Weekly Progress Report

Not much to say this week – I’ve cut down on my backlog, in anticipation of the crazy week I’m having at work this week.

Next week should be much easier, so progress will be made then. Until then, it’s all about trying to somehow prevent the to-do/overdue list from growing too much.

Ergo, a quick post for now.



Just My Opinion: Consider Phlebas

Well, it’s nice to be back to reading books of a level that I think I could emulate. Consider Phlebas is certainly a well-written book, but it’s no Swann’s Way.

That doesn’t mean it’s airport fiction. It’s classic science-fiction – don’t go in expecting a detailed description of the technology behind a Mark 7 Graviton Bomb, or painstakingly modeled battle tactics. It’s got its fair share of action scenes, but it is very much a “look at issues in our society through the lens of a sci-fi story.”

I have neither the inclination nor the space to go into a detailed look at the themes of the book. Suffice it to say that it’s an interesting take on religion, transhumanism, and cultural conflicts.

I’m more interested in the technical aspects of the book. It’s competently written, albeit relatively sparse on characterization. But it shines at worldbuilding. Consider Phlebas manages to create an especially interesting universe with comparatively little infodumping. Forget show-don’t-tell, Banks does a ton of work with imply-don’t-show. With a few ideas and a handful of lines of text, he conveys the incredibly diversity of cultures you’d find in a fully settled galaxy. And he manages to exposes the flaws of some of those cultures with a few extra paragraphs.

It’s not a book that I’d re-read for fun, but it’s one of those I’ll refer to if I ever need to create a galactic-sized setting. And for what it’s worth, it’s managed to get me to want to look at another Culture book, just to see where we go from there.

Let’s Play Europa Universalis 4 – Knowing the Ottomans

The one guaranteed way to fizzle out in a game of Europa Universalis is wandering in without a plan on how you’ll deal with the various challenges that arise as the game goes on.

So what challenges will the Ottomans face?

Internal Challenges

First, let’s look at internal challenges. The historical period covered by the game start as the Ottoman Empire begins its rise to glory, and ends with it suffering through a period of… less impressive achievements (decline is probably too strong a word.)

In-game, this is modeled in two ways.

First, early Ottoman military units have a small statistical advantage over European units, with the advantage eventually going the other way. That’s something that I can’t do anything about in-game (beyond the usual strategies that I’d deploy to maximize army efficiency regardless of the country I play.)

Second, the Ottoman have access to a few decisions and events related to the administration of the Empire and the rise and fall of the Janissary military caste. One, adopting the Provincial Government System, is… discutable on it’s face (it increases revenue, at the cost of increasing unrest), but once you realize it also unlocks a ton of bad events it’s a strictly bad idea.

The other decision (Adopt the Devsirme System) opens up the Janissary mechanics. It’s an event chain that gives lots of military boosts early on, modelling the rise (and eventual fall) of the Janissary caste… if it ever falls. Since I want to keep the bonus, let’s see what I can do to prevent that.

If the wiki is accurate, the thing is, while the Janissary Decadence disaster countdown is nearly guaranteed to start (I’ll almost certainly have rulers with no stats at 5), it’s absolutely possible to have it not tick down. It requires me to manage my finances moderately well despite having to pay the occasional Janissary reward, and to keep my army tradition at 70 or more. Then, the disaster will only progress if my ruler doesn’t have a stat at five, and is also the ruler who had to allow or disallow the Janissaries from holding land (in either case, . It’s… manageable, especially with the Ottoman Sultanate’s Harem system which lets me have some control over my heirs.) Keeping up army tradition is relatively easy when you’re nearly always at war, so it’s really just a matter of keeping an eye out on a few variables.

External Challenges:

As to external challenges, I imagine the game will be split into three phases:

1-In the early game, I’ll be playing essentially an aggressive, but otherwise normal, game of EU4. My goal there will be mainly to expand quickly and cheaply, so as to snowball into an unmatched blob of death. I’ll spread my advances in three zones: Eastern Europe (it’s basically impossible to make inroads through the HRE at this stage of the game, it generates way too much Aggressive Expansion), Asia and Africa. The idea is to grab as much land as feasibly possible, while forming large vassals as well.

There are two major dangers there: Coalitions and rival blobs. The Ottomans are big enough that they generally don’t have to deal with invaders looking to steal their land, but if a bunch of European countries decide I need to be cut down to size, well that’s a loss of time and ressource I can ill afford. But that’s something I can manage on my end.

The other risk is that another country will start blobbing, or form a strong union or something. A powerful Holy Roman Emperor could become an issue (making central Europe a nightmare to conquer), and Poland and Lithuania form the Commonwealth maybe two-third of the time if left unchecked. Other countries can form blobs as well (Muscovy is one of these) but these are the ones that matter in the early game.

Neutralizing the HRE is a matter of seizing a few HRE provinces early on. That’s generally enough to prevent the growth of Imperial Authority. Austria inheriting Burgundy (and keeping it) is also a problem there – if that happens, I really need to drop everything and mess with Austria enough that they lose the resulting war with France.

