genovefa, a Gaulish name possibly meaning "tribe woman"

COGMAN: Mechanical men in their flying machines (and Dewey Decimal system).

As such, I shall present a further case:

Librarian D (for Dilettante): Quite the annoying case, usually male (although not exclusively), learnt the trade as a socially semi-respectable cover for his yearning for coffee houses, radical politics and the smell of pamphlets printed behind secret societies. Not to mention the lingering musk of danger and late night drinking in clubs not suitable to those of his/her class.

The worst situation occurs when quite unwittingly s/he produces a bound, 1st edition, ultimately rare present that one devoted great-aunt or the other gave to him/her that is tossed onto the Christmas pile as a light-hearted but genuine gesture (and with this type, it's all gesture and fashion, at the heart of things) with no real knowledge at its worth. Nothing more is asked but a response to the easy smile and twinkle that you suspect s/he's practiced for days in the mirror.

Does one accept? Does one attempt to educate and reform? Or does one suspect that the front of D is just a front and under is a far greater radical and ravenous heart (and swooon respect, love and knowledge of literature than the thin ice of fashion would allow to show)?

These are the questions meta-Librarians face.


I shall, perhaps, read more. Intriguing.


Thank you! The Name of the Rose was certainly an inspiration, and the gentleman with thistledown hair may or may not have been an influence, but in any case I love Susannah Clarke's writing.

That question of yours about pre-literate worlds is a very interesting one, on which I can't comment... yet.


The life of meta-Librarians is strewn with literary thorns.

(For what it's worth, my father always told me that the name "cogman" comes from the old term "cog", meaning "boat" - thus, "boat man"...)


Yes, well. I'd avoid the x2 Coin metaphors for a bit.


On the scale of subtle, you're hitting a blank.

Whelp. We need a replacement for Mort / Death now that Terry has gone.

So, engage a little bit more.


You've given a book splurg. Ok, fine.

How does that impact the horde?



Meta doesn't work without two premises:

a) Central Hub World

b) No cross contamination of Time

I poked you with D) because it's funny.

But, further: there's no hook / crook or rational to a central world unless it is manifestly better or on the dystopian side, manifestly worse and ruining the metasphere to do so.

So, hmm?


I'm afraid you've lost me, sorry.


Warning - link gets highly technical.

I'd always understood "a cog" to be a specific type of small ship.


Welcome to the club. If you look for clear statements, you're better of with a Sibyl.


I'm certainly prepared to wait for an answer, especially if it leads to some backstory or even a prequel.

Since the library can be invoked using any large collection of records (not just books) it would seem that the message is more important than the medium. So perhaps the first librarians were shamans or traveling story tellers (Homer?) who held the stories in their heads. Or the young punk scribes who used new-fangled writing or knots or whatever disruptive tech to record the tales that had previously been controlled by their elders.


How much information is necessary to count as a library? Does it have to be unique, or would 10,000 copies of the same book work? What about a computer with 10,000 books stored on the hard drive?

(Thinking like a munchkin player here…)


In Genevieve's conception, 10_000 different editions, each with unique features, like, say a different subset of a collection of short stories, would count, but a warehouseful of copies of a school textbook from a single print run almost certainly wouldn't.


They do have to be physical records, KineticLensman. Simply telling the stories orally won't work. And there has to be some sort of doorway.

Of course, the question of "which came first - the Library, or the library-structures which give access to it?" is one of those questions to which a lot of people would like answers. (And those who do know aren't telling.)


paws4thot is right - the collected books/etc have to be different in some way. A book warehouse containing lots of different books might (just) work as a gate to the Library. A book warehouse containing thousands of copies of the same book wouldn't.

And no, an iPad or book with thousands of books on the hard drive wouldn't work. Much to the regret of numerous Librarians, who would find life much more convenient if it did.


Haven't read any Invisible Library yet, so a quick ask: Are we into spoilers territory already?


I thought as much, based on having read "The Invisible Library" through once (literally finishing doing so as Charlie announced you as a guest blogger).


I'm fairly comfortable that we haven't gone into plot; just into some of the mechanisms of how the IL Multiverse works.


I wouldn't think so. Any spoilers would include names of persons, their history and maybe secret identities; or some plot element. Most info about the Library and the Language is revealed early on.


I'm curious... (and maybe I need to do some book-buying :)

So book good, Kindle book bad. OK, got that. But then audio book...? Or more problematically, what happens to music - is it sheet music good, MP3/FLAC/CD/vinyl/wax-cylinder bad?

Or in a society where major publications are chiselled into a chunk of stone (stelae from the various iterations of mid-Asian civilisation, for example), you'd be missing the most important writings of that civilisation because they're erected as monolithic free-standing thingies.

Interesting idea, but it seems to fetishise a particular class of publication. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, it just leaves gaps around the edges for picky bastards to ask stupid questions. ;)


Or maybe it's words making stories that counts, so it would be the lyrics rather than the music that's important?


Actually, since people are talking about stuff other than "ink on sheets of dead tree", what about ogham?


Some year or other I really have to write the other two-thirds of the novel of which Palimpsest is the opening ...

Actually, Palimpsest was a crab-wise approach to the problems underlying the Singularitarian/millennarian agenda, while dissecting that ideology away from the whole AI shibboleth so we can see it for what it is. Hint: Nikolai Federovitch Federov has a lot to answer for (especially when you consider the political implications of resurrecting not merely everyone who has ever lived, but everybody who could have lived) ...


The book warehouse thing is getting, ahem, problematic in this thrusting modern Century of the Fruitbat we find ourselves in!

I had a major cognitive WTF moment about a week ago ...

It is normal in the production process of a new novel for the publisher to print up ARCs -- advance reader copies -- for selected reviewers. These are photocopied/laser printed copies of the manuscript, cropped and glue-bound between cardboard covers. It costs way more than a final printed hardcover book block, but it gets the novel in front of the reviewers in time for them to read and do a write-up far enough ahead of publication to ensure some reviews show up in the right places.

So, a couple of weeks ago I asked my (new) US editor about ARCs for my next Laundry novel. And we chatted for a bit in email -- and then it occurred to me to ask my UK editor (for the books have a different publisher in the UK). "Oh, we don't print ARCs," she told me. "We just do an early print run a couple of months ahead of publication."


