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"Know that two thousand, one hundred, and seventy-one conventional years have passed since the Terran Exodus. Today is the fifty-sixth day of the third month. We meet on the planet Apios, in the servants' hall of Palace Koa, the ancestral home of House Jakabitus and its matriarch, Lady Joanadie Jakabitus. I am Wollard, Master of Formalities for House Jakabitus, and I am currently delivering the daily meeting to the palace staff."
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Master of Formalities is a 2015 sci-fi novel by Scott Meyer, the author of the web-comic Basic Instructions and the fantasy/sci-fi Magic 2.0 series. Typical of Meyer's work, Master of Formalities features a healthy dose of humor.

As indicated by the opening quote (which are the first words in the novel), the novel takes place in the Feudal Future. Since the Terran Exodus, colonies have developed independently, eventually developing very diverse cultures. To avoid problems caused by miscommunication, the great houses have created the Arbiters, an independent body of judges who live on the planet Central Authority, who in turn created the Masters of Formalities. Masters of Formalities are assigned to noble houses to advise their rulers on the proper forms and precedents, when dealing with other nobles. The majority of the plot takes place on the planet Apios, a fairly decent planet with a long line of good rulers. House Jakabitus has been engaged in a centuries-long war with the vile and brutish Hahn Empire, another noble house that rules the Hahn Home World (that's the official name of the planet), forcing a culture focused on making others as miserable as possible. Until recently, the "war" has consisted of a generations-long stalemate on the chosen planet Ophion 6 due to the presence of numerous Kill Sats of both sides in orbit, ensuring a Mutually Assured Destruction of sorts. However, the Hahn then start making raids on foot using hand-to-hand combat, a tactic that has been largely forgotten by most civilized worlds due to the presence of devastating long-range weapons.

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One battle results in the capture of Hennik Hahn, the son of Lord Kamar Hahn, the undisputed ruler of the Hahn Home World. Not quite sure what to do with him, Lady Joanadie Jakabitus refuses to go with any plan that calls for Hennick to be killed or harmed in any way. Her Master of Formalities Wollard suggests that she adopt the boy instead, perhaps teach him to be more benevolent. She agrees with some reservation. Henneck turns out to be a true Hahn and a great annoyance to both the members of House Jakabitus and their servants. Hilarity Ensues.


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The novel provides examples of:

  • Absent Aliens: Lord Frederain Jakabitus muses on this fact, point out to himself that there may have been primitive intelligent life on some habitable worlds, but the colonists decided that any lifeform that got in the way of heavily-armed settlers couldn't be called intelligent.
  • Alternate Calendar: Similar to many other sci-fi novels, this 'verse keeps count from the number of years since the Terran Exodus, when the first interstellar colony ships left Planet Terra for other stars. They are called "conventional" years. While no other details are given, it's clear that the calendar is different from what we are accustomed to in Real Life. Months appear to be twice as long, for example. The events of the novel take place in the year 2171 of the new calendar. The date is always stated by a Master of Formalities before an official event or during an official greeting. This tradition dates back to the early days of space exploration, when interstellar travel involved becoming a Human Popsicle and/or Time Dilation, as a way to let the travelers know how much time has passed (and also where they are, for those who don't remember where they were going).
  • Arranged Marriage: Migg proposes an end to the war by having Rayzo Jakabitus marry Shimlish Hahn, Lord Kamar Hahn's daughter and heir. Despite her reputation and the nickname "Shimlish the Pig", she turns out to be quite beautiful and pleasant. Naturally, her father considers her a disappointment, since she is very non-Hahn-like. The wedding is stopped by Wollard, but both admit they wouldn't mind seeing one another again in the future.
    • Even Lady Jakabitus admits that her marriage to Lord Frederain has not been entirely natural either. Sure, they love each other, but the first time she saw him was on a list of eight suitable candidates compiled by her father, based on their economic and social standing. She claims to have fallen in love the instant she saw his name and face.
  • Artificial Gravity: The grand escalator in Palace Koa is actually a series of hovering antigravity platforms that carry people up or down levels.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: The current Minister of Health on Apios is Seibert Adler, a "wizened old man", who "won his position with his gentle, benevolent manner" and kept it by "mercilessly crushing anyone who got in his way... or anywhere near him".