As to the Commonwealth, that’s harder to deal with. Poland gets an event very early on in the game that lets them form a Personal Union with Lithuania, eventually leading to the blob forming. If the union does form, I think fighting Poland early on becomes necessary (to cut it down to a smaller size, which will prevent Poland from eventually inheriting/integrating Lithuania.)

2-In the midgame, we should be bigger than anyone else (and big enough that there’s no such thing as a fair war anymore. That will be the time when I break and eat the other blobs I can reach. The goal is to ensure that no major power remains in Asia, Africa or anywhere east of the HRE.

3-Finally, the endgame will be smashing through the HRE, France, England, Spain and Portugal, while also fighting dozens of bullshit small wars to eat the remaining minor countries. Once I commit to the endgame, there’s no turning back – Coalitions are sure to form in Europe to counter me.

So that’s the plan. Let’s see how it turns out.

Weekly Progress Report

Not much to report this week – lots of uninteresting work like editing, obviously done tasks like writing blog posts, and basic maintenance tasks like making sure there’s food in the fridge. In particular, writing new words has been difficult lately, so I’m focusing on everything else.

I’m starting to realize I really do need time alone, on a predictable basis, to manage to write. It takes me a while to get in the zone once I’m alone – I usually need to mess around for an hour, an hour and a half before I get in the right mindset to write. An hour and a half from my son’s bedtime would still leave me an hour or two to write every night, but I kind of want to talk to my girlfriend once in a while too.

That said, she’s going back to work in September, and I do have a day off during the week whereas she has a straight Monday-to-Friday job. Hopefully, that’ll give me some high-quality writing time.

Let’s Play Europa Universalis 4 – Ottoman World Conquest

So… here’s my Special Project:

I’m a huge fan of Paradox’s Europa Universalis 4. It’s slow-paced and fiddly, it can be downright obtuse at time, but it’s such a wonderful sandbox to create stories that I keep coming back to it whenever I have some time.

There a many ways to play the game: you can play for score, set yourself some goals, or just try stuff out. If you need inspiration, well, there are achievements to get. Start as Kongo and try to conquer the entirety of Africa. Start as a one-province minor power in the depths of Southeast Asia and grow to have over a million available seamen to recruit.

Or, if you’re feeling brave, you can try to conquer the entire world. Which is what I’ll try to do in this series.

Apparently, it’s been done (by far better players than I) by starting as Ryukyu, a small, powerless province right next to Asia’s largest countries, but I’ll do it in easy mode, by playing as the Ottoman Empire. It’s still quite a challenge, and one that I haven’t successfully achieved yet.

(As of the time of this posting, I’m in the second half of the game, perhaps even the last third, and I’m nowhere near victory yet. So there’s a real chance I’ll fail at this project – in which case I’ll take the lessons of this playthrough and give it another go.)

One quick note: to complete achievements, you cannot lower the difficulty, and you must play on Ironman (i.e. Without the ability to load a save to undo poor decisions or to savescum, except almost immediately if you misclick.) I will avail myself to one little bit of save scumming right at the beginning, however: there’s an advisor I want to hire early on, and I’m not above restarting the game to get it from day one. But beyond that… I have to take what the game gives me (except in the case of misclicks. There’re plenty of ways a second of inattention can cost you a couple of years in EU4, so in those rare few cases when I do get to walk those back I’ll take the opportunity to do so.)

I won’t go too deeply into the mechanics of the game. Other Let’s Play on the internet have already done it, and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. I will give a quick overview of major mechanics throughout the series (usually by adding a small addendum after each post.)

So, let’s see how far we can go!

A note on expansions: Buying the entire collection of EU4 DLC is expensive, even if you get it during a sale. So, for the budget-minded, here’s my recommendation on which DLC you should buy first.

1-Art of War: this unlocks the immensely valuable, and convenient, ability to transfer occupation of provinces to your vassals during a war, which in turns lets you give them the provinces in peace deals. Without going into details, this ability is vital to any big-conquest campaign.

2-Common Sense: this lets you spend monarch points to develop provinces, also letting you gain Institutions faster. Not vital per se, but extremely useful.

3-Rights of Man: This gives the Ottomans specifically a few nifty tricks, but it’s really for the Great Power abilities that you want this.

4-Mandate of Heaven: now we’re firmly into optional territory. The Ages and Splendor mechanics give you a few options to play with.

5-Conquest of Paradise/Wealth of Nations/Res Publica/El Dorado/Third Rome: strictly if you want to play games with the nations/goals introduced in those expansions.

6-The Cossacks/Mare Nostrum: if you really want an additional layer of micromanagement or if you really like the diplomatic game.


Mechanics overview : Provinces

Since we’re going to be conquering the world, let’s talk about land, shall we?

In EU4, the entire world is separated into provinces of various size and worth. A country is made up of one or many provinces, and draws money and men from them. There’s an enormous amount of variables associated with every province, but we’ll address those when they come up.

So, to conquer the world, I just have to seize every province? Well, not quite. First, provinces owned by nations subjects to us (vassals, marches and protectorates) count as “conquered” for our purposes.

