So last time, Harry, having insisted that he had to lie to everyone because no one could help has this flaw backfire…on Murphy.
Harry, being all white knighty, is now rushing back to his office so he can rescue her from something that wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t decided to pick every last asshole response in the dialogue tree.
Point is, Murphy has been damseled good.
Directly in front of my office door is a table arranged with a series of pamphlets with titles like Real Witches Don’t Float So Good, and Magic in the Twenty-first Century. I had written some of them myself. They were meant for the curious, for people who just wanted to know about witches and magic.
I wonder where this came from.
It’s possible the author started with the idea of his character being a bridge between the magical and mundane worlds – if I described the basic setup of “nontraditionalist wizard decides to set up a detective agency and get his business in the phonebook, ends up helping the police on magic cases”, you wouldn’t even think to ask if that meant he was there to educate people on magic, it’s just a given.
I also recall that the first Anita Blake book or so was very into informing the reader of how things really worked. It’s a shame moe catboy sex overtook the more interesting topic of zombie rights activism. Since these are copying those, he might have stuck this kind of thing in to make it sound Anita Blakey despite his own character being King Asshole and thinking it’s more fun to silently mock people than educate them.
Or maybe it’s something sort of halfway positive – maybe, even people who think a hero is a self-important information hoarding 1%er have still absorbed the idea that it’s a virtue to correct ignorance, even if they prefer to be a smug dick every time it actually comes up. Maybe the fact it’s an informed attribute shows that even raging assholes have been slightly infected by the values of wider culture.
Regardless, the fact it’s an informed attribute is part of why Harry and this book are generally shitty.
There’s a lot of dramatic waiting. The scene’s laid out in a way more appropriate to a movie, I think – it’s hard to feel suspense over “I looked around the room in detail” by itself. Hell, even a movie would probably have sound and lighting choices to enhance the scene beyond just showing us an office.
Murphy lay there, curled on her side, her golden hair in an artless sprawl about her head, her eyes open and staring blindly. She was dressed in jeans, a button-down shirt, and a Cubs satin jacket. Her left shoulder was stained with a blot of blood. Her gun lay next to her, a couple of feet away.
If you describe a side character’s outfit every time, and you describe it before mentioning injury or weapons, you may have a problem.
Also, note how nothing Murphy does can escape the fuckability adjectives. Her hair’s in an artless sprawl, but it’s still golden. Do blondes have more fun? No, they don’t, they have to put up with this shit.
Harry attempts to help Murphy. He gets zero cookies for this, because “attempt to help the person whose injuries are frankly your own damn fault” balances out to basically neutral. “Attempt to help the person whose injuries are not your fault” is the bare minimum for actually good actions, all Harry is doing here is not being further evil.
He then manages to scrape out a negative score overall:
“Harry?” Murphy rasped. “Is that you?”
“It’s me, Murph,” I told her, setting my blasting rod aside and slowly reaching for the phone. The middle drawer of my desk, where the scorpion talisman had been, was open and empty. “Just hang on. I’m going to call an ambulance to help you.”
“Can’t believe it. You bastard,” Murphy wheezed. I felt her stir around a little. “You set me up.”
I drew the phone down and dialed 911. “Hush, Murph. You’ve been poisoned. You need help, fast.”
See, one of the things misogynists do is deny that the words coming out of a woman’s mouth actually mean the things those words happen to mean.
I’m sure it’d be argued that oh, he isn’t ignoring what she’s saying because she’s a woman, he’s ignoring it because he thinks she’s delirious from poisoning. Which he thinks because she’s a woman, because there is no actual reason to assume that she’s accusing him because she’s delirious rather than that she’s accusing him because, as far as she can tell, he boobytrapped his desk to stop her from finding evidence.
Harry doesn’t even respect her ability to be angry with him. If this was a man, he’d be responding to his words as an actual accusation, he’s be doing things like denying it, saying he’d tried to warn the guy about precisely this…but this is a cute little cheerleader girl, she needs to hush her pretty little head now that a man is here to help.
Murphy stirred again, and then I felt something hard and cool flick around my wrist and clicker-clack shut. I blinked and looked down at her. Murphy’s jaw was set in a stubborn line as she clicked the other end of the handcuffs shut around her own wrist.
