Inspiration -- Michael Chabon
Again, I am not trying to be a book critic here, but I think that if you are a gamer, you need to read Michael Chabon. Lots of Michael Chabon, but especially the three books above. Some interview I read described him as "the nerd Che Guevara" -- leading a geek insurgency against literary fiction. He's certainly a geek and a magnificent writer, who tells fantasy stories that don't feel like fantasy stories (except when he's trying to make them feel like fantasy stories, which I'll talk about below).
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a fictional account of the rise of the great American comic book, beginning in the 1930's. Game wise, it has little direct influence except for the golem. One of the main characters is actually smuggled out of Prague with the Prague Golem. Of course, if one were running a supers game (or a 20th Century alt-earth game), there's lots to be found here. The protagonists of the book create a character -- the Escapist (very nice play on words there!) -- that is a Houdini-like hero who fights crime and Nazis. A wonderful book!
The Yiddish Policeman's Union is simultaneously a hard-boiled dective novel (a la Dashell Hammett) and an alt-earth story. Alaska has become a resettlement zone for Jews displaced by World War 2 (or at least this world's version of WWII). There's chess, political intrigue, Jewish crime syndicates, and secret societies built on world (or at least Jewish) domination. One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the alternative history angle is simply there; it's present as a backdrop to the setting and the characters, but isn't the focus of the book. In my limited exposure to altaerative history fiction, I've found that authors often focus on the history and forget to tell a compelling story with interesting characters. In other words, the focus is too much on world-building. Not so here, as divergent events are only mentioned by the characters without explanation. The characters don't need to explain them, because they are a common historical thread in their world. For them to drop everything and explain exactly how the Jews got to Alaska would simply break the 4th wall of the novel. It's a great detective story and an interesting piece of alternative history, both of which are ripe for plucking for one's game.
There is a third Chabon book, Gentlemen of the Road, that does have a direct influence on what I am trying to do here, so much so that it deserves it's own post. One will come soon! It's also my favorite of the three. Said entry will feature Jews, swords, gender confusion, elephants, Western Asia, and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. How does that not sound awesome!