The engineer’s tale

A “frame story” is one in which the author uses some sort of meta-story to link together several shorter stories. This trick has been used for at least 3,000 years, going at least as far back as the Mahabharata, which was probably written starting in roughly the 8th century BC. It worked so well that One Thousand and One Nights, also known as Arabian Nights, used it again several hundred years later.

Even later came the Decameron and The Canterbury Tales. In both of these, the meta-story explains why the characters who tell the shorter stories happen to be together. In the case of the Decameron, they’ve fled the city because of the plague. In The Canterbury Tales, they’re on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral. In both these cases, they tell stories to pass the time.

This trick has worked so well over the years that it might be time to make an updated version that reflects what more contemporary people might do to pass the time these days. You could easily have a meta-story in which a group of executives flee their corporate headquarters to an off-site meeting in Las Vegas and tell stories to pass the time until they return to work. That might not be feasible, however. These people talk about things like “leveraging core competencies to execute game-changing paradigm shifts.” It’s hard enough to translate the medieval Italian of the Decameron into modern English. Imagine how difficult it would be to try to translate those sorts of phrases into any modern language at all.

Maybe a better idea would be Silicon Valley Tales: while the executives are in Las Vegas trying to figure out how leverage their core competencies, the workers at a Web 2.0 start-up in Palo Alto pass the time by telling stories instead of working, and these stories make up this collection. You have an engineer, a sysadmin, a product manager, an executive assistant, a tech writer, a sales manager and a consultant. All the others have taken advantage of the executives’ absence and are working from home, leaving only these few in the corporate headquarters building. After a few hours of boredom, they all decide to go to Fry’s for lunch, and tell stories to pass the time as they're stuck in traffic on Highway 101. Maybe that’s not such a good idea. It would be tough to fit all seven people into a single car for this trip, so that particular meta-story might require more suspension of disbelief than most readers are willing to tolerate.

I'll start work on the engineer's tale as soon as I get some free time.

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