Dresden Files #1: Storm Front Introduction & Ch1

Before we begin, let me say that I have read this book, or more specifically, I listened to it. Don’t do that. While the audiobook is done well, it meant I was listening to a man say the lines in the book, and it did entirely too good of a job at replicating the feel of actually standing next to a man who, mid-conversation, added that by the way, all women are gold-digging whores who don’t appreciate what a nice guy he is. It’s amazing how much worse that makes it.

Supposedly, the misogyny in this series is just in the first book or two, but any time I said, “Oh good, so you mean XYZ stops?”, I just got people saying they didn’t see how that was misogynistic, so from my standpoint, the series looks to be shit all the way down. And honestly, anyone who could read the first book and find it good enough to keep going to reach those supposedly non-misogynistic ones is someone already numb to misogyny.

So – that’s what we’re doing, everyone. This is going to be unpleasant for women and a hatefest for fans. The only consolation I can give is that we’re coming up on October, when I’ll also be reviewing carapace fanfic again as well as a bunch of short horror games.

 

 

Rarely has a cover quote been so useful. If you found the basic premise of Buffy the Vampire Slayer an enjoyable one, but didn’t understand why it wasn’t about a guy like all proper media, this book is for you.
Incidentally, there’s also a comics adaptation of this book.


I look forward to never finding anything else out about that, because the thought of this combined with the horrorshow that is modern comics terrifies me.

On to what’s actually inside this book.

I heard the mailman approach my office door, half an hour earlier than usual. He didn’t sound right. His footsteps fell more heavily, jauntily, and he whistled. A new guy. He whistled his way to my office door, then fell silent for a moment. Then he laughed.
Then he knocked.
I winced. My mail comes through the mail slot unless it’s registered. I get a really limited selection of registered mail, and it’s never good news. I got up out of my office chair and opened the door.
The new mailman, who looked like a basketball with arms and legs and a sunburned, balding head, was chuckling at the sign on the door glass. He glanced at me and hooked a thumb toward the sign.
“You’re kidding, right?”

The book is written in a nicely conversational first person.

I read the sign (people change it occasionally), and shook my head. “No, I’m serious. Can I have my mail, please.”
“So, uh. Like parties, shows, stuff like that?” He looked past me, as though he expected to see a white tiger, or possibly some skimpily clad assistants prancing around my one-room office.
I sighed, not in the mood to get mocked again, and reached for the mail he held in his hand. “No, not like that. I don’t do parties.”
He held on to it, his head tilted curiously. “So what? Some kinda fortune-teller? Cards and crystal balls and things?”
“No,” I told him. “I’m not a psychic.” I tugged at the mail.
He held on to it. “What are you, then?”
“What’s the sign on the door say?”
“It says ‘Harry Dresden. Wizard.’ ”
“That’s me,” I confirmed.
“An actual wizard?” he asked, grinning, as though I should let him in on the joke.
“Spells and potions? Demons and incantations? Subtle and quick to anger?”
“Not so subtle.” I jerked the mail out of his hand and looked pointedly at his clipboard. “Can I sign for my mail please.”

The problem is, of course, the person is doing the talking isn’t actually nice.

Harry gets a great deal of mileage out of how people don’t understand what it means when he calls himself a wizard. He knows people don’t know what wizards are, says there is, for whatever reason, absolutely no other wizard who’s got a phone number to call, yet insists on identifying himself as one then saying it’s mockery when they misunderstand.

He will just keep doing this. He’s an enormous guy flinging around even more enormous power, who doggedly refuses to explain anything while smugging it up about how no one else knows, and this makes him the greatest victim of it all.

You’d be surprised how many people call just to ask me if I’m serious. But then, if you’d seen the things I’d seen, if you knew half of what I knew, you’d wonder how anyone could not think I was serious. But you wouldn’t, because all of it is secret and part of why he’s better than you – the other part being that you don’t believe him and recognize how much better than you he is. It is so hard being Harry.

We then get an explanation about how there’s been a big resurgence of magic belief at the beginning of the twenty-first century (…not really) and blames it on how belief in science failed due to being unable to fix crack babies (…who don’t exist, thank you) and exploding space shuttles (?) and how kids today watch too much TV. I assume the author of this book is not literally a ninety year old man, but he manages to be one in spirit. (Actually, Wikipedia claims he’s younger than my parents. What the fuck.)

This will be all the explanation we’re given for why suddenly there’s slightly more open supernatural stuff and a wizard can be in the Yellow Pages, even though apparently wizards have been around this whole time. The problem of the backstory making no sense whatsoever seems common in urban fantasy, because if you want the modern world to look like our modern world, but also magic has existed the whole time, it’s just not going to work. I’ll avoid harping on this issue further unless some specific plot holes come up.

He tells us that business is not booming, because apparently refusing to explain anything about yourself and hope people guess what your job actually involves doesn’t work as well as you’d think, and smugs more about how last week some guy hired him about a supposedly haunted house and he just told the guy to stop using drugs and being an idiot.

I’d gotten travel expenses plus an hour’s pay, and gone away feeling I had done the honest, righteous, and impractical thing. I heard later that he’d hired a shyster psychic to come in and perform a ceremony with a lot of incense and black lights. Some people.

And that fake psychic is the better person, because now the guy has peace of mind, which was all he wanted.

It’s easy to understand that an actual magic user with ethics wouldn’t feel like pretending a place was haunted just to drum up some cash. There’s also no reason he couldn’t have said he can’t find a ghost but if the guy wants he’ll do an exorcism anyway.

Look at it from the client’s POV – he experienced stuff he can’t explain. Some other guy is telling him whatever, he doesn’t see any ghost, you must’ve just imagined it. How exactly does he know Harry has any idea what he’s talking about? Doesn’t that sound a lot more like a lazy faker who just wanted to be paid to walk around your house and the shrug and say it seems fine, rather than spending any energy on an exorcism? Even if Harry means well, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have made a mistake and there really is a murder ghost that’s going to strangle everyone in the house in their sleep.

(Harry would be more sympathetic if he’d offered to do the exorcism and the guy complained it wasn’t flashy enough. Not misrepresenting how magic works or what it looks like would certainly fall under honest.)