In the UK, hardcover printing presses have gotten so agile that they can do a run of 20-100 hardcovers, with binding and proper dust jackets, for less than the cost of photocopying the old ARCs (and they're much more attractive). The gap between print-on-demand and print-for-real has narrowed so far and so fast that there's barely a difference.

And one side-effect is that the book warehouse of yore is gradually fading into the rear-view mirror ...


On second thoughts, the IL world also contains a variety of mystical creatures and magic (avoiding spoilers here). So I guess it is entirely reasonable for specific types of object to have special properties.


Okay, I'm having to consider some things there that I hadn't necessarily worked out the full implications of, so to quote Bujold, The Author Reserves The Right To Have A Better Idea:

Ogham would work, if what was written down was stories. Stelae would work, again if it was stories. You'd just need to have enough of them in a reasonably confined space. Spreading out stelae across the surface of an island won't necessarily create a strong enough "field" (or whatever one calls it) to turn the whole island into a possible gateway to the library. On the other hand, filling a (very large) warehouse with collected uprooted stelae might.

Fortunately, it's the content and not the object which the Librarians have to bring to the Library. Therefore, if a Librarian gets sent to collect a particular story which has been inscribed in Ogham on a standing stone in the middle of the haunted moorlands - to pick an example completely at random - it is acceptable for them to just copy it down and bring the copy back to the Library. It doesn't have to be the original book. It's just that from time to time, in no doubt completely unrepresentative cases, there's only one copy of the book/whatever to be found, and the other people after it don't want to share.


Well, for myself, the most I ask is that, if I give you a much better idea, I get an acknowledgment sometime.

With ogham, the issue is that most of it was on sticks, and was destroyed (possibly by agents of the church of Rome), so we don't actually know what the content was (except in the case of monumental stones, but it seems unlikely that an entire written language was developed just so the kings of the provinces of Ireland could write "The O'Neill was here $date" on a standing stone).


Hmm ... I'm imagining someone bringing back a branch of the Tree of Life (aka Tree of Knowledge) which contains an entire world's genome (living library) within/on it . The challenge is deciphering/decoding it. (How are Librarians at cryptograms?)


I'm sure there are alternate worlds out there where even if Ogham was primarily written on sticks, it wasn't necessarily destroyed. And that the Library has collections of sticks from that world. (Or possibly collections of transcribed Ogham which had previously been on sticks, which might be easier to transport and store.)


Interesting concept, SFreader, though possibly beyond the current state of science in my alternate worlds. (For the moment, at least.)

Librarians vary with how good they are at cryptograms and whether or not they enjoy them. Most of them are at least good at languages.


I don't think a genome library would work - where are the stories?


Deciphering the genome would entail disentangling creatures and then recreating their probable life histories and environments. No different than paleontology.


There's a bit of a quibble about Ogham, because, at least to me, it looks like it was invented in reaction to Roman conquest. Certainly the Celts were writing in Greek, and in Greek-like systems like Celtiberian for centuries before Ogham turned up. Ogham's more like the secret code of the anti-Roman resistance than anything else--in addition to sticks, you can make the code out of leaves, finger signs, and so forth. It's designed for secret messages, not for libraries.

If you want to get to the lost languages, there are a lot of them out there, like Harappa script or Vinca. If you want the weirdest one though, I'd pick the Incan Khipus (quipus). There's good evidence that they were more than accounting tools equivalent to ledgers, and things like khipus show up in the Andean archaeological record for well over 1,000 years (IIRC), but the art of reading them has been lost. If only librarians could travel in time, and find the linguistic branches that were lost in our world.


Still no stories, just possibilities. Might as well decipher the "stories" from a pile of Lego bricks.


So the key thing is stories?

Interesting implications, especially for things like computer-generated fiction. (Not there yet, but getting close.)

(Fully expecting no definitive answers from you, as you won't necessarily nail down the universe until you need to in a story.)


There's a bit of a quibble about Ogham, because, at least to me, it looks like it was invented in reaction to Roman conquest. Certainly the Celts were writing in Greek, and in Greek-like systems like Celtiberian for centuries before Ogham turned up. Ogham's more like the secret code of the anti-Roman resistance than anything else Really? Perhaps you'd like to present your evidence for the Roman invasion and/or conquest of, Ireland now?


I apologize, it was a meta-joke. Cogman = cog builder (there's also a rude joke I won't do here), but in an alternate reality (cough Steampunk - a secret society founded to preserve literary texts from a series of alternate worlds, and a warped London setting that is part eldritch fantasy, part steampunk, with a dash of the supernatural in the form of vampires and werewolves thrown into the mix. Glowing Grauniad mini review) it has a similar, if updated, meaning.

I was suggesting this wasn't your base reality.

Linguistic conceit, nothing more.


Brown vrs Sherlock, Intuition vrs Rational modes of thought, literary genius vrs penny thriller fodder, Religion vrs Reductionism, old dualism's from dusty dramas of yesteryear...

Genuine question (which might make my comments more sensical): given that The Confession of Father Brown doesn't actually exist in this reality (I double double checked, even in the restricted section of the Bodleian), how are you avoiding the casual / temporal trap of infinity? (c.f. The Library of Babel)

To steal the Quine quotation: "The ultimate absurdity is now staring us in the face: a universal library of two volumes, one containing a single dot and the other a dash. Persistent repetition and alternation of the two is sufficient, we well know, for spelling out any and every truth. The miracle of the finite but universal library is a mere inflation of the miracle of binary notation: everything worth saying, and everything else as well, can be said with two characters

Translation: is the act of creation the important part, and (I'll assume here) if the (alternate) reality is required to generate the book / story / uniqueness, then are the Senior Librarians [TM] in danger of being dimensional thieves rather than actual librarians? (L-Space).

If a book is unique to a dimension, then the act of bringing a copy or even an original to the central Library means that our protagonist's dimension acts as a larger set (given it now contains the information of the other dimension, and information that it doesn't contain).

And each time that's done, the more dimensions are added, and so on and so forth, until the Invisible Library becomes all dimensions.


The Brown vrs Sherlock concept is an interesting one though - inspiration? (I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread)


I apologize for the wurble, blame Tor for their " Think Doctor Who with Librarian Spies" hook.


(Replied to wrong post - was a response to #43)


"Think Doctor Who with Librarian Spies"

I hope not. Doctor Who has recently demonstrated that there isn't a set up in the world they can't screw up. Good storytellers have to hold their nerve.


I disagree - the last two episodes have IMHO been the best ever.