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Thanks to the utilitics covering every surface of Palace Koa, nothing happens in it without palace security knowing (since they, effectively, have a tiny security camera in every nook and cranny). Additionally, in Lady Jakabitus's offices, any attempts at an outright lie would be detected thanks to the utilitics performing continuous brain scans on all visitors, and Her Ladyship would be secretly notified. This fact is not well-known.
  • Big Fancy Castle: Palace Koa is the ancestral home of House Jakabitus. It consists of the Old Palace, a "three-hundred-foot-tall cylindrical atrium, with various rooms dispersed around its outer circumference in four rings, spread equally along the four levels of the towering space," and the New Palace, an "oval ring that flared outward as it rose, its walls starting out thick at the bottom, then growing narrow and graceful at the top... Clad in shining polished marble, the ring connected to the rear of the Old Palace. it surrounded and framed the Old Palace like a giant collar." Wollard notes that he doesn't find the New Palace dignified enough, since it's been build a mere thousand years ago, while the Old Palace has been standing for nearly two thousand years, it's pristine condition maintained with the utilitics. The palace is named for the planet's capital city Koa, located not far from the palace.
  • Blazing Inferno Hellfire Sauce/Masochist's Meal: Chowklud (yes, it sounds like "chocolate", one of the tastiest things in the world) is a sauce that's served with every meal on the planet Cappozzi. To say that it has a strong flavor is to put it mildly. The Cappozzi pride themselves on enduring hardships, so they tend to pour Chowklud all over their food (which is deliberately made bland and tasteless to heighten the effect). It tastes and feels awful (being compared to eating a mouthful of angry bees), but deals no permanent damage, and some people can grow accustomed to it.
  • Brutal Honesty: The Hahn pride themselves on not hiding behind words and trappings. They speak their mind, especially if it causes discomfort to anyone else. Their rulers also wear rather plain (and fairly open) brown clothes without any embellishments.
    • In fact, causing discomfort is one of the Hahn's primary goals. You'd think their complete honesty would be refreshing, but they're less "straight talkers who don't twist words" and more "I really don't give a shit what you think about me".
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: For common citizens, a flight on a warp transport is not much different from an intercontinental flight in Real Life, except a little longer and even less comfortable (they are actually given pills to suppress certain bodily functions, so that no one needs to go to the bathroom...which is somewhat a blessing in disguise, as the inertial dampeners' gravity-effect literally crushes passengers into their seats so that they're unable to move their limbs or even turn their heads easily). Naturally, nobles have their own luxury transports.
  • Chameleon Camouflage: Active camo suits can do this, and the technology can be implemented in battle armor too. Shimlish Hahn wears battle armor with active camo. For her Arranged Marriage to Rayzo, she does not wear a wedding dress, instead preferring to simply change her armor to gleaming white.
  • Death Is Cheap: The increased fighting on Ophion 6 leads Lady Jakabitus to agree to enact the "emergency loss-retardant measures", which, basically, involve cloning a dead soldier from his remains (if there are any) and copying the previously-uploaded memories into him. After a while, the scientists start to make modifications to the soldiers' stored physical and mental parameters to make them tougher and better. Unfortunately, this leads to them becoming big brutes who think of nothing but war and killing as many Hahn as possible. Throughout the story, Umily, tender to personal needs, continues to receive letters involving her husband Gint, a sous chef sent to the planet as a reward for the soldiers. Gint's constant death and regeneration become something of a Running Gag. By the time his tour of duty ends, he looks nothing like the old Gint (he's now big, tough, and battle-scarred), and his cooking knowledge has been removed to make room for military knowledge. After trying to be a sous chef again (unsuccessfully), he is eventually transferred to palace security, a more fitting job for the new Gint.
  • Death World: Averted with Apios. When the colonists first landed, they found an inhospitable land with harsh winter and scarce food. It later turned out that they managed to land on a polar ice cap. The rest of the planet was actually pretty nice.