Then some woman calls him and he’s again bitchy about the fact she’s not clear about the wizard thing.

She had a voice that was a little hoarse, like a cheerleader who’d been working a long tournament, but had enough weight of years in it to place her as an adult.

Also, just…why a cheerleader? How does cheerleader tournament hoarseness sound any different than any other type of hoarseness?

At any rate, she’s really nervous and almost hangs up, but he talks her to coming to see him in person to explain instead.

He then reminds us he is a ninety year old man on the inside by explaining he hates all this new-fangled technology.

Anything manufactured after the forties is suspect

“They knew how to build it back then, by plum!”

One of the ideas of the series is that magic doesn’t play nicely with tech, but what counts at high technology works on a sliding scale, so while a 1940s wizard presumably would’ve wrecked any car he came within ten feet of, a 2001 wizard can drive a 1940s car and have it work most of the time.

This actually seems like it might interact in an interesting manner with the accelerating pace of technology – is it that magic can’t work with anything invented less than sixty years ago, with the result wizards are growing increasingly out of sync with society as sixty years covers more and more tech time, or that it can’t work with the most recent million inventions, and Apple’s new iThing has finally pushed the original model iPod off that list and wizards can enjoy digital music with the rest of us?

“Harry, I need you at the Madison in the next ten minutes. Can you be there?” The voice on the other end of the line was also a woman’s, cool, brisk, businesslike.
“Why, Lieutenant Murphy,” I gushed, overflowing with saccharine, “It’s good to hear from you, too. It’s been so long. Oh, they’re fine, fine. And your family?”

This is seriously his only setting for human interaction. It’s so hard being him.

Some people have claimed that this is all a cute teasing relationship that she enjoys. At least in this book, it’s a cute teasing relationship Murphy appears to hate and tries to shut down at every opportunity. What it says about a fanbase that a woman’s visible displeasure is a sign she’s totally into it is a question best put aside.

Karrin Murphy was the director of Special Investigations out of downtown Chicago, a de facto appointee of the Police Commissioner to investigate any crimes dubbed unusual. Vampire attacks, troll mauraudings, and faery abductions of children didn’t fit in very neatly on a police report-but at the same time, people got attacked, infants got stolen, property was damaged or destroyed. And someone had to look into it.

This would have been marginally more coherent if the human resurgence in interest in magic had been in any way tied to an actual resurgence in magic, such that vampires, trolls and fairies have only recently been mucking up police dealings in noticeable quantities. There’s just way too many issues otherwise.

“I’ve sort of got an appointment.”
“Dresden, I’ve sort of got a pair of corpses with no leads and no suspects, and a killer walking around loose. Your appointment can wait.”
My temper flared. It does that occasionally. “It can’t, actually,” I said. “But I’ll tell you what. I’ll stroll on over and take a look around, and be back here in time for it.”

We’ll be seeing his temper flaring over decidedly innocuous things a lot.

But lest we think Murphy is a bitch for trying to get him to help with a murder investigation which incidentally is his job they pay him for, the book quickly shows us that she has feelings:

Her voice softened, and that scared me more than any images of gore or violent death could have. Murphy was the original tough girl, and she prided herself on never showing weakness. “It’s bad, Harry.

So while supposedly she’s tough as nails, we’re immediately shown her not being so. Incidentally, the scene that follows is really not going to warrant this sort of behavior.

89 Comments

  1. Keleri says:
    To skip ahead, the part that really got me about this book, aside from the dumb rapey sex magic for titillation or whatever (yawns), is the fact that the council of wizards that is So Meen to Dresden is spending all their time being So Meen when THEY should be the ones investigating this illegal use of magic. The whole story is ridiculous. Apparently (I hear) the author thought so too, so he spends later books trying to fridge-logic the first couple shitty books to make them make sense instead of just quietly retconning them.

    I’ve only read the first one but my friends have been urging me to keep reading. Ehhhhhh.




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    1. Farla says:
      Oh god, yes. He whines so much about how omg he can’t investigate because this is against the wizard rules and they’ll kill anybody who knows how to do it!!1! So call them up on your phone and make it their problem you dumbfuck, what the hell are they for?



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      1. GeniusLemur says:
        They’re for persecuting poor, innocent Harry and making him the greatest martyr ever and giving him one more group he can treat like shit and then whine about how they very unreasonably don’t like him.



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  2. SoxyOutfoxing says:
    See, I’ve had the first two of these books for years, and I’d like to like them solely because they were the first gifts my brother ever gave me, and one of the first indications I ever had that he actually liked me as a person. (My brother is stoical.) But I tried to read the first one, and this was way before I was at all aware of gender stuff, but I remember being really put off by the way Harry described people. If I remember correctly everyone got a full paragraph of Harry condescending like whoa with “I fully understand other peoples personalities and motivations and also this is what they look like,” and I found it very tedious.



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    1. Farla says:
      They probably read a lot better to the stoical sort, since Harry is always all I CAN’T EXPLAIN ANYTHING WAIT WHY DOES EVERYONE THINK I’M A JERK.



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      1. SoxyOutfoxing says:
        Heh, that made me laugh because it’s a pretty good description of how my brother did emotions when he was a teenager. Then he grew up a lot and became much better at communicating.

        Honestly, the whole “You don’t know what’s going on because I refuse to tell you and that makes me better than you” thing is why I just don’t read urban fantasy anymore.




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      2. DarthYan says:
        Harry actually does ditch that.



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  3. Sazuka57 says:
    Ok I’m a huge Dresden Files fan, but even I’ll admit the first book is HORRID. The first three books aren’t that great in general, honestly, but the series does pick up and get better! I especially love Dead Beat; it has some seriously funny moments!

    As for his flirting/harassing of Murphy–She does not like nor enjoy it at first. At the beginning of the series, she has a strictly business relationship, and only after some wacky adventures do they start to become buddies and she starts enjoying and returning his flirting and harassment (and even outwits him sometimes).

    For now though, this book is gonna get trashed by you and I’m most likely going to be nodding along.




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    1. Farla says:
      See, ‘keeps doing a thing the other person hates until the other person decides it’s charming’ is even worse than just the harassment we get this book, because now it’s validating his choice to harass her this whole time – look, she just had a stick up her ass but now she appreciates how great it was all along!

