[Book] Master of (scrum?) formalities (Sci-Fi)

October 5, 2016 · Book Science Fiction Scrum Agile Sci

I listened to another audiobook recently called Master of formalities, a fun story from Scott Meyer, author of the Magic 2.0 series I already reviewed here. Here's the pitch taken from Amazon:

Even when finding oneself engaged in interstellar war, good form must be observed. Our story is set thousands of years after the Terran Exodus, where two powerful, planet-dominating families—the elegant House Jakabitus and the less refined Hahn Empire—have reached a critical point in their generations-long war. Master Hennik, the Hahn ruler’s only son, has been captured, and the disposition of his internment may represent a last and welcome chance for peace.

Enter Wollard, the impeccably distinguished and impossibly correct Master of Formalities for House Jakabitus. When he suggests that Master Hennik be taken in as a ward of the House, certain complications arise. Wollard believes utterly and devotedly in adhering to rules and good etiquette. But how does one inform the ruler of a planet that you are claiming his son as your own—and still create enough goodwill to deescalate an intergalactic war?

What are those formalities? A set of rules created by the "arbitrators" to grease communication throughout the galaxy and countless planets that have grown so distant in habits and customs, that they sometimes have trouble communicating. The role of the master of formalities is to counsel the various rulers to observe proper form, feeding them with options and precedents while advising them on their next moves in order not to lose face.

The way those formalities twist the world is so extreme that it becomes funny, and this is one great strength of this book. At each turn of events, you wonder how the author is going to introduce new silly formalities to make the obvious outcome impossible. For example it is bad form to respond with weapons to waves of soldiers attacking your army with their bare hands. Anything else would be use of excessive force and would be bad form.

The story is really entertaining and Luke Daniels, who narrates the audiobook in English is just fantastic. I highly recommend it, I spent a really good time listening to it.

So why did I put the word "Scrum" in the title of this article? I need to tread lightly as not to reveal too much of the story here. At some point Wollard, the main protagonist and Master of Formalities, gets in trouble because he tells a member of the ruling family that he cannot do something. As I said, the Master of Formalities are there to advise about proper form, but never to command. This reminds me a lot of the servant-leader role of the Scrum Master. Advise but don't decide, guide but don't tell. And like Wollard, refrain from telling people what they can and cannot do but instead act as a mirror and show them where the paths they may take might lead.

I wish the book was more well known, then I could start the next daily Scrum with the formal introduction repeated by Wollard before nearly every meeting in the book:

Know that two thousand, one hundred, and seventy-one conventional years have passed since the Terran Exodus. Today is the fifth-sixth day of the third month. We meet on planet Apios, home of House Jakabitus [...]. I am Wollard, Master of Formalities, and I am introducing the daily meeting.

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