Define last two?

I thought the "face the raven" one was pretty good, and the "heaven sent" was excellent, but the follow up felt like a cop out in comparison. A refusal to face the consequences of what had come before.

Talking of cop outs, sorry I dropped out of our previous conversation. Real life ate a couple of days and I just couldn't find the time & will to read 500+ comments to get back up to speed.


A more mature response given that the author is still (perhaps not) reading the responses would be this:

"Why are Tor so unsure of a new sign-up that they need to surreptitiously attempt to hang off the coat tails of a popular franchise that they neither control nor share in and are unfairly using?"

Doctor Who is published by...


It was snark at Tor, not the author, you muppet.


"Matter and Memory"


The entire point is that The Doctor never forgets anything, that's his curse, and he only gets away with dallying with humans because their long term emotional impact offsets the macabre ghoulishness that is an eternal being traipsing around with a mortal companion.

Forgetting is the ultimate sin / punishment that the Time Lords little loop could never do.


It's like you're not even trying anymore.


I feel that you are giving the writers too much credit.


Possibilities, yes, just like the alphabet.


I don't believe I was talking to you.



Tell me about the last time you watched Doctor Who.

You know, for science.


...before the Word made you?

Psychosis Weapons.

You might be surprised what comes out of the LOOP after 4.5 billion years my boy.


Last one.

Makes me wonder [Youtube: music: 7:59]

Hint: it's the ultimate rude boy move to do what you two just did.

Dirk likes his little crown of Internet viability, but cannot process Temporality. [And Dirk: I could reave and rove through your space with ease without doing this nice little simulation'

Ddb loves to wallow in Science (BITCH!) and so on, but isn't great on more modern theories. [Hint: quite the little reactionary at the heart of it; sadly no-one told him that I'm an Avatar of Athena and all that jazz. Seriously: fucking out of date, hilarious]

Children, or Boys, be careful what you want.

It's also rude to attempt to hijack OP's thread.


Personal suitcase full of dinosaur eggs? ;-)


Flash memory is definitively a physical record, but I think the "gateway" aspect saves you.

Unless the mosfet gates are gateways, but we'd end up in Laundry territory eventually...


Seeing as you're a gamer…

What game system would fit the Invisible Library universe best? I'm dithering between BESM and CF (although I've never actually played the latter, it seems to fit the world Irene spends her time in in the first novel).

I'll admit to being prejudiced towards simpler systems without lots of rules. (A consequence of getting older — in my youth I loved crunchy rules.)


I can't think which system would work best, but my checklist would include:- 1) Steampunk vibe, to allow things like ubiquitous non-horsepowered road vehicles, airships etc. 2) The ability to include magical creatures. Without naming characters, the TIL world includes dragons, fairie, vampires and werefolk. 3) I think (but may be wrong) multiple magic codes. AIUI the librarians have their own code, and both dragons and fairie have species-specific codes as well.


Ms. Cogman has written quite a few* gaming supplements, so I figure she has a good grasp on the interaction between rules and mood.

*Ie. more than me :-)


"Ogham would work, if what was written down was stories. Stelae would work, again if it was stories."

OK, so you've progressed from "books" (let's suppose the Librarian gives an "Ook" of approval to the team with a monolith on a forklift) to "books of fiction".

You just know what's coming next, don't you? How fictional does something have to be before it counts? "Wolf Hall" is clearly fiction. It's about a real person and describes the things that a real person did to the limits of modern scholarship, but it includes events which probably didn't happen quite that way, and was written by the author knowing that the dialogue was not as originally happened. However anything published by Creationists is equally clearly fiction, but they think it's what actually happened. World War Z is presented as factual, even though it's fictional. And I've heard that Egyptian engravings were written praising the great military victories of the Pharoah in advance of those battles happening, which makes them pretty fictional too, and about a person.

I think this is the point where the GM says "look, I paid for the pizza so these are the rules"...


And, indeed, more than me. The comment you replied to was based on my interpretation of "The Invisible Library" (book); It's accuracy or otherwise is subject to Genevieve's comment on the subject.


Undoubtedly; The most I can do is have a different idea, which Genevieve may, or may not, like, or a different idea, which she may or may not use.


I clock in at two (with co-authors), not counting dozens of gaming articles. She's written GURPS Vorkosigan, Hearts Swords Flower, and a bunch of In Nominee supplements I didn't bother with because the setting didn't interest me.

My RPG days seem to be behind me. (Real life, and changing interests.) But I'm thinking the Invisible Library would make a dandy campaign setting. Possibilities for many different worlds. Junior agents out on their own, without easy access to advice/resources, but a mechanism for the GM (the uber-librarian) to send them hints if really important. Technology and magic, with the right mix for a particular taste just a matter of picking the world that best suits the gaming group.

I'd rather read the novels right now (like I said, no longer gaming), but a decade or so ago I'd be clamouring for the sourcebook :-)


That was… a chilling take on a familiar story. Bloody well done.


Good Grief!! And to think that I am accustomed to thinking of myself as of being Ever So Lazy ... A moments casual search upon an event structure of Long Long Ago ..along the lines of " Where in the Multi Verses !!! " and I did I come upon THIS ...

" ... The peace treaty was recorded in two versions, one in Egyptian hieroglyphs, the other in Akkadian, using cuneiform script; both versions survive. Such dual-language recording is common to many subsequent treaties. This treaty differs from others, in that the two language versions are differently worded. While the majority of text is identical, the Hittite version says the Egyptians came suing for peace, and the Egyptian version says the reverse.[34] The treaty was given to the Egyptians in the form of a silver plaque, and this "pocket-book" version was taken back to Egypt and carved into the Temple of Karnak. "

Copy and casual Paste from Wiki, but amenable to further investigation as to the interpretation of the " facts "of the Events.

Not to Worry ..I forgive you for I am far too busy pursuing MY Evil ? ..Evilish/ Devilishly Cunning Plan to Rule The WORLD! For it isn't really " Evil" .. as you WILL agree if you know whats GOOD for You! For I Plan to Rule the World from MY Secret Underground H.Q. that lies beneath an Extinct Volcano situated in The Peoples Republic of Scotland. And a GOOD tm Thing Too!


Any cross-currents/fertilisation with the "Historical Institute" or whatever they are called, that Charlie loves & I can't even find advertised copies of & my failing memory cam't remember the title? "St Mary's" ?? Time travelling accident-prone historians, anyway.