      Unless Harry changes his behavior as well, it’s the same trope as romcom stalking until the girl suddenly decides it’s charming.




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      1. Sazuka57 says:
        Hm. Good point. I do know that Harry does change throughout the series, but I’m not sure about that front. If anyone out there has any noticed this, please reply. Otherwise, I’ll just have to wait until you get that far and give us your analysis.



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        1. Number27 says:
          When I read that fans claim the series gets less misogynistic I was confused because my experience was pretty much the opposite.
          Thinking about it for a minute, though, that is probably as much because I was becoming more sensitive to misogyny as time went on as it was because things were actually getting worse (I certainly can’t read the earlier books without wanting to throw them at something now.)
          In sum, I’d say that the misogyny stays more or less constant (though its targets fluctuate somewhat) until Changes when the whole thing gets turned up to 11 and stays that way through the next book and a half which is where I’m currently stalled.



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          1. Katrika says:
            Oh maaaan, the climax of Changes is /really/ unfortunate in retrospect.



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          2. Sazuka57 says:
            When you say “the whole thing,” do you mean they misogyny or the plot? Because I haven’t made it past Ghost Stories yet, and I discovered this blog (and started becoming aware of misogyny) shortly after that time. I should give my favorite books a reread….



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            1. Number27 says:
              It applies to both but I was mainly talking about the misogyny. Changes… my copy has several wall shaped dents. Not sure how much we care about spoilers but the particular clichéd trope family that relates to that plot was ridden hard.



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  4. illhousen says:
    “The problem of the backstory making no sense whatsoever seems common in urban fantasy, because if you want the modern world to look like our modern world, but also magic has existed the whole time, it’s just not going to work.”

    Yeah, the masquerade is notoriously hard to explain in general. Specifically, it’s hard to explain why wizards aren’t our Divine Overlords in charge since ancient times.

    I am normally inclined to cut writers some slack because I like the idea of a magic world hidden just beneath the surface even if it doesn’t make much sense most of the time (Unknown Armies and Nasuverse – well, parts of Nasuverse – have the best explanations for the secrecy I know of), but here it comes across as rather bizarre.

    I mean, either the secrecy is important or not. If it’s important, one would think Harry wouldn’t be allowed to advertise his services so openly. If it’s not important, he is not in that show that promises a million if you could demonstrate working magic why, exactly?




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    1. SpoonyViking says:
      “Specifically, it’s hard to explain why wizards aren’t our Divine Overlords in charge since ancient times.”

      Well, there could be a variety of reasons (not that Butcher provided any, of course). The simplest is probably that magic is limited in scope and power, much like in real-life magical beliefs and practices. Maybe wizards want to reach the power levels of mythological and legendary sorcerers like Merlin, Maugis/Malagigi, Circe and Väinämöinen, but simply can’t.

      Alternatively, magic could have, as an inherent limiting factor, the fact that it can only be used against other supernatural beings. So there could be spells that can enchant holy symbols to keep vampires at bay, for example, but there are no spells that do the same to regular humans.

      Which would actually work great with the premise of a hard-boiled detective/magician: he would use magic against supernatural creatures, and just his fists and guns against human enemies.




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      1. Farla says:
        The simplest is probably that magic is limited in scope and power, much like in real-life magical beliefs and practices.

        But the issue isn’t why wizards aren’t all-powerful god kings, it’s why they haven’t used their limited but still objectively better than not having it at all power to carve out a million little fiefdoms. Harry’s magic gives him a leg up on every aspect of carving out a kingdom over a mortal. He can kill people with his mind, deflect bullets, and spy on his enemies.

        Even limiting it to supernatural on supernatural violence, which does sound like a good premise, doesn’t work here because it’d just mean either wizards ruled the pockets not controlled by vampires and such (if vampires and such are roughly equal in power) or all wizards have vampire armies they send at each other while trying to disrupt the enemy’s protective spells. Humans can twist the ability to talk to god and drive out invisible demons into a cushy kingship, how much easier would it be when you can literally shoot fire at totally visible demons?




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        1. SpoonyViking says:
          “[…]it’s why they haven’t used their limited but still objectively better than not having it at all power to carve out a million little fiefdoms.”

          For a variety of reasons, I’d say (again). The main one would be that they can be killed just as easily as any other human, and power abused too often and too blatantly tends to provoke strong reactions. What good is it if you can curse a king to die of a withering disease if his soldiers then tear you to bits? Even if you are capable of casting a fool-proof charm spell on a nobleman, what’s to say those closest to him won’t notice something’s wrong, connect the dots and simply arrange for the sorcerer’s death?

          It’s telling that in real life, we had plenty of magicians throughout History (oh, they didn’t have any actual supernatural power that we can verify, but we can’t say neither they nor their followers believed in them), but we never had whole realms ruled by self-proclaimed sorcerers.

          From a different comment:
          “If you’re a deadly vampire with sun-allergy, form a cult based around the slaughter of enemy armies and people will be happy to obey you so long as it means they’re not getting conquered by the other assholes.”

          Assuming you even retain any semblance of human intelligence and/or mentality, which vampires in many folklores often didn’t. Or that you don’t suffer from other limitations, either natural or supernatural: Dracula, in Bram Stoker’s novel, had many crippling psychological issues which ultimately led to his death. Or even that the “other assholes” can’t just overpower you the old-fashioned way – vampires in actual legends are powerful, but it’s doubtful they’d be capable of standing up to dozens of well-trained warriors.

          And if we assume both wizards and supernatural creatures in general aren’t too powerful and also capable of blending in with humanity as long as they don’t draw undue attention… Well, that’s basically the world as we know it, only with a sort of “shadow reality” underneath it.

          Mind you, I feel the need to point out that I’m once again speaking in favour of the general idea, not the specific case. Butcher didn’t actually spend time world-building his Urban Fantasy setting, he just thought “Hey, I like this concept and I’m gonna use it!”.




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          1. illhousen says:
            “What good is it if you can curse a king to die of a withering disease if his soldiers then tear you to bits?”

            Ah. You are thinking of wizards as an outside factor. Here we have an established feudal system, then a magic user comes in and starts raising hell.