“You’re under arrest,” she wheezed. “You son of a bitch. Wait till I get you in an interrogation room. You aren’t going anywhere.”
I stared at her, stunned. “Murph,” I stammered. “My God. You don’t know what you’re doing.”
She knows damn well.
Although we’re supposed to be viewing Murphy as an unreasonable bitch for all this, I’d like to reiterate my bit about relentlessly picking the asshole dialogue option. Harry just squandered yet another chance to convince her by responding to “YOU SET ME UP!!!” with “shhhh it’s okay now” and not “I did fucking not why did you think I was trying to warn you about the desk stop blaming me for everything the murderer did!” like you would toward someone whose objections you actually register.
“Like hell,” she said, her lip lifting in a ghost of its usual snarl. She twisted her head around, grimacing in pain, and squinted at me. “You should have talked to me this morning. Got you now, Dresden.” She broke off in a panting gasp, and added, “You jerk.”
For those keeping track, this would be the third time this scene Murphy has made it clear she blames Harry and the second time after handcuffing him. Apparently this is what it takes for Harry to even notice she’s pissed off at him, because only now does he respond with:
“You stubborn bitch from hell.”
This is yet another of those unwinnable situations. See, Harry was willing to brush off everything included repeated explicit statements that she blamed him for everything complete with profanity. Murphy has had to keep telling him that he can go fuck himself before, finally, it occurs to him that maybe she meant all that. Which makes her a “stubborn bitch from hell”, because wow, this totally came out of the blue and she didn’t listen to all the totally great excuses he’d have given her if only she’d asked and why is she going so over the top about this.
Everything up to and including screaming insults can be blown off as “aw, you don’t really mean that”, then when the asshole’s finally convinced, it’s “how dare you be so vehement, why aren’t you nicer about it?!”
I felt at a loss for a second, then shook my head. “I’ve got to get you out of here before it comes back,” I said, and I stooped forward to try to gather her up.
And like many terrible men, he then ~nobly~ puts this aside, because he’s at a loss how to respond to a woman disagreeing with him in a way that can’t be solved by blowing her off.
Anyway, the scorpion is animate and was apparently being kept at bay by the asshole shield of the conversation, because it chooses now to attack.
My startled motion made my leg jerk, and kicked my staff and rod away from me. I rolled after the latter desperately. Murphy’s handcuffs brought me up short, and both of us made sounds of discomfort as the steel bands cut at the base of our hands.
I feel like the only point of this absurd string of events is to try to make it seem like this is all Murphy’s fault.
“Won’t do you any good, Dresden,” Murphy moaned incoherently. She must have been too far gone from the poison to understand what was going on. “I’ve got you. Stop fighting it. Get some answers from you, now.”
Ah, authoral confirmation that Harry was totally right to assume she was delirious, because you should never actually listen to the stupid words woman say.
“Sometimes, Murph,” I panted, “you make things just a little harder than they need to be. Anyone ever tell you that?”
“My ex-husbands,” she moaned.
GET IT MURPHY IS UNMARRIED BECAUSE SHE FAILED TO BE A PROPER WOMAN AND ASSERTED HERSELF TOO MUCH SHE IS A FLAWED CHARACTER LIKE THAT
But don’t worry, Harry is an alpha male who can be sure horrible things will happen to people around him and leave them properly trembly and helpless.
“What’s happening?” Confusion and fear trembled in Murphy’s voice. “Harry, I can’t see.”
More on how the handcuffs are really making the whole thing so much worse while Murphy continues to beg him to explain what’s happening.
It’s now that the scorpion starts to get all terminatory – he basically beat it by using a drawer as a shield and getting its tail stuck, but he’s also incompetent so he just chucked it away from himself instead of doing anything to kill it. So instead he fleets the room while it very, very tears loose, at which point it rapidly smashes down the door and he informs us it’s growing. I guess the author realized mid-scene that a single scorpion someone’s already looking for is just not a threat.
Then I remembered the bracelet of shields around my left wrist.
Also important in pretend tension: have your character forget fucking everything. Or just be an incompetent writer who forgot this yourself and too lazy to go back and edit.
I tried to focus on it but couldn’t, with it twisted awkwardly beneath Murphy, supporting her.