Oddly enough, Greg, I was just this P.M. looking to see if anything new was up and running in the ..

" The Chronicles of St. Mary's Series "

There's often a short story addition to the series at this time of year.

" "History is just one damned thing after another" - Arnold Toynbee A madcap new slant on history that seems to be everyone's cup of tea...Behind the seemingly innocuous facade of St Mary's, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don't do 'time-travel' - they 'investigate major historical events in contemporary time'. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power - especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet. Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary's Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document - to try and find the answers to many of History's unanswered questions...and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back - to the death. And, as they soon discover - it's not just History they're fighting. Follow the catastrophe curve from eleventh-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake ... "

And, sure enough ..the short story that pulls the leg of the traditional Xmas story is here ..


The key thing is indeed stories.


No problem. Linguistic conceits are fun.

The Librarians are aware of Borges and the "Library of Babel", but nothing seems to have reached the infinity point so far. Everything is still finite, or at least, everything that has been found so far is finite. But who knows about the future?


I'm not saying it's impossible, but personal suitcases of books are more likely. Or perhaps of precious gems or jewellery (to give an example of something easily transportable) to boost one's bank account and allow for more convenient living, bribes, and book purchases...


Librarians would rather not go insane, generally speaking. It is inconvenient for one's to-read list.


To be honest, my all-time love is Amber the DRPG. But you do need players who are willing to run with the story and be prepared to hose their characters, and who won't be too abusive to the minimal system.


There does indeed come a point in every GM's life where she has to hit the table with the hardback, metaphorically speaking.


Also some Orpheus, some Exalted, a bit of Vampire...

It's very flattering to know that you would have liked to play it. Thank you!


None specifically intended, but given how much I like crossing over multiple settings, I certainly wouldn't stop anyone else from envisaging it. :)


It's an excellent system, with the notes that:- 1) The players have to understand that they won't be playing the likes of, say, Corwin, Eric, Random or Merlin any time soon. 2) The players have to understand that they won't be playing the likes of, say, Corwin, Eric, Random or Merlin any time soon.* 3) The players have to avoid conflict with the aforementioned.

*Yes, I know I just said that twice, but it is that important.


I think you may well have taught me Amber at Uni...


It's an excellent game. ;)


It is one of those games where the GM and players have to come to an understanding about relative power levels and game balance before things start, to avoid much pain and argument later.


In the game I played, Zelazny's characters were NPCs, and the agreement was sort of "we didn't hassle them beyond maybe asking for advice, and they didn't kick our arses en bloc beyond in character stuff like Julian really just wanting left alone to guard Arden so don't even ask".


After Genevieve left, I took over co-GMing and we treated the elder Amberites much as you suggest -- because they are a pain. And even as a GM, I hate recreating other people's characters: that's acting; I'm a role-player, I want to create my own characters and tell my stories. And most role-players seem to be like that. So your original comment did surprise me. But then I admit, most of the people I've played with had either played Amber before or, myself included, hadn't read the books when we started.


Yeah, it did kinda become an obsession that helped wreck my degree. Thanks. :P But I do love Amber. And I love Myst because of its Amberness. And I love Vampire Diaries because it's Amberish (no parallel worlds but superhuman feuding siblings with Machiavellian plot twists). Yeah, Amber has become an axis running through my imagination, in large part due to you. :P

I remember your game mostly for the meta-manipulation I convinced you to engage in. I'm struggling to remember much of the story, but I have a nasty feeling you abused my womb. (And if you---or anybody else reading this---recognises me, please don't name me, for reasons I'll explain in a private channel.)

After you left, we explored the more cosmological aspects of the game. And I began to appreciate Amber as a frame into which all parallel-universe literature fits. (Kinda, "all stories lead to Amber.") And once you've got into that mindset, it's hard to shake.

Anyway, I'm glad you went on to bigger things and I've just bought the Invisible Library for my sister. (Which, TBH, was the only reason I skimmed this blog.)


Well, everyone in the campaign I was in had read at least the Corwin Chronicles, and in my case I bought the RPG (first print run since "edition" can mean something else with games) on the strength of the novels.

To expand, we were playing around the same time as the Merlin Chronicles, but, for a different example, the only times we spoke to Random he was sending us on missions or getting our reports from completed missions.

Also, some of our characters weren't that interested in "court politics"; mine was designed for and settled down to live in a shadow near the Earth of the Corwin Chronicles, and got dragged into adventuring when 3 of his part-cousins Trumped into his house and demanded that he Shadow-walk them back to Amber! (You may guess that my character was the only one with Pattern as a starting skill and didn't bid much in the abilities auction.)


Sorry about any addictions, and I'm glad that you had fun with the setting.


And now I have to go back and re-read my Zelazny. sigh If I must. ;)


Just finished the two books. Just fallen in love with Irene. Just started recommending them to friends. (Just started longing for the next one -- sorry!). Was there really a tiny reference to the Chalet School in The Masked City?


You are absolutely correct, CPickersgill. Irene did indeed go to the Chalet School. Or at least a version of the Chalet School. Have a cookie. Have two.

(conceals shelf full of Elinor M Brent-Dyer from her misspent youth)


I shall look forward to trying to spot that. I'm male, but can be highly voracious when reading, and enjoyed some of my sister's Chalet School books.

Care to join me for kaffee und kuchen some time?


So how does the Library deal with oral traditions, which is where some of classic stories originate, such as Homer's Iliad, and which are still practised today. Iranian story tellers preserve a substationally different version of Alexander's conquest of of Persia for instance.


It does explain Irene's language training, doesn't it?

(Depends what day of the week it is - I can only manage to discuss it on English days...)


:-D I can "get by" on French and German days too, but I really couldn't hold a "deep, meaningful conversation" in either of them, so I suggest that if we ever do this, we agree that it's an English day partly in self-defense!


For collector types, doesn't that rather muddy the waters regarding what constitutes a true first edition? Could end up being a nice little earner for book reviewers.


cough I hadn't read the Merlin series when I started GMing. So the courts were very much left to my co-GM. cough The second campaign was set in the Courts, which was a necessity as we'd destroyed Amber. That game was all politics---you can't shoehorn dungeon-crawlers into Amber---and, yeah, I'd read all the books by then. ;)

I honestly can't remember how Wujcik's system works because we used a system of our own devising. We allowed players to put a variable number of points into each power; which creates the same result as the auction (ranked skills) without all the awkwardness. But we didn't give every player the same number of points: we gave them a ballpark figure and then let them haggle; good concepts got more points. And the player with the worst concept who had the lowest number of points was the one who came out on top.