            The thing is, if we are talking about the typical “all myths are true” urban fantasy setup, magic was discovered around the same time as stone knifes. Which means it evolved alongside the civilization, and the civilization evolved around it.

            With real tangible magic you won’t even get to kings, you’ll have wizards seizing political power back when social classes were just forming.

            When the time comes for the people of the tribe to wedge war, it won’t be Agh the Strong Arm leading the charge, it would be Ugh the Big Head who can set people on fire with a word. And since then he or she would be calling the shot because the tribe depends on setting people on fire for protection. And from there you are on a straight road to magocracy.

            Now, the exact status and political weight wizards posses do depend on what exactly they can bring on the table. Fighting abilities are most important at times like that. But unless having magic doesn’t offer any significant advantages to the community, wizards would be high on the totem pole.




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            1. SpoonyViking says:
              “With real tangible magic you won’t even get to kings, you’ll have
              wizards seizing political power back when social classes were just
              forming.”

              We HAD wizards in the real world. Again, their powers couldn’t be proven on a scientific basis, but the people around them did believe in those powers. And yet, those wizards (or shamen, or priests, or whatever other name) didn’t rise to power as a ruling caste; at most, some sort of supernatural power was ascribed to the nobility – rune magic among the Norse, favour from the gods / exceptional skills among Ancient Greeks and Mesopotamians, etc. -, but the nobility didn’t rule BECAUSE of that power.

              “[…]it would be Ugh the Big Head who can set people on fire with a word.”

              IF Ugh the Big Head can set people on fire with a word, and IF he can still set people on fire after being pierced by a thrown spear, or having his head bashed in by a rock. :-)




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              1. illhousen says:
                “We HAD wizards in the real world.”

                No, we didn’t. We had people claiming to possess magical powers, but magic simply doesn’t exist in the real world. No matter how hard the historical wizards tried, they could not kill someone with a word.

                And so those who could kill by more traditional means gained power.

                Even then, by the combination of claims to supernatural powers and some real knowledge useful to the community shamans and such managed to secure a high status.

                Here, however, we are talking about magic that actually has tangible important effects. If it can be used to gain an advantage in some field, it will naturally lead to the increase in status. If it cannot, well, why does anybody bother with it?

                “IF Ugh the Big Head can set people on fire with a word, and IF he can still set people on fire after being pierced by a thrown spear, or having his head bashed in by a rock.”

                To the first part, yes, your claim to rule is tied to your ability to kill people. It’s not the only route to power, but one of the most effective.

                The second part is irrelevant. People can’t pierce people with spears if they are pierced with spears, yet it didn’t stop people from piercing each other with spears.

                Ugh dies, there is Ab the Evil Eye. Ab dies, there is Nu the Weird. And so on. What is important is that the tribes with people capable of setting their enemies on fire would on average do better than the rest. They would be on top of the food chain and they would become the foundations of future kingdoms.

                And wizards are the ones who made it possible. That gives them a lot of leverage.




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        2. Molly says:
          One of my classmates actually wrote an interesting story for our creative writing class that had took place in our world while, with a hidden supernatural world existing, but they actually managed to make it pretty believable because they gave the humans a major trump card over the magical creatures. It was something like the different magical races had the ability to create and use magic in certain ways, like werewolves could use magic to alter their bodies, witches and wizards could control elements of nature, necromancers could commune with and control the spirit world, vampires could drain the blood of other supernaturals and live forever, etc. The reason they couldn’t over throw or over power humans was because humans unconsciously smothered magic for some reason.

          Magic couldn’t directly affects humans (like a witch couldn’t cast a spell on a human, if bitten by a werewolf a human wouldn’t turn, a vampire draining a human’s blood wouldn’t gain the healing effects, etc.), so using it to directly attack humans wasn’t possible. On top of that, the more humans there are in an area, the less reliable/powerful magic became. A witch, among other supernaturals, away from humans, was quite strong, but in a city surrounded by humans, their spells were significantly weaker, almost to the point of uselessness.

          I didn’t get far into the story because of time limits, though I’m hoping they’ll let me read more later, but the story talked about how in the very early days, most supernaturals kept away from humans and formed their own small societies, but humans needed more land and resources than the supernatural races did, like they needed more land to hunt, and farm, so they began encroaching on the various supernatural races land, which made the super natural races fight for the remaining resources, until there eventually several wars. During the wars many of the supernatural race members ended up fleeing to human villages, towns, and cities because they were safe from their enemies there for the most part.

          I thought it was interesting take on the story. The plot followed a witch and her husband, a werewolf, trying to adjust to life in human society with their weakened magic, and other stuff I wasn’t able to get it.




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      2. illhousen says:
        Having a sword, an armor and a horse was enough to turn you into a murder machine back in the day. Add a fireball in the mix, and you might as well be god.

        Political power follows personal power if there isn’t a system in place to prevent that.

        It’s pretty hard to construct a magic system that mages can’t abuse for fun and profit. Even then, it’ll probably result in them becoming high ranking advisers of the true rulers, and they won’t simply abandon their positions and fade into shadows.




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        1. SpoonyViking says:
          “Having a sword, an armor and a horse was enough to turn you into a
          murder machine back in the day.”

          A vast oversimplification, but I think this would be tangential to the actual discussion. :-)

          “Add a fireball in the mix, and you might
          as well be god.”

          I DID say “much like in real-life magical beliefs and practices”, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find magicians of any kind casting fireballs in those. :-)




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          1. illhousen says:
            “A vast oversimplification, but I think this would be tangential to the actual discussion.”

            Yes, but the sentiment remains: personal power gives you status.

            “I DID say “much like in real-life magical beliefs and practices”, and
            you’ll be hard-pressed to find magicians of any kind casting fireballs
            in those.”

            John Dee spend his life trying to discover the language of angels and unite mankind. Ars Goetica lists demons capable of causing earthquakes, among other things. Real life believes are sometimes more epic than fantasy.




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            1. SpoonyViking says:
              “The Lesser Key of Solomon” is basically fiction for occultists, instead of an actual magical practice based on religious beliefs and cultural practices. But even then, summoning one of the demons listed there is a ritualistic effort, it’s not something a wizard can do easily or timely.