  • Duel to the Death: When Henneck Hahn insults Lord Kank one too many times, Kank expresses his desire to challenge Henneck to a duel to the death, but admits that good form would forbid him from challenging a teenager. Instead, he is informed by a Master of Formalities that he may choose a champion closer to Henneck's age and that the duel need not be to the death. Kank chooses Rayzo, and Apiosan sports are the manner of the "duel". Unlike their first match, Rayzo easily bests and humiliates Henneck.
  • Exact Words: A major stock in trade of Masters of Formalities. A big one is explaining that there is precedent for a strategy, and leaving out that it has never actually worked.
  • Extended Greetings: Just read the quote at the top of the page.
  • Feudal Future: Most planets appear to be ruled by a noble house. In the case of Apios, the wealthy Jakabitus family back on Terra financed the colony ship, ensuring their status as rulers of that world. In the case of the Hahn, they conquered the planet, renaming it the Hahn Home World and giving everyone the last name of Hahn. According to Migg, almost no one remembers the planet's original name.
  • Fictional Sport: Sports (occasionally called "Apiosan sports") is actually a weird form of wrestling developed on Apios during the early days of the settlement by a supposed seer named Dilly Glifton as a way to pass the time. It has since pushed aside every other form of athletic activity on Apios and has subsumed the very name "sports". It's a male-only activity, which women typically don't bother attending (much to their husbands' annoyance), which is of great interest to fathers, due to The Prophecy, spoken by the same Dilly Glifton. Really, the prophecy is little more than vague predictions about something that is already expected to happen (e.g. the father of a sports champion is naturally going to be respected), but Apiosan men still believe it. Each match consists of two phases: the advantage round (which lasts for 15 seconds and involves the two opponents trying to out-slap the other) and the actual fight (whoever wins the advantage round can grip one of the opponents hands at the start of the fight). The victor is determined by either points (scored for the opponent's face touching the mat) or throwing the opponent into the gutter (the area outside the mat). Another valid move is "pantsing" (grabbing an opponent's waistband from inside the shorts triggers a paralyzing electric shock that disables the fighter).
  • Foreign Queasine: Hahn food is, for the most part, awful. Food preparation is actually more theatrics than anything and usually involves grinding (which symbolizes Hahn culture quite nicely). The Hahn rulers themselves don't actually eat it, but they enjoy watching their guests try to stomach it.
  • For the Evulz: The only reason why the Hahn do anything. Their entire culture is focused on making others as miserable as possible. As such, their servants lack any of the more advanced technology (as that would ease their burden) and do everything by hand, even things that don't need to be done by hand (such as holding Lord Kamar Hahn's desk, which has no legs).
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: The "emergency loss-retardant measures" implemented by the House Jakabitus armed forces, which involve cloning dead soldiers from their remains and downloading their previously backed up memories into them (with some combat-heavy alterations). As compensation for the "inconvenience of dying", any "recovered" soldier's term was reduced by several months. However, the mounting losses eventually result in many soldiers now being free to go home, and no one is in a particular hurry to sign up for more fighting.
  • Great Escape: After being adopted by Lady Jakabitus, Henneck Hahn immediately starts planning his escape. He has Migg get them some active camouflage suits, although she gets white formal suits and scarves instead, pointing out that they can more easily blend in with the white walls of the palace. As a visiting dignitary is about to leave, Henneck and Migg try to sneak through the courtyard and get aboard his shuttle. However, Migg tries to sabotage the efforts by previously inviting Lord Frederain and Hartchar onto a balcony overlooking the courtyard, allowing them to spot the escapees. They don't bother doing anything, since they know the palace security are well aware of everything that is going on in the palace and are waiting for the right moment to act. They act by commanding the utilitics under Henneck and Migg to make the floor extremely slippery, immobilizing them.
  • Hidden Agenda Villain: Migg's entire plan to end the war on Ophion 6 is based on the fact that her ancestors are originally from Ophion 6, displaced after the Hahn and the Apiosans arrived to wage their war on a "neutral" planet. Her goal is to have the planet demilitarized, restored, and resettled in under two centuries.