And yeah, Random was handing out missions. And Julian was in Arden, till it got bombed, IIRC, with Primal Chaos. (He was presumed to have died.)


I said our campaign was set "around that time" deliberately. We never sighted Merlin or Martin, or even got close to the Courts, although we still don't know who imprisoned (NPC) part-cousin Jessica...


"I was happy to discover I could get the Invisible Library DRM free, so well done Tor for that."

I have tried looking, and damned if I can find that - do you have a link? So far, I have found only print and Kindle (which is useless to me).


Still too soon to comment on the Second in The Series ..given that I haven't read it yet .. but, well, here is something that I've just come upon that is seldom if ever considered in The Fiction of Fantasy? How Much does it cost to Insure Your Dragon? Given that in all the Many Worlds ..nearly typed 'WORDS ' there .. there are bound to be People who are Sensible and who will consider their need for 'PET'? Insurance? And so What form would that 'Insurance ' take, and how much would it Cost .. What PRICE would the insurer be prepared to PAY and WHY? ..

" Pet insurance guide: 7 things you need to know to pay less " ...


" The Invisible Library: Book 1 eBook by Genevieve Cogman ... Read The Invisible Library: Book 1 by Genevieve Cogman with Kobo. ... ISBN: 9781743536322; Language: English; Download options: EPUB 2 (DRM-Free)."

This from a google search, " Invisible Library DRM free "

Am I missing something here? On the face of it it looks to be simple enough to find a DRM free copy that you could then convert to E Reader format of your Choice with, say," CALIBRE "? ..


Thanks. I was looking for it on Tor. Silly of me - especially as my device is a Kobo :-) However, I did quite a lot of searches and, as is usual, almost all of them were trying to push me onto what 'they' wanted to sell and not what I wanted. But still silly of me ....


We have all Done It! Evil Publishers Rule ..usually. But still ..we shouldn't have to Out Wit them Great Detective Style just to buy a book!

Thus ..

" 'This fellow may be very clever.' I said to myself, 'but he is certainly very conceited.'

Dr. Watson Quote Concerning Holmes

-A Study in Scarlet

Chapter 2: "The Science of Deduction" "


Now, you've confused me. All the Martin stuff happens in the first series. But fitting things into the chronology and the hanging plot is definitely another of the Amber problems. Anyway, I wasn't meaning to impugn you; I was just reminiscing and chucking out thoughts as I skimmed through my notes.

Candidates for Jessica's imprisonment?


Maybe I'm confused?

As for Jessica, she didn't know, so we wound up creating a list of suspects that read like "any aunt or uncle not in Amber at the time except Julian".


Actually, reflecting on it now, I realise how fantastic it was to be part of a busy community of role-players. I was GMing and playing in multiple games. And if you wanted to experiment, there were players around. It's not something you'd ever be able to reproduce in adults with adult responsibilities. I certainly don't regret being exposed to Amber.

And if I didn't fulfil my academic potential; well, there would be time for study later. And I'm still being paid to use my degree, which is an achievement for an astronomy degree.

Okay, actual question: how big's the Mary Gentle influence on it? Because I keep wanting to say "Invisible College" not "Invisible Library". (Really, I'm just looking for an excuse to insist my sister read Mary Gentle as well as Zelazny, although I think the chances are slim as the sibling code insists tastes must ne'er overlap.)


I would desperately like to help but I'm male, run into the same clause in the sibling code regularly, and have never regretted buying a Mary Gentle.


I don't think that there's a specific Mary Gentle influence, though I have a number of her books on my shelf. Then again, the "Invisible College" isn't exclusive to her, excellent as she is.

Try your sister on Black Opera?


I don't think that there's a specific Mary Gentle influence

Well, I wouldn't have said so certainly. I think Mary tends more towards satirising existing fantasy tropes than you do, but that may be a comment on the examples of her work that I've read more than anything else.


I have now read both - thanks! Did I recognise the Brass Babboon as an influence, incidentally?

A layout niggle, if you do the same in future books: the footnotes in The Masked City would be better at the end of the introduction. It's not feasible to page a long way ahead and back quickly in some Ereaders.


I did not (though I read quite a few girls' school stories of that ere). All those I saw (and all of the ones I read about boy's schools, too) could unkindly but fairly be called saccharine near-propaganda, and the reality was much less attractive. Not just the schools, but the behaviours of the pupils. Naturally, they varied (and vary, I assume).

Obviously, it's reasonable to write about the better end, but there comes a point where, not merely can't we suspend disbelief, but our antibodies against propaganda kick in. I should be amused to read a story about a school that could produce an archetype such as Irene, but a good story would have to be, er, unusual. And not at all like the truly awful Hogwarts pastiche - it was blinding obvious within a few pages that J.K Rowling had not been to a boarding school, and probably not to a private school.


Well, a quick Wikipedia suggests that Elinor (M) Brent-Dyer did not attend boarding school, but The Chalet School does not come over as being (intended to be) a typical 1930s "public" school in any way, shape or form. Volume 1, which is all you'll need for research purposes, is "The School at the Chalet".


Well, interest rather than research :-) I may well. However, my point isn't about the typicality or otherwise, but about the rose-tinted whitewashing; even the best boarding schools were not like (most of) the stories. Hughes, Dickens, Kipling, Golding etc. were relatively realistic. I know children (and parents) who were deceived into going to boarding schools because of the saccharine stories, and regretted it.

Also, any school that would develop the coolness, self-control and combat skills of Irene is way outside anything that actually existed in the 20th century Empire, even for boys. In other societies, yes, but usually associated with a high death rate. I have no problem with that, but it does mean that such a school is necessarily fantastic.


I'm afraid I don't know what the Brass Baboon is or was, so probably not an influence.

Sorry about the e-reader footnote issue.


Well, Irene is the result of more than just her school. Fortunately for her. And nostalgia is always golden when everything's currently trying to kill you...

(I was at boarding school myself, but it wasn't Hogwarts or the Chalet School...)


Interesting, because it's a first cousin to your train. Zelazny: Donnerjack.

No problem about the footnote but, if I didn't say it, you might not be aware of it.