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              1. illhousen says:
                Wait, why is speed suddenly a factor?

                We are talking strategy here. Someone capable of causing an earthquake would naturally have an easier time conquering the shit out of some country than someone who can’t, other factors being equal.




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              2. SpoonyViking says:
                I thought it would be easier to combine both replies in a single comment, if you don’t mind!

                “No, we didn’t. We had people claiming to possess magical powers, but magic simply doesn’t exist in the real world. No matter how hard the historical wizards tried, they could not kill someone with a word.”

                Legendary wizards also couldn’t kill people with a word. Oh, some of them could, but none of them were fully human, and most were gods (even if they were later euhemerized as “merely” very powerful wizards).

                “If it cannot, well, why does anybody bother with it?”

                To ensure they’ll have good crops. Or that their children and livestock won’t die to the plague. To gain favour from the gods, or Fortune. To receive otherworldly wisdom. To ensure they won’t fall to their enemies’ blades on the battlefield, or that they’ll fight with the strength of a bear. To ensure your loved ones’ souls will pass on without trouble. To lay to rest the restless dead. To ward off evil spirits.

                Magic doesn’t necessarily have to be all-powerful to still be powerful.

                “Wait, why is speed suddenly a factor?”

                If it’s a ritual that takes, say, three days to be properly performed, or can only be done when the sorcerer offers the life of their prized stallion and is bathed by the light of a full moon, it can be interrupted.

                “Someone capable of causing an earthquake would naturally have an easier time conquering the shit out of some country than someone who can’t, other factors being equal.”

                How strong of an earthquake can the wizard cause? At what range can he cause it? What’s the cost involved with the spell?




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              3. illhousen says:
                “To ensure they’ll have good crops. Or that their children and livestock won’t die to the plague. To gain favour from the gods, or Fortune. To receive otherworldly wisdom. To ensure they won’t fall to their enemies’ blades on the battlefield, or that they’ll fight with the strength of a bear. To ensure your loved ones’ souls will pass on without trouble. To lay to rest the restless dead. To ward off evil spirits.”

                Yes, that’s what I meant by gaining an advantage in one area or another.
                Priest were always influential. Add actual results to it and the influence will only grow.

                “If it’s a ritual that takes, say, three days to be properly performed, or can only be done when the sorcerer offers the life of their prized stallion and is bathed by the light of a full moon, it can be interrupted.”

                Yes, and?

                “How strong of an earthquake can the wizard cause? At what range can he cause it? What’s the cost involved with the spell?”

                Stronger than any non-wizard can, at a longer range than any non-wizard, for an acceptable price since if the price is not acceptable, there is no point in the ritual.




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              4. Roarke says:
                I can’t help but feel that you guys are not quite arguing over the same topic here.



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              5. SpoonyViking says:
                I think we’ve been going around in circles. :-) My point, the crux of my argument, is this: the presence of real magic in the world would only have changed History if it were not only significantly more powerful than historical magical beliefs AND ALSO could be quantified by observers; otherwise, nothing would have changed.Thus, Urban Fantasy can still be done in a feasible manner, provided the author takes the time to actually craft their setting.



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              6. Farla says:
                if it were not only significantly more powerful than historical magical beliefs

                I think the key point you’re missing here is historical magic didn’t work. That’s why believing you could make it rain if you killed people wasn’t a huge advantage that changed the course of human history, because you still had exactly as much rain as the other people. Killing a prize horse to murder some guy who never actually died because it doesn’t work that way just meant your society ran out of good horses faster.




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              7. SpoonyViking says:
                No, historical magic didn’t work, [b]but the people at the time honestly believed it that[/b]. Unless in your fictional setting the effects of magic can be verified and quantified without a doubt by the people around you, its effects on the setting will be exactly the same as those of historical magical practices.



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              8. illhousen says:
                No. If your spells actually do make crops grow better, your country would do better than the one where those spells are not performed.

                Therefore, countries that support wizards and give them needed resources would have an advantage. Therefore, eventually all countries will support wizards or be conquered by their neighbours.

                Wizards would have economical power in that setup, and with it often comes political power.




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              9. SpoonyViking says:
                For starters, it’s safe to say that all peoples throughout History had some form of magical (or magical-religious) practices, so in a way, yes, all “countries” supported “wizards”.

                But how would you even be able to differentiate between crops growing better because of a wizard’s spell (in a fictional setting where magic exists), and growing better due to natural factors (in the real world)? Would fictional Sumerians have some form of magical detection technology that allowed them to know whose magic worked and whose didn’t, thus ensuring they’d have the advantage over their neighbors?

                Finally, who’s to say spells are always successful even in a fictional setting? Because your premise that the mere existence of magic would fundamentally change History relies on that: that magic is more effective in achieving power than other means, that it’s usage is safe and reliable, and that people are able to verify exactly how safe, reliable and effective it actually is. That might be doable with some forms of magic (like medieval alchemy, for example), but not with the majority of them.




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              10. illhousen says:
                “But how would you even be able to differentiate between crops growing
                better because of a wizard’s spell (in a fictional setting where magic
                exists), and growing better due to natural factors (in the real world)?”

                You don’t need to. People who believe in crop spells would have better crops on account of using crop spells. People who don’t believe in crop spells would have worse crops on account of not using the spells.

                Therefore, spell-using people would have an advantage over non-spell-using people.

                Apply it globally, and you’ll have civilizations using crop spells dominating everyone else.

                And since they already believe in the power of spells, they will respect wizards.

                Priests managed to hold onto power through history by merely claiming they have such a power, here you have actual results.

                “Because your premise that the mere existence of magic would
                fundamentally change History relies on that: that magic is more
                effective in achieving power than other means, that it’s usage is safe
                and reliable, and that people are able to verify exactly how safe,
                reliable and effective it actually is.”

                If magic can’t be used to reliably (even if risky as with demon summonings and such) gain an advantage either on personal or community level, it can be safely ignored.

                You won’t get an urban fantasy with wizards hiding in the shadows of society and secretly casting spells that they don’t know have any effect, you’ll get real world with Wiccans doing rituals to feel a bit better about themselves and the world.




