I'm neglecting this forum at the moment because I'm desperately attempting to beat a manuscript into publishable shape, in circumstances I hate with great hate: a deadline.
It's the book I worked on quite hard between 2007 and 2010, then let slip away for a while, and now I'm sorry I did, although I don't really know how I could have done otherwise.
Shahida means witness, in Arabic; it's an exact translation to the English sense of this word associated with testament, testimony and sometimes martyrdom. Specifically: "to bear witness" as a verb; "a female witness/observer" as a noun; modified one way, "martyr," and modified another, "epitaph." I'm using it as the core concept for a book which is a companion to Spione, organized similarly and like it, containing an original game as the final chapter.
It's set during the civil war in Lebanon from the middle 1970s through about 1990, a series of events which I think are as defining for our modern world as the events in Berlin just after WWII were for the Cold War period. Some example concepts include the role of the human body as a weapon at the same level of political and military effectiveness as the highest tech,* the recasting of democracy away from U.S. client status, and if not the first appearance of political Islam by a long shot, certainly its most original and independent version.
I'm basing the whole endeavor on Lebanese and related fiction and non-fiction from the war period, just as Spione is framed and conceived through the lens of a special kind of spy fiction and non-fiction. Lebanese literature is fascinating, shattered and re-defined by the war just like the country was, especially Beirut - it's surreal, rules-breaking, sexy, violent, and guts-exposing, all in colloquial and uncompromisingly street/slang Arabic, which until that time never saw print. The concept of the witness is absolutely central, because so much of the literature is unplanned: diaries which get published, poems which were not intended to be published, non-political writing which becomes political, and stuff like that.
I'm posting here mostly about the game, which I've played enough to be very happy with. It's strongly influenced by Grey Ranks but utilizes a kind of soft-touch, constant-action card process which makes everyone's hand (actually a face-up array in front of each person) relevant at all times. The group plays a family through phases of the war, with each phase bringing random family members "forward" as protagonists, and with one constant character (the Witness) throughout. Each phase, two of the players are the War, and with the start of the next phase, one of them rotates out.
To put it simply, if the group stays with the ordinary procedures of play, the family will probably get ground down and ultimately scattered or dead, after several phases. But if anyone at the table (current War players excepted) opts to use the special mechanic called the Judgment, then things can be a bit different. The Judgment is pretty scary, maybe the scariest thing I've ever designed, and that includes the Trespass in Spione. I've tried to make it very open-concept, such that its precise fictional nature can vary quite a lot and it's not a single tool with only one meaning. But ultimately it's about when you have morally had enough and must act to stop what is happening.
Anyway, the game is in good shape, a number of the chapters are ready to go, and I'm struggling painfully, paragraph through paragraph, with a couple of chapters. The real problem is that it's not supposed to be a textbook, but yet I'm summarizing twentieth-century events and politics in ways that are supposed to be informative, provocative, and useful to the game. It's like a crazy test: "Summarize Palestine/Israel in flat factual terms, no wasted words, don't get distracted by anything, go!" I was supposed to be done with it by the end of August, and I'm not. The only good thing about it is that when a given section does suddenly come together, it only takes a few hours to finish, and I wonder what was so hard about it, when it's done. I just went through it again for the section on spying - this has fought me for literally years, and today, I went tipitty-tap and it was all finished.
So, please bear with me, I'm totally committed to this forum and there are six or eight threads I really want to participate in. I have to devote every free moment - and I don't get many of those - to Shahida, though.
* If this sounds hyperbolic, consider that the one-man explosion which leveled the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 was the most powerful achieved in history without nuclear weapons. Consider also that this event, coupled with similar and near-simultaneous attacks in the same city (one of which destroyed the U.S. embassy and CIA station there), was the historical standout strategic victory, defeating the U.S. both militarily, as it prompted an instant and permanent withdrawal of forces, and politically, removing all hope of influencing events there through intervention.