That would be more likely to give me flashbacks! There are people like Irene in real life as well as fiction, but I have never read a good description of how they developed their skills and mindset, and why they succeeded when other people failed.


I realise that posting may be misinterpretable. My point is that I know how different taking the initiative with unarmed combat against a group is, to being able to fight your way out of a hostile group that is surrounding you. Many soldiers train for the former, but are not good at the latter; it's something that very few people can do, even when experienced brawlers, and I don't know what makes them special. Because I have never seen a description, my assumption is that it is very hard to put into words, whether or not it is teachable (and I don't know even that); I teach some such concepts, though they are a world away from street fighting. They seem to be learnable only by 'doing' - and a lot of it, and not everybody seems to be able to learn them!


Question for Genevieve in particular but others could pitch in: how does writing roleplaying adventures and material differ from writing fiction? Are there particular habits or attitudes you have to unlearn for fiction?


Well, for me the most obvious thing is that if you have a fingerpost sign with the posts reading "this way to the plot" and "Dullsville (cul-de-sac)", the RPG writer or DM had better have a plan for dealing with the adventuring group that takes the Dullsville route.


I think that's honestly a bit too wide a question for me to give a useful answer - there are so many ways of writing rpg material, and so many ways of writing fiction...

I agree that with rpg material, you can't control the action of players, whereas in your own novel you can - no more "don't wanna take the adventure route"! But then again, the reader of your fiction has to actually want to keep on reading it. They don't have the built-in interest of playing a character who's going through the adventure/background. They have to want to find out what happens next, and to take an interest in the protagonist, or they'll just stop reading and go and do something else.


Can I confess to going to a UK military boarding school? I went there in year six, it was my seventh school...

You're right, in that boarding schools are nearer to Golding than Rowling - but there are several factors. Firstly, boarding schools tend not to have huge year groups; mine was about 35 boys for a school of 250. IMHO this lends itself to having a single in-crowd, some middle ground, and the outcast geeky types who are "bad at Games"; by contrast, a much larger year group is more likely to offer an island of sanity to them, and it's far harder for a single group of cool kids to dominate things. This is the reason why we (my wife also went to a small school) decided to send the kids to a large one.

That said, I'd suggest that my era of my school had an interesting generation of teachers; many were coming up to retirement, and had fought in WW2 as young men. They had seen some of the worst of man, and had responded by becoming gentle men and teachers. The Commandant was awarded the MC at Cassino; the school RSM had fought WW2 and then Korea; Chemistry and PE teachers were Bomber Command aircrew; French teacher was Free Polish; Woodwork and Pipe-Major in the Argylls; Chaplain and Modern Studies were ex-RN; Drum-Major in the Glasgow Police; my primary teacher had been SAS(V) in the 60s. Most of the rest had done National Service.

They wanted us to grow up to be good men, and to have the choice not to do what they had done, and they mostly succeeded ;) Oh, and they had no illusions, and had seen the best and worst of people - so the pastoral care was probably much better than most other boarding schools of the time. Bullying wasn't really an issue, it got stamped on hard.

The downside, of course, is that the pattern of our school life lent itself to a slight institutionalisation. Not severe; most only took a year after school to learn to cope with a sudden lack of structure, but I suspect that all of us would cope well in heavily-structured environments; military, oil rigs, prison... Even me, the skinny geeky one, fitted right into an infantry unit. First team sport I was ever any good at :(

Another point is that of early specialisation in sport. We used to see large numbers of promising juniors drop away from National Squad participation in our sport once they gained free choice; they'd spent their free time training in that one sport to the exclusion of much else, and decided they wanted to do all that stuff that their friends had been doing; the "Sex and Suzukis" effect. By contrast, those juniors who had not focussed quite so much, and who had the choice to try lots of sports (but not as deep a level) were far more likely to continue and to enjoy what they did. So; our two boys compete in judo, but they also play rugby, cycle, are currently hammering us in Star Wars:Battlefront, do OK with their studies, and have been known to turn up to a Stross book launch and reading (although firstborn is the reader, I had to bribe youngest).

So: the "pushy parent" effect can have rather the opposite effect to that intended. I've got a mental picture of a "lethal" finishing school producing the hardest dropouts around ;) My old school is now coed, too. I now have this mental image of the most psychotically aggressive girls' hockey team around, a cross between St.Trinians and Junior Leaders...

Although, I can remember my culture shock on first meeting a genuine airhead, in first year at University. What do you mean, you can't read a map / do first aid / lead a small team / change a car tyre / paddle a canoe / make a shelter in the wild / fight a fire / travel across Europe unaccompanied? What did your school teach you?


Launder, iron, and mend your own clothes; cook a meal; plan a nutritionally-balanced diet or an exercise program; etc...


"Can I confess to going to a UK military boarding school?"

I didn't but, in my public school, there were more pupils in (and interest in) the England under-20 athletic squad than getting into Oxbridge.

"You're right, in that boarding schools are nearer to Golding than Rowling - but there are several factors. ... Bullying wasn't really an issue, it got stamped on hard."

Even in the 1960s, however, it was tolerated in some schools on the grounds that it "developed character". Two of mine were like that, one badly. And some of the approved actions were illegal in most armies (my knees have never fully recovered, and I was not alone in suffering permanent physical damage). The girls' schools I know of were less physically brutal, but otherwise comparable.

"What did your school teach you?"

An utter loathing of the English establishment and people with that mindset, and not much else beyond a basic education. Those skills you refer to I taught myself - Heinlein's list is amusing, and I suspect that we would have similar hit rates.


I suppose that the difference in my case is that our staff actually knew what character was... Any "character building" experiences were exactly that - hard, perhaps, but never brutal.

It's a bit like the meme that runs "good quality exercise hurts; therefore exercise that hurts must be good-quality". No, just no (bunny hops, seal crawling, and hurdlers' stretches, thankfully now contraindicated by PT instructors who know their job).

You can be brutal without being hard ("do it right or I hit you") and hard without being brutal (see Selection for Hereford - almost entirely self paced come test week). Unfortunately, there are morons out there who don't understand the difference - they create a bad and unhealthy culture. It can sometimes also be misunderstood by the external viewer; particularly if viewed through an edited filter. For instance, bayonet training - perhaps a fraction of the training time at Sandhurst, maybe an hour or two in nine months, but an absolute magnet for anyone with a video camera and editing suite...


Very likely. And the punishment that damaged my knees was bunny hops for over 15 minutes, continuously.