  • Insistent Terminology: Masters of Formalities, by the very nature of their position, must sometimes engage in this, if this is how something is supposed to be said. For example, when food deliverer Ebbler refers to Master Rayzo's (the teenage heir to Lady Jakabitus) sports practice as "training" and the sports meet as "game", Wollard grimaces and corrects him on the proper terms.
    "I know that in more casual circles, other words are employed, but I must remind you that this household is not a more casual circle. Is that clear?"
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": The name of the planet Sheud is always pronounced in a long an uncomfortable manner. Given the nature of the setting, it's extremely improper to fail to do so.
  • Just the First Citizen: The Minister of Health, the higher civilian post for a non-Jakabitus, runs the entire Apiosan government. Why? Because the Health Ministry's charter is to "maximize the health of the planet's inhabitants", which is so vague that it has, over the centuries, resulted in it annexing pretty much every other part of the government.
  • Kangaroo Court: Scrutiny can seem this way, especially since the scrutinizers are not concerned with the circumstances of the violation the Master of Formalities is accused of, only with the fact itself. Wollard is brought before them for telling Henneck that he cannot do something, which is a big no-no for a Master of Formalities. He manages to weasel his way out of it. In the epilogue, Migg is brought before the scrutinizers for abusing her position for her personal needs. Her punishment is... to be offered a position as an Arbiter.
  • King Incognito: Soodon, the valet of Lord Ment Pavlon of the planet... Sheud (must be pronounced in a long and uncomfortable manner), "reveals" to Phee, Wollard's protégé, that he's the real Lord Pavlon and the one claiming to be Lord Pavlon is his top bodyguard. he claims that the Pavlons have been doing this for several generations now, ever since they refused to ally with the Hahn in their war against the Apiosans, since the Hahn have responded with constant assassination attempts. However, when leaving the supposedly-faux Lord Pavlon explains that Soodon does this whenever they visit someone and is actually lying to get better treatment. Everyone is left wondering who the real Lord Pavlon is, especially since Pavlon's introduction of Soodon was full of Suspiciously Specific Denial (although that could've been because he knew Soodon would try something like that, so he continued to insist that Soodon was only a valet and nothing more).
    • For a non-noble example, Migg, the Hahn servant girl captured along with Henneck Hahn, turns out to be a Master of Formalities herself, who has orchestrated the events of the novel in order to put an end to the war.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The Arbiters secretly run the human-occupied galaxy by manipulating the noble houses via the Masters of Formalities and by editing the precedents to their needs. Many Masters of Formalities don't realize this, believing themselves to be mere advisers rather than the arms of the Arbiters. The Arbiters are the ones who have instigated the centuries-long war between the Hahn and the Apiosans in order to keep their fairly large armies from being turned on their neighbors or reduced, focusing them on each other and keeping up the tension.
    • A more immediately example in the novel is Migg, who has worked behind the scenes to escalate the Hahn-Apiosan conflict in order to, ultimately, end the war through the Arranged Marriage of Rayzo Jakabitus and Shimlish Hahn. Why? Because her ancestors were forced to leave their world of Ophion 6, where the fighting is happening, and she wants to restore the planet to what it once was. When the Arbiters find out what she's done, they make her one of them to both make use of her talents and direct them towards their goals.
  • Manly Tears: General Kriz is the commander of Apiosan military. However, he is hardly the grizzled veteran some might associate with his position and is known to openly weep for his soldiers, earning him the nickname "the Weeper".
  • Mathematician's Answer: When asked how the palace medics work with the utilitics to render medical attention, the answer is always "Seamlessly."
  • Matter Replicator: Bulkfabs are used all over Apios to produce anything people need, from food to clothing items. They are also used to break down refuse into bulk that can be then used to make more stuff. There are still "bulk farmers" who produce bulk to replace what is inevitably lost. Shly, deliverer of liquid refreshment, always carrier a portable bulkfab in the form of a tray (apparently, on grav-suspension) for producing drinks on the spot. She wonders several times why House Jakabitus needs chefs to make food for the nobles, if bulkfabs can be do that in a fraction of the time. Typically, during a feast, Chef Barsparse and her current sous chef (she goes through several in the novel) prepare a meal the old-fashioned way (although they still use a bulkfab to produce the ingredients for expediency's sake) and serve it to the members of House Jakabitus. For the other guests, they scan the prepared meal into a bulkfab and make more this way. Bulkfab patterns can be tweaked by programmers.