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              11. SpoonyViking says:
                “Priests managed to hold onto power through history by merely claiming they have such a power, here you have actual results.”

                Actual results that can’t be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. You’re still well within the confines of real History.
                Also, don’t be so judgmental. :-)




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              12. Farla says:
                Haven’t you heard the Good News about science?

                Note how science gave us spears and bullets and bombs, while magic has remained stable at no meaningful impact. Note how society after society worked out stuff like ‘sick people make other people sick” yet society after society invented an amazing and contradictory variety of “magic”. If it worked, we’d see commonalities discovered across the world. Also, we’d see it working.




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              13. SpoonyViking says:
                You know, just because I assume an anthropological view of magical practices and other beliefs held by humans throughout History, does not mean I hold those beliefs myself. :-) And if I did hold those beliefs, that wouldn’t mean you’d have the right to mock me, either.

                I believe I have said everything I had to say, and then some. I’m bowing out of the discussion.




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              14. illhousen says:
                What Farla meant is that a lot of scientific facts and practices are not exactly intuitive (like the agriculture arrangement – forgot the English name – where you have three fields for different kinds of crops which you rotate each year to give the ground time to rest and accumulate needed nutrients), yet people managed to work it out long before the scientific method was invented.

                Magic is no different: if it can make the life of people better, it will see the use, and different cultures would invent the same kinds of magic because that’s what works.




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              15. illhousen says:
                If magic gives significant results (crops do grow better, cursed people wither and die), then it will be used and mages would be held in high regard.

                If the results are negligible (crops sometimes grow a bit better, cursed people feel mild discomfort and may experience a bit of bad luck), then it doesn’t matter if magic exist or not, other factors are more important, so it can be ignored.




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        2. GeniusLemur says:
          Well, plenty of mythical wizards were leaders, rulers, or powerful advisers to the ruler. Merlin, for instance.



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          1. illhousen says:
            Yes, the question is why they suddenly stopped being leaders.



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    2. Roarke says:
      The World of Darkness (where, naturally, we get “masquerade” from in the first place) seems like one of the better ones as well, depending on which source book and how much you simplify the setting. Vampire CEO’s using ghouls to operate during normal business hours strikes me as vaguely hilarious.



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      1. Farla says:
        Note also WoD handles wizards by saying they actually do rule the world and just refer to their kind of magic as “technology”. The thing stopping your average wicca practitioner from taking over is they’re outnumbered by the establishment wizards who remade the world to cripple their spells and also bust the head of anyone who accomplishes anything despite that.



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        1. Roarke says:
          Well, yeah. One of the best ways to make it so that whatever supernatural beings there are don’t “rule the world” as it were, is keep them at each others’ throats. That way they’re too busy with their own internal power struggles to mess with Muggles. But I agree that it’s not really cool not to give them *some* level of social power or privilege that would logically stem from their supernatural abilities.

          Wizards in Discworld, while not a secret order at all, are a good example of this. They’ve got crazy world-wrecking power, but the plural for wizard is “war,” and they’d all kill each other etc. etc. until the current University is designed to keep them peaceful. They have plenty of social privilege but they don’t really have power as it were. I liked the whole setup, really.




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          1. Farla says:
            I rather liked early Discworld’s wizards – I mean, the academic version obviously has far more for him to mine for fresh jokes, but the original as a bunch of murderous assholes who are contained because they’re too busy focusing on murdering each other over rank was just such an awesome concept.



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            1. Roarke says:
              Yeah, I liked them as well. I especially liked the fact that getting extremely good at protecting yourself from magic was really easy, so wizards would end up using mundane methods like poison/traps etc. It was a kind of funny way to subvert the idea of magic as this thing that totally obviates the mundane through sheer force.
              I think the book with the most offensive magical power thrown around was Sourcery, because the presence of a sourcerer brought the old power back for all wizards. That let them go back to killing magically, I suppose.



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    3. Farla says:
      Specifically, it’s hard to explain why wizards aren’t our Divine Overlords in charge since ancient times.

      Or if not them, the dozens of other apparently equivalent powers.

      There’s no reason for secrecy – all the people ever trying to keep their existence in actual human history have been people who were praying to a god that didn’t actually grant them spells or any other meaningful protection. If you’re a deadly vampire with sun-allergy, form a cult based around the slaughter of enemy armies and people will be happy to obey you so long as it means they’re not getting conquered by the other assholes.




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  5. antialiasis says:
    I like these books, largely because they involve a lot of Harry being beaten up and I’m easily pleased by men in pain.

    At the time I started reading them I was a lot less able to notice stuff like the cringeworthy way Harry describes every woman he meets, though, and going back to at least the first few books today involves a lot of “aaaand here’s Harry being terrible, let’s pretend that didn’t happen, moving on.” (I haven’t actually read the recent books in a few years, mostly out of a general lack of book-reading time, so while I don’t recall a lot of that in the last book I was reading, don’t quote me on it. I’ve definitely had some issues with specific events, though.)

    Either way, I definitely didn’t get the impression in the first couple of books that Murphy was supposed to like Harry – she doesn’t trust him at all, thinks his ~chivalry~ thing is irritating and ridiculous (thanks, Murphy!) and largely appears to only put up with him because he’s useful for the police. They become more friendly later on, but I can’t tell you how well that’s done because it’s been even longer since I read that part.




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    1. Farla says:
      I like these books, largely because they involve a lot of Harry being beaten up and I’m easily pleased by men in pain.

      You might like noir in general, then, because that’s the standard model of noir detectiving – wander around talking loudly about how you’re on this case, get beat up, repeat, then crawl back to your office to write down which people were beating you up and therefore who has a stake in the case.




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      1. illhousen says:
        Huh. I’ve read a noir TRPG (which I should dig up) where the investigation process was described pretty much like this.

        “Go around asking questions. Answers don’t matter. Sooner or later people will start beating you. That indicates you are close to the answer.”




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        1. actonthat says:
          Bwahahaha that’s brilliant.



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          1. illhousen says:
            Ah, there it is.