Ah yes "jolly team games" & "character-building cross-country runs" etc. "Grammar" schools had these failings, too, I can assure you, in spite of the supposed drive for better educational results. SHUDDER Which is why I still think that, if one could get away with it, ( but you wouldn't ) hanging S Coe up from a lamp-post using piano-wire & with a swastika tied around his neck might not be such a bad idea.

Other odd note here - there seems to be the ridiculous idea that "all sports are the same & that one can ONLY "get fit / build character etc... by following the approved team fascism programme. INDIVIDUAL activities, such as mountain walking, fencing, archery are frowned on - & it is still like that, as far as I can see.


The school that our kids go to is still biased towards rugby for the boys and hockey for the girls - because that's what the PE teachers typically play, and for which they have their coaching qualifications. There's also reinforcement in action because the school has a successful FP club, and a history of success at Scottish Schools level.

But... They aren't averse to acknowledging individual sports, it's just an unconscious bias. They had a 15-year-old diver competing at the Commonwealth Games a couple of years ago, and their rifle club had a 17-year-old become the World Junior Champion. It's more that the kids are shy about informing the school of any intermediate successes so that they can be "announced", because "not rugby"...

Nor is it "good and bad at Games" - their school makes a big deal about debating, the Model UN, entry rates to Oxbridge, the number of kids who got the awards for "highest score in that year's SCE Higher Grades for STEM subjects", etc, etc. Nor biased towards law / medicine / classics.

I suspect that these are also advantages of mass... A smaller school being vulnerable to the unconscious biases of fewer teachers.

Little boys and girls are hierarchy-conscious little chimps; practising to find their place in that hierarchy. Some more determined to reach the top the others.


''"jolly team games" & "character-building cross-country runs" etc. "Grammar" schools had these failings, too, I can assure you, in spite of the supposed drive for better educational results.''

I was not referring to such relatively harmless activities. Quite a lot of Tom Brown's Schooldays was still present in the public schools of the 1960s; Martin clearly went to an excellent one, and the one I went to was a long way from being the worst (and even further from being a good one). But one of my prep. schools was even worse.


"because that's what the PE teachers typically play, and for which they have their coaching qualifications"

You mean that you had QUALIFIED teachers? What a bizarre concept! And, no, my public school was not small. Actually, there were a few, but I knew more physics than the senior physics master by the time I left. And, God help me, that sort of situation is being restored as a matter of policy (but for the hoi polloi) by our current bunch of rulling arse-lickers. Welcome to the 19th century - we hope to reach the 18th by 2050 :-(

Something that is relevant here, but seems to have got very little publicity in the UK (I found the link through Russia Today), is that the government is planning to remove one of the main sources of employment in the near future, without even trying to ensure that the populace is educated for other tasks. Rural buses are neither here nor there, but the same arguments apply to all buses/coaches and a huge proportion of deliveries.

Notice the assumption that a canned lecture by a Nobel laureate makes an education on a topic!


I remember a great article in Dragon about the usefulness of clichés in RPGs. When role-playing, you can't spend two pages on a flashback, filling in a character's backstory. So if there is a ranger who hides out in the forest, robbing from the rich and giving the proceeds to the poor, then everybody knows who they're dealing with -- even if you later twist the cliché (oh "Robyn's a girl".) And that struck me as a useful insight: clichés are a vocabulary from which GMs can draw to communicate succinctly. Whereas we're sandwiched between two threads denouncing clichés in literature.

And it's also hard to do heroic drama in an RPG; most games are a cross between a soap opera and a farce. In diced games, in particular, the dice will interpose themselves at inopportune moments ("you go to slay the dragon...and fumble"). And most role-players I've played with are slackers and losers. They may talk a good game, but they're no way near as competitive as the librarians you describe at the top. Maybe they could manage a Philip K Dick novel -- an everyman sucked into a story. But players are driven by acquisitiveness. Psychological insight? Conflicted by a real moral dilemma? Not a chance; they're too busy searching the corpse for valuable artefacts. I wondered if this was a feature of the people I played with; but I've seen similar behaviour when I've run or participated in Murder Mystery games. I think it's because it's a game and most people never step out of the game and into the character. A group of players who all inhabited their characters would be an exceptional group of players.

Computer games may bridge that gap a little. In Mass Effect 2, I found myself protecting characters I cared for, even though it hurt my cause. But generally you do the "right thing" because you expect the designers to reward you for being good.


Wells failed to foresee the Eloi running the machines themselves.


You really wouldn't "get" Amber Diceless then:- 1) Players usually win because they're the heroes, and actually are the toughest guys around (well except for their parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents anyway). 2) Players get benefits for writing a detailed back story for their characters. 3) Players get rewards (game rewards like experience points) for doing game related stuff outside RPG sessions. For example, they get rewards for writing personal journals, writing the party journal, writing poems or songs related to the last session, drawing pictures of the party in the last session. 4) I've never seen this done, but I've never seen a character take or learn the relevant skill, but players could get XP for drawing Trumps for characters, NPCs or locations.


Okay, enlighten me: who else has used the Invisible College?

The trouble with Black Opera is that (a) my Dad has my copy and (b) I'm the singer in the family; my sisters are the scum in the orchestra pit. (I was actually singing with some jobbing professional singers while reading it; it didn't seem entirely inaccurate...) I enjoyed it; it was one of her better recent efforts. I was a little disappointed that it didn't explore every idea she penned -- but that's only because there were so many interesting ideas. Anyway, both my sisters are here tomorrow so I might see if I can casually drop it into the conversation, "Genevieve recommends, Black Opera..." ;) Thanks.

And a happy new year, everyone! There are a couple of threads here that I'd like to pick up on, if I have time on Saturday.


I would expect most professional driving jobs to be on the way out within 10 years.


You could be right. And the same applies to many or most clerical jobs, checkout clerks etc. The consequences should be obvious.


"It's more that the kids are shy about informing the school of any intermediate successes so that they can be "announced", because "not rugby"..."

I learnt at school to make sure that they never got any inkling about any aptitude for any extra-curricular activity, in order to avoid having my precious free time wasted by the school making me do it.