  • Metaphorically True: Some Masters of Formalities can engage in this practice, although Wollard tends to avoid doing this. A good Master of Formalities can spot someone else doing this (justified, since their very job involves precise wording).
    • When arriving to Central Authority, Wollard is shocked to find a sprawling luxury resort in place of "one austere building" with the rest of the planet supposedly being "allowed to exist in a state of natural equilibrium". His pilot explains that the resort is, technically, one building, since they're all connected by passages. He explains the "natural equilibrium" as any state where humans get what they want from nature. The Arbiters call the building "austere" because they believe they deserve even better. Wollard is devastated to find out it's all been a lie. The pilot explains that it was much worse, a misleading truth. He is also surprised to be immediately taken to be scrutinized, despite the promise to give him time to prepare his defense. The pilot points out that he had plenty of time on his flight to do that.
  • Misery Builds Character: The core of the Cappozzian culture. Their planet isn't very nice, so this cultural development makes partial sense. Lord Kank, the ruler of Cappozzi, deliberately insists that Henneck Hahn be present at dinner, when visiting Apios, in order to better himself by enduring Henneck's insults.
  • Nanomachines: Every surface of Palace Koa (and other places) is covered in a invisible layer of utilitics, nano-machines that are programmed to perform various functions. They keep the palace clean (reducing the servant staff to a mere half-dozen) and germ-free, as well as showing Her Ladyship's mood by altering the "wallpaper" outside her office for Wollard to read. Both the palace security and the palace medics use the utilitics for their duties, since everything in the palace is monitored thanks to them. Utilitics can also form screens on any surface. When Henneck refuses to go somewhere, floor utilitics can be ordered to carry him there.
    • When Migg is told about the utilitics, she wonders how they carry things: do they actually move with the object or simply pass it along to the next utilitic? The other servants are stumped, as they've never bothered to ask that question.
  • No-Paper Future: A variation. While actual paper is no longer used, all Masters of Formalities carry "papers", which are paper-thin flexible tablets, capable of accessing Central Authority's database via some sort of Subspace Ansible. Messages can also be sent via papers, although they are usually monitored. Protégés have figured out how to sent secret messages by editing one another's CV.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Lord Frederain Jakabitus initially appears as little more than a sports-obsessed consort to Lady Joanadie Jakabitus, who berates his son for his sub-par performance. He also appears to fall for Henneck Hahn's false attempts to get in his good graces to spite Rayzo. Then he meets his son's trainer Hartchar alone on a balcony and tells her that Henneck isn't fooling anyone. The only reason he goes along with it is to give Rayzo an extra push, but not enough to demoralize him. He also gives Hartchar some training pointers, suggesting that she teach Rayzo not to rely on a single tactic, which will help him not only in sports but also when he is the ruler of Apios.
    • Migg herself. She appears to be the downtrodden personal servant of Hennik, but is actually the Master of Formalities for the Hahn Home World.
  • Oddly Small Organization: The Palace Koa permanent servant staff is made up of about half-a-dozen people. It's noted that there used to be many more that number, but the invention of utilitics and bulkfabs has made most of their jobs obsolete. Cleaning is done by the utilitics (which recycle refuse into bulk for the bulkfabs), and that fact that there are only three members of House Jakabitus to take care of, very few servants are needed. Note: the palace security and the palace medics don't count here, since they're seldom seen, but their numbers are also likely small due to the presence of advanced technology (which is maintained by the utilitics, so no technical staff is needed). The permanent staff consists of the palace expediter (Glaz, the leader of the staff), the chef (Barsparse), the sous chef (Gint, then Pitt, then Ebbler), the food deliverer (Ebbler, then Kreet), the deliverer of liquid refreshment (Shly), and the tender to personal needs (Umily). Migg temporarily joins the staff and assigned the role of Henneck's personal valet. For especially large events, temporary staff is hired to help the permanent staff.