            Secrets & Lies by Daniel Bayn: http://danielbayn.com/hardboiled/

            Also has an interesting urban fantasy supplement Urbanimus about living cities, zombie networks composed of undead computers and identity thieves that take stealing your credit card and documents a step further to steal your life.

            http://danielbayn.com/urbanimus/




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            1. actonthat says:
              Now this would get me into tabletop RPGs. I need IRL nerdy friends. Well, this kind of nerdy, I have some other kinds covered.



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              1. SpoonyViking says:
                I just had an idea, Act: what if you tried to find people to play with online? Or maybe join a play-by-post roleplaying forum.



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              2. illhousen says:
                “I just had an idea, Act: what if you tried to find people to play with online?”

                That could work depending on people involved, but you really need to know where to look. The chance of the game being abandoned is high.

                It’s also a pretty different experience from a life game.

                “Or maybe join a play-by-post roleplaying forum.”

                Hahaha! Yeah, not an advise I would give to someone who didn’t play before. A vast majority of play-by-post forums are shit.

                Imagine a Mary Sue of any kind. Now imagine dozens of them. Now imagine dozens of them idly strolling around, trying to get attention of other Mary Sues with cryptic hints or open invitations so they can tell their tragic or epic backstories.

                That’s your typical play-by-post forum.




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              3. SpoonyViking says:
                “A vast majority of play-by-post forums are shit.”

                There’s an unspoken “As long as you can find one you’re satisfied with” in there, actually. I just didn’t feel the need to point out the obvious. :-)




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              4. illhousen says:
                It is still not something I would recommend to a person who just discovers role-playing.

                Aside from Mary Sue circlejerk, there are more subtle problems that plague such forums that won’t be evident at a first glance.

                Like the lack of plot. More often than not, nothing of consequence really happens on those forums. It’s just people having conversations and prancing around, maybe fighting only to escape/agree on a draw/whatever.

                If you want to play on such a forum, you really need to know how to look for the strong GM body and storylines that actually go somewhere.




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              5. Farla says:
                Also the part where every single story of online RP I’ve ever heard save one had the same ending: and then drama happened and everything fell apart.

                I’d say we should make our own rp forum (with hookers! and blackjack!) but the drama monster would still get us and then we’d never speak to each other ever again.




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              6. Roarke says:
                After a few RP’s you’d be happy to see the back of me. Figuratively.



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              7. illhousen says:
                It’s not the only ending, in my experience.

                More often the core members simply lose interest and the whole thing dies. I guess that doesn’t make for an engaging tale, so you didn’t hear about such cases.

                There are actually a lot of semi-dead RP forums around where two or three members try to play amidst dead threads and forgotten plotlines.




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              8. Farla says:
                Freeform is hard.

                What I’d like to try someday is running is super oldschool D&D, just for variety, where it’s all puzzle solving and weird monsters and reasonably easy to roll up a new character when you die. But I don’t think that kind of thing is suited for play by post at all, since it seems like it’s supposed to be fast paced and involve people shouting out I DO A THING before everyone else can tell them they’re making a huge mistake.




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              9. illhousen says:
                Yes. Trying to play an action-packed game via play-by-post format, especially using even halfway detailed rules is just a bad idea. It doesn’t work, and what is supposed to be a quick fun encounter drags on for three IRL days at best.

                Play-by-post can work with the right people, but it’s really more for slow introspective games with a lot of character interaction.




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      2. Roarke says:
        Have you ever seen the movie Brick (2005) starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Because watching him being badass and getting beaten down was strangely awesome. One of my favorite movies. Ever.



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  6. Roarke says:
    “Under-appreciated” “introverted” “loner” who is actually extremely talented and blah blah blah, sounds like the right foundations for suedom to me, but TVTropes strangely seems to have a positive attitude towards this series so maybe it gets better? Never read it myself but I’ll be following along with the LP I guess.

    If I was going to make a noirsimile for a hoarse voice, it would be like “Her voice was hoarse as a wolf after the full moon” or something equally nonsensical.




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    1. Farla says:
      but TVTropes strangely seems to have a positive attitude towards this series

      No, TvTropes just hates women, so it’s really not strange at all.

      (TvTropes’ glowing recommendation was why I first checked out the audiobook, only to find that like every other recommendation I made the mistake of following up on, it was terrible. Statistically, they must have recommended something not terrible somewhere on that site, but I haven’t yet found it.)




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      1. sliz225 says:
        I don’t know if TvTropes hates women, but god knows the site has issues. For every thoughtfully explored “Men Do, Women Are” or “Quickly Demoted Women” or “Women in Refrigerators” trope, there’s a pile of MRA bullshit to wade through.



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        1. Farla says:
          The real moral is just that any site not specifically trying to counterbalance it ends up with the guys privileging their own interests under the impression they’re being evenhanded.

          The site does seem to have crawled up in acceptability in the years after the pedoshit nukings. I see Women in Refrigerators’ page no longer has anything about how the real sexism is making it about sexism. Good job, TvTropes! Maybe one day you can be actually decent again.




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      2. DarthYan says:
        Everyone agrees the first two books are shit. The first one was written as part of a creative writing course when by his own admissions he just threw whatever cliches he could think of. Book 2 and a large part of book 3 were written at around the same time. Harry actually does grow as a character (he grows more open over time, he learns to trust other people, and most importantly he stops being an asshole to murphy who is later established to be less obnoxious jerk as someone who has been on the receiving end of a crap ton of sexism). Harry is still very much a smartass but he does ditch most of the sexism (and if there is any it’s stuff he acknowledges is bad). There’s also the fact that his arrogance and sexism ends up causing a lot of problems for him. My advice, read through Summer Knight (that’s when Harry’s growth is most apparent). If you don’t like it you probably won’t like the rest



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        1. Farla says:
          murphy who is later established to be less obnoxious jerk as someone who has been on the receiving end of a crap ton of sexism

          See this is why I can’t take anyone saying the sexism gets better seriously.

          She isn’t an obnoxious jerk! Harry is an obnoxious jerk to her from the moment we meet her, continues to be an obnoxious jerk to her the whole scene, then lies to her every goddamn time she calls him up to find out if he’s decided to bother doing the job he’s being paid for. And he also explicitly says in her introduction that she’s getting a ton of sexism thrown at her. She is not the one who needs to change.

          What the fuck is wrong with you.