Unclear why this would matter and seems to only be there to remind us how how he’s nobly rescuing Murphy with so much inconvenience from the totally unfair handcuffs.
I focused my will on the defensive shield the bracelet helped me form and maintain, struggling to get it together before the scorpion hit me.
I did it, barely. The invisible shield of air met the scorpion a handsbreadth from my body
We continue to have absolutely no consistent power level. “I’m too tired to help Rodrigeuz walk! I totally have the energy to magicpunch some guy and then lightingsplode a demon! I can explode a door into my face with no problem! Oh no, a dried scorpion’s attacking me!”
It wasn’t just an insect. It was too fast, too damn smart for that. It had ambushed me, waiting until I had set my weapons aside to come after me. It had to be something else, some kind of power construct, built small, but designed to draw in energy, to get bigger and stronger, an arthropod version of Frankenstein’s monster.
I don’t know what pisses me off more, the fact Harry is trying to pass off incompetently kicking his weapons away because he was startled as the insect being a super strategist or the part where this has absofuckinglutely nothing to do with Frankenstein’s monster. (Incidentally, to pedants like the author who think “Frankenstein’s monster” is all you need to indicate you are a well-read intellectual. Frankenstein was the guy’s last name and the monster is his creation, so it’s got a reasonable claim to the surname, while the idea it was some sort of energy sucking supergrow zombie is the most ignorant statement I’ve ever heard.)
It wasn’t really alive, just a golem, a robot, a programmed thing with a mission.
HOW THE FUCK DO YOU KNOW THIS.
Also, I feel this really highlights how absolutely awful the worldbuilding is. The author doesn’t want magic computers and magic internet, but he does want his character to have all the conveniences he takes for granted and the outlook he has. There’s no actual division between magic/tech here. Sure, every last fucking legend of the golem and related creatures makes it clear they are not fucking programmed and range from mildly to super ultra dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, sure, this is so ingrained into our culture that even the actually programmed and non-alive robots get spillover from it and talk about killer robots, but why should an undead malicious animated scorpion be anything but a prosaic magic robot? I mean, it’s not like magic spirits, demons, AND undead all exist as options to power your undead malicious animated scorpions or anything.
I had to find a way to deal with the scorpion. I didn’t want to, but I was the only one on the block who could. There was too much potential danger involved. What if it didn’t stop growing?
Incidentally, never explained what’s actually powering this thing. Just that it’s designed to draw in some sort of energy. This also gives us yet another flaw in worldbuilding – not only can wizards exceed the power cap through working together, or certain structures, or common weather, but also you can make infinite energy machines – all anyone would have to do is tap the energy and aim it at heartsploding someone instead of using it to make the scorpion grow and run around.
This would be fixed if we just learned that magicians can make magic items they’re linked with, and the scorpion was activated because the evil wizard just turned it on remotely, and maybe it’s getting bigger because he’s feeding it the first dribs of storm magic while he waits for the lightning to build enough to heartsplode people. That at least avoids the problem that apparently you can just suck up power anywhere.
For the first time in the book Harry’s anti-tech field inconveniences him (not kidding:murder room music glitches being irrelevant, mobster car radio glitches being irrelevant, car failure benefiting Harry, phone failure benefiting Harry). The elevator stops.
If you’re up on your technologies, then you may recognize “the elevator stops” as being a form of technology working, what with the natural state of elevator failure being it very successfully reaching the bottom floor and then some. We’re told the power fails, then the emergency lighting burns out, and in all this, the elevator stays totally in place because apparently the safety brake is immune to magic bullshit. In fairness, elevators are actually a lot safer than you’d think a suspended metal box would be.
Then there was a rattling bang, and something the weight of a small gorilla landed on the roof of the elevator.
Harry was attacked in an elevator earlier this year by magic gorillas which is why he knows what a gorilla landing on an elevator roof is like, I assume.
Incidentally, speaking of elevator safety, a freefalling elevator is actually a very survivable event and definitely more safe than gorilla sized scorpions that can tear through metal.
I should have smashed it when it was just a bug. I should have taken off my shoe and smashed it right there on my desk.
Wait, was there ever any reason not to?