    • This also ignores the hundreds (if not thousands) of officials working in the new addition to the palace in order to handle all the minutiae of running an entire planet.
    • Completely averted for the Hahn, whose palace staff numbers in the hundreds. The Hahn rulers deliberately avoid introducing such innovations as bulkfabs and utilitics, since they would simplify the servants' jobs. It's become almost a tradition for Hahn servants to be given a task and continuously pass it on down the hierarchy until it reaches the lowliest members, who are then forced to do it.
  • Only One Name: Most characters are only known by one name. Nobles are generally an exception, since their family name is well-known (Lord Kank plays this trope straight, as his first name is never revealed). Very few commoners' last names are mentioned. Migg's last name is Hahn, just like everyone else on the Hahn Home World.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Before the new Hahn offensive, the soldiers on both sides of the trenches on Ophion 6 fit this trope well. The reason Gint was sent there by Lady Jakabitus was as a reward to a military unit that made a likeness of her out of ammo crates. Presumably, it took a long time, meaning they weren't doing much "soldiering" at the time.
  • Planet Terra: Earth is always referred to as "Terra".
  • Precocious Crush: Rayzo, a teenager, has a big crush on Shly, a member of the palace staff. This is frequently used by other character, such as Hartchar and Henneck, during practice, as Rayzo gets inevitably distracted when Shly brings Lord Frederain's customary drink. Shly, however, has no intention of becoming Rayzo's temporary fling (obviously, nothing permanent could happen between a servant and the future ruler of the planet).
  • Self-Harm: Before unveiling his dirty sports tactics, Henneck tries to come up with another dirty tactic that no one has thought to outlaw yet. After being told that hitting an opponent in the crotch is illegal, he asks if hitting himself in the crotch is legal. The surprised person responds that it is, but wonders why anyone would do that. During a match, Henneck punches himself in the groin. While it's painful, the opponent is stunned for several seconds by this act (mostly because he is too busy laughing), allowing Henneck to push him off the mat and win.
  • Shout-Out: At one point, Lord Frederain Jakabitus says, "Shut up, Migg."
  • Spanner in the Works: After being rebuffed by Shly, Kreet tries to get her fired by altering the pre-set drink order on her bulkfab tray from Lord Frederain's customary sports beverage to the awful Chowklud sauce. However, just then, Shly offers Umily a chance to avoid the awkwardness by taking His Lordship's drink this time. Naturally, when Lord Frederain takes a gulp of his drink, he gets a nasty surprise and accidentally spits out the contents right into Henneck's face. Shly and Umily almost get fired, but Lady Jakabitus calls on the palace security to replay the events on the wall-screen (as the utilitics monitor everything), revealing Kreet's subterfuge. Her Ladyship takes this as Kreet's letter of resignation.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: Weddings on Apios still include this phrase, for some reason. Wollard chooses that moment to make a grand return and stops the Arranged Marriage between Rayzo Jakabitus and Shimlish Hahn.
  • Training from Hell: A milder example with Rayzo, who spends his days practicing for sports under the guidance of his trainer Hartchar with his father Lord Frederain Jakabitus constantly shouting useless advice (like "don't fall") and insults.
  • Vow of Celibacy: Masters of Formalities are required to forswear any romantic attachments, as they could potentially make them more loyal to their romantic partners than the rulers they serve, and that would be poor form indeed. It's not mentioned if recreational unattached sex is permitted or is likewise disallowed.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Lord Frederain Jakabitus frequently berates his son Rayzo for not being good enough in sports. In fact, he considers it a form of encouragement, and it's implied that all Apiosan fathers do that, as a form of tradition.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Migg's final goal is to end the centuries-long war between the Apiosans and the Hahn on planet Ophion 6, which is secretly her ancestral home planet. The goal seems noble enough, but the first step involves turning what has long been a bloodless stalemate into a bloody and vicious conflict that claims many lives on both sides (even though some Apiosan soldiers return as clones).
  • Wham Line: Migg starting to recite the traditional Extended Greeting of a Master of Formalities, revealing herself to have been one all along, much to everyone's shock.

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