But, more importantly, you can’t just grab the land. Well, technically you can, but there’s a mechanic in the game that simulates how you need to build a bureaucracy to manage your new lands. If you acquire land through war, it will generally not be considered one of your cores. An uncored province gives you a few percents of Overextension, which causes all sorts of minor negative effects… until you go over 100%, at which point your country will quickly spiral into a major catastrophe.

To counter that, you can core provinces, which costs you Admin points (one of your major ressources, which we’ll address in the next post.)

Weekly Progress Report

Well, I’ve managed to get myself back into a working routine, at least, even if it’s not as efficient as I’d like. It just takes a poor night to knock off my productivity, and a heavier than expected social schedule hurt as well, but I did stuff. I re-edited the chapters I wanted to re-edit, reviewed and commented the cover artwork, managed to organize myself a bit better.

Heck, I even traded in my torture device of a computer chair for one actually suited for a human being.

So there’s been progress, although nowhere near as much as I’d like. which means I’m starting the next week with overdue tasks, which means I’ll be more likely to be overdue next week as well…

So let’s call this post done with. I want to at least get some writing in this week, and that means I need to do it ASAP.


Just my Opinion: Swann’s Way (Du côté de chez Swann)

Well, I’m through with the first book of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time.)

There’s really only one way to put this: if you want to be a novelist, you should probably learn French just so that you can read it in its original splendor. It’s that good.

I’m equally as unqualified to critique this novel as I was to critique Ulysses, but I certainly enjoyed Swann’s Way more, simply because it’s less of a challenge to parse. Ulysses is a book that shows you how masterful a work it is by challenging you at every word; by contrast, Swann’s Way  shows you its magnificence by being incredibly accessible in its treatment of very subtle themes.

For a would-be novelist, Swann’s Way is both a technical masterpiece to be studied and a fantastic lesson in eliciting emotion and feelings through writing. There’re no tricks at play there, either clever or cheap. It’s all about using exactly the right words, in exactly the right way, to convey a tapestry of information and sentiments to the reader.

Is it entertaining? Not for me. I enjoyed reading it, because I want to get better at writing. But the major themes don’t really interest me, and the contemplative nature of the work doesn’t lend itself to excitement and suspense. I will say that it’s now on my list of books to refer to when describing societies: Proust’s depiction of French aristocracy in the late 19th, early 20th century is flat out fantastic, even though it’s not the real focus of the novel.

Will I keep reading À la recherche du temps perdu? Hell yes. I will probably eventually re-read it too, once I’ve seen the entirety of the novel and can better understand how each volume fits it. But for now, let’s get back to lighter fare.

A Dad and a Writer – Year One

What a year it’s been. Also – it’s been a year already!?!

Having a kid is life-changing. Forget everything you think you know about fatigue, time management, or even motivation: there were many, many evening in the last year when I could barely fire up Twitch to look at someone else play a game. So writing… yeah, not that easy to fit in the schedule.

Don’t get me wrong – my son is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. But there’s no pussyfooting around it: if you’re trying to take a fun hobby and make something more out of it, the first year with a baby is the worst possible time to do it.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have tried to get Book the First published this year. It became an additionnal source of stress and fatigue at a time when I couldn’t really afford it, and I was too tired to assess my manuscript properly and to write good queries.

So I think I wasted a good opportunity there. But on the other hand, few people ever get their first manuscript published. And while in a sense I lost a year trying to pitch a book that probably never had a shot at finding an agent, the truth is that I wouldn’t have been able to do a lot with that year anyway.

On the plus side, I think I’m a pretty good dad. And I’m honest enough to admit that I should have ramped up my productivity, oh, two or three weeks ago. But it’s hard to come back from time off when you’re the only one putting pressure on yourself.

Well… let’s look forward, shall we? I have goals for the next year, but I want to do a better job at juggling all those responsibilities and sources of stress. I have to avoid that soul-crushing crunch time and those late-night writing sessions, and instead make good use of the time I know I can devote to writing without driving myself insane. Since my son is now going to daycare five days a week and my girlfriend going back to work soon, there will be dedicated writing time slots.

Now it’s on me to use them like an adult.

The Great Fall Task List

All right, so what am I planning for the rest of the year?

1-Writing an average of 500 words a week on Book the Second. That’s not a lot, and I feel I should be able to do better than that, but let’s stick to something I’m sure I can do.

2-Get back on track for my blog schedule, my reading list, etc. I’m on track for the reading list, being almost done with Proust (and then the rest is just entertaining fiction or short.) For the blogs, I have thirty Secret Project blog posts ready to go (with more in the pipeline) so I should be able to make up for lost ground fairly easily.

3-Finish a thorough review-and-fix of Book the First and have it published online. My revisions are the main holdup, although I’m also waiting on a cover page suggestion.

4-Once I get my cover page, I’ll do the long-awaited switch-to-a-custom-look for this blog. At the same time, I’ll officially try to turn that into an “official” writing blog, complete with tip jar to beg for money and email to ask for writing jobs.

To get that to work, I’ve decided to rely on an computerized todo list – I’m using Todoist – so that I can manage my time efficiently. I still need to write down everything I need to do but at least I can do that once when I’m motivated, and then have the guilt to motivate me. We’ll see how this works out!