I mean, your options were “it’s a creepy dead thing that’s nonmagic belonging to a nonmagic guy, and therefore worthless to me” and “it’s a creepy dead thing with unknown but almost definitely malicious magic belonging to an unknown magic guy”. Even if you wanted to have it on hand for magic sensing, it’d still work if it was smashed. Plus you never bothered to use it to track him anyway, did you? You had an item to check the guy’s location and decided to go drive to the lake house burning all your gas instead to look around.
I gritted my teeth and started drawing in every ounce of power that I had. I knew it was useless. I could direct a firestorm up at the thing, but it would slag the metal it was on and that would come raining back down on us and kill us, make the elevator shaft too hot for us to survive.
No idea how he knows this either. So far, the only thing we’re seen is that it’s hard enough to tear into steel. That tells us nothing of how well it handles heat, and we know its original materials were certainly flammable.
Also, it’s really hard to bake yourself to death when you’re aiming fire up, what with heat not flowing downward and all. If he’s actually melting the metal, I’d say his concern is the metal itself touching them and the scorpion falling in too now that he’s melted the thing shielding them from it. The elevator shaft in general isn’t going to heat up so easily.
(Also why not just use anything other than fire in that case? Like ice? Hell, even if we accept that it’s immune to cold, you could freeze/roast it to try to get it to split apart.)
Instead, Harry remembers he apparently has one and only one other magic element, air. Because what is power level, he has enough power to use air to smash the elevator with breaks still very much engaged up the shaft ten stories, and he adds that also, he threw in more power than he meant.
The impact crushed the scorpion into the concrete with a series of sharp popping sounds as chitinous plates cracked and splintered, flattening it into a shapeless brown splotch. Colorless goo, the ectoplasm of magically created mass, spattered out between the crushed plates and hide and down into the car.
At the same time, Murphy and I were hurled up , meeting the goo halfway. I kept Murphy in the shelter of my body, trying to stay between her and the roof, and my back hit it hard enough to make me see stars.
Okay, so it was so physically durable it was tearing apart steel, BUT it’s weak enough that the same steel can crush it on impact, BUT not so weak fire would’ve done any good against its bone-dry body.
Also, the impact that can crush the thing that can crush steel is totally not turning any of the humans into jelly.
What irritates me most here? He’s got the shield charm, he could’ve activated it for this whole affair. Shield charms don’t have to be literal forcefields because they’re magic, it’s completely legitimate to say they were zones of no-damage so you can’t get pasted by your own momentum as long as Harry doesn’t mention anything about-
I only had a couple of seconds to focus, to think-I couldn’t make the globe around us too brittle, too strong, or we’d just smash ourselves against the inside of it in the same way we would if we just rode the elevator down. There had to be some give to it, some flexibility, to distribute the tremendous force of the abrupt stop at the first floor.
Nope he’s saying it’s a literal forcefield.
This does work out for him, but I feel like pointing out that Betty Oliver survived a drop of seventy-five stories without any magic so it probably didn’t really do all that much.
Also, no, I don’t know why he can’t summon the wind again and just use a little less of it to slow their descent, or summon the wind to hold them in place long enough to shove his way out onto the current cloor for that matter.
When I opened my eyes again, I was sitting on the floor of the shattered, devastated elevator, holding a sagging, unconscious Murphy. The elevator doors gave a warped, gasping little ding, then shuddered open.
They damn well did not.
Anyway, the ambulance Harry called for Murphy earlier is here and apparently the people were standing right outside to stare in awe at how cool Harry is. Then he starts raving.
“Take that , Victor Shadowman!” I shouted. “Hah! Hah! Give me your best shot, you murderous bastard! I’m going to take my staff and shove it down your throat!”
I’m not saying this sort of thing is inherently bad, but this particular sort of trash-talking from this particular sort of asshole main character isn’t sympathetic. Incidentally, he keeps going on for a while like that.
Then he remembers he’s supposedly doing a thing.
I did not have Victor’s talisman to use to turn his own power against him.
Yes, you do. You just have to go back up to the elevator and scrape up some scorpion chunks. I mean, it’ll take maybe five minutes of extra time, but I’m thinking that’s less time than heding all the way to the guy’s house.
Thunder growled, near at hand. Lightning danced overhead, somewhere in the clouds, casting odd light and spectral shadows through the roiling overcast.
The storm had arrived.
Yep, definitely no time for going after the guy himself, just head back to the elevator and get a chunk of claw.