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          1. DarthYan says:
            Ok. The point is harry realizes he was wrong and changes. In summer knight he’s far more open about everything and he also becomes far less obnoxious.

            Maybe that could have been phrased better but the point was that over time it’s clearer that harry is in the wrong. Harry grows out of it for the most part




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  7. Katrika says:
    I always brushed it off in my head as Harry being sexist, not the books, but that was mostly so I could enjoy the books.



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    1. sliz225 says:
      Harry does get called on it pretty regularly and it’s treated like a limitation for him, but it’s still pretty wearing.



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      1. Farla says:
        The problem is, it’s a limitation like “doesn’t punch babies”.

        If a character loved puppies and the villains learned they could fuck with him by threatening puppies, the moral wouldn’t be that the guy needed to get over his worries that puppies would get hurt.




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    2. Farla says:
      It’s actually a really weird interaction of author and character. The author knows this kind of thing is called sexist, and so does make female characters react to it as such, but I have the impression he doesn’t actually understand why the women think that, especially because some of the sexism is written into how the universe itself works. More on that next chapter.



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      1. Roarke says:
        What disturbs me about that is that it seems eerily similar to how sociopaths or whatever can mimic social and moral norms without fully understanding the basis for them.



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        1. SpoonyViking says:
          I don’t think it’s anything that serious. Most people have difficulty fully understanding the basis for why their socio-cultural context works the way it does.



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          1. Roarke says:
            Haha, that is true. I am probably giving normal people way too much credit sometimes.
            edit: Wait a minute, no. Bro Butcher is supposed to be an author. No excuses, your social acumen is tested by the fact that it’s being read and acclaimed by millions.



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        2. Farla says:
          Hm.

          I wonder if there’s a sort of truth to that. The author doesn’t seem like a sociopath, but this sort of misogyny is the type where women are considered categorically different than people. That might lead to overlap – a misogynist empathizes with people but doesn’t consider women included, so he’ll end up interacting with women in a similarly superficial way as a person who can’t empathize at all.




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          1. Roarke says:
            I guess, yeah. It seems little more insidious than that cartoonish, over-the-top misogyny where it’s like ‘ew, girls’, because the fact that you’re not treating women as people isn’t always noticed by the people in question or whatever. /shrug.
            edit: Or even if it is noticed it’s harder to call out. Again idk.



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      2. Katrika says:
        Yeah, in retrospect, I agree with you there! Which is a real shame – I can handle and even enjoy a series with a flawed protagonist with certain views that are anathema to me, but when the author starts getting mixed into that, it grosses me out.



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        1. SoxyOutfoxing says:
          I always worry about that discrepancy between what a character thinks and what the writer thinks, both as a writer and as a reader. Obviously as a writer you can’t hold up big signs over your character’s behaviour going “AND THIS IS WRONG, BTW, SHE IS WRONG TO DO THAT.” (Well, in a sense you could, but it would be bad writing.) But as a reader I so often get the vibe that when writers get called out on dubious morality and call it intentional they’re doing that thing cats do when they fall over: “I totally meant to do that because I am a flawless god unto everyone,” only when writers do it they are the opposite of adorable. I don’t really know how people should deal with it.



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          1. illhousen says:
            Call them out on questionable things that can’t be explained by the believe of a particular character.

            If, for example, all women in a novel are femme fatale and damsels in distress, it’s sexist, regardless of what the protagonist thinks about women.




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          2. Farla says:
            I’ve actually seen one webcomic author who handles it by just saying that yeah, he fucked that up, and he won’t be doing anything like that again. It works even better than you’d expect.

            But that requires actually believing it was a mistake, and I also find a lot of the people saying it’s intentional will, if you keep chatting, end up saying other stuff that confirms that it’s a matter of underlying terrible beliefs. They know people are objecting to something, they know they’re not sexist/racist/etc, so obviously the other person misinterpreted their flawless work.

            Just read some threads on RPG.net that start off with people complaining about this author who wrote a story where the revived SS (yes, that SS) saves us from evil aliens and the Jews are so impressed they join the SS and put on SS uniforms. He comes in to explain that obviously Nazis are evil and it’s meant to be shocking and then starts arguing for moral relativism and how the SS were such an elite fighting force and anyway the allies committed equivalent atrocities and… and you realize by “shocking” he meant he meant that the SS do terrible things but sometimes that’s what you have to do to win a war and that’s why the “transnational progressives” are a bunch of weak girly-men who’ll have to be saved by manly war criminals who are so terrible and yet so, so cool.




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            1. Roarke says:
              “I’ve actually seen one webcomic author who handles it by just saying that yeah, he fucked that up, and he won’t be doing anything like that again. It works even better than you’d expect.”

              You be talking about The Giant of OOTS? He is a bro. I remember the post where he owned up to that.




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  8. Timmareus says:
    Wizards generally don’t advertize their presence in this setting because most wizards don’t really have strong magic while being juicy targets for supernatural predators. The stronger ones are still severely limited in what they can do (mind manipulation of any kind or killing people with magic for instance means the other wizards will kill you), so there’s not much point telling people you’re a wizard, but you can’t really do anything useful. Most things wizards can do technology can do better. And again, you make yourself a target. Dresden is kind of a unique combination of powerful and stupidly reckless. It’s not forbidden to advertize you’re a wizard, it’s just not a smart move.

    Yes, the White Council of Wizards would solve the plot for him. The problem is he has a burning hatred for them at this point, and the officer assigned to him hates him right back. He won’t tell them shit because he assumes they won’t do anything, said officer will just assume Dresden’s the one to blame.

    That said, the first books really aren’t much good, and I say this as a fan. Allegedly Butcher pretty much wrote this as a goof to show his professor how much a book like this would suck, she sent it to a publisher and it made lotsa money. So it could well be that Butcher just went “Uuh, people like this stuff? Welp, might as well then.” Of course, there’s no way to verify this story, so whatever. I never found Dresden’s behaviour too offputting as he is made clear to be a very flawed person, but even as a fan I can see why other people would feel differently. Honestly I just see these books as pulpy entertainment.




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  9. Pretty Boy says:
    So basically, I am rendered uncomfortable by the tone of the book right from the start. Oh, this should be a fun one.



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