Shortly after joining one school I discovered the existence of the "inter-house singing competition" for which we all had to audition. Having no illusions about my singing voice I turned up to the audition and sang some song of their choice all unsuspecting, and was horrified to find that I got picked for the team. The result was that instead of being able to go home after school I had to stay behind and attend rehearsals, singing some crappy song over and over until nausea set in. To my intense relief I did eventually manage to get kicked off the team, but it took a great deal of skiving rehearsals and getting in trouble for it before I achieved the desired result.

When it came round the next year I was prepared, and my audition performance gained the comment "Frankly, that was bloody awful, and I don't think you were really trying". Oh, I was trying. I was trying very hard to sing as badly as possible to make sure I didn't get picked for the bloody thing a second time. Frankly, I was expecting to be told off for taking the piss rather than have my performance accepted as genuinely bad. But it worked, and that was the main thing.

The entrenched values dissonance was extreme. They seemed to be utterly oblivious to the idea that someone might want to simply go home after school and do their own thing instead of having to stick around doing yet more boring school stuff. My expulsion from the team in the first year they regarded as a punishment, whereas I regarded it as a reward and a blessing.


Geneνieve tried the whole homework lark on us. As a player, I didn't feel it worked. (I was supposed to be doing the drawing. I drew about one character -- worst. commission. EVAARRR! And I'm not sure anybody else did much of their homework.) So, as GMs, we didn't repeat it. In fact, I think we set a word limit on the characters' backstories because I got fed up wading through the awful, hackneyed prose the players would write. I would have definitely deducted points for poetry. ;) And, as GMs, we wrote the journal because it was a vital part of our process: we needed to come together and understand what each other had done. (We posted the public version on this newly invented web thing.) I think there was a game where we let characters suffer GM inflicted back-story in return for points but that was as close as we got. And I'm not sure how this homework pays into the whole discussion.

Not withstanding that, I think diceless RPGs do come closest to novels because they do dispense with roll-playing and rule-playing and force characters to focus on story. And we ran diceless games in other settings for that reason. (Which is not to disparage diced games: there is an undeniable acquisitive joy in acquiring stats, and some of my best memories are from unexpected dice rolls.) But analyse every Amber Game and you'll see, at heart, it's a Thrown War, and so a soap opera. I've not read Game Of Thrones: but AIUI that would be the style you would need to represent an Amber game; whereas the classic genre template is a hero or group of heroes fighting evil. Or, occasionally, the inverse. Even in Zelazny we follow a clearly designated hero: Odysseus Corwin. In hard-sf maybe you're satiating curiously about the cosmos. But that leads me onto another difference: novels have a finite end point. In RPGs it's: "Okay, we found out the nature of the universe. What now?"

Part of what I'm getting at is your road to "Dullsville" thing. I was going to respond to that by saying, "This! This! So much, this!". As a player what you're doing seems entirely reasonable and and perfectly sensible, and yet the omniscient narrator is banging their head on the desk until the fourth wall topples over and everybody goes to the snack machine. (And, for the record, I was useless at getting players back on track.) I'm not quite sure myself what I'm trying to say, but can you see where I'm aiming? Heroes can read the author's mind. And if a novel does use its characters more authentically then they look like a collection of NPCs, not PCs. I mean what player would put up with a few lines of dialogue in Chapter 1 and then their next conversation in Chapter 5? Storytelling, using your slacker friends, all or whom have got to play a major role, shapes the stories you can tell. It makes an RPG much more like a long-running TV series: the actors are under contract, and so management wants them shoe horned into every episode.


>"That said, I'd suggest that my era of my school had an interesting generation of teachers; many were coming up to retirement, and had fought in WW2 as young men. They had seen some of the worst of man, and had responded by becoming gentle men and teachers."

I think some of them may have made it into the state sector. My form teacher in my first year of middle school (year 5) was one. He would allow lessons to turn into great rambling conversations during which he would impart his nicotine-stained wisdom. One story that stuck with me was how, while stationed in Egypt, he'd been offered the chance to see the pyramids. And he and his mates had refused, saying, "No! No! We can see them from here!" And so they'd carried on smoking fags and playing cards. But he told us, with great sadness, how he'd never been able to afford to return and regretted that opportunity all his life. Despite knowing that, I've still made that mistake many times myself -- although not quite on such an epic scale.

He was very strict on closing quotation marks, too. If a line dialogue didn't have it's closing quote, he'd say something like, "Yesss, I thought I could feel the draught from here."

We were his last year. The head master at my previous school, who'd also retired while I was there, was of a similar vintage. So I guess I just clipped the end of them, and can attest that us fully-comp brats got some benefit from the more generous members of that generation.

(Also, Martin, your comment was a beautiful passage of writing.)


Oh, my school was definitely state sector - it was just funded by the MoD, not the local council...


Okay, I got the wrong end of the stick. Sorry. Another quick of the British education system.

I can see why it makes sense for those on active duty or moving about a lot. I still feel a certain queasiness about it, particularly with some of them boasting about their low pupil:teacher ratios. Is it meant to be an attractor for the the rich? "The British Armed Services can't pay you very much, over the counter, but we can still ensure your kids get a good ''private'' education."


There's a thing called "Continuity of Education Allowance", which is a hefty chunk of cash per child per year intended for use as the name applies - a large part of the fees for a place at a boarding school.

The problem is that the UK doesn't have a consistent Education system. Scotland has a different approach to subject spread and exam system, with different expectations about entry to University; Northern Ireland is also different, but closer to England and Wales. While the Army provides Service Schools in Germany for Forces kids, they follow the English system.

If you're posted somewhere "small", however, things can be interesting. Dad got posted to a British Embassy in Eastern Europe for three years in the 70s; my third to fifth grades were spent in an Anglo-American school using the US system. This was 60-ish diplomats' kids from 13 nationalities (the French / Italians / Spanish also ran a small school, where the other half of the diplomats' kids went). My best friends at eight or nine years old were Japanese, Finnish, American, and Norwegian.

The differences are minor for the first few years (as I said, seven schools by year 6 - Scotland, N. England, S. England, Bulgaria, England, Germany, and finally Scotland) but without that continuity, it would have been Northern Ireland, Germany, and finally Scotland for the last two years of my Secondary education. Trying to study different Exam boards' syllabus is just not feasible...

I should say that the bold was just me trying to pick out a link to the school's website, and not an attempt at emphasis... It's now unique in the UK, as I believe the English equivalent (Duke of York's Royal Military School) is no longer run by MoD, and has now become an Academy; and the Irish version (the Royal Hibernian School in Dublin) closed in the 1920s for obvious